Julie's story: Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment

“It’s your body, and if something doesn’t feel right to you, you need to do something about it. Make an appointment and speak to your GP.”

Julie was initially diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33.  She felt a lump in her breast and subsequently visited her GP, who then referred her for diagnostic tests. The tests confirmed she had breast cancer, which was then followed by surgery and radiotherapy. It shows that you need to take positive action over your health and to listen to the signs if you think something is wrong, so that something can be done about it.

Attending breast screening is essential

However, this is only the beginning of Julie’s story. After successful treatment and recovery, Julie continued to have regular breast screening at hospital as part of her cancer follow-up; initially at the Royal Marsden and then with Barts Health.

After an annual check-up at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the summer of 2021, Julie received a call saying that something had been picked up and that she needed to have a biopsy. Unfortunately, the biopsy confirmed that Julie had triple negative breast cancer. It was very important that this was detected so that something could be done about it, as otherwise it could have spread and been more difficult to treat. This highlights the importance of attending your breast screening appointments.

Make informed decisions about your treatment

Julie then began discussions with her breast surgeon about options for surgery. Sadly, Julie’s mum, had, herself, been diagnosed with breast cancer and then subsequently died from ovarian cancer, but this was prior to the BRCA gene being discovered. 

This family history, coupled with Julie’s experience of breast cancer at an early age, meant that she was offered genetic testing. She took up this offer in September 2021 and it showed that Julie had the BRCA1 gene, which increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.  

Prior to undertaking genetic testing and following discussion with a geneticist and a gynaecologist many years earlier, at the Royal Marsden, Julie decided to have her ovaries removed in her mid-forties, as a preventative measure against ovarian cancer. 

Following confirmation that Julie had the BRCA1 gene, she was able to make an informed decision about the best route to take, in terms of surgery and she opted for bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, to reduce the risk of any cancer recurrence.

“I never felt like I was regarded as just another patient.  I was always treated as a human being, with respect, kindness and compassion. The teams at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and The Royal London Hospital were wonderful. This made a significant difference to my experience.”

Julie had a really positive experience of her surgery, which was carried out at The Royal London Hospital, by a team of both breast and plastic surgeons. She had a procedure called ‘DIEP flap reconstruction’ which was carried out in October 2021.

Julie’s surgeon even sent her a text on the morning of her surgery saying, “I’m on my way in; if you need to speak to me, just give me a call.” This was the same with the other consultants that Julie came into contact with, and she recalls another saying to her “It’s really lovely to meet you and to talk to you”. This made Julie feel valued as a person and not as a number.

Julie said “As a patient, it’s important that you are on a common ground with the clinical person you are seeing. They have the clinical expertise, but you want to be treated as a human being and respected. That’s what I’ve always felt with the staff at Barts Health, whether it was my breast or plastic surgeon, oncologist or nurse.”

Take control of what you can

Julie started reading up on triple negative breast cancer to find out as much as possible and she really recommends people doing the same when it comes to their personal situation. This helped with her decision to go for chemotherapy, which she started in January 2022 and finished in April that same year. Julie also spoke with a volunteer from the charity, Breast Cancer Now, who herself, had been diagnosed, many years earlier, with triple negative breast cancer.

Julie also visited Maggie’s cancer support service at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where they provide advice on diet, exercise and mental health and wellbeing, which can all support, both preparing for and recovering from, cancer treatment.

Julie says, “Anything you can do to support yourself and to make you feel empowered, helps you to gain back some control over your situation and helps keep you positive, which can only be a good thing.”

Follow these five key essentials

  1. Listen to your body, look out for signs and symptoms and if you feel anything is not right, then speak to your GP.
  2. Tell your GP about any family history of cancer.
  3. Attend your appointments and never miss any cancer screening or tests.
  4. Take responsibility for reading available information or resources and exploring options so that you can make an informed choice about what surgery or treatment to have.
  5. Work out what steps you can take yourself to give you the best possible chance of a speedy recovery, whether it is changing diet, looking at an exercise routine that works for you or accessing health and wellbeing support.
More Information

To find out more about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, visit our webpage.

For an overview of breast screening, watch our video or visit our breast cancer screening pages.