Lisa Okonji is getting behind the annual Asda Tickled Pink campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness Month to highlight why it’s so important to regularly check your body for anything unusual.
It's something Lisa, who's 39 and lives in Chelmsford, knows from personal experience. She was moisturising herself after a shower in late 2020 when she felt something that didn't feel right in her breast. She contacted her GP and was referred to a breast clinic where she had a scan, biopsy and mammogram. That same day, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After five months of chemotherapy, four weeks of radiotherapy and a mastectomy, Lisa is making a great recovery – and wants to share her personal experience so that anyone who's worried about breast cancer knows they're not alone.
Lisa said: "I think it's important for me to talk about my experience of breast cancer because there are so many people out there who don't talk about it or who go through it on their own. You can often feel alone so I think it's helpful to talk about that experience and share it with others.
"Cancer can hide itself in different ways. Sometimes you might not feel a lump – you might just notice changes to how your breast looks – in your own space and time put aside that awkwardness, to check.
“It's important to get any changes checked straight away and to insist you're seen in the breast clinic. Not all changes will be breast cancer, but on the occasion it is, the sooner it is diagnosed, the better the chances of treatment being successful."
Lisa says that the support of Breast Cancer Now has been a great help – and that Asda Tickled Pink is a really important platform for raising awareness.
She said: “Breast Cancer Now has supported me and that had helped me to see that there are lots of women like me, lots of people going through the same situations as me.
“I think partnerships like Tickled Pink are really important. I initially struggled to find bras before the mastectomy, in preparation for the operation. The recommended bras online were very expensive and because I was having both a mastectomy and reduction, I didn’t know what size I was going to be after the operation. I knew I would have smaller breasts than I did, and I knew I may need additional space to account for swelling. I tried different stores and couldn’t find anything.
“I went into the Asda in Chelmsford and as soon as saw the George bra collection with a pink ribbon on them, I knew they were the ones I had to have for post-surgery. It was a really strong bra for me and ever since I have had the mastectomy, I have bought bras from Asda – they're amazing!
"With the diagnosis you notice the ribbons and anything breast-related. I remember seeing there were two puddings shaped like breasts in Asda with a message about checking yourself, so I was like 'this is amazing!' It opened my eyes to a different side of Asda."
Lisa, who's married to Seun and has three children – Shaunna, 21, Josia, 11, and five-year-old Angel – says the love and support of her family was so important after her diagnosis.
She said: “My husband was amazing, and my eldest daughter was brilliant. She was 18 at the time and was really helpful and it was nice to have another woman in the house. You know what, my dogs helped me get through it too. One of them in particular would come in every morning and check how I was.
“It was really difficult to explain to Angel but the hospital gave me a really good book called Mummy’s Lump. It was so useful because I didn’t know what I was going to say to my children.”
Lisa, who was treated at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, advises anyone who doesn’t feel confident about checking their breasts to seek out information from Asda Tickled Pink charity partners Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel! to help them get over any uneasiness they have.
"The Asda Tickled Pink campaign is brilliant because it reaches people who are frightened, who don't turn up to their mammograms because they're worried about what they might find. We have to change that. There are some people who are fearless and there are some people who are burying their heads in the sand, so it's important to say to all people to check yourself and, if you find anything, you can get treatment, you can live beyond breast cancer.
"You are not on your own, there are so many people who have been through it and are still here today. Don't be embarrassed to talk about situations like this."
Lisa, who works as a foster service manager, also feels it's important to share her experience to raise awareness of breast cancer among black women.
She said: "Before my own diagnosis one of the things I didn't know about breast cancer was just how many people from black and global majority populations are diagnosed with breast cancer. A lot of the pictures I used to see were of white women and I never saw any images of black women in the publications I was given, especially images of black women who had had a mastectomy.
"I think it’s something that people from our communities don’t talk about for a variety of reasons. That could be embarrassment, but when it comes to cancer we are all the same. Cancer doesn't look for a specific type of person – it could happen to anyone. It could be you, it could be me, it could be your mum, it could be your aunty. We are all in this together."
The Real Self-Checkers like Lisa have shared their story and images to be displayed in-store, to be seen by millions of Asda shoppers this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Now in its 27th year, Asda Tickled Pink is one of the UK’s longest running corporate charity partnerships and aims to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer charity partners Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel!. The 2023 Tickled Pink range will see over 200 pink products from over 50 different suppliers hit the supermarket shelves, and online, including the George clothing range and Asda own label lines.