Hats off to BBC journalist Victoria Derbyshire. What a fantastic woman. How wonderful that she has produced a video diary about cancer diagnosis and her one sided mastectomy. How brilliant that she is being so open about it. Amazing. As someone who has been through the same thing I would like to congratulate her and support what she is doing. Can I say, here and now, that there definitely is life after breast cancer.
I had my one-sided mastectomy in October 2012, almost exactly 3 years ago now. The thing I remember the most was how fast everything happened. From diagnosis to surgery was only about three weeks in total. Three weeks of hospital visit after hospital visit, examination after examination, test after test. No real chance to sit and consider what having cancer might really mean in the long term. No chance to do anything much really.
I suppose I was extremely lucky to have such an immensely supportive family. My partner and I split up several years ago but we are still good friends. He was great and was there to talk to whenever I needed to.
My father and stepmother were wonderful, despite living at the other end of the country, they rang me practically every day to make sure I was OK.
My daughters, young women in their early 20s, were both so amazing and so matter of fact about all that was happening. I can’t praise them highly enough. I am not sure how upset or worried either of them were by what was happening to me but, if they were afraid, they made sure they didn’t let me see how they felt. Instead they did their best to ensure that I was happy and safe and that I was as relaxed and joyful as possible. I was not allowed to sit back and mope or be miserable, instead they made sure we had fun and laughed a lot. The evening before I was scheduled to go to hospital for the actual op I was served my very favourite dinner and we all sat in the living room together to eat it, watching all the dvds I like the most and laughing all the time. A joyous, family evening, of fun. My sweet and lovely younger daughter had even made us all a cake that celebrated the part of my body that was to go the next day. A big, domed, pink iced chocolate cake, complete with a fondant icing nipple and the words ‘Bye bye booby’ in big bold red letters round the edge. Very ‘Great British Bake-Off and it was delicious.
The following day I had my surgery. To be honest, it all went past in a bit of a blur. I left my house at six in the morning with two breasts and was back home by lunch with just the one, loads of stitches and and fair bit of padding and bandaging. Unlike Victoria, I decided against reconstructive surgery. I had the choice but didn’t really want it. some women do, some don’t, each to their own. I just came to the conclusion it wasn’t right for me and, three years down the line, I’m still sure it was the right decision.
After the surgery was complete the treatment didn’t end. I didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy, again my choice. My consultant told me that, by having my breast removed, all the cancer had gone too. He had checked my lymph nodes in my armpit and they were clear so there was nothing for the chemo to kill. I did go for radiotherapy for a couple of months but that was simple and unintrusive. Just a short daily visit to the hospital for eight weeks to be shut in a large lead lined room for a few minutes whilst I was blasted with radiation where my breast had been and that was it. Once that was finished it was all over bar my annual check-ups and breast screening on the breast I have left. No real problem to be honest.
So, once again, well done Victoria. I am now clear of the disease and I’m sure you will continue to be clear of it too now the operation is over.I’m glad you are being as open as you are about what is happening in your life. I wish I had said a lot more about what happened to me at the time but I am going to follow your lead and talk about it now. The more of us that speak out, the more we can dispel the mystique and the fear that surrounds breast cancer. It is a serious disease but there is still a long and amazing life to live after the operation is completed. Good luck and enjoy it, I’m sure, with your attitude, that you will.