Thom Jenkins with Anna Beber from vetyourbreasts.com·6 October 2020
Description: In December last year Anna was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is in her early thirties, was a fit and healthy vet with no family history of breast cancer. Luckily, she found the lump early which has meant her treatment has hopefully been successful. She was alerted to the importance of checking her breasts by a poster she saw in the gym. If she hadn't discovered the lump until a few weeks or months later then her future might be very different.
Statistics show 1 in 8 women are diagnosed in their lifetime and the numbers of women in the veterinary profession is increasing.
We think it is very important to increase awareness about this. With breast cancer early detection means that there is a much better chance of being cured or surviving it. Throughout Anna's treatments she has been working on the idea of putting up a poster in every veterinary practice and vet school changing -room in the UK to remind people to check themselves.
For more information visit and to download a copy of her poster please visit vetyourbreasts.com
Thom Jenkins: 0:09 Hello, and welcome to episode five of the PetsApp podcast. This is a special episode of the podcast , with it being Breast Cancer Awareness Month this month. And I'm delighted to be joined by Anna Beber, Founder of the Vet Your Breasts campaign. Welcome Anna .
Anna Beber: 0:27 Hi Thom. Thank you very much for having me.
Thom Jenkins: 0:30 Could we start by hearing a little bit about your personal Journey?
Anna Beber: 0:37 Yeah, absolutely. So , I started the Vet Your Breasts campaign this year, following my own breast cancer diagnosis.
I'm a vet. I'm working in Bristol. It was the lead up to Christmas - really, really busy. We all know how the days go. You're trying to leave on time, trying to get to the gym. And everything's sort of going against you.
I managed to get to the gym. And when I got there, it was pretty quiet, no one else in there. And it was the first time I'd ever noticed this tiny poster by a mirror that said 'check your breasts now'. And I did. And that's when I noticed that I had a small lump in my left breast.
So, from there I went home, got my partner to check. It was definitely there. So, I made an appointment with the GP and they basically said, 'Oh, you know, no history of breast cancer in your family, you're a young woman - fit and healthy. This is probably a cyst, you know, don't worry about it too much. Go away, and come back in a couple of months' time if it's not going away.'
I did what they said, you know, I went off to Thailand. So, I'm probably one of the few people who got a holiday this year! I went volunteering for Soi Dog - had a great time - didn't think too much about it.
But then when I got back, it was one month later and I thought, you know what? Actually, I'm not really happy about this lump. I went back to the GP and they thought I was a bit crazy coming back so soon but they agreed to refer me. And I was referred to the breast clinic where basically they said again, the same thing, 'unlikely to be anything serious', but they took a biopsy. And a couple of weeks later, they called me and said, 'you know, unfortunately, this is not what we expected, it's breast cancer'.
And so, yeah, just before lock down, which I guess is lucky, I managed to get my surgery. During lockdown I had radiotherapy. But the whole of the time I couldn't let this idea go - what if I actually hadn't made it to the gym that day? And what if I hadn't seen that poster? And you know, when would I have checked? What would things have looked like for me had I checked six months later?
Then really talking to friends and colleagues who said, 'Gosh, you know, I never would think to check myself' or 'You know? I know that I should do it but I just don't because life gets busy and we forget to look after ourselves sometimes.'
I just thought, you know what? I wanted to bring a reminder into the actual practice so that if people didn't get the chance to leave, if they've had a really busy day, that actually there was still the reminder in the practice of the importance really to check yourself. So, that's what started this whole campaign off.
Thom Jenkins: 3:39 Yeah, we're not known for our work life balance. So, getting that message into the clinic seems like a really good idea.
It's an incredibly compelling story and thanks for sharing it.
Two things stand out for me. One is, as you say, the importance of that poster - just being in the right place at the right time - raising your awareness. The other part is your self advocacy. You know, saying: 'Actually, no, I am , I'm worried.' It may well be nothing, but I'm worried enough and then that getting you that referral.
Anna Beber: 4:09 Yeah. And I think that's a really important point. What I'm hoping to achieve with these posters is not that everyone goes out and finds a breast lump or cancer. That's absolutely not what I want. What I hope to achieve is that these posters give people the confidence or reminder to check themselves and then they get to know what's normal for them. So that then, if there is something different, that change can be detected early. And you can go to your GP and say, 'Look, I've been checking myself once a month and this wasn't here before. So I want this checked out.'
Thom Jenkins: 4:50 You talked about finding a lump and that's the story you tend to hear but a lump is not the only sign that something might be wrong.
Anna Beber: 4:58 No, absolutely. Another part of the campaign is that throughout my treatment, I met other women, some of whom didn't know that the sign that they had was actually breast cancer. One woman I met had an inverted nipple and she knew she had that inverted nipple for a year before she got it checked out and just thought that that was a normal change for her. And there are other signs like a rash or swelling or pain, or sometimes not even in the area of the breast - other areas are where you might notice the change first. So, looking for any lymph node enlargement in your armpit or above the collarbone can be the changes that you might detect first. Really any change to what's normal for you. And if you have any of these signs on the poster then get it checked out.
Thom Jenkins: 5:50 How big an issue is this within our profession and across the veterinary professions. Do you think?
Anna Beber: 5:56 One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Our profession is now highly female dominated. You know, I think it's something like 80%. I think at the moment, I just have no idea how many people it actually affects. But what I can say is that since starting the campaign, I've had loads of people reach out and say, either that it's affected them directly or that it's affected them through a colleague or family member friend and something like that. And I think the important thing to remember as well is that it's not just women, that this does affect it affects men as well. So although it would be considered a rare cancer in men, 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. So, it's definitely worth everybody checking their breast tissue for any changes,
Thom Jenkins: 6:45 For sure. Given we are medical professionals, how much of an awareness gap do you think there is and why do you think it exists?
