Twenty-six-year-old Amber Arkell was spooning with her boyfriend when he felt a lump in her breast.
She booked a doctor’s appointment the next morning and in December last year she was diagnosed with stage one, grade three breast cancer. After six rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, Amber is now urging all women to check their breasts monthly from the age of 20.
‘I had no idea I should have been doing a monthly self-examination of my breasts, so I am incredibly grateful my boyfriend, Kieran, and I spooned that night,’ she said. ‘You get a text to remind you to get a cervical smear test, why wasn’t there a text coming through to remind me to check my boobs too? I thought it would be something to deal with in my fifties, not my twenties.’
The sales and marketing executive from Christchurch, New Zealand, launched a Facebook blog, When Things Went Tits Up, to document her journey. She is also using it as a platform to educate women to check their breasts once a month to become familiar with them.
‘I chose the 8th because if you turn an "8" on its side it kind of looks like boobs,’ she said. ‘So from March 2016 on the 8th of every month I have been posting images and videos with information on how to complete a self-examination. The first post had over 140 shares and reached more than 29,000 people.
‘So many women have told me how much they have benefited from this reminder. It warms my heart to know that women are actively taking control of their bodies and learning what their normal is. They need to be looking for more than just a lump. If you do notice something, go and see a doctor straight away. Never be told you are too young to have breast cancer.’
Her campaign focuses on young women because the number of diagnoses among women under 44 is increasing.
‘I have to keep spreading this message,’ she said. ‘I am blown away at the amount of women who do not know how, didn't know they should or can remember the last time they did a self examination. After being diagnosed at 26 it became my mission to change the perception that this disease is something women 50-plus have to think about.
‘I share my story not to scare followers but to educate them – to give them the confidence they know what they’re looking for.
‘It scares me to think too much about what would’ve happened if me and Kieran hadn’t spooned that night because I am scared I wouldn’t have found the cancer before it was too late. We got it very, very early but it was also very aggressive. Had it not been found it could have been a lot worse.’
In February, Amber threw a barbecue in her back garden where family and friends took it in turns to cut her hair and shave her head.
One friend even made a boob cake, telling people to ‘feel your boobies’, which has been posted on her blog.
‘The blog has become more than just about my experience,’ Amber said. ‘I have opened it up as a platform for other women to share their stories. I have shared three so far, all of them said how therapeutic it has been for them personally. It offers a different perspective and experience for followers to learn from. Everyone’s experience through breast cancer is so different.’