2001 was going to be a good year for Sue and myself. A new house and the possibility of starting a family was ahead of us but little did we know what lay ahead.
Early in 2001 Sue found a small lump in her right breast and being very health conscious and sensible she arranged to have it checked out at the doctors. Everything seemed to be normal when her GP told her it was nothing to worry about.
In April 2001 we moved into our dream home and the future looked great – unfortunately this was as good as it got. The week after we moved, the company I worked for announced that they were closing down, having just started a 25 year mortgage it really wasn’t the news we wanted. Sue also started to get concerned about the lump in her breast as the shape was changing., so again she made an appointment to see her GP who once again didn’t think it was anything to be worried about as Sue was only 35, but just to put her mind at rest agreed to refer her to the breast surgeon at our local hospital.
The day of Sue’s appointment arrived and as normal Sue was her normal cheerful self, although I could sense a certain apprehension. We are very lucky in the area we live in that all of the tests and the results are carried out on the same day which eliminates the unwanted waiting time for results. All of the tests were carried out in the morning and we then went back in the afternoon for the results. One by one patients were coming out of the consulting room having seen the surgeon and it was obvious from the expressions on their faces what results they had received. Our turn arrived and we went in to one of the consulting rooms to hear the result. As soon as we sat down Sue said to Mr Brown “ I’ve got breast cancer haven’t I” and his answer confirmed it.
With me the shock hit me straight away, to be told that the woman you love has got cancer is just daunting and something I hope I will never hear again. Sue has always been very calm and level headed and her answer was – okay let’s get it sorted out! With Sue’s family history I think she always suspected that one day it would happen to her, but I just sat there speechless.
Driving home from the hospital I tried my hardest to be normal and positive but inside I was breaking up. Sue was a qualified nurse so had understood everything we had been told, but I’m afraid that as soon as I heard the word “cancer” my mind just blocked out everything that was said.
Over the next few hours we had to inform our family and our closest friends. Sue didn’t have a problem telling her family but when it came to my turn she had to rescue me, but as time went on it did get easier.
The first major obstacle was the mastectomy. The hospital policy again worked in our favour with surgery following within a week of diagnosis. All I wanted at this point was to get rid of the cancer and the thought of Sue losing her breast never upset me at all, the real important thing was to make sure that Sue had the best chance and if that meant losing a breast then there was little choice. Surgery always involves some sort of a risk and as I said “bye” to Sue on the night prior to her operation it was only then that I realized that this was a huge turning point in our lives and that this was the start of months, if not years of treatment.
The following day I rushed back to the hospital. When I got there she was still in theatre, but I just had to be there when she came back – to show her that I was going to be there for her and I wanted my face to be the first she saw when she opened her eyes.
When she did come back she was heavily bandaged and as white as snow but the first part was over and she was back with me. Over the next few days she got stronger and was soon back at home. My biggest problem was stopping her doing too much but with help from family and friends it all worked out well.
The next stage of treatment was chemotherapy – even the mention of it sent a shudder through me. The big problem was that I had never encountered it before and I didn’t really know what it involved. As with a lot of things in life it wasn’t as bad as either of us had expected.
To my surprise the chemo was just an injection into her arm and the radiotherapy was literally just one minute lay on a bed being “zapped”. I am not trying to, or ever would be-little either of these treatments in anyway but they were really not what I imagined.
During her chemo sessions, Sue decided to wear the cold cap in the hope that it would stop her losing her hair, something that is associated with the treatment. Sue’s hair did go very thin and towards the end of it she did wear a wig which was superb, and her hair grew back very quickly after she had finished the treatment. She was never sick, although did feel sick at times but the hospital supplied her with medication to stop all the side effects she experienced.
Radiotherapy was carried out at a different hospital . The treatment took one minute each time and was carried out every week day for three weeks. It took an hour to get to and from the hospital which was the worst thing about it.
Finally the immediate preventative treatment was finished and with help from a wonderful team at both hospitals and support from our family and friends the worst was now over. Sue started to take tamoxifen something she did every day for the next five years.
Sue was still very young – only 37, so breast reconstruction seemed the obvious choice so she was referred to City Hospital in Birmingham.
I can honestly say that I never had a problem with Sue having one breast and I certainly never encouraged her to go through further major surgery to have reconstruction. What mattered was that she was healthy again and anything more was a bonus.
Sue’s surgeon – Guy Sterne asked her if she would like to have the other breast made bigger when she had her reconstruction surgery , the expression on her face is something I will always remember. Sue had never had big boobs and finally she had been given the chance to have, within reason whatever she wanted, needless to say she jumped at the chance.
Surgery followed the following week and the end result was immediately obvious. Not only had she – in her own words – a better pair of boobs than she had before but she instantly regained her feminity and with that – her confidence. In my mind she had never lost her feminity, but I know she thought she had.
The final part of the reconstruction surgery was carried out 6 months later and that was the reconstruction of a nipple and finally tattooing of the areola. The nipple reconstruction surgery was done as a day case and the end result wasn’t at first what we expected. The nipple when it was first done was huge but over the next few weeks slowly shrunk to a normal size – to our great relief!
Our journey was now complete, Sue had gone from diagnosis to complete reconstruction in 4 years. Never in that time had she complained or made a big issue of it. Some days we were both a bit subdued but I think this is to be expected, at the end of the day you have to pick yourself up and get on with it.
It was during the surgery to reconstruct Sue’s nipple that Mr. Sterne asked Sue if she was interesting in helping to set up a support group to help ladies who were contemplating, or recovering from breast reconstruction. For Sue this was her chance to help others who were in the same position and so several ladies got together and from that Butterflies was formed. Since that day a lot of her time has been dedicated to the group and due to the hard work and commitment of the members of the butterflies committee and Mr. Sterne - Butterflies has become a very special and successful support group.
Sue’s thoughts now that the necessary treatment for breast cancer and reconstruction had been completed turned to further preventative measures. She has a huge family history of breast cancer and as far as she was concerned the more she could do to prevent a reoccurrence – the better.
After talking it through with the surgeons and various counselors Sue opted to have a risk reducing mastectomy and immediate skin sparing reconstruction and 2 years to the day after her initial reconstruction this was carried out, again by Mr Sterne.
As I understand it Sue’s chances of getting breast cancer again in her breast are very slim, the majority of the breast tissue has been taken, however there is always a very slight chance. The operation has reduced her risk by 95%.
I know I am very biased with my opinions but as far as I am concerned Sue is a very special person, she takes what ever life throws at her and always beats it and then goes on to help other ladies with the knowledge she has gained from her experience. Throughout the whole breast cancer experience she had the right attitude, she did exactly what she was asked to do by the clinical teams and just got on with it. Sue’s positive “I’m going to beat this” made life much easier for me and so much more bearable than it could have been.
Family and friends were always there for us throughout this very much unwanted period in our lives, the Surgeons, Oncologists and wonderful Breast Care Nurses at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch were utterly amazing and to Guy Sterne – a huge Thank You.
Sue is a truly inspirational and remarkable lady, who I am very proud
to be able to call my wife.
This Page was created on Thursday, 1st March, 2008.