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Megan Carley: Breast Cancer in the Early Twenties

Megan Carley, a graphic design student at MA Publishing in London, talks here about her experience of having breast cancer in her early twenties.

Megan and I met each other last year, during our Publishing Master's program in London. Over this transformative course, amid the charm of antiquated books and the evocative allure of contemporary magazines, our conversations meandered through our professional paths in editorial design, as well as through our shared engagement with the discourse surrounding cancer – a topic that resonates with me deeply, having encountered a fibroblastoma in my past. It’s an honor to feature Megan’s story here, to raise awareness and inspire others through her testament of resilience as she navigated the challenges of breast cancer in her early twenties.

– Mirta

Can you share your personal journey through breast cancer, including when you were diagnosed, and how you felt when you first received the news?

I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer in my left breast in October 2021. It started off with me discovering a lump that was red and hot to touch. Tumors are normally not painful, which this one was, making me think it was a cyst but turned out to be more. Luckily, we caught it very early so it was easier to treat quickly. I got the phone call the morning of a trip with my parents and nan to the Lake District which wasn’t ideal as the whole trip I could feel my relatives panicking. It took me a while to come to terms with it as I focused on the practical side more, for example telling tutors as I was a university student, talking to doctors and coming up with a plan. It wasn’t till a few weeks after I found out that I broke down. However, I was very grateful we caught it early and that the NHS was very quick with treatment.

Breast cancer can have a profound impact on a woman’s body image and self-esteem. How did you cope with these changes, and what advice do you have for others facing similar challenges?

The cancer was in one breast, so I always said I had one funky boob and its pretty sister. I struggled with the look of it after I had the tumor removed as it was a big scar and made it bumpy for a while. I am very fortunate that I only had a scar and was able to keep the breast, so it is hard to give advice out to other women who went through worse. What I will say is that a boob is replaceable, you are not. The look of your breast or skin does not define who you are as a person. I always look at my scar and see it as when I was at my lowest yet my strongest. I defeated cancer, and any person needs to remember how much of a superpower that is.

In some cases, women who have undergone breast removal or mastectomy may feel discriminated against or stigmatized due to their altered appearance. Have you ever experienced discrimination or bias, and how did you handle it? 

I was very lucky and didn’t receive any discrimination or bias treatment, nor did any other women I know. From my experience people take your boundaries very seriously and will always provide for your needs if you communicate them clearly. My work and university was able to accommodate what I needed and knew I would talk to them openly when I needed to.

Lebubè IG educates: '30% cancer cases are breast cancer' - Megan Carley advocates.

Awareness and early detection play a crucial role in breast cancer treatment outcomes. What advice would you give to women regarding regular screenings and self-examinations?

Check your breasts every time you’re in the shower or bath. Having warm water on your skin makes the experience more relaxing in a way, maybe even use a nice oil and give yourself a good check. It isn’t a scary thing, it’s something that should be a part of your everyday routine. In the UK smear tests aren’t available till you’re 25 which sucks (I am currently 22) but as soon as you reach that age, it is so, so important to go to that appointment. It takes less than 5 minutes and will save your life. All these small examinations will save your life and isn’t scary. It is amazing that we can do these checks at home without professionals watching and in a safe environment.

Lebubè's IG quote by Megan Carley, a mastectomy image says 'A boob is replaceable, you are not'.

As someone who has battled breast cancer, what message would you like to convey to other women who may be going through a similar diagnosis or treatment?

You are not alone. I got diagnosed when I was 20 and a second-year university student so I felt very alone as I always got told I was ‘too young to get it’. However, there are so many apps and groups where you can talk to every woman going through the same thing as you. I was able to find a group of women who had cancer in her 20s which helped a lot as I felt connected with them. No matter how different our cancer was, we all shared the same story which helped a lot. Don’t do what I did and mask that I was ok. I wasn’t ok but had to carry on being a student, teacher at work and a daughter. I didn’t ask for as much help as I needed and that’s the biggest thing I regret. I felt like a failure but looking back, I was the strongest I’ve ever been. You are strong and you can always ask for help.

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