Nikhar Azmat was a 24-year-old university law student locked down in London at the start of the Covid pandemic when she noticed a lump on her breast one night.
With her family 5,000 miles away in Pakistan she knew she needed to act quickly, so by 9am had contacted a university nurse who helped her register with a GP. She had a video call appointment with a doctor that day, got an immediate referral to a breast specialist and was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after.
Nikhar, who's now 27, says that prior to her experience it had never really occurred to her that someone as young as her could get breast cancer, so wants to use her experience to raise awareness – and to start positive conversations about breast cancer among British Asian and Arabic families.
She said: "A lot of people around me thought it was so out of the ordinary that I had breast cancer at my age and had to go through a mastectomy and radiotherapy. People don't know that this can happen to men or younger women.
"I knew about breast cancer and knew that when there's a lump you need to get it checked out, but you put it to the back of your mind as you tend to think that breast cancer is mainly something that affects the over 40s.
"I want people to see that it's something that everyone of all ages – men too – need to be aware of.
"Since I was diagnosed I've been sharing the message on social media everywhere. It should be ok to talk about boobs. It can kill you if you're not aware of what to look for and if you don't regularly check yourself. And crucially if you notice something unusual you must do something about it, as early detection is the best thing to save you. I tell everyone to check when they're in the shower. If something's wrong with your body you should know.
"As a Pakistani Muslim I think it's really important, as women just don't talk about breasts. I want girls of my ethnicity to know that this is a thing that has to be spoken about and there's nothing wrong with it. My culture or my religion doesn't stop me talking about these things, and I want people to see me and know that Pakistani, Indian and Arabic families can talk about boobs. If telling my story helps one person then it's been worthwhile."
Nikhar says that discovering the lump on her breast came as a total shock.
"I was a student at City University doing a legal practitioners' course and masters in law. I was in bed and my arm touched my breast and I'm like, 'ooh is my nipple hard?' And then I turned on my light and I realised it wasn't my nipple and in that second – I don't know why – I knew I needed to act straight away. I knew I needed a GP, so I contacted my university and my university nurse managed to register me with a GP in three hours. My attitude was that there was a lump and even if it was nothing I wanted to go to a doctor straight away, and the doctor said that was the right thing to do."
Nikhar was given her diagnosis in May 2020 and had a mastectomy and implant reconstruction surgery in June, following by radiotherapy in October.
"I remember the day they told me that I had breast cancer so clearly," she said. "When you hear the word cancer you get scared, but everything went really quickly. Eid was a couple of days after that and the airports were closed. I was thinking my family are going to feel helpless, that they couldn't come to me. So the hardest part for me was that with Covid the world was shut.
"My parents came over when I had my surgery. Because of the Covid restrictions they had to stand six feet away from me, hugging each other and crying. They were so close, but so far."
Nikhar was intending to become a solicitor after completing her studies, but after her experience has focused her energies on the charitable sector.
She said: "Breast cancer changed everything – the way I feel and the way I think. After I got treated I wanted to work for a charity. I worked for CoppaFeel! and loved it and now I'm working for St George's Hospital Charity on challenge events and community fundraising like the London Marathon and any fundraising challenges people do for the hospital."
Nikhar, who lives in London, is a regular customer at Asda, and says that every visit is an opportunity to raise awareness.
She said: "Every time I go to Asda and see the Tickled Pink message on the self checkout and the other side of the receipt I love it. Every time I'm at Asda all my friends will be like, 'See the message is there'. I feel proud to see it. Every time I see something supporting Tickled Pink I buy it. I love the campaign, and I love that Asda is doing so much. You see the messages there, you see the Tickled Pink flowers, and it's a reminder. I feel that's really amazing and I want to be a part of it."