IT can be tricky to build up the courage to go to the doctors when you’re worried about a niggling health problem.
And it’s hard being told you’re ‘too young’ to have something, when your symptoms suggest otherwise.
Care support worker, Emily Frost, 31, from Surrey was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2016 after being told a lump in her left breast was hormone related.
If she’d believed her initial diagnosis, she might not be alive today.
“The Christmas of 2015 I remember feeling really run down and tired,” says Emily. “Not like a normal tired.
“I saw the doctor who suggested I might have anaemia but one night at the end of January when I was watching TV, I put my hands into my armpits to warm them up and felt a lump around two or three centimetres on the top of my left breast.
“I showed my mum, Helen and she could feel it too so the next day I made an appointment at the GP.
“I was sure it was nothing and the doctor had a look and a check and was really reassuring suggesting it was simply hormone related, absolutely nothing to worry about and was just a fibroadenoma (benign tumour) caused by hormones.
“I left feeling completely reassured because the doctor told me I was too young for anything sinister like cancer.”
The next day she found another lump, this time in her left armpit.
“I called the GP again and was upset they hadn’t found the second lump when they’d examined me for the first.
“Again, my doctor was hugely reassuring, suggesting it was maybe just a hormone related cyst.”
Three weeks later Emily was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer which had already spread to her lymph nodes.
“To say my world fell apart is an understatement,” she says.
“I remember holding everything together while the treatment plan was laid out to me, then crying for ages with mum and dad (Julian).
“I had seven rounds of chemotherapy, 30 rounds of radiotherapy, 18 rounds of medicine Herceptin and a lumpectomy to remove the tumours – of the 15 taken out of my arm pit, ten were cancerous.”
Emily finished active treatment in September 2016, but is still on medication and is scanned every six months.
“If I hadn’t been persistent and not accepted ‘hormones’ as a diagnosis, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be alive today,” she says.
“My cancer was growing at such a rate that the second lump had literally appeared overnight.
“I was able to advocate for myself, but I’m on lots of cancer forums and there are friends I know who have died because they were fobbed off and diagnosed too late, and they’re all mostly women.
“If I’d presented as a man I don’t think I’d have been told it was hormones.”
They can be responsible for everything from acne to weight gain, headaches and diabetes.
So it’s no wonder ‘hormones’ can be used as a catch all diagnosis when women present with a range of symptoms.
“Hormones are chemical messengers which circulate in the bloodstream and whizz around the body carrying messages,” explains London GP Dr Zoe Watson.
“They are like tiny little project managers, bossing everyone around, keeping everything ticking along as it should do.”
There are hundreds of hormones in the human body, she says, “all of which have different roles – from telling you you’re hungry or tired, to aiding digestion and sleep and telling your ovaries when to release an egg.”
And they can get knocked out of whack, so have to be factored in during diagnosis – but that doesn’t mean they’re always the answer.
From puberty to pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause, women do have times in their lives when hormones are all over the place, but what would you do if you went to the GP with a symptom and were told it was ‘just hormones?’
If you have ongoing concerns, but feel you aren’t being listened to by your current GP “the simple answer is, book an appointment to see a different GP” says Dr Zoe. Don’t wait.