Sue 1's Story

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I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2001 at the age of 35, one week later I had a right mastectomy and auxiliary lymph node clearance. Histology showed that the tumor was a high grade invasive tumor with one lymph node involved and was oestrogen receptor positive. Two weeks after surgery I saw my Oncologist and one week later started what was to be seven months of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy, although not the most pleasant of treatments, in my experience was not as horrendous as I was expecting; I was never sick, although did feel nauseous on occasions, I did however get very tired, but I continued to work throughout taking a couple of days off after each session of treatment. I lost most of my hair but had the most beautiful wig, cut and styled to match my own.

Radiotherapy had no physical effect on my well-being at all, the worst part being the two hour round trip to get to the Walsgrave hospital in Coventry for the 2 minutes of treatment. After radiotherapy I started taking Tamoxifen and will continue to take it until March 2007. Breast reconstruction was something I knew very little about. I was given the option of immediate reconstruction at the time of my diagnosis, but knew I would have to wait six weeks or so before it could be done – I didn’t feel that I could wait that amount of time. The thought of walking around knowing I had cancer was terrifying – I just wanted it gone.

In January 2003, nearly twelve months after my treatment finished, I had an appointment to see Mr Fatah at City Hospital, Birmingham – he was happy to do my reconstruction and put me on his waiting list. On Wednesday 15th October 2003, I received a phone call whilst at work, from City Hospital asking if I was available to have my surgery on the following Sunday 19th October. I was amazed and spent most of the day in complete shock. I had been transferred to have my surgery under the care of Mr Guy Sterne – another Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeon based at the hospital. The next three days were a whirl of hospital appointments and preparation for my admission on the Saturday evening. Looking back, this was the way to do it, I didn’t have time to worry or reconsider as I had so much to do. On Sunday 19th October I had my right breast reconstructed using muscle from my back and an implant. I also had a left breast augmentation (boob job) taking me from a 32A to 32D, which I was advised to do by my consultant . I woke up after my operation and was on cloud nine. I couldn’t believe the difference having my breast back made to me. For 2½ years I was only glad to be still here – grateful for the Surgeons’ and Oncologists who had got me this far, I hadn’t realised how much losing my breast had actually meant.

I left hospital on the Friday and had a very uneventful recovery. I felt so happy – there wasn’t the constant reminder of breast cancer as there had been before, things like putting my prosthesis on every morning, washing it at night and having to wear tops that I could wear a bra under. My confidence increased – I had never had “boobs” – but now I reveled in wearing tops that showed them off!!

The following March I had my nipple reconstructed – a simple surgical procedure carried out under local anesthetic and the following December, had the nipple tattooed.

In January 2005, I made the decision to have a risk-reducing mastectomy and immediate reconstruction to my left breast. I have a huge family history of breast cancer – losing my mother, grandmother and several cousins to the disease all at young ages and also my great-grandmother who had her breast removed at the age of 16.

I spent time talking to Genetic Consultants and Psychologists as well as Mr Sterne who all agreed it was a sensible option.

On 19th October 2005 (exactly 2 years to the day of my right reconstruction), I had my surgery. Again, I had an ELD reconstruction (using the muscle from my back) and an implant. I am absolutely delighted – having this done has reduced my risk of developing breast cancer again by 95%. I feel fantastic.

For me having breast cancer has been a journey – a journey through every emotion I possess. There have been a lot of tears, intense frustration, immense sadness and buckets full of anger – but in amongst all this, a huge amount of love and laughter. I realise how much I love and adore my husband, family and friends and how much they have given to support me. I have met people I would never have encountered – people who have all shown exceptional courage and bravery and whom I am very proud to call my dearest friends.

In July 2003 I was privileged to be asked by Guy Sterne, the surgeon who did my Breast Reconstruction surgery if I would help in starting a support group to support other ladies and their families who were considering, awaiting or recovering from Breast Reconstruction following a diagnosis of breast cancer. Butterflies was founded and in the last 3 years we have gone from strength to strength. We are, as far as we are aware, the only support group in the country who provide this type of help for ladies faced with the difficult decision of whether to proceed with surgery or not. We have our own website- (www.butterflies-support.org.uk), have recently received charity status, have “Butterflies Buddies”, all trained by Macmillan Cancer Support to provide one to one peer support and have just been able to introduce a Butterflies Patient Advisor who attends clinics regularly to talk to ladies following their clinic consultation with the surgeons. I am Butterflies Group Co-ordinator and am so proud of everything we have achieved.

Breast cancer is something forced upon us – whereas breast reconstruction is a very personal choice and it is not always the right way for everyone. For me, however, it has proved to be the right choice – it has given me back so much of what I was unaware had been taken away – it has given me back my confidence and best of all when I’ve got the right top on – the biggest smile!


This Page was created on Thursday, 24th November, 2005.