Police Federation

‘Don't be fobbed off. Insist on a scan and don’t miss your mammogram’

Deputy National Chair Tiff Lynch shares her breast cancer experience and advice for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, running throughout October.

29 September 2023


The month of October is the month of breast cancer awareness. This is a time to raise awareness of this dreadful disease that is the most common cause of cancer in women, with around 55,000 diagnosed each year, and it affects about 370 men each year, too. I'll be honest. I understand why months of the year are designated to highlight different illnesses.

But for me, My one wish would be, and this is just from personal experience, that every month, men and women check their breasts. Too many people, and I once included myself in this, push self-checking to another day. We're busy people with hectic lifestyles. We feel healthy, and for some, we think “it won't happen to me”. If you are of the age for NHS mammograms. My second wish is that every appt is utilised and people make sure they attend.

There is always something going on and more important to get done, and that simple self-check falls by the wayside. Sometimes, we need to pay more attention to address the signs. Lumps, dimples, changes of shape of the breast, amongst other signs, there remains a hesitance in making that call once something is found.

Self-checking, A simple thing that doesn't take long, should form part of our own personal health and wellbeing, no different from brushing our teeth. We do that to maintain oral hygiene and ensure our mouths and teeth remain healthy. The only difference is that we brush our teeth more frequently than is required to self-check our bits and bobs. Why should regular self-checking be on that list of health and wellbeing priorities? Because a simple self-check in the privacy of our own home can and does save lives.

I know this; how? Because I'm one of those people who failed myself. Yes, I failed myself. I was one of those people who was too busy and then needed to remember to do it. Then, when I remembered, I would put it off for another day because I was too busy. Another day would pass, and the pattern continued.

It was only from scouring Twitter late one evening that Jacquie Beltrao posted about the importance of self-checking. I don't know why, but it prompted me. Had I not seen that tweet, I doubt I would have done a check any time around that date. And had that been the case? I wouldn't be here today.

At the time, I was not of the age to have mammograms offered to women between 50 and 71 years of age in the UK. I felt fine. Yes, I was tired often, but I put that down to workload and family life, as we all refer to tiredness in our lifestyles. It was summer, and we were in the middle of a pandemic and trying to work around everything coming our way. Of course, we were all tired and stressed.

I had absolutely no apparent symptoms that would link cancer to me. Or so I thought. Late at night, that impromptu self-check found two pea-sized lumps in the crease of my breast with my rib cage. It was only a self-check that would have found my cancer.

It's over three years since I heard those words, "I'm so sorry. You have breast cancer". I was sitting there alone with two strangers due to the pandemic restrictions that were upon us. Professionals in their field. So, as a matter of fact, in their delivery but without being too wooden and so forthcoming with heaps of information that quite honestly went in one ear and straight out the other. I was on my journey two weeks after finding those lumps.

The consultant and BC nurse who stood by his side reminded me so much of our roles when we sadly have to deliver news that nobody wants to hear. Reflecting, nobody teaches us how to provide devasting news, but my experiences of being that person who has had to do that delivery helped me in how I received what came from the consultant's mouth.

In the back of my mind, I thought I had prepared myself. Everyone had said to me “you'll be fine, Tiff. They'll be cysts or something like that”. But then when you hear it, you don't listen to it.

What followed was a question from my consultant surgeon, “what do you do for a living?” When I told him I was a police officer, I remember him saying, "oh good. I like working with you people”. UHHH? was my reaction. Why on earth would he come out with that? And without thinking, I asked him why. "Because you're fighters. I know that you will give this everything you've got and won't give up." Never a true word said. And my experiences from all manner of situations within my then 25-year policing career helped give me the strength and determination to fight this.

My friends and I called it the battle that would not be defeated. Each round of chemo was another one smashed out of the park. And now, three years on, medically clear of cancer, you would think the battle is over. Yep, I thought that would be the case too. How bloody wrong was I? The one thing I have learnt is that you can and have to move on and forward, but there are so many things that keep the effects of cancer with you. It's how you deal with those effects and feelings to move on.

You see, there are so many different stages to this process. Diagnosis,

treatment, post cancer. And generally, the person coming out at the end of that process is rarely the same person that went into it. It isn't easy to put into words for someone who has not gone through it. Medically, the cancer is beaten. Mentally and physically, the cancer never leaves you. Every year of clear scans is another tick on the cancer clear calendar. In the back of your mind, you always think every niggle, headache, or pain is its return. It's a continued mental battle with yourself. You know you are fine, but it's always there in the back of your mind, and in some cases, it does come back.

The treatments available, whilst they can cure the disease, can also cause further issues when someone starts this process. The only thing on your mind is to beat the disease, live and get back to some normality.

You take the liquid poison; you feel battered, sick, and weak. You take the pills because the professionals advise, and you will do what it takes. Your family and friends can only watch and give you as much love and support as possible. And in some respects, your outlook on life and what is essential takes a different direction.

In my case, I now have a weakened heart, for which I will be on meds for the rest of my life. I will be on medication to prevent cancer from returning for the next 5 -10 years. Still, the side effects of that medication are endless: bone aches, muscle spasms, brain fog, headaches and the risk of that medication causing other cancers forming the body, to name a few. This year alone, I have had further cancer scans, tests, biopsies and a minor op. It's all down to the meds that technically are keeping me alive. It's the cancer rollercoaster. On the flip side, I have never felt so mentally and physically strong, and my outlook on everything I do, or plan to do, has positively changed so much. 

Treatment is specific to the individual due to the many different types of breast cancer. And the side effects are other for each person in many ways: short term and long term.

Support in the workplace is imperative so it can be designed specifically for that individual and, as significantly, for that individual's family if caring responsibilities are needed. There are great examples of good practice coming from some police forces. Still, I'm yet to be convinced the police service has fully got their heads around the basics of cancer treatment's effects and what post-treatment and returning to work look like.

I hear too many examples where officers have said the response has been great during treatment. But what happens post-cancer is that of, “well, you beat it, your treatment is done, and you must be good to go now then”. Examples of officers who have undergone mastectomies, returning to work unable to wear their original body armour and being refused individual fitting are just one example.

More needs to be done and can be done to understand better and support those who are going through cancer and those who are caring for someone with cancer.

What's my message? It's really simple. Men and women out there, check your boobs if you need help with what to do or what to look out for. There are websites out there www.coppafeel.org is one such website. There are heaps of info that can guide you and also give you additional information and signposting.

Suppose you find anything that looks or feels different to how your breasts typically are, call your GP and get seen. Remember, breast cancer isn't always a lump - it shows itself in many different ways.

Don't be fobbed off. Insist on a scan.

For those going through cancer treatment, there is so much support out there in the form of support groups in the workplace across many forces, set up by police officers and staff who have gone through or are undergoing treatment.

Contact your local Federation to see what support can be given. There is so much the Federation can do to help you within the workplace.

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