‘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

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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.

Shock­ing news

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

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