Nicola

A simple text message had extraordinary consequences for Nicola Ryder. A monthly ping notification, something she had signed up to months earlier by chance, triggered an uncanny physical reaction.

"My phone went off," the 45-year-old from Bolton said.  As I reached over to get it I felt this awful pain in my breast. I realised I'd had the same pain on holiday in Mexico when I was lying on my front sunbathing. ‘

 ‘Ironically enough, the text message was actually a monthly reminder to check my  breasts, something I'd signed up to a few months before.   So I did the check and that's when I felt the lump. It came out of nowhere, I'd only been home a few days and before that I'd been in a bikini and putting sun cream on. ‘

Finding that lump was the only the beginning of a difficult, but hugely important journey for Nicola. The following day, she booked in to see her GP in Bolton, who referred her to the breast clinic for further tests.

 ‘I didn't really think anything of it if I'm honest," she said. "But the more tests they did, the more worried I became. I kept thinking, I'm only 42, I'm too young for this. I was the fittest I'd ever been, I had a personal trainer and had lost weight."

Several weeks later, Nicola's biopsy results confirmed her fears - she was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple negative breast cancer.  She began her treatment just over a month later, and in that time the lump had grown so much it was visible through her clothing.

"It was so painful, every day I'd have to hold myself getting out of bed because of how much it hurt. But the day after my first treatment I could barely feel the lump, it was a huge relief to know it was working."

It was while undergoing chemotherapy doctors confirmed Nicola was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation - which put her at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and of it returning.

"They started to ask questions about my family history. All I knew about BRCA at that point was what I'd read about Angelina Jolie and her mum so I thought it was something on the female side of the family and there was nothing on mine."

It wasn't until Nicola spoke to her dad that she discovered that two of his cousins had had breast cancer, and that one had died from ovarian cancer, and that the gene could be passed paternally.

Having the gene meant that even though Nicola would undergo a mastectomy after treatment, there was still more than an 80% chance the cancer could come back in the other breast, or that she would develop ovarian cancer.

 

Nicola now had a decision to make. Did she undergo preventative surgery or take the risk? To her it was a no brainer.

"I will do whatever it takes to stop it coming back, I know a lot of people who wouldn't have their breasts or ovaries removed, they'd take the risk. In a way I felt that being single I was lucky because I only had my own feelings to consider.

"I didn't have to worry about a partner seeing me as less attractive, or not wanting me to have it done, the impact not being able to have kids would have on a relationship.I was in control of the decisions about my body."

In 2018, Nicola underwent an operation to remove her right breast, as well as an oophorectomy to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes, later followed by reconstructive surgery.

"There is still this underlying niggle in my head knowing it could come back at any time," Nicola said.

"Every ailment, pain, ache - always worrying what it means.

"But I've done as much as I can to stop it, and early detection was so important."

Margo Cornish