Anna Beber: 6:53 I think we are very aware of cancers in animals. And I think we're very aware of the diseases that affect humans as well. It's just that we are busy and we live in a time where at the moment it seems okay to put ourselves second. All the time at work, you hear phrases like 'I've been so busy today. I haven't had a chance to go for pee or I haven't eaten lunch and it's very late'. And I think this is a real problem that we have in the veterinary profession at the moment is this lack of following the advice that we would give to others. We would never tell anyone else 'don't take a break in the day'. We would definitely advise not to do that, but you know, when it comes to ourselves, we have a tendency to put ourselves second. So, what I'd say is we're intelligent people, we know what we should do, and on that list is, you know, checking ourselves for any changes, whether it be changes in breast tissue or anywhere else or changes in how you feel. I think what we need to do now is start opening up the conversation about how important it is that we start to put ourselves first, so that we can be in the best position to help our patients and colleagues.
Thom Jenkins: 8:25 I like that idea - because obviously this is a scary thing, right? And, and it can be a very scary subject. And that's why it doesn't get talked about as often as perhaps it should. But I like the idea of treating vetting your breasts as an act of self care, as part of a self care routine.
Anna Beber: 8:41 Yeah. I mean, right now, when you start to think about how many things you check as a routine, whether it's checking our emails or phones. Now, we're all hand-washing - I think having it in a routine that maybe once a month to check your breasts, whether that's on payday or whatever - someday that you can remember to do it once a month. And to add that in your list of things that you check and just take the few minutes of time that it takes to do that.
Thom Jenkins: 9:14 Do you think one consequence of the campaign is giving survivors a chance to talk about their experience, where maybe they don't have permission to do that? Because it must be an incredibly traumatic experience. I know it is from people in my family who have gone through it. Talking about it one raises awareness, but two must be somewhat therapeutic for them.
Anna Beber: 9:41 Oh, absolutely. I mean, I can talk from my perspective, you know, when I was first diagnosed, it was absolutely terrifying. It was without a doubt, the scariest thing I've ever been told. And you're sort of thrown into this horrible, desperate time when you're looking for answers and searching for anything positive, really, and for me, when I went to the breast care clinic, the first time I was in a room of women who were much older than me and was just terrifying. Very confusing. Why was I there? And so when I got home, one of the first things I tried to do was look for the people that I could relate to. I started Googling "vets with breast cancer", as a result of that I came in to contact with two people who've helped me recently do some videos for the campaign and just talking to them was such a huge relief because these were people who I could relate to, who had gone through the same thing and, you know, could ask them genuinely how is this going to affect me on a day-to-day basis. And, you know, what is it like to have X, Y, Z done? And how has it affected you? That was really helpful to me. And that's another reason for starting the campaign is just sort of bringing people together where they might not feel so alone. And like you say, it's a scary topic, something that particularly now - it's quite a lonely time because the coping mechanisms that might be there before COVID, such as going out and socializing with your friends or going to some kind of activity are gone. So, actually bringing people together and having this open discussion, for me anyway, has been really helpful.
Thom Jenkins: 11:54 I think it's wonderful what you're doing - just taking your experience and building on that.
Can I ask you Anna, how are you now?
Anna Beber: 12:03 Yeah, so for me, I was really lucky - my cancer hadn't spread, and because of the type of cancer and the fact that hadn't spread, I didn't need to have chemotherapy. So really, my active treatment, the radiotherapy and surgery is done. I'm back to work and life is returning to semi-normal if, if it can be called that right now with everything else.
Thom Jenkins: 12:34 What's next for the campaign?
Anna Beber: 12:37 Really at the moment, it's trying to encourage as many practices as possible to get on board, and get a poster in their clinic. The only way this campaign has worked so far is through members of the veterinary profession, supporting it and getting behind it. And really my aim for the campaign is to get a poster in every practice in the UK, if that's possible. And the way that I can do that is by people going on the website: www.vetyourbreasts.com and downloading the poster, printing it in practice or requesting one by sending us an email and us posting one out to them and that's really what I want to achieve is increasing awareness, getting a poster up in every practice and you know, getting as many practices that I can onboard .
Thom Jenkins: 13:30 You've answered this in that question, but just to double down on it, because why not? How can people get involved, learn more and show their support?
Anna Beber: 13:41 Yeah, so the website has, many different features. One is that it's got a video section. It basically tells you how to do a proper breast exam for men and women. In a couple of days, time, there'll be some videos on the website of our stories. So different members of the veterinary profession, nurses, vets, people in business management talking about how this has affected them and their personal experiences. And then there are buttons that you can click to download and print the poster for free in your practice. It's an A5 poster that you can stick up anywhere in your practice but we recommend in the bathroom or changing rooms so that you remember to check when you're changing your scrubs. And then of course there's the donate button. So, if you have a few pennies free - I know everyone's a bit short at the moment - but the money goes towards printing the posters and sending them out to practices. So, yeah, there's that on there as well.
Thom Jenkins: 14:48 And that's www.vetyourbreasts.com where you can find all of that. Thanks so much for coming on and sharing your story and for the work you're doing with the Vet Your Breasts campaign. I really appreciate it.
Anna Beber 3: 14:59 Thank you very much for having me.