A woman diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26 is urging young women to regularly check their boobs, after a lump she spotted was initially believed to be a harmless cyst.
Angelina Hardy Taylor, 27, a retail worker from Kirkby, Nottinghamshire, was devastated to learn she had stage 1, grade 3 cancer after discovering a hard almond sized lump in her right breast in June 2021.
Having initially been reassured she was likely too young to have cancer, the retail worker believes self-checking may have saved her life, after pushing for further tests led to her diagnosis.
Now she'd like all young women (and men) to be aware of the signs.
“I had seen awareness campaigns in the past and I knew it was important to check my breasts, even with no other symptoms," she explains.
“When I first noticed a lump I was worried and went to get it checked out straight away, but my GP told me that because of my age they didn't believe it was cancer and was probably just a cyst."
Hardy Taylor continued to check her breasts and noticed the lump had grown in size, so, trusting her instincts, returned to her GP four months later, in November 2021.
“I asked to be referred to a breast clinic for proper tests," she explains.
“When the doctor there felt my lump he said it was definitely not a cyst.
“His tone changed as he asked about my family history and said he wanted me to have a biopsy and ultrasound.
“I knew then I had breast cancer, before it was even confirmed.”
Recalling the moment her fears were realised following her biopsy results, Hardy Taylor says: “I asked straight away if I was going to die or was it treatable.
“I was in complete shock and absolutely devastated. I kept thinking, 'how could I have breast cancer at 26?'"
Hardy Taylor was diagnosed with stage 1 ductal carcinoma in situ grade 3 hormone positive HER2 negative breast cancer.
She was offered an immediate treatment plan, but it came with a devastating consequence to her fertility.
“I needed to have a lumpectomy and then six rounds of preventative chemotherapy and radiotherapy," she explains.
“I was given the option to delay treatment to give me time to save my eggs, but doctors advised me because my cancer was grade 3, not to wait and to have the surgery as quickly as possible."
She adds: “It was a really heart-breaking conversation to have with my partner, but we agreed I had no real choice.
“We were both open to the thought of having a family later, but cancer stole that choice from me."
Doctors were "cautiously optimistic" when Hardy Taylor underwent surgery in December 2021 and she was then given a "no evidence of disease" status in January this year.
This means she went from diagnosis to "cancer free" in a matter of months, something she believes was only possible because she recognised the changes in her body early on.
Unfortunately, despite surviving the cancer, she will remain in a chemical menopause meaning her fertility has been permanently affected by her hormone treatment.
Watch: 8 facts about breast cancer
Hardy Taylor has been documenting her breast cancer journey on social media @my_breast_cancer_journey_, opening up about her symptoms, the side effects of her treatments and sharing photos of her scars.
“To watch the physical changes happening to my body was very hard," she says.
“I felt bloated, pale and exhausted, had total body hair loss, neuropathy in my feet and I gained weight from the steroids."
She says the side effects she was experiencing had a knock-on effect on her confidence.
“I totally lost myself," she explains. "No amount of warning could have prepared me for losing my long hair the way I did. It was so overwhelming.
“I feel so angry at myself for having no confidence before cancer. I used to hate the way I looked, but after cancer I didn’t recognise myself at all.
"I looked completely different and avoided mirrors for a long time."
Despite the challenges from the side effects, Hardy Taylor feels grateful for the treatment she credits for saving her life.
“Going through cancer has definitely made me appreciate my body a lot more and I am slowly learning to accept the way I look now, especially my scars," she explains.
And Hardy Taylor is gradually getting used to life after cancer.
"I can only wear a wig for an hour or two before I'm sweating," she says.
“The joys of menopause is not something else I thought I'd be dealing with at 27.
“It's been so hard to feel like a young woman full of youth when you're forced to experience breast cancer and menopause together.
“I’m still trying to get to grips with what I’ve been though," she continues. “I’m still in radiotherapy, taking hormone treatment and I’m monogrammed every year.
“I'm just trying to adapt to a new life I never saw coming."
She hopes that by sharing her story she will help to raise awareness about the importance of checking your boobs and is supporting Breast Cancer Now’s ‘Get to know your normal’ campaign.
“I am only alive today because I self-checked my breasts," she explains.
“If you know your own body and know your own normal, it can save your life."
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK, but research from Breast Cancer Now reveals 41% women in the UK do not check their breasts regularly.
Like Hardy Taylor, two thirds of breast cancers are found by women noticing new or unusual breast changes and getting these checked out by their GP.
The sooner breast cancer is detected, the greater the potential of treatment being successful, and saving more lives.
Hardy Taylor adds: “Cancer doesn’t care what age you are, so if you spot a change, get it checked.”
For more information on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer visit breastcancernow.org/TLC
Additional reporting Caters.