The 51-year-old’s only symptom was a pain in her rib.
When most of us think of breast cancer, we think of checking our breasts for lumps and abnormalities. But it isn’t always that simple.
This October, to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month, Tracy Bennett, a 51-year-old mother from Blanchardstown, is sharing her experience with lobular breast cancer – a “sneaky” type of cancer where symptoms can differ from the ones we hear so much about.
Tracy told Her that she began suspecting something wasn’t quite right five years before her diagnosis, after developing a pain in her ribs.
“I went to my GP and they sent me for a mammogram and there was nothing seen on the mammogram. But that symptom continued. So I got ultrasounds done on all my organs and everything and still nothing.”
Tracy was uncertain what to do next. In 2020, after turning 50, she attended a routine breast check – and everything changed.
“I had a breast cancer called invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) and it’s a very, very sneaky cancer. I’ll always be grateful to the radiologist because it’s so hard to pick up.
“Actually, on that day, she was saying to me, ‘this is a great catch’. But I didn’t know what she was talking about obviously, I hadn’t a clue.”
Lobular breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells that make up the lobules at the end of the milk ducts. It is more common in women aged 45 to 55, but it can affect women of any age.
“It doesn’t form as a lump, it kind of forms as branches in a single file,” says Tracy. “So it’s normally a very late diagnosis. There are different symptoms but, for me, it was only literally pain under my ribs.
“We as women, we would be looking for lumps. I had the pain in my ribs, and I was looking at my boobs and saying, ‘there’s nothing wrong here’.
“In my case, there was nothing. No scaley skin rashes, no different sizes.”
After an MRI found three tumours in her breast, Tracy underwent a mastectomy and later chemotherapy and radiation therapy. One year later, she is now free from cancer.
“I was very reluctant [about chemotherapy] because I had done a little bit of research, but I had to trust my oncologist. And I wasn’t brave enough to say no because I wanted to save my life!
“So I had chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is doable. You put your feet on the ground every day. It’s not a nice thing, but you get through it. It feels like when you’re in it, you’re never going to come out of it – but here I am to tell the tale.”
Every year around 3,704 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed and 724 people die from the disease in Ireland. ILC is the second most common type of breast cancer, but Tracy feels that it is not spoken about enough.
“I don’t know why we don’t know about ILC, but I feel that we should know about ILC. I think it’s very important that women do have this information and that it is out there because it’s very common and we just don’t hear about it. Until it happens.
“If we had education starting very early for young women, from around the age of 16, to just learn to look and feel and know your own breasts, it will help.”
Tracy was later told that the cancer had not been initially detected in 2015 because she had dense breasts.
Dense breasts means having more glandular tissue and not much fat in the breasts. They can make diagnosis more complicated, as mammograms can be harder to read. This is because density shows up as white and tumours show up as white, making it difficult to see. Women with dense breasts also have a higher risk of breast cancer.
“Just look at your breasts. Any little thing, just get it checked. When you have that gut feeling, just go get checked. Most of the time it is absolutely nothing. And if it is something – you can get through it.”
Tracy is now sharing her story as part of the Marie Keating Foundation’s Breast Cancer isn’t Just Pink campaign to encourage other women to go to their GP if they have any concerns. You can find out more in the video below.