Rare form of breast cancer presented with no lumps, expat says
DUBAI // Paula McLean spent her life as a nurse caring for others until seven years ago, when the tables turned.
After she noticed a dimpling on her right breast, the Scot went to see a doctor and her worst fears were confirmed.
“I initially thought it was an imprint from the button on my duvet but, sadly, not,” said the 49-year-old Dubai resident, whose initial reaction was fear of how to tell her family and friends.
“I knew they would be devastated. I remember apologising for the news I was about to share. I couldn’t tell my mum, so I was a bit mean and handed that little chestnut over to my brother.”
Ms McLean, who is also a first aid instructor on cardiopulmonary resuscitation, said she never thought she would contract breast cancer.
“I suppose being a nurse you know life can throw curve balls at any time, and I used this experience to help me deal with my situation,” she said.
“Also, you meet people at the cancer centre whom I was completely in awe of.
“One lady was a single mother of a three-year-old and three-month-old triplets – that is tough.”
Ms McLean was told she had lobular cancer, a type of breast cancer that begins in the milk-producing glands of the breast. Her cancer was at stage three when it was detected.
“So you don’t get a lump, it’s more like a splatter of tumours,” she said. “I was lucky that one of the tumours was close to the surface of the skin and caused dimpling. Other women aren’t so lucky and diagnosis comes too late.”
Ms McLean has since had both her breasts removed, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She still gets injections each month and takes medicine daily.
“The most difficult part was looking at my young daughter every day wondering if I would be there to see her grow up and help her through life’s trials and tribulations, constantly crying and being really down at the thought that I wouldn’t,” she said. “A very wise counsellor asked me if I had any control over the progression of my disease? I answered ‘no’.
“She then asked if I had any control over my crying, worrying and enjoying life, I answered ‘yes’. To which she replied, ‘why don’t you take control of the things you can?’. It was like an epiphany.”
Setting herself a number of goals, including completing a 100 kilometre walk of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, moving with her daughter to India for three years, learning to play golf and to sail, Ms McLean said she began enjoying life more than before.
Today, she is well on the road to recovery but would urge women to be aware of all the possible signs of breast cancer.
“I think people are aware of checking for lumps but I don’t think they are as aware of the other signs and symptoms,” she said.
“When I speak to friends about the way cancer presented for me they always say, ‘we didn’t know about that – we thought there was always a lump’. Awareness campaigns are definitely still required.
“I think simple breast ultrasound scans for younger women should be part of routine health checks. There’s no radiation issues and may just highlight early changes before a physical presentation is there.”
Updated: October 2, 2016 04:00 AM