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Why coming out as a lesbian helped Ruth overcome breast cancer

Why coming out as a lesbian helped Ruth overcome breast cancer

a woman standing outside somewhere cold, she is smiling and is holding up her hands which are covered by rainbow coloured gloves

Doctors told Ruth Cochrane that the lump she found on her breast was probably ‘nothing to worry about’. But they sent her for some tests anyway.

It’s lucky they did because her biopsy results revealed the worst kind of news, the 27-year-old had breast cancer. Her girlfriend of six months, Nic, lived in Edinburgh and Ruth felt like she was on the other side of the world when she got her diagnosis in Glasgow.

‘I was sitting in the clinic on my own when they told me I had breast cancer,’ Ruth told Gay Star News.

Ruth didn’t want to tell Nic about her diagnosis. Nic had just lost her mum to breast cancer and she didn’t want to put her new girlfriend through the trauma of looking after another sick person.

But had it not been for Nic’s personal experience with the disease, Ruth’s lump might not have been diagnosed for much longer and the consequences could have been far more dire.

Doctors quickly sent Ruth in for lumpectomy – a surgical procedure to remove a tumour. She then had to undergo six weeks of intense radiotherapy.

But Nic stayed by Ruth’s side throughout her treatment going to every appointment with her and said they couple were treated like any other couple.

‘She’s was just amazing, and to this day I don’t know how she did it,’ Ruth said.

‘Incidentally, she’s my wife now and we’ve got three kids.’

The couple always introduced Nic as Ruth’s support person and partner and didn’t face any hurdles because of their sexuality.

‘Nic pretty much came to all of my appointments,’ she said.

‘If you’re upfront at the beginning, people are much more comfortable about how their supposed to behave. You have to tell people who the person is and to involve them in the conversation.

‘You have to give them the opportunity to respect the relationship.’

two women sit either side of three small children on the steps of a holiday trailer
Ruth and Nic and their three beautiful kids | Photo: BreastCancerAwarenessUK

LBTI people and breast cancer

Breast cancer is a serious disease and affects millions of women around the world. It is so common in fact, that one in eight women in the UK will get it.

‘One of the things I quickly realized after my diagnosis is it’s really common and as soon as you’re a part of this weird kind of gang you discover how huge it is and almost everyone knows someone who had breast cancer,’ she said.

There are contradictory statistics about whether LBTI women are more at risk of breast cancer. Some studies show that heightened stress and increased use of alcohol and drugs in LBTI women could increase the risk of breast cancer. Fewer pregnancies and opportunities to breast feed could also lead to a higher risk of breast cancer.

Many statistics also show that LBTI women have far lower rates of testing. That could be because women have lower rates of testing because they have had or believe they might have a negative experience in the health care industry. They might not also have the same opportunities to be targeted for the same health care messages, such as when accessing birth control.

But Ruth said it is very important to be open and honest about breast cancer.

‘Be open and honest about talking about these things,’ she said.

‘The reason those stats are like that is probably because people don’t talk about that stuff with their GP or not able to be as honest.’

Check yourself

Discussing the importance of being breast aware, Grete Brauten-Smith, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said:

‘Knowing what warning signs to look for can lead to earlier detection of breast cancer, which can be crucial in providing more effective treatment and, ultimately, saving lives. So whatever your age it’s really important to get to know your breasts and what’s normal for you,’ she said.

Brauten-Smith urged people to use this Breast Cancer Awareness Month the time to start getting used to touching and looking at your breasts in a way that’s comfortable and convenient for you.

‘There’s no right or wrong way to check – it’s about looking and feeling regularly, so any unusual changes can be spotted quickly. This isn’t just a lump, it can be anything that is different or new – there are many different signs and symptoms to look out for,’ she said.

Those signs and symptoms include:

  • a change in size or shape of your breast
  • a lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast
  • a change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling  – this can look like the skin of an orange.
  • redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
  • your nipple has become inverted or looks different in some way – this could be a change in its position or shape.
  • liquid, sometimes called discharge – that comes from the nipple without squeezing.
  • pain in your breast or your armpit – that is there all or almost all the time.
  • a swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.

‘It’s important to remember that most breast changes are likely to be normal, they could be linked to changes in your hormone levels, for example, or non-cancer breast conditions such as cysts. But if you do notice something unusual, get it checked out with your doctor,’ Grauten-Smith said.

Keeping secrets poisons your body

Ruth likens her cancer journey to her life living in the closet.

‘With my cancer diagnosis I was really honest about it, I was honest and open with my coworkers, with my friends.

‘My experience of being in the closet is that lies and deceit are just poisonous and they ruin your life.

‘Cancer and cancer diagnosis is like that as well. If you keep secrets from anyone or if you’re not in the open and get stuff checked with your GP then it’s poisonous.

‘That open and honest approach to life really does save lives.’

For care, support and information, call Breast Cancer Care’s nurses for free on 0808 800 6000 or visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk. To help Breast Cancer Care continue to provide these vital services for free, hold a Big Pink party www.breastcancercare.org.uk/October