Looking back on the last year, everything feels like a blur. It all moved so quickly, and even though I’m eternally grateful for that, it feels like I never got a real chance to stop, breathe and acknowledge it all.

In July 2020 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because I was only 23 at the time, we assumed it was likely that I carried at least one BRCA gene. Genetic testing showed nothing of concern, which was a relief, but also left me with a lot of unanswered questions. Why did this happen to me? And why so young?

I have some theories, but that’s really all they are.

My breast cancer was hormonal, with a score of 8/8 for receptiveness to estrogen and progesterone. That made a bit more sense to me – my hormones had always been very out of balance. I first got my period at the age of nine and developed breasts at 10. I struggled with very bad hormonal acne my entire life, from about the age of 14 onwards. On top of this, I was doubling up on hormonal contraception – I had a progesterone IUD and was taking the pill on top of that as a treatment for my acne. I want to stress that my oncologist says there is nothing to suggest the use of contraception is what triggered my cancer, but it did provide it with fuel, so I’m banned from any future use of hormonal methods.

I get lost in these theories sometimes, desperately searching for a reason that will help me understand why I developed breast cancer so young. The reality is, it might have had nothing to do with my hormones, it really might of been a case of sheer bad luck.

This is why it’s so important to check ourselves, and get genetic testing done if breast cancer runs in your family. I know the prospect of finding a lump is scary, but trust me when I say that not finding it is scarier. Catching breast cancer early is a game changer. I caught mine in very early stages, but by complete accident.

I had an itch one morning that I went to scratch, and when I did, I felt a lump, roughly the size of a small pebble. I remember the moment I was diagnosed, it felt like the world came crashing down around me. Very quickly though, I found my strength. I found it through my nurses, my oncologist, my therapist – and through Instagram. Social media allowed me to connect with others who were going through the same experience, and helped me to realize that I’m not alone.

Three months of chemo and one surgery later, and I’ve been declared cancer free.

I’ve explained before that cancer doesn’t really end there. There are preventative treatments you need to continue with, and psychological trauma that you need to work through, but I’m grateful that I can now tackle these with lighter shoulders.

For anyone who is reading this, I have two messages that I want to emphasize. First of all, please check your breasts regularly, and go and have any abnormalities checked out. That includes a genetic test if you have a strong family history. Secondly, if this is something you are facing now, or might face in the future, know that there is a community here waiting for you with open arms and an endless stream of support. You are not alone.