When I found out I had breast cancer, it happened on a sunny and blue-sky day. These days are often the most unexpected.

I felt a sharp, intermittent pain in my left breast for a couple of months during the last summer.

It would wake me up at night and disappear for days. There was never any lump, or tenderness. 

When I mentioned the pain to anyone, they would say: ‘Well at least it’s not breast cancer because you don’t get a pain with breast cancer.’

Then I found out that Sarah Harding (Girls Aloud) suffered from pain she blamed on a guitar strap rubbish.

It made me think that I should get my pain investigated – but not right then. In the future. Someday in the future.

It was a clear, sunny, blue-sky day the day I learned I had breast cancer. The brutally unexpected so often seems to happen on such days

When I found out I had breast carcinoma, it was a sunny and blue-sky day. These days are often the most unexpected.

Since childhood, mammograms have been a part of my life. I’ve always preferred to go private for them every year. 

I was due another but couldn’t get hold of my gynaecologist who generally refers me for them, so I booked to see my GP.

Because I was unable to get to my efficient NHS one and because it would take me longer time to arrange what was considered a non-urgent Mammogram, I chose a private GP. It was an important task, especially with the busy fall ahead.

My doctor of 40 years said, as he so often has with one or other of my worries, that he didn’t think it was anything sinister and was pretty certain it was a viral inflammation around the rib.

To be safe, however, Professor Kefah Mkbel is a breast specialist. 

My sister, who was diagnosed early-stage breast carcinoma two years prior, knew that I would be going to Mokbel. 

He was her surgeon, she replied. ‘It’ll be fine,’ she said.

During the three weeks it took to get an appointment with the much in-demand Prof Mokbel, I went on holiday to Croatia and swam in the clear sea, ate delicious cheeses and hams and didn’t have a single twinge.

I began to wonder if the pain was stress-induced – even though I had no obvious stress other than not being able to figure out the right subject for a new book. Maybe I should cancel my appointment.

So it was in a thoroughly ‘It’ll all be fine’ state of mind that I walked into the Princess Grace Hospital in Marylebone that bright autumnal day, having first dropped into the nearby Bella Freud shop and toyed with buying a silk dress for the party season.

For a few months over the past summer, I had an intermittent sharp pain under my left breast, as if the wire from a bra was cutting in

Over the summer I experienced an occasional sharp sensation under my left breast. It was as though a bra wire were cutting into me.

Prof Mokbel said that he’d operated on my sister, and that she was recovering well. 

The doctor said that there was nothing unusual about my breasts. He sent me to the mammogram room.

This year, the results came back clear and almost identical to previous years. Naturally, I was happy to hear the good news. My thoughts turned to dinner. 

Mammograms are what millions of breast-cancer patients rely on to detect it. Everyone feels relieved when there’s nothing there.   

Professor Mokbel had arranged an extra ultrasound scan in order to examine the breasts another way. While I was lying on my back, a female radiograph examined the area using a probe.

Sometimes it woke me at night, sometimes it disappeared for days. But there was no lump or general tenderness

It would wake me up at night and disappear for days. It was not a lump and it did not feel tender.

‘All looks fine,’ she said. ‘It’s nearly over.’ I mulled a little more about dinner – and how infuriating it would be if it was in these last seconds that something came up. 

Which was exactly when she pressed on the area where the pain occurred under the breast – and bingo. It felt like it was going to hell. 

Instantly, she stated, staring at the screen in amazement, that she could clearly see something. And she didn’t like what she saw. She was certain it wasn’t a simple cyst.

The moment the world turned on its head was that. The word I can’t get out of my mind is pan-icy – which is what my phone’s predictive texting changed the word panicky to. 

Pan-icy is a perfect description of the chill terror that surged through my body.

A biopsy followed right there to test what she had seen and then I was back in the professor’s office, to be greeted with the news that yes, there was a tumour, relatively small. 

Because of where it was located, deep under the breast on the muscle of the rib, it hadn’t shown up on the mammogram.

He said it was fortunate that he ordered an ultrasound because I told him about my sister’s relationship. Breast cancer is known to have familial genetic links – although as it turned out, ours didn’t.

I walked down Harley Street, thinking how often I had wondered whether others I’d seen emerging from behind doors in this world-famous road had just learnt good or bad news. 

I wondered when my time would come to cancel an appointment. However, it turned out that it was fine.

Now I know.

I was able to receive treatment privately so everything worked quickly. 

An MRI gave me more detail about my tumor and I was assigned a team: Dr Sarah Harris to oversee radiotherapy and Professor Peter Schmid to help with possible hormonal treatment or chemotherapy.

All of them were unfavorable words. I was placed in the Land of the Sick. Knowing enough about breast cancer, I was able to tell that a disease like mine could be treated. 

It was like I had no idea where I was. It was not long before my diary was packed with parties, book festivals, and meetings to promote the book that I published last year. But suddenly, it was full of very different types of appointments.

But then I read about how Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding, who sadly died of breast cancer in September, experienced a pain which she attributed to a guitar strap rubbing her breast

Then I found out that Sarah Harding (Girls Aloud) suffered from pain she blamed on a guitar strap rub her breasts.

