October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and with it being the most common type of cancer in the UK, it’s never been so important for us to shout about it.
Around 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime, with most being over the age of 50, but it can affect younger women too.
One woman who found herself battling the disease at the age of 35 was mother-of-three Ashleigh Ryan from Wokingham.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is extra special for Ashleigh this year as she’s celebrating a whole decade of being given the all clear – and we couldn’t be more chuffed for her.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Ashleigh revealed how she managed to stay positive during her diagnosis and treatment, and why’s it’s so important for all of us to regularly check our breasts.
Speaking about the moment she was told she had breast cancer, Ashleigh explained: “I had three children – aged five, three and five-months-old.
“The doctor originally wasn’t going to send me to the hospital but said she sent me just to be on the safe side. When I was diagnosed I remember thinking, ‘how can I have cancer? I have just had a baby!’
“But cancer doesn’t care about these things! I managed to stay positive and honestly never thought, ‘I’m going to die’.
The doctors found it difficult to determine the size of Ashleigh’s tumour, so after a few different scans she was given the option to have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.
“I decided a mastectomy would be better because it wasn’t an option to keep going back and forth to hospital for operations with my kids being so young,” she explained.
“Fortunately I made the right decision because had I chosen a lumpectomy, I would have had to go back into hospital and have a mastectomy anyway. I was so lucky and around four weeks after having the operation I was given the all clear.”
Ashleigh didn’t need to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy but she did take Tamoxifen for five years, which she admitted had its problems.
“It was definitely a difficult time and I could not have gotten through it without my husband Paul, and my friends and family. Also, having the kids and them being so young didn’t give me and chance to feel sorry for myself, I just had to get on with it and this was a blessing in disguise!”
She added: “I found talking about what was happening to friends and family helped me to stay positive. My husband was like a rock and always put my mind at rest when I was having an off day.
“The Breast care nurses at the Kind Edwards Hospital in Windsor were absolutely amazing. I always told myself I was going to be ok, and I listened and took on board everything I was told from doctors and nurses. I also researched lots on the internet and joined forums speaking to other women in the same situation – a positive mindset can help so much.”
Ashleigh had reconstruction surgery a year after being given the all clear, and admitted that sometimes it feels like none of it ever happened.
“I guess the only reminders are my scars – which have faded a lot – and my annual mammogram. Once a year I do have a panic when I receive my letter from the hospital about my mammogram, but thankfully every year for the past nine years I have had the all clear,” she continued.
“There is no doubt that this is a stressful time, and it’s natural to go through a mix of different emotions, so making sure you have a good support network of friends and family is important to help you through the tough spots,” she said.
“Cancer support groups and counsellors may also be helpful to talk through your concerns, feelings and worries.”
As Ashleigh reaches the 10 year mark, she still makes a point of checking herself regularly and has also raised nearly £10,000 for charity.
“In the past 10 years, I’ve held a couple of fundraising evenings and taken part in a few charity walks and runs for Breast Cancer Care,” she said. “I love Breast Cancer Awareness Month because it brings attention for all the right reasons – making people aware to check themselves while raising lots of money.
“It’s so important to support the charity as they need to keep the research up so hopefully one day they can find a cure.”
Ashleigh runs a beautiful florist and gift shop called Tangerine and Green. For more info click here.