7 June, 2021

“I thought breast cancer was a disease that affected only ‘old people’, so the revelation that people under 50 can also get breast cancer really shocked me.”

As the youngest Breast Cancer UK trustee, Jamie Tolentino-Deludet strongly believes that prevention is better than cure. “When I learned that around a third of breast cancer cases are preventable, I wanted to support getting the message out to the wider general public,” she says.

Over a decade ago, Jamie was looking for balance in her career. She wanted to pursue a digital career in the financial services sector while contributing positively to society. In 2017, the opportunity for the latter materialised when Breast Cancer UK was looking for a trustee with her skillset. She says: “I read what the charity is all about and how common breast cancer is. In the UK, 1 in 7 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, with 1 in 5 being under 50 years old. It’s alarming!”

Life before Breast Cancer UK

“Before becoming a trustee, I had no idea that some of the lifestyle choices I was taking could increase my chances of getting breast cancer,” says Jamie. Yet, she adds, “There’s so much information it can be hard to take it all in. For example, the list of chemicals to avoid in makeup and food was overwhelming when I read it the first time.”

“Initially overwhelmed by all the potential lifestyle changes. It took me a few weeks to get through it all, and then I’m like, OK, what’s a quick step? Well, that’s deodorant because it goes right next to your breast tissue. Next, I looked at moisturisers and other things we put on our skin, like sunscreen. Now, I’m moving on to food. We can try to do everything, but that’s a full-time job in itself. But it’s important to at least have that information so you can make an informed choice.  It took me a few years to address their inclusion in my personal life, ” she comments. “But it’s better to do preventive methods than cure.”

What’s next?

Jamie has high hopes for the future of Breast Cancer UK, especially around communicating the prevention message to younger women. “We need to reach as wide an audience as possible. But especially more Millennials and Gen Z, so they can be informed about the lifestyle risks they are taking,” she says.

“Social media messages and peer pressure generally have more influence on young women than their parents. Current messages tend to be all about fast fashion and cheap makeup products that have all these chemicals in them. It’s all: You look good and are young, so you’re OK. There’s nothing on young people’s social media radar that says anything about being aware of breast cancer and prevention.”

She notes that people tend to short-change the preventive value of lifestyle changes in favour of career progression and social acceptance. She stresses the importance of breast cancer prevention through being aware of the potential risks of certain lifestyle choices: “Basically, young women need to try to stay informed. Regular breast cancer screening doesn’t begin until a woman turns 50. Younger women need to be mindful of the risk factors.”

Lifestyle factors

Jamie also knows that lifestyle change is personal; everyone has battles to fight. “The suggested preventive changes are just that – suggested – because the pressure to do it all could cause other illnesses such as stress or poor mental health,” she says.

She also believes it’s critical women don’t feel guilty if they can’t make all the recommended lifestyle, diet, and other changes. “What’s important is that if a woman, unfortunately, gets diagnosed with breast cancer. She feels she’s done everything in her power to avoid it, however small,” she says. “I think it’s a slightly less emotional burden to bear than if she was not made aware of all the potentially harmful choices she made for 25 or 30 years. For example, chemicals in makeup or excessive alcohol intake.”

Jamie affirms: “We can take all the preventive recommended measures but still get breast cancer because the causes of breast cancer are not fully understood. It results from a combination of the way we live our lives, our genes, and our environment. And that’s tough, but we have the right to be aware and not be scared or feel helpless. We don’t want young women to live with regret or to think: ‘Why didn’t someone tell me?’. We’re definitely not going to live forever, but, as young women, we can certainly be informed and aware and take positive preventive steps to increase our healthspan”.

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