Breast cancer survivor Vicki Gilbert is appealing to women, whatever their age, to check their breasts regularly and not to rely on screening alone.

Vicki, 55, from Lydiard Millicent, discovered not a lump but a strange ridge in her breast, in 2009, when taking a shower. She was 47 then, and had not reached the age for routine mammograms but she knew to seek advice straight away.

“I saw my doctor the next day. She sent me to the Breast Clinic at the Great Western Hospital, and a couple of weeks after I had made the discovery, I had a mammogram and ultrasound. They told me that day it was breast cancer and that I would need lots of treatment.”

Vicki, a receptionist at a vet’s, said the diagnosis was totally unexpected; she had thought herself too young for it to be cancer.

“I had assumed it would be fluid or something like that. It was so out of the blue. And I had always maintained a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “It really knocks your confidence – I had always thought I was in charge of my own health.”

She had a mastectomy, and then six chemotherapy sessions, followed by radiotherapy. The treatment took about eight months.

“I was very tired after the chemotherapy. It was every three weeks. In the first week after, I was really tired and even getting out of bed was a bit of an effort. I didn’t do a great deal. The second week I was not too bad, and could do a bit more, then the third week was my good week. I would make the most of it before the next session.”

Vicki also lost her hair. “I was expecting it, though it didn’t happen till the second lot. It was upsetting. I used a wig, which was good. A few people didn’t realise I had lost my hair.”

The treatment ended seven years ago, and since then Vicki has enjoyed good health though she still feels the repercussions of the treatment.

“It knocked my confidence, in the short term,” she said. “I am still the same person, I don’t think my outlook has changed. In the longer term, I do get tired more easily. I have retired recently, and before that I was working part-time.

“I am particularly thankful for the NHS. I could not fault them.”

Vicki paid tribute to her husband Mark, for his support, and to his employers for letting him help her through the treatment.

“He was there for me. He came to all the chemo sessions with me, and cared for me afterwards,” she said.

Vicki met staff from Breast Cancer Now at a meeting in London, when retailer Marks and Spencer was undertaking research into bras for women who had suffered breast cancer.

“I want to say to women, don’t just wait for the routine mammograms,” she says. “I was too young for screening, and when you do have mammograms they can be quite far apart. If I had never checked or if I had not gone to the doctor, I would not be around now.”

Breast Cancer Now are the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, dedicated to funding research. Visit for more information.