A mum diagnosed with breast cancer is now urging other women to check their boobs after uncovering a cancerous lump while she was breastfeeding her baby.
Jessica Parsons, 36, from Bath, was told by doctors she had breast cancer in June after noticing an unusual lump while nursing her seven-month-old daughter Inès.
Initially assuming it was just a blocked duct or another pregnancy-related issue, the human resources worker was shocked to discover she had cancer, aged just 36.
Parsons had actually developed metaplastic squamous cell carcinoma, a rare form of breast cancer that makes up less than 2% of breast cancer cases.
She's now encouraging women to regularly look out for unusual lumps and changes in their breasts as part of October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"To be told I had cancer was a massive shock," Parsons explains. "While I never thought of myself as untouchable, I was young, fit and lived a healthy life.
"I had also breastfed my son Stanley, so I knew that your breasts could change and feel a bit different after pregnancy.
"At first I thought it [the lump] could be a blocked milk duct. But, after two days, I went to my GP and was promptly referred to the Royal United Hospital (RUH) in Bath.
"Once I'd started to come to terms with the news, I felt determined to stay positive and take things one day at a time."
While she is nearly at the end of her six-round chemotherapy treatment at the RUH, she will still have to undergo a mastectomy later this year.
Following the surgery, she will have follow-up radiotherapy treatment to hopefully ensure she is cancer-free.
"The care I have received at the RUH has been exceptional," says Parsons.
"I feel like I can really trust the team caring for me, which makes a very difficult situation feel so much easier."
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Since her diagnosis, Parsons, who was on maternity leave at the time, has been documenting her cancer treatment on Instagram @life_lemons_and_my_melons.
"I set up my Instagram account to share updates about how I am, but also to spread the word that it's so important to know your body and check yourself regularly – and that includes men too," she says.
"It's really uncommon to have breast cancer when you're under 40, but I'm proof that it can happen.
"I know it can feel scary, because what if you find something? But it's better to know so you can get it checked as soon as possible."
Commenting on the importance of knowing what's normal for your breasts, RUH consultant surgeon Jamie McIntosh says: "One in five breast cancers occurs in women before they reach the menopause and we have seen the number of younger women being diagnosed increase in the last 10 years.
"That's why it's really important to be aware of any changes," he continues. "This includes lumps but also, especially in younger women, things like changes to skin texture, changes in breast shape or a feeling of thickening rather than a distinct lump.
"The good news is that there are some amazing things happening in breast cancer research and treatment development, including many new treatments that are really specifically targeted to the type of breast cancer a patient has.
"For many people finding a lump won't mean they have cancer, but if it does, our team is here to look after you every step of the way."
How to check your breasts
The NHS recommends looking at your breasts and feeling each breast and armpit, up to your collarbone. This might be easier to do in the bath or shower, using the soapy water to make the process a little easier.
Alternatively, you could look in the mirror, swapping between having your arms by your side and having them raised.
Before checking, it's important to remember that everyone's breasts are different, whether you might be on your period (which can make them tender and lumpy), post-menopause (which can make them feel softer) or have one larger than the other.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme has produced a five-point plan, making it easier than ever to know what you’re looking out for.
The five simple points are:
Know what's normal for you
Look at your breasts and feel them
Know what changes to look for
Report any changes without delay
Attend your routine screening if you're 50 or over
For more information and tips on how to check your breasts, see the CoppaFeel! website.
Additional reporting SWNS.