“It was a clear, sunny, blue-sky day the day I learned I had breast cancer. The brutally unexpected so often seems to happen on such days,” she wrote.
Shulman, who stepped down as British Vogue editor in 2017 after 25 years at the helm, described feeling a sharp pain under her left breast this past summer which encouraged her to make an appointment with her GP.
“I read about how Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding, who sadly died of breast cancer in September, experienced a pain which she attributed to a guitar strap rubbing her breast,” she said.
“It made me think that I should get my pain investigated – but not right then. At some point. In the future.”
Shulman ended up booking an appointment with the same breast specialist who performed surgery on her sister when she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years prior.
When the medical team pressed on the area that had been causing Shulman pain, they found something they were certain wasn’t “a simple cyst”.
Shulman described that moment as being “when the world flipped”.
“A biopsy followed right there to test what she [the doctor] had seen and then I was back in the professor’s office, to be greeted with the news that yes, there was a tumour, relatively small,” she continued.
“Because of where it was located, deep under the breast on the muscle of the rib, it hadn’t shown up on the mammogram.
“It was fortunate, he [the specialist] said, that he had ordered an ultrasound, in part because I had told him of my relationship to my sister. Breast cancer is known to have familial genetic links – although as it turned out, ours didn’t.”
Shulman said when doctors started speaking of radiotherapy, hormone treatment and chemotherapy, she realised she was in the “land of the sick”.
“I knew enough about breast cancer to know that, one way or another, a cancer like mine should be treatable,” she added. “But I was floating around this new world with no control.”
A week later Shulman learned that she would be able to have a lumpectomy and there was no evidence of the cancer spreading any further.
“I would definitely need to have radiotherapy and hormone treatment, but I would have to wait to discover whether I would be advised to have chemotherapy,” she explained.
After surgery, Shulman was given the all-clear and advised to undergo hormone therapy for the next seven years in a bid to prevent recurrence.
“I have also been very lucky. The vast majority of breast cancers are discovered by mammograms,” Shulman wrote.
“Mine wasn’t because of where it was situated. It is relatively rare that breast cancer is indicated by a pain – indeed, my NHS doctor has told me that bilateral breast pain (meaning pain on both sides) has just been removed from the Pan-London Breast Cancer Guidelines for urgent referral to a specialist.
“But my only symptom was a pain and my cancer was only discovered by the additional ultrasound that I was given. The story could so easily have turned out differently.”
The NHS says symptoms of breast cancer include a new lump in your breast, a change in size or shape of one of your breasts, a discharge of fluid from your nipples, a lump or swelling in your armpits and a change of appearance in your nipple.
It advises that women should check their breasts often so they can notice any irregularities, and they should attend a mammogram screening every three years after turning 50.
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