LIFESTYLE

Breast Cancer Awareness: How Air Conditioning Alerted This Woman To A Lump In Her Breast

24/10/2014 10:41 BST | Updated 24/10/2014 10:59 BST

Elaine Delaney made a startling discovery last December. She was trying to warm herself up in her office after the air-conditioning was on too high, and that's when she noticed a lump in her breast.

The diagnosis was breast cancer.

elaine delaney

"It was a freezing cold morning and the air-con was on full blast. I think it was colder in the office than outside," said the 35-year-old from Hackney.

"I hugged myself to try and keep warm and felt a small grisly lump about the size of a grape. After asking a colleague to examine it, I decided to mention it to my doctor at a check-up I’d booked for something else three days later."

The office manager, who also volunteers for homeless charity Crisis, took her mum Stella Delaney, 70, a breast cancer survivor along with her for support.

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While she was aware of the history of cancer in her family, having just celebrated her 34th birthday Elaine figured she was too young for the lump to be anything serious.

But by the time of her appointment, the lump in her left breast had swollen to the size of a golf ball and the GP also found a smaller growth in her right breast.

"I was sent to hospital for scans and it was then I started to worry," she said. "Mum had been diagnosed with breast cancer five years earlier so I knew what could be ahead."

After an ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy, Elaine had to wait three weeks for her results.

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"It was surreal. I was celebrating Christmas Day, but I didn’t know what the future held for me," she said.

Elaine eventually found out that the lumps in both breasts were stage 3 cancer and that she needed eight rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

"I’d prepared myself for the cancer part, I just couldn’t come to terms with the fact I would lose my breasts," she recalled.

"Doctors said that even if chemo did destroy the cancerous cells I’d still need a double mastectomy to be sure I was cancer free. It was devastating."

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Ms Delaney cut her hair short in preparation for chemotherapy, but after six sessions she had a reaction.

She said: "I got a tingling feeling in my hands and feet which got worse. At one point I couldn’t even do up buttons.

"My doctor decided I should have the mastectomy then complete my course of chemo. During the operation I’d also have a breast reconstruction," she added.

However, prior to surgery, an MRI scan showed that the cancer could be spreading.

"It meant I couldn’t have the breast reconstruction until they knew I was cancer-free," she said. "It was another blow."

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Immediately after her treatment, Elaine had trouble coming to terms with her flat chest: "But two months on, I did start to feel more comfortable with my body," she said.

Elaine came across charity Hello Beautiful - using art to raise awareness of breast cancer - after her operation. She met with the founder, Jane Hutchinson who makes plaster casts of breast cancer survivors' chests, and then sends them off to be painted in vibrant colours.

"I met Jane and she showed me her work. It was so inspiring and powerful. Two days later she asked if I would be interested in having a cast made, and I jumped at the chance," said Delaney.

"It’s not finished yet but I can’t wait to see the final version, which will be displayed in her studio. It shows how far I’ve come, and how important it is to know what’s happening with your body."

elaine delaney

Elaine, who is hoping to have reconstructive surgery in the future, is now urging women to carry out monthly self-checks, particularly young girls who see breast cancer as an older woman’s issue.

She’s working with Keep A Breast Foundation to spread the message via #CHECKYOURSELFIE. They’re encouraging people to download the app Keep A Breast Check Yourself, which helps you master the breast self-exam.

"If I hadn’t hugged myself that day, things could’ve been very different," she said. "So now I want to encourage women to do it properly. Being cold saved my life. I never thought I’d be thankful for the office air con."