Rib pain was woman’s only symptom before diagnosis of ‘sneaky’ breast cancer

Tracy Bennett, 53, was diagnosed with a breast cancer type that most women know little about, despite it being the second most common of the disease
Rib pain was woman’s only symptom before diagnosis of ‘sneaky’ breast cancer

Sarah Slater

A pain under her left ribs was all one woman had to tell her that something was not right with her body, years before a diagnosis of a “sneaky” breast cancer.

Tracy Bennett, 53, was diagnosed with breast cancer five years later — a “sneaky” type that most women know little about, despite it being the second most common of the disease.

The mother from Blanchardstown in Dublin was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer in February last year, confirming her suspicions of five years previous that something was not right in her breast.

Medical statistics released by several support organisations show that more than 3,700 people are diagnosed with breast cancer and 724 people die from the disease each year in Ireland. Invasive lobular breast cancer starts in cells that make up the lobules at the end of the milk ducts in the breast.

It is more common in women aged 45 to 55, but it can affect women of any age, can be in both breasts at the same time and accounts for about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of all invasive breast cancers. In men it accounts for one per cent of breast cancers.

No lumps

Over the last two decades, there has been a marked increase in the incidence of lobular breast cancer, mainly among the post-menopausal population. This is likely the result of improved diagnostic techniques and the use of hormone replacement therapy.

In 2015, Ms Bennett went to her GP after experiencing some pain in her left breast. Because she did not have any lumps, and nothing was detected on her mammogram, she was diagnosis with cystitis.

Always conscious of her health, five years later Ms Bennett took up an invitation to attend a routine BreastCheck screening based on Eccles Street, and that was when everything changed for her and her family.

I need to give back to other women and warn them about this type of cancer which is known as being sneaky

As she was diagnosed on the cusp of the Covid-19 pandemic, everything moved very quickly. Ms Bennett has now decided to share her life living with the disease as part of the Marie Keating Foundation’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign titled 'Breast Cancer Isn’t Just Pink?'

“I was truly blessed to be seen so quickly and had my surgery on March 31st, followed quickly by chemotherapy. I’m still striving and thriving but I need to give back to other women and warn them about this type of cancer which is known as being sneaky.

“It doesn’t form in lumps in the breast. It’s like the roots of a tree or strings that spread out making it very difficult to diagnose and that’s why mammograms alone in some cases are not enough. MRI scans are needed.

“What else people need to know is that those who have dense breasts, of which there are 43 per cent, is that they make diagnoses even more complicated and very, very hard to detect. I truly had no symptoms, no lumps, no rash, no inverted nipple and no bigger breast than the other, bar a pain in my ribs and I followed what the doctors were telling me.”

'A lottery'

Only for her BreastCheck screening appointment coming through the door from An Post, Ms Bennett’s story may have been very different.

“I had dots of cancer in my left breast and a tumour 13cm in size. Before I knew it I was under the care of Cathy Kelly, an oncologist based in the Mater Hospital. The rest of my time since then has been rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy — a path known too well by so many,” she said.

“It may be upsetting to point out but the outcome of this type of cancer has to be highlighted to other women especially, there is a 30 per cent chance of this type of cancer coming back within five years of being cancer free and it rises to 50 per cent after that time period. It’s a lottery really.

“What is really scary is that so so many people know very little about it. People need to be educated more about this cancer and push for more flexibility on protocol testing — especially if women have dense breasts which makes diagnoses an even tougher battleground.”

That’s why my breast cancer journey is green

The Marie Keating Foundation has unveiled a series of bespoke paint colours, selected by interior designer Róisín Lafferty, to represent the uniqueness of a breast cancer diagnosis and journey. October marks World Breast Cancer Awareness month.

“When I would go for a walk after treatment, I would always look up at the trees while I was walking. At the time it kept me grounded and connected with the world around me but now, I can see that those trees in a way were me. When cancer touched my life, I felt like a diseased tree,” Ms Bennett said.

“I went through all the seasons with my journey, autumn when things were beginning to change, winter when things looked bleak, and now it’s spring and I’m healthy, happy, and in full bloom again. That’s why my breast cancer journey is green,” she added.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more