When I posted a no make-up selfie online to raise awareness of breast cancer, I had no idea it would be the most important picture I would ever take…
By Jackie Nicholas, 35, from Derby
I lowered myself into the hot water and sighed in contentment. Every night I looked forward to my evening bubble bath at the end of a hard day at my job as a business studies lecturer. As I plonked myself down, I grabbed my phone to have a browse through Facebook.
My news feed was full of make-up free faces, all in aid of breast cancer charities. I smiled as I realised my friend Nicola had nominated me – it was the perfect time to take a shot as my face was completely bare.
I jumped out the bath and quickly put on my dressing gown, before taking the snap and uploading it. I commented on my own selfie, reminding my friends to check their boobs, then I scrolled through the comments on the other pictures and noticed that one woman had posted a link to a video which gave instructions on how to check your breasts properly.
Curious, I clicked into the link and followed the advice. Seeing as I was in the bath, I decided to check myself there and then, but when I ran my hand over my left breast, I froze in horror. I felt a pea-sized lump which hadn’t been there before.
I pushed it to the back of my mind. Naively, I thought I was far too young to have cancer – so I assumed the lump would go on its own accord. I even managed to convince myself that I imagined the whole thing, and got on with my busy lifestyle, until a few weeks later when I noticed it had become more prominent and the surrounding skin started dimpling.
My husband Tom, 31, and I had booked a holiday to Paris, and I swallowed my worry over the lump and told myself I would get it checked out on my return.
But one night, I couldn’t stop obsessing about it, and asked Tom to check if he could feel anything.
‘I can’t feel anything at all,’ he said, looking concerned. ‘But if you can feel a lump you need to get it seen to Jackie.’
I took his advice and went to my doctor when we got home.
‘We’ll need to run some tests,’ said my GP. ‘We’ll let you know the results in a couple of weeks.’
In May 2014 I was referred to the breast unit at the local hospital. My eyes widened as I saw the number of women sitting waiting to be seen. Some of them looked a similar age to me – some of them were even younger. I had always thought that breast cancer only affected women aged 45 and above.
An hour later, the consultant delivered a devastating bombshell.
‘I’m sorry Mrs Nicholas, but there is no doubt you have a tumour. You have grade two breast cancer,’ he said. ‘We’ll need to start your treatment straight away.’
Nothing could have ever prepared me for hearing those words. Tom squeezed my hand tightly as I drew in a sharp breath.
‘What are the chances of me dying?’ I blurted out. Suddenly, my life felt completely out of my control.
‘Your chances will be greatly improved if you have a mastectomy straight away.’ he said.
I nodded. ‘I’ll do whatever needs to be done,’
A month later, in June 2014, my left breast was removed and the month after that all my lymph nodes were also taken away to prevent the cancer from spreading.
After that, I’d need six cycles of intense chemotherapy, which I started in September 2014.
‘We can get through this together,’ Tom said. I was so grateful that he was by my side.
I was devastated but determined to get through the chemotherapy and beat the cancer. That’s when I had a thought – I would tackle my illness in exactly the way it had been diagnosed – with selfies.
Every time I went to hospital, I took a snap of me in my hospital bed. And as I started losing my hair, I uploaded pictures of my bald head and proudly modelled headscarves and wigs.
I had never been one for taking selfies before, but now I was taking them all the time. I wanted to document my fight in a way I knew people would take notice of.
Soon, I started receiving all sorts of supportive comments. Some people commented about how brave I was being, or wished me luck during my cancer battle.
Others simply said that despite all the treatment I was still beautiful. I was delighted – not only at the kind remarks, but at the fact that I was raising some very important awareness.
It spurred me on, and I uploaded even more ‘survivor selfies’ during my treatment. I even took pics of myself having chemotherapy. In each picture I smiled, despite feeling tired and sick.
I had my last gruelling session in December and it was the best Christmas present I could have hoped for.
Now, I’m in remission and on the road to recovery. I’ll need to take anti-cancer drugs for the next five years and I plan to have reconstructive surgery to rebuild my breast.
Tom and I would also like children one day, but unfortunately I may not be able to conceive. In that case, we’ll explore other options.
The most important thing is that my future is looking more secure than it did last year – and I am so grateful. I owe my survival and my fighting spirit to my online supporters.
Whoever came up with the idea of the no-make-up selfie is an absolute genius and a complete life-saver. I never thought I would be saying this, but a selfie really did save my life!