Kemi Olowe, from Essex, was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2018 at just 33 years old. The diagnosis came as a shock, not just because Kemi had no family history of breast cancer, but because she was repeatedly assured by medical professionals that her symptoms were simply hormonal. Here she tells her story and how her faith helped her through.
My faith is very important to me as a Christian and there’s a Bible verse from Ephesians 2:10 which talks about God saying that we’re created in his image and a beautiful masterpiece. And it’s one of the things that I held onto while I was going through my journey. I am a beautiful masterpiece, even if they remove a breast, it is all physical and I’m still a masterpiece regardless. It’s something that I’ve always kept with me.
It took four rounds of IVF for my husband and I to become pregnant with our son Samuel. It was while I was breastfeeding him that I first felt a lump in my breast. At first, I put off doing anything about it because I thought it was a blocked milk duct, but when it remained painful I made an appointment to see my GP.
The GP I saw said there’s nothing to worry about because “cancerous lumps don’t hurt”. Those were his words. He examined me and said he couldn’t find a lump but because I’d complained, he would send me for a scan.
The GP I saw said there’s nothing to worry about because “cancerous lumps don’t hurt”.
When I had the scan, they told me it was hormonal – probably breast milk. Your body can take up to 18 months to readjust and get back to normal after childbirth, so they sent me on my way. That was in February, but by July I could feel the lump in my armpit and I thought, no, something’s definitely not right. It was really sore to touch.
I obviously had to go back to my GP for a referral again. This time, the lady on the phone told me not to come in as I knew my own body, instead she sent me straight for the scan. I returned to the breast clinic and this time, the consultant was a woman. She said, show me how you check your breasts. I told her that I just feel around my breast, because I had no clue. I lay down and she showed me how to do it correctly.
It so happened that I was scanned by the same lady who who scanned me earlier on in the year, and she said: “Why are you back? Don’t you remember this is breast milk, it’s hormonal.” There was a student in the room and when she began to scan the student pointed something out on the screen. They zoomed in, took some more pictures, left the room, came back and took some more images. I then had a biopsy, then a blood test. The next day I was called for a mammogram, I was called for a bone scan. I thought: “Yep, something’s definitely up”. And two weeks later I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.
I cried for the first evening. It was my dad’s 60th birthday, we had planned this really big surprise for him and everything. All of that got cancelled. I thought I’d ruined his birthday. Everyone came to the house and we told the family. One of the things that was consistent, which I absolutely loved, is that no one cried in front of me. All they said was: “It’s okay. You know, we’re going to get through this together” and we prayed about it.
I spoke to my pastor from church, and she said something really key to me: “Kemi, this disease is not unto death, we’re going to get through it.”
I spoke to my pastor from church, and she said something really key to me: “Kemi, this disease is not unto death, we’re going to get through it.” The next day I woke up, I went to the gym and I don’t know what happened, but something immediately clicked. I thought, you can either feel sorry for yourself or let’s just get through this because this too shall pass. And that was my mindset throughout the whole thing. That it’s just for a moment. And that was it. I literally had peace that I’m going to make it.
With cancer I didn’t talk about it at first whilst I was going through it. One of the reasons why I did that was because when I did tell people, I loved the fact that people said: “Oh my gosh, we’d never know!” But when I did speak about it, I got quite a few people in my Instagram DMs saying: “I’m going through the same thing. I haven’t really told anyone – it’s quite lonely.”
The ultimate thing is that you need to know you’re normal and be able to have a voice to go to your GP, or your medical professional, without feeling you’re bothering anyone or without feeling that it’s ‘not really a black person’s disease’ – this disease doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone.
Kemi took part in this year’s Tickled Pink campaign, for Breast Cancer Now lending her encouragement: “I am a Beautiful Masterpiece” to a T-shirt. From the many affirmations sent in, Kemi’s phrase was one of the final three chosen to appear on a T-shirt. The T-shirts are available in selected Asda stores and online at George.com. A minimum of ten per cent of sales will be donated to our Tickled Pink charity partners Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel at a 70/30 split respectively.