York mum of four Tracie Gledhill talks about living with cancer in her 30s and why we should get to know our breasts

PEOPLE in their 30s don't get breast cancer. That's the thought that played through Tracie Gledhill's mind when she found a lump under her arm.

She'd had an ache in her breast for a few weeks, but put it down to hormones and the fact she had not long stopped breast-feeding the youngest of her four children, Millie.

"Breast cancer was never something I considered I had to deal with at my age," said the mum of four from Clifton, York. "I thought it was something that affected women over 50."

But, sadly, Tracie was wrong. Tests revealed that Tracie did have breast cancer, what is more, it had spread to her lymph nodes.

Nine months of treatment followed, during which Tracie had chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiotherapy. She and husband Carl felt confident she would beat the disease, so when the oncologist told them last summer that there were still traces of the cancer in her body, it was devastating.

"I never ever considered that it wouldn't go," says Tracie, now 36. "But now we have to wait. There is no telling when it could come back. It could be three weeks, it could be three years. It is a really difficult way to be in such a weird limbo.

"I don't have an active secondary tumour, but I can't really move on. We are living with cancer. It is part of our daily lives and we can't change that.

"People say to me that I am very positive. But you can sit at home and think: 'this is so awful, look what's happened to me' or you can think: 'yes, this has changed everything and it is not going to go away, but I have got to live with it'."

The shock of realising that young women get breast cancer too led Tracie to the charity Coppafeel, which campaigns for women to check their breasts regularly for signs of change. She is now one of their "boobettes", a charity ambassador who goes around the country telling women and men (some 400 men each year are diagnosed with breast cancer) to get to know their breasts so they can spot abnormalities.

As part of her mission, Tracie is taking part in a beauty pageant: Miss Voluptuous 2017. An import from the US, this is the first time the competition – aimed at plus-size women – has taken place in the UK. Contestants parade in glamour gowns, but also in an eco-outfit made from recyclable materials, and all have a cause they want to promote. Tracie entered because she saw it as another avenue to promote the "know your breasts" message. She said: "I've made a dress out of radiotherapy gowns and cancer information leaflets – and some chemotherapy stickers. I call it 'this is my journey' dress."

She will be travelling to Cambridge to take part in the final on Saturday, September 2. Cheering her on will be Carl and the children, Jacob, 11, Grace, nine, Bella, four, and Millie, three.

By far the hardest thing to do, says Tracie, was telling her children that she had cancer. But she was helped enormously by Macmillan nurses, who recommended some books to share – a picture book and a comic story dealing with the issue. Tracie made sure her children's school, Clifton Green primary, knew about her illness and the books so they could offer support too.

Jacob and Grace will feature in an upcoming TV advert for Macmillan in which they will talk about their experience of having a mum with cancer.

They also joined Tracie in the 10k Midnight Walk in aid of St Leonard's Hospice. "I cried for the last half of it," recalls Tracie. "I was in so much pain. We did it because Jake asked me if I would need the hospice one day. I said, one day I probably will, and he said, let's do it for them now."

Next year they are looking to take part in a new charity event: Relay For Life for Cancer Research where teams take it in turns to walk for 24 hours. "It is because cancer never sleeps and affects the whole family," says Tracie.

Breast Friends, a support group for women with breast cancer in York, has also been a lifeline, she says. "I had problems with my Tamoxifen and one lady told me to try another type. They are like minded people. They understand how you feel when you have a cough or an ache and you worry it is the cancer coming back."

Meanwhile, Tracie is carrying on with her training for Coppafeel, taking her health awareness message far and wide – particularly aiming at younger women who think, like she did, that women under 50 don't get breast cancer. One in five cases affect women under 50.

She said: "We go into schools and colleges and businesses and tell them how breast cancer can affect them and how checking your breasts could save your life."

Tracie says it is important to check your breasts regularly, noting how they feel, and if anything changes, go and see a doctor.

"Seven per cent of those diagnosed with breast cancer get diagnosed with stage four. There is no stage five. That is a scary number of people being diagnosed when there is no cure."

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, so the earlier the cancer is detected the less invasive the treatment is likely to be and it is also more likely to be successful, says Tracie.

She adds that lumps are not the only symptoms to get checked out. "Dimpling, nipple discharge and rashes are also things to look out for. It is important to notice how your boobs feel so that if there are any changes you notice them."

Find out more, including how to book an info session with a boobette like Tracie at coppafeel.org

For more information about Breast Friends York, visit: yorkbreastfriends.org