‘Did my mobile phone give me breast cancer?’
Tiffany Frantz, from Pennsylvania, US, was only 21 when she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. She explains why she believes it was all down to her mobile phone
Mum tutted when she saw me take my phone from inside my bra. “Tiffany, that’s not the smartest place to keep your mobile,” she told me.
It wasn’t the first time either, but I was 16 and thought I knew best. My parents had bought me my first mobile phone after I’d got my driver’s licence because they didn’t want me driving around without a way to contact them.
At first I’d keep my phone in my pocket. But when the style of trousers that my friends and I wore changed, there were no pockets any more and I had nowhere to put my phone.
I saw other friends putting their mobiles in their bras so I put mine there too, next to my left breast. It was just easier to carry around – easier to feel or hear if it went off when I was driving and easier to hide when I was at school. And that’s where I kept my cell phone all day, every day for five years.
I became used to it being there. It got warm but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Sometimes the top of my phone would stick out. Mum would say it didn’t look attractive and warned about the “radioactivity coming from the phone” and how it might affect my heart. I thought she was crazy and I’d brush off her comments. But it didn’t stop her nagging whenever she spotted it.
It started with a lump
One day, in September 2011, I was lying on the couch at our home when I noticed a lump on my left breast, above my nipple. It was the size of a pea, was hard and if I pushed on it too much it hurt.
Mum felt the lump and dismissed it at first. But it kept getting bigger and harder, and after a couple of weeks she said, “If you’re so worried about it, Tiffany, you should schedule a doctor’s appointment.”
I nodded but didn’t do it, even though from the age of 19 I’ve been examining my breasts for lumps three times a week. We were taught to do self-examinations at school so I always did them – in the shower or even while lying in bed. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family, but I’d always check for lumps.
Over the next few weeks I kept putting off going to see my doctor. “Maybe it will go away,” I told myself. But by the time my doctor examined me at the end of October, the lump ‘I bawled my eyes out during the biopsy. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced’ had got bigger. The pea had become the size of a marble and it was closer to the surface of the skin.
“I don’t feel anything in your armpit so I don’t think it is cancer,” my doctor said. “It’s probably just a cyst, but I’m going to send you for an ultrasound.”
At first I wasn’t scared. I was only 21 and I didn’t think people got breast cancer until their 50s. But a couple of days later I got a call from the doctor’s office saying they couldn’t read the ultrasound.
When they couldn’t tell what the lump was after I’d had an MRI scan – and ordered a biopsy as a result – I became really scared.
I bawled my eyes out during the biopsy. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced. The doctor inserted a needle into my skin and snagged pieces of tissue. On a scale of one to 10, the pain was nine-and-a-half.
A week later, in January 2012, I went back to the doctor’s with my parents – Traci and Brad – to get the results. A woman doctor broke the news.
“Your right breast is fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with it. But there are four masses – between 1cm and 3cm – in your left breast.”
At 21 I had been diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer, the earliest stage. My parents were crying, asking the doctor questions. But I couldn’t pay attention to anything she said after she told me I had cancer. The first thought that came to my mind was death. I just sat there crying, looking at the floor and thinking, “I’m going to die.” The doctor was talking about the different treatment options – asking if I wanted a lumpectomy (where only the lump is removed), or a single or double mastectomy (where one or both breasts are removed).
“I can’t decide right now,” I said. It was too much information to take in.
She must have thought that breast cancer runs in our family because we had to fill out forms about our
medical history and genetic tests were ordered. But the results were negative: I didn’t have the breast cancer gene.
This is when my parents and I started to think that there could be a link between my phone and me getting cancer; the disease had started in the exact spot where I used to keep my mobile, and these tests showed I had no genetic predisposition to breast cancer.
In the meantime, I decided to have a single mastectomy to remove my left breast. I didn’t want to leave any chance of the cancer coming back.
On March 16, 2012, I had the surgery and a tissue expander was inserted into my breast. For two
weeks I had to walk around with drainage bags, which were connected to tubes that went through my ribs to collect excess fluid.
I was working full-time as a bank teller in Oxford, Pennsylvania, but I had to take a break from work.
For the next two months, every two weeks I’d get the expander filled a bit to stretch my skin so there was enough room to put an implant in.
I was very self-conscious and always wore hoodies, even at home, just in case people came to visit.
Missing out on youth
I felt unattractive and that I was too young to be going through this. While I was lying on the couch in pain recovering from the surgery, my friends were out having fun, not worrying about anything. We were the same age but what I was going through was 10 times worse than anything they had to face. My boyfriend, Zach McGhee, was very
supportive. We’d been dating for nine months when I was diagnosed.
“I understand if you don’t want to be with me any more,” I told him. “You don’t have to go through this.”
I gave him the chance to leave, but although he was scared, he reassured me everything would be fine. He’d often takeme out and we’d do the same stuff as we always did.
Adjusting to a new body
It was hard getting used to my new body after surgery. I have huge marks on my side where the drainage tubes were. I also have a big scar across my left breast, which doesn’t have a nipple. But whenever I said I felt less feminine, Zach, 22, reassured me, saying I am beautiful and he’d still love me however I look.
I’m still self-conscious though. Even now when he says I look pretty I say he’s lying. Or if I see a girl my age, I worry that he’s looking at her, thinking, “She’s normal.” I know he doesn’t, but I still worry.
After the reconstructive surgery, I had five weeks of radiation therapy – 25 treatments in all. I didn’t have any side effects but the skin on my breasts blistered and it looked and felt like I was really badly sunburned.
The radiation therapy ended in August 2012 and, feeling relieved, I thought, “I’m fine now. I can get on with my life.” But in February 2013, my hips started hurting. It felt like I had slept in a bad position. I went to a doctor, who sent me to get some X-rays, which revealed there was an abnormal lump on my left hip. An MRI later showed that it was cancer.
I was scared all over again, and feeling really frustrated – I thought that I’d got rid of everything, but here it was again. I was horrified when my doctor told me the breast cancer had spread down to my hip and that it had probably been there since my mastectomy.
The tumour had eaten away half of my hip bone, so they inserted a metal plate, gave me radiation treatment and prescribed the cancer-fighting drug tamoxifen, which I have to take once a day for five years. I’m also being treated with Zometa to strengthen my bones.
Now – two years after I was diagnosed with breast cancer – I am getting better, back at work full-time, and my most recent scans show the cancer in my hip is retreating. But I still worry about it spreading every day.
Zach also proposed to me in December last year and we are planning to get married in 2015.
There’s no medical proof that carrying my phone in my bra caused my cancer, but my mum and I are convinced it did.
Cancer doesn’t run in our family, I don’t have the gene and the tumours developed in the spot where I’d kept my phone.
I now keep my phone far away from my skin and warn everyone not to do what I did. If I had listened to my mum, maybe I would never have had to go through all of this.
‘If I had listened to my mum, maybe I would never have had to go through all of this’
Tiffany tried to stay positive throughout her treatment
She opted for a left mastectomy to minimise the risk of the cancer returning Tiffany was just 21 when she first had cancer treatment
Tiffany and fiancé Zach, who has supported her through her treatment
The latest tests show Tiffany’s hip cancer is retreating