October is Breast Cancer Month

The positive side to breast cancer

Is there a positive side to cancer?

No there isn’t – certainly not when you’re first diagnosed. The adrenalin and survivor mode though is extremely positive.

But what happens after? How do you feel when the ‘all clear’ is given? What do you see when you look in the mirror?

There is so much you can do. Stop worrying about the things you can’t control. You will be much more effective when you put your time and energy into the things you can control.

I hope my story of how I coped and the actions I took will help you, or anyone else going through their journey – you/they are not alone.

Diagnosis

Breast Screen NSW officially diagnosed me with breast cancer on Friday 4th October 2013. By the end of February 2014 I had gone through a lumpectomy, double mastectomy and the silicone implant operation. I was very lucky that I didn’t need chemotherapy.

How did this all start? A bit of history (it is relevant I promise!). Back in 2011 I had a breast reconstruction, more because I had one breast a C-cup and the other a B-cup. Any woman would know that trying to get a bra to fit uneven breasts is impossible.

Now, fast forward to 2013. I was thinking it was time I went for a mammogram but kept putting it off. I’m sure my guardian angel was with me that time as one morning I woke up saying “ok enough, I’ll make the appointment!”.

Two weeks later I had a call back to go for a breast assessment on the 1st October – it can take between 2 – 4 hours they said, just as a precaution.

The four stages of the assessment started with an X-ray, focussing on the area concerned, then an ultrasound followed by an examination by a retired breast surgeon – he was very thorough. Lastly, a biopsy.

With each examination I was convinced that it was only scar tissue left over from my previous reconstruction. What do I know? But deep down I knew that day that I had breast cancer.

The results

On the 4th October I went for my results, with my husband, to be confirmed that I did indeed have breast cancer. A lovely lady broke the news and gently told me the next steps to take. We took the train home and went straight to my GP so I could make an appointment. My favourite GP was part-time so getting a quick appointment was not easy. When asked by the receptionist if I needed an urgent appointment, I replied with “no not really – I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer”. With that she made me wait there and spoke to the GP who wanted to see me that very afternoon.

By the time I got back, my GP had set up an appointment with a highly recommended surgeon. We discussed my options of a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy, but I had already decided that I wanted to have a double mastectomy. I know that I would worry and wait for cancer to come in the other breast and besides which, I was far too vain to have either a smaller breast again or a perky silicone breast and the other saggy! Wasn’t that why I had had the reconstruction in the first place two years earlier!

Operations

The first operation was a lumpectomy on Tuesday 15th October. The surgeon found that the lump was in fact 22mm long. Having the mastectomy would ensure that all cancer cells would be taken away.

Tuesday 3rd December 2013 was the day I said goodbye to both my breasts. I had opted for the two-stage breast construction. Immediately after the mastectomy my cosmetic surgeon inserted a tissue expander to stretch the skin. Saline had to be inserted every week or fortnight until it was the right size.

Christmas was around the corner by the time I left hospital. I wanted the house to be decorated, to be cheerful – something to look at while I was going through the pain and discomfort.

The final operation to have the expanders removed, and the silicone implants put in was at the end of February 2014.  I now have rock solid breasts that never move – they’ll never go South!  I don’t need bras and I can run without my breasts getting uncomfortable. But despite the perky breasts, I’d have been happier to keep the real things, even with their southerly migration, than go through all that I have been through.

Aftermath

While I was going through the diagnosis and the operations, I remained very strong.  I had so much support from everyone – giving me strength to get through it all. I never cried at that time, I would joke around and always be positive.

It was about a month after the last operation and I was thinking that I should just throw my bras away. I started to sort them and then broke down. I just cried and cried. That was the beginning of the grieving for my lost breasts and its meaning.

It is very often the case after – that when the physical has healed and you don’t feel the need for as much support from everyone, that you actually need the mental support. It is then that you have time to process what has happened, now that you have left the survivor phase.

Why the Tattoo?

Every morning I woke up to see scars from my armpit area to the centre breastbone. It was a constant reminder of my cancer. Nipples could have either been reconstructed or tattooed but I didn’t want another reminder of something that used to give me great pleasure!

All thanks to my guardian angel who saved me – so what better than to honour that? My guardian angel stands majestically, with the pink ribbon symbol around her and a tree with blossoms growing up; flowing across my scars and silicone breasts. How empowering, created through adversity.

I don’t consider myself a victim of breast cancer. It has made me a stronger and a more capable women, able to deal with life. 

I consider it a privilege to help others, to be empowered by their own experiences with breast cancer.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Leonie Abbott from The Maxx Studio in St Ives also The Beach Club Hair & Lifestyle in Freshwater. She has been my friend and hairdresser since 1999. Leonie is also a very accomplished photographer who took this amazing photo of me. When Leonie knew what I was planning there was no way she was going to let me have ‘just a photo’. She has been a great support to me through the cancer and, as you can see, post-cancer. Many years in the making but worth the wait.

I would like to also thank my amazing tattoo artist – Valter Parisi from Lionfish Collective in Narrabeen. He really is an artist! Knew what I wanted and apart from the angel, drew it all by hand. Took a long time as I could only handle a couple of hours at a time. Valter is very professional and caring, I felt very safe and comfortable with him considering where he was tattooing.