Health & Wellness

A dimpled breast photo may have saved her life – so she had to share her own

Claire Warner was bending over and pulling up her socks one day last June when something strange caught her eye in her bedroom mirror. It was a tiny, slight dimple in her left breast, and initially she thought nothing of it.

But remembering she had seen something like it before, she just couldn’t ignore it. Warner, of Lancashire, England, went online to find the year-old, viral post she had seen on Facebook of a woman’s dimpled breast shortly before a mastectomy for breast cancer.

Warner, 42, compared her breast to the photo posted by fellow Briton Lisa Royle. Seeing similarities, Warner, a mother of girls ages 10 and 3, grew worried and saw her doctor. On July 1, she learned she had breast cancer. It was aggressive, she was told, but had been caught very early and was curable.

Shocked and terrified, she was moved to educate her friends and relatives about dimpling as a less common sign of breast cancer. Inspired by Royle, Warner snapped a photo of her own dimpled breast and posted it on Facebook, where it also drew wide attention. To date, the photo has had over 50,000 shares.

“The only reason I found my cancer was because somebody else was good enough to post a picture of their dimple, and mine was even more subtle than the picture I had seen,” Warner told TODAY, in her first interview since posting the photo. “I had to do the same. It was only right that I did the same and tried to help other people find it very early.”

Claire Warner snapped this photo during her final chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

Warner, who recently finished treatment and has no evidence of cancer, has an indescribable gratitude for Royle, whom she has thanked in a message.

“She very well has probably saved my life,” Warner said, adding: “Had I not seen that Facebook post, I would not have done anything about it.”

“I was told from the start that this was curable,” Warner said, “and I don’t know that, had I waited until other symptoms came, that they still would have been saying that.”

“Blink and you'd miss it,” Warner wrote on Facebook of her dimple, urging men and women to check for the symptom.

“I hope that people realize that breast cancer isn’t just about the lump,” Warner said. “Everybody knows to check for lumps, but I couldn’t feel the lump.”

In places like the United States and the United Kingdom, where mammography is widely available, about 70 to 80 percent of breast cancers are found through screening mammograms, and don’t present with skin changes like dimpling or palpable lumps, said Dr. Anees Chagpar, director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven Health.

Claire Warner
Warner is smiling today. She's cancer free about two months after her mastectomy.

“Screening mammography often finds cancers at an earlier stage before they cause a mass or any other physical exam findings such as dimpling,” Chagpar said.

“However, when a patient finds skin changes — whether that is a dimpling or divot in the skin, skin discoloration with redness, excoriation of the nipple, inversion of the nipple, skin thickening — if they have any of these skin changes that are new or unusual, they should have those checked out because they can be one of the signs of breast cancer.”

Having done just that, Warner was ultimately diagnosed with triple negative, invasive ductal and lobular carcinoma.

Warner had a lumpectomy and a lymph node removed two weeks after her diagnosis. But doctors discovered her tumor was larger than scans showed. She had 12 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a mastectomy and more lymph nodes removed in March.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Latest guidelines for screening

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Latest guidelines for screening

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Along the way, she had an appendectomy and was diagnosed with an underlying heart problem that will require surgery. Warner has been sharing her journey on Twitter, under the handle @OfNoSpecialType.

Now, she is feeling great, though she knows her disease could return. “I feel really, really well,” she said. “Most of the time, I’m fine. I’m still worried.”

As Warner's photo continues to spread, she’s come to grips with the discomfort of knowing tens of thousands of people have seen her bare breast.

Warner has received thousands of messages, sometimes hundreds a day, from people thanking her for her post, asking for advice, and some even crediting her photo with helping them receive their own early diagnosis, just as Royle’s image did for her.

“When I get messages saying because of your photo, I didn’t ignore this and went to the doctor, it definitely makes the embarrassment worthwhile,” she said.

TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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