My name is Caroline Migo and in December 2008 I was diagnosed with T2, grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma of the left breast.
Having been initially given the all clear I went on to have an MRI Scan which showed 3 cancerous lumps in my left breast. I don’t remember much about being told by my oncologist once the word cancer was mentioned. I do however remember him saying that they would have to take my breast and most of my lymph nodes as the cancer had started to spread. After that everything went into free fall I could see his lips moving but all I could hear was the word cancer. My brain was saying this didn’t happen to me it happened to other people, they must be wrong, its got to be a mistake! Thank goodness my husband was with me to take in all the information. Things would move fast.
A couple of days later my breast care nurse at Tunbridge Wells Hospital rang to ask if I would like to go and see a specialist plastic surgeon to discuss breast reconstruction options. I jumped at the chance, the thought of being left without a breast was just not an option for me, mentally I could not have coped with that as well as having to go through all the cancer treatment. The thought of my body being left mutilated after the mastectomy was horrifying.
I now know how lucky I was to be referred to the Queen Victoria in East Grinstead. At the time I knew very little about breast cancer let alone breast cancer reconstruction and my local hospital could only offer me an implant reconstruction. The Queen Victoria is England’s leading hospital for breast cancer reconstructions using patient’s own tissue instead of implants. The following week I met my surgeon. We talked about the many ‘own tissue’ options offered at QVH and he showed me some pictures of reconstructions he had carried out. To start with I was completely overwhelmed by all the information I was given but he was very patient and answered all the questions I had and said if I thought of anything else I could contact him anytime. I also had the support of a breast care nurse specialist to guide me and I got to know her very well over my reconstruction journey. It was such a big decision to make in such a short space of time.
As my diagnosis was so close to Christmas I asked if my surgery could be delayed until after Christmas, 4 weeks away. My Oncologist was not happy about the delay but I had 4 young children and I wanted them to have one last Christmas before I told them about my cancer. So on the 6th January having made my decision I had a left mastectomy with immediate reconstruction using a DIEP flap from my tummy and auxiliary clearance as they found cancer in my sentinel and one other node. My surgeon had warned me that this operation carried a 5% failure rate, which at the time was a risk I was more than willing to take. Today through their excellent skills the surgeons at the Queen Victoria have reduced the failure rate to .5%!!
Unfortunately for me my body did not react well to 10 hours of surgery. I had to have a blood transfusion immediately after the surgery and another one while I was in step down. I then developed a Haematoma, which meant another trip to theatre to remove it. My surgeon and the ward staff were amazingly supportive, but after 18 days of trying everything to save my reconstruction I couldn’t delay my Chemo any longer and we had to concede defeat - my reconstruction failed. I remember the walk back to theatre knowing that when I came round this time I would have nothing left but a terrible scar - I was devastated! My surgeon promised that he would try again once my treatment had finished.
I went on to have my 6 months of chemo, 4 weeks of radiotherapy and start 5 years of Tamoxifen. During the 18 months I spent without a breast I sank into a deep depression. I didn’t want to do anything, which resulted in a lot of weight gain. I lost all my confidence; I didn’t want to see friends not even family. I was constantly aware of my prosthesis – popping out the top or falling down my sleeve and when I leant forward the great chasm that opened up where my cleavage used to be. Every morning when I looked in the mirror that puckered scar screamed back at me. I loathed the way I looked. I felt like the cancer had stolen more than just my breast it had stolen my identity, I wasn’t able to wear the clothes I used to, that expressed the kind of person I was, I felt invisible. I looked and behaved like someone else!!
It didn’t just affect me. Afterwards my children told me it changed me, they felt like they had lost their old mum and the new mum didn’t love them anymore. My depression put a tremendous strain on my relationship with my husband; my body disgusted me so how could he possibly still want me. On top of that he had to go to work, look after me as well as the children. The only thing that kept me going during this dark time was my surgeons promise to try again.
So in February 2010 I went back to the QVH. I had a reconstruction called an LD using a muscle from my back and an expander implant. When I woke up after the surgery and looked down I could see a mound filling my bra. I can’t tell you the joy I felt! It might not have been my first choice of reconstruction but it was a thousand times better than having nothing there but that terrible scar to reminded me of my cancer every day.
In May 2011 my saline expander implant ruptured, again I was able to go back to my surgeon at QVH. He replaced the expander with a silicone implant. In August 2011 I had a right Mastopexy (uplift) so that I looked more symmetrical. Once the implant had settled he noticed that the uplift had not been sufficient so being the perfectionist that he is performed another minor uplift in April 2012. Later that year he gave me a nipple reconstruction. My breastcare nurses then carried out nipple tattoos in April & July 2013, 2014 and 2015 to colour and give me an areola.
In 2019 I went back to the Queen Victoria to have a replacement implant as I developed capsular contracture, which is where tight scar tissue develops around the implant that becomes painful and distorted. I also had liposuction and another uplift for symmetry . This continuity of care and being able to see the same surgical team and staff throughout gave me the confidence to carry on, it enabled me to cope mentally with what turned out to be a long journey.
Having breast reconstruction was the best thing I ever did - it gave me back my life. It made me feel normal again and not some mutilated freak. It has restored my femininity. I have regained my zest for life; I now play golf, badminton and have even taken up netball again after 35 years.
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