2 October 2021
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, two formidable police officers are sharing their breast cancer journeys and why it is so important to be checking your bodies for signs and symptoms.
On New Year's Eve 2018, Met Police Detective Chief Superintendent Tara McGovern found a lump in her breast. Two weeks later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At age 11, Tara tragically lost her mother to breast cancer and so began regularly checking her own breasts every month.
Tara says: “When I found the lump, I knew it wasn’t right and I acted straight away. It was small and my surgeon was surprised I had even noticed it. But because I understood and knew my own body, I was found it incredibly early and even though it was aggressive, I got through it. My oncologist said ‘I am going to make you feel dreadful for 18 months, but then you are going to live the rest of your life.’ And she was right.”
Tiff Lynch, PFEW National Board Member and Leicestershire Police officer was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, in the midst of the global pandemic. Scrolling social media one day led to Tiff doing a spur of the moment check of her breasts.
Tiff says: “July 9th of last year, I will never forget the date, I was flicking through Twitter and I saw Jackie Beltrao talking about the importance of checking. I thought maybe I should do it. And there they were. Two pea-sized, hard lumps and I just knew straight away. I didn’t know how aggressive it was or if I had found it early or late. I could tell everyone around me wanted to ask me ‘so what happens next’ and I just didn’t know. Because I didn’t have the answers. But I knew I was going to fight it.”
One in two people will be diagnosed with cancer and one in eight will be diagnosed with breast cancer – stats which are quite alarming. There are 55,000 new cases of breast cancer every year in the UK. But breast cancer is one the most curable cancer, with a 94% survival rate, and is the furthest in advance in terms of treatment programmes. Tara and Tiff are both passionate about highlighting the importance of knowing your own body and regularly checking yourself to catch anything and get treatment as soon as possible – simple steps which can save your life.
Tiff says: “We have to take away fear and worry because the importance of self-checking has to be there. No-one should be scared or embarrassed and there shouldn’t be a fear of finding something, because if you have found something you can get it checked and sorted. Get to know your breasts, because once you know them, any changes will be easier to spot. Get on the phone to your GP the minute you’ve found something or if you’re worried about something.”
Tara echoes this, saying: “You need to regularly check yourself so that you can catch it early. If you have to have chemo, that’s fine, life goes on but if you don’t have to have chemo, that’s even better. Finding something early will determine your treatment plan. No doctor is going to worry about you coming to see them about something that turns out to be nothing. 80% of lumps that are found are benign, but it’s priceless to have peace of mind and it takes just minutes to check.”
As well as the well-known symptoms, such as lumps, it is important to ensure that you are noticing any changes at all to your body. Tiff says: “It’s not just about lumps and bumps – it’s anything from change in colour, change in shape, discharge from the nipple, even indentations as this is a clear sign that something is there as it is pulling on the skin. Just look for anything that isn’t normal for you.”
Tara has spearheaded the launch of the Change and Check campaign, starting in the Met and spreading to forces nationally. The campaign highlights the importance of checking your breasts, knowing the signs and symptoms and how to check: “It’s best to check yourself on a monthly basis, at the end of your menstrual cycle. Look in a mirror, lift your arms and look from your neck down to below your breasts. Check, feel and press with the flat of your fingers.. If you’re menopausal, then just make sure it’s the same time every month – log it in your phone to remind you. It’s a straightforward, 5 min check. Don’t worry too much about the method at the start, just get to know your breasts. It can save your life.”
In a message to anyone who may be newly diagnosed, or worried about a possible diagnosis, Tara and Tiff say: “It’s going to be ok. It will be a rough ride, it will be tough and you will feel pretty lousy. But there is nothing that will be thrown at you that you won’t be able to deal with. It’s going to be ok.”
We are urging all of our members, women and men, to make time to check themselves this Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Tara and Tiff will be sharing more about their journeys, the Change and Check campaign and their advice in a series of short videos through October on our social media channels.