December Educator of the Month

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This month we are highlighting Know Your Lemons Global Educator, Richard Stephenson, a British paramedic who has been working in healthcare for 20 years in Southeast England. Richard says, “Know Your Lemons is directly responsible for saving lives at our clinic.” In just one month, it has already helped two patients recognize and report symptoms.

What is Richard’s secret? Make every contact count. Here is his story:

Hi! My name is Richard. 

My journey on the road to breast cancer awareness began in late 2017 when my partner found a lump in her right breast, believed to be a cyst. It felt and behaved like a cyst and her GP (doctor) was unconcerned.

Just two months later however, the lump had changed. It was now irregular, hard, and had ill-defined edges. She was diagnosed with a grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. After a discussion we agreed on bilateral mastectomy as a preventative measure. She had the surgery and we thought that was the end of our worries. At the review we were told that she was node positive and needed further surgery to remove the axilla nodes, followed by Radiotherapy.

 

Nearly two years later, she found lumps under the skin on her chest. The biopsy result came back as secondary non-operable grade 2 carcinoma. This was devastating news. She is now on a new drug that has only just been licenced in the UK and has a life expectancy of 5 years (this could be longer if the drug continues to work). But this is not why I became an educator. Why on earth not?Because we had never heard about Know Your Lemons. We had never seen any material from the Foundation even though my partner worked as a nurse in outpatient breast clinics.

At the time I worked in a community hospital injury treatment unit (MIU). I had a patient attend with an unrelated injury. While in my care she kept rubbing her chest and I asked what was the matter. She told me she did not know, she felt that something was wrong, it did not feel right, not a pain as such but uncomfortable. I asked if she wanted me to examine it for her. What I found was the same irregular, ill-defined lump that I remember from nearly three years ago with my partner. I could tell by the look on her face that she knew it was there. She had just been too scared to seek help. 

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It was while researching for a case study about this patient, that I came across Know Your Lemons. It explained everything so clearly. I decided at that moment, if I can stop this situation from happening to others and educate them to be proactive then it will be worthwhile. The journey with my partner is not over and it has helped me to be a better clinician. I want to educate the patients that I see so that lives can be saved or their quality of life prolonged. I am aware of the risk to men also and that we do not check for lumps or seek advice. There is so much work to do.

So, can such a small change and such simple media really make a difference? In my experience, being a Know Your Lemons Global Educator for just a few months has already changed things for the better for several patients. Know Your Lemons campaign images are directly responsible for saving lives at our clinic. Simply by showing the 12 signs of breast cancer image in our waiting room, a young man asked to be checked and was found to have 2 of the 12 signs. Had he not seen this life-saving information he would have gone unchecked and potentially undiagnosed.

There is a big swing in healthcare from treating to preventing. Know Your Lemons embodies the very essence of preventative measures. Breast cancer is something that happens to other people, until it happens to you or somebody close to you. As one person on my own, I may not be able to work a miracle. But together as Know Your Lemons Global Educators we can save the world from breast cancer one “lemon” at a time! Make every contact count. Let’s educate and empower others so they can help themselves.