A 33-year-old woman from North Wales is encouraging others to be conscious of their health and check their breasts regularly for potential signs of the disease.
Dawn Williams, from Benllech, was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 32-years-old in March 2022.
She was physically fit and healthy with no immediate family history of breast cancer, so it was a shock to everyone when she received her diagnosis.
Dawn is now eager to share her story to encourage women to regularly check their breasts and detect cancer early.
“My husband Iwan lost his mum to breast cancer in 2006 so ever since he has encouraged me to check my breasts to look out for any changes,” explained Dawn.
“I didn’t always remember to do it but it was at the start of the year I did a quick check when I was in the shower and it was then I found a lump.
“I didn’t panic as I genuinely thought it would be nothing to worry about but I booked an appointment with the GP straight away.
“The GP examined me and as I was young, healthy and with no family history of breast cancer there was no reason to fear at that point that it was cancer,” she said.
Dawn was referred to the Rapid Access Breast Clinic in Ysbyty Gwynedd to undergo diagnostic tests to provide an accurate diagnosis.
Dr Andrew Gash, Consultant Radiologist who was involved in establishing the clinics in Bangor and Llandudno, said: “At the Rapid Access Breast Clinics we see patients whose symptoms are suspicious of cancer.
“We aim to examine the patients and get all necessary tests done in a single visit. These tests include mammograms, scans and biopsies. Thankfully, most of the patients do not turn out to have cancer, these people can be reassured and discharged on the same day. Those with more suspicious findings will have biopsies and will return for the results a few days later.”
A week later, Dawn returned to the hospital to receive the results that confirmed her worst fears.
She said: “I was in complete shock; I never expected it to be cancer. You just don’t believe that it will ever happen to you. I was provided with a clear treatment plan straight away and began a six month chemotherapy course at Alaw Ward. There was no delay in getting treatment underway.
“The chemotherapy was extremely successful in shrinking my tumour and I then had surgery to remove it as well as three lymph nodes removed.
“Thankfully those lymph nodes have come back clear but I will need a course of radiotherapy to complete my treatment, but I’m now feeling very positive and lucky to say that I’m now cancer free. Catching the disease early made all the difference in my case and meant a better prognosis. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of self-examination and awareness of your own body.”
Following her experience Dawn is now keen to raise awareness of the disease in younger people.
“If it hadn’t been for Iwan reminding me to check my breasts more often, I may never have noticed the lump that day – for me it was him who saved my life.
“It’s important to not be scared to check your breasts and if you do find something the health service will do the very best they can for you.
“I was treated as an individual throughout and not just another statistic. I had the most amazing care from the surgical and nursing team as well as the diagnostic team in the clinic who made an incredible effort to make sure myself and Iwan understood everything that was happening.
‘They not only made time for me but also for Iwan and this made all the difference as a cancer diagnosis affects your loved ones just as much as it does you.
“I have had amazing care at Ysbyty Gwynedd and I want to thank everyone who has been with me along the way.”
Dr Gash also echoes Dawn’s calls to encourage more women to be breast aware.
He said: “In cases of breast cancer I want to stress the importance of early diagnosis. We know that this gives the very best chance of a complete cure and often results in much less aggressive treatment being needed. So I would encourage women to be breast aware and to learn to examine their own breasts.”
Breast cancer can occur at any age but less common in young women, with only 4 per cent of cases in the UK occurring in women under the age of 40.
Dawn’s surgeon, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Miss Mei-Ju Hwang, said: “My message to all women would be – please do not over worry about breast cancer but it is important to be breast aware and to encourage family and friends around you to be too.
“Examine yourselves regularly, know what is normal for you, know what signs to look out for and report any new changes to your GP without delay.
“If you are over the age of 50, do attend for your screening mammogram when invited.
“If you are not sure what to look out for, there is a lot of useful information from charities such as Breast Cancer Now – you can call them for free on 0808 800 6000 or visit breastcancernow.org.”