When I was unsure of my future, it made me feel like a fraud to have engagements. Each time I walked into another doctor’s office, I heard the words: ‘The gods are laughing at your plans.’ Who was I to have plans?

When I got back from Mokbel a week later, I had a hard time deciding what clothes to wear. After trying on a black jumper, I decided that it was too dark and so replaced it with a pink one. 

Next, I realized that pink is the colour for breast cancer. This made me queasy. But I was already running late so I had to keep going.

All in all, the news was positive. The cancer receptors were estrogen-positive. This meant that I could have a lumpectomy without any additional treatment. There was also no evidence of spread. A mastectomy would not be necessary.

Alexandra Shulman attends a cocktail party in honour of Alison Loehnis' 10 year anniversary at NET-A-PORTER on February 19, 2018 in London

Alexandra Shulman is at a cocktail party to celebrate Alison Loehnis’ 10th year anniversary at NETA-PORTER, February 19, 2018, in London

But – and I came to learn there is always a ‘but’ – there was an indicator which showed an elevated degree of aggression.

Radiotherapy and hormone therapy would certainly be required. However, I will need to wait until I find out if chemotherapy would be recommended.

Another week and I was in hospital, waiting for the operation and watching Clarkson’s Farm on my laptop (which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to be distracted from concerns about their own mortality).

My surgeon said that the surgery was successful and removed all lymph nodes. However, the tumor results were not yet available so I could decide how to proceed.

How quickly have the years flown. This was originally a reference to my failed teenage exams. This was now a reference to potentially dangerous information.

It isn’t my strength to wait. While people told me to not worry, I found that I became more calm the longer I waited. Worry is a good thing. The best preparation was to not worry. My natural modeus vivendi is to prepare for the worst.

To those I confided in, I wailed that I really didn’t want to have chemotherapy (as if anyone does) because I couldn’t be put out of action for months. So how would I get my job done? The medical team actually told me that it was possible for many people to continue working. OK. What if I lost my hair? This was the time I finally tried a Blondie hair wig. It didn’t seem much of a consolation prize.

Being used to managing and controlling things, I was surprised to find that my heart wanted to be completely surrendered to experts.

I didn’t do any research, unlike many of my friends in the same position. I did not do a single Google search. I didn’t want advice from lay people to take mushrooms, or CBD oil, or consider an opinion from America.

It made me think that I should get my pain investigated – but not right then. At some point. In the future

It made me think that I should get my pain investigated – but not right then. Someday. Future

But, irrationally, I also couldn’t bear not doing anything. For eight years, I served as a trustee for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. It was something I believed I would do if I were diagnosed with cancer. 

This is a world-class cancer hospital. Was I there, then? However, I felt panicked to move on to another hospital and to be treated by a new team.

So that I could get some control in this situation, my goal was to contact the Royal Marsden. In doing so, I had the opportunity of speaking with Professor Stephen Johnston (their highly-respected Head of Breast Cancer).

His treatment of cancers like mine were pretty similar across the globe, he said to me. 

He had a good understanding of my team. If I asked, he could have a look at all the results. That was extremely comforting. 

He said that it would be okay to drink a glass of wine in order to ease anxiety. ‘A glass?’ he said. ‘Have as many as you like. Well. Perhaps not a bottle.’

The next results brought the fantastic news that the lymph nodes were clear – there was no spread.

Prof Schmid, my oncologist told me that it was over. After surgery, it was completely gone. However, further genomic testing was performed to confirm that chemotherapy could be used in the future to stop recurrences.

‘Ten years?’ I said. ‘Surely different treatments will be available by then?’ He replied that, unfortunately, in the case of breast cancer, if there is a recurrence it is often more aggressive and, while treatable, not curable. 

Do you want to learn more about chemotherapy? ‘No,’ I answered, bad temperedly. Fear was my greatest fear. I was afraid I’d learn too much. It was just the beginning. There were more nights of sleepless night.

He was finally with me two weeks later. It was a great prognosis. He and Professor Johnston greatly admired the results and concluded that there was very little risk to my cancer. My treatment would include letrozole for 7 years. Radiotherapy will be provided once a week.

My fear of chemotherapy would be futile. It was unnecessary. Radiotherapy can make me tired. Side effects of letrozole may occur.

I have been religious about mammograms and going private to have them annually for many years

Since my teens, mammograms have been a part of my life. I’ve gone private every year to get them.

HRT, which helped me get through my menopause, has to be stopped. It provides estrogen, the hormone that feeds my cancer. Infusions will be required to prevent osteoporosis. However, to my delight, I was given an amazing reprieve.

I was also very fortunate. Mammograms can detect the majority of breast cancers. 

Mine wasn’t because of where it was situated. It is relatively rare that breast cancer is indicated by a pain – indeed, my NHS doctor has told me that bilateral breast pain (meaning pain on both sides) has just been removed from the Pan-London Breast Cancer Guidelines for urgent referral to a specialist.

My only sign was pain, and the extra ultrasound I received confirmed that my cancer had spread. This story could easily have ended differently.

That was the first thing I did. Book a consultation for hair color.