Eildih MacAskill was on a family holiday on the Isle of Skye at Easter 2018 when she first discovered a lump in her breast. She put off going to see her doctor and so it wasn't until the following July, three months later, that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I ignored it at first because I had an annual check coming up so I didn't see a doctor straight away. I'd had a lump the previous year in my breast and the mammogram results then had been fine. I assumed this would be the same sort of thing - I just kind of forgot about it! I waited until my checkup, which I delayed twice. I even organised to meet a friend after the hospital appointment. I wasn't that concerned about it.
"I remember lying down after the mammogram waiting for the guy to come back with my results and he was taking ages. It was at that point I remember thinking "Oh, I wonder if there is something ...".
Eilidh received the shocking news that she had lumps in both breasts and five of her lymph nodes.
"It was a massive shock. Even my surgeon wasn't expecting it – none of us were. I was extremely lucky to have caught it at that point. Another month and maybe it would have been too late."
The results of the biopsies showed two of the lumps were cancerous and Eilidh was rushed into surgery just two days later to have them removed.
"My surgeon and I had agreed afterwards we had both thought that it was game over."
Fortunately the diagnosis was better than it first appeared.
"My wonderful surgeon removed the cancer but not my breast. The debate to have a mastectomy or not was a strange one. Everyone’s cancer is different but I was advised that whilst it was a personal decision, as I didn’t have the breast cancer gene, having a mastectomy would NOT impact one way or another how long I lived. My cancer is hormone receptive and so I was also rushed straight into chemo which slammed me right into menopause.
"I was in a complete state of shock. I actually went back to work the next day but after a day and a half I had to go home. We were working on plans for Christmas and all I could think of was, 'I might be dead by Christmas'.
"Asda have been brilliant. Not just in terms of time off but emotional support too. A few close colleagues knew what was happening – one of them rang me as I was leaving hospital so they knew straight away. There are quite a few colleagues I know who have had breast cancer, or know someone who has, and I immediately felt supported. You discover the people who are angels at that point – often quite unexpected people.
"I completed about 24 weeks of chemo, 20 days of radiotherapy and a year of Herceptin. I’m now on Tamoxifen and Zometa every six months. I also had an Oophorectomy (to remove my ovaries) just in case my body tried to climb out of the menopause. I’ll be honest – I found that part surprisingly easy to cope with. I was back in pilates after two weeks."
Eilidh was off work for nine months while she had chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
"Initially it felt like a bereavement because work was so important to me. It took me a long time to realise that this was my life now for the next few months. I found that very painful. My job is 24/7 – it's very full on – so it's not something you can dip in and out of because that's not fair to the team.
"I didn't tell my parents until I started the treatment. I couldn't handle their reaction – I didn't have enough emotional residue to be there for them too, although I told my brothers. I decided to tell my kids who were then 16 and 10. Obviously I didn't go into lots of detail, especially with my son who was only 10, but I didn't think I could handle the idea of having to keep it all a secret. We were very open about it.
"It was horrific and shocking at the time but the brain does a good job of protecting you and helping you get through it. I also leaned on a lot of medical people, from nurses to my oncologist, to my amazing surgeon. I met a whole raft of brilliant people. I've lost friends to cancer and I'm really lucky I'm still here."
"I'm exceptionally passionate about early detection of breast cancer now given my experience. I'm so glad I finally got myself checked out. A stage 1 cancer is very different to a stage 4 cancer and the earlier you can detect it the better.
"This year more than ever Tickled Pink is really important. The reduction in people donating to charity during the Covid is huge; it's heartbreaking. I spoke to my oncologist at the start of lockdown and he told me he'd had to stop or delay some cancer treatments because of Covid. I feel really strongly for people who have had their treatment or diagnosis impacted by Covid. It's hard enough without the background of Covid against it.
"I got really emotional during the presentation of this year's Tickled Pink campaign – it's amazing what all the teams have delivered. It's really strong, particularly in this new environment we're working in. The desire and the will was there to make it happen and all the teams have come together to support it.
"I'm the Vice President sponsor for "Create Change for Better" which includes Tickled Pink and the work that team do is utterly incredible. We've just had an amazing session where the Tickled Pink team presented their plans back to the wider team. It was very emotional for many of us – either people who've had breast cancer themselves like me or who have relatives or friends who've had breast cancer. There were a lots of tears and a lot of pride at all the effort that's gone into this year's Tickled Pink campaign and how we're showing up to support the charity - and all the Community champions who do so much. We might be Asda green but if you cut us through the middle you'll see a big slice of pink in there too!
"I've become very grateful. Grateful my body reacted so well to the chemo, grateful for the extra time I spent at home with my family, grateful to Asda and Tickled Pink.
"Tickled Pink is one of the reasons that I'm here now without a doubt ... and everybody that has ever given to it and contributed to the amazing progress that has been made. You end up feeling part of this community that you didn't really realise existed before. It's really powerful."