I’m Claire and on a cold January day in 2011 I was emptying the dishwasher contents back into the cupboard when something happened that was about to rock my world and change me and my life forever.
As I opened the cupboard door I caught the edge on my left breast… the pain I felt nearly sent me into orbit! After some nagging from my husband, Mark, I made an appointment to see my GP. After my explanation of symptoms that I had been putting down to age, possible early menopause and just working too hard he made a quick phone call and before I knew it I was in the breast clinic, having a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. Within 2 weeks Mark and I were back in the surgeons office! I had spent the last couple of weeks reassuring everyone it was only a cyst, I was fine but deep down I knew something bad was about to happen.
The diagnosis came as a devastating blow, not just that I had cancer and that I would need a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and then ‘possible’ reconstruction but not for 2 years! 2 years! That was the bit I focussed on.. I would have no breast for 2 years… I would be lopsided, I would look different, and I wouldn’t be a ‘real’ woman. I had always loved my boobs, happy to show a cleavage, proud of my femininity and now that would all be gone in a few weeks time… To be honest I was sure I could cope with the cancer, mum had been through it several years earlier and she was and still is with us , a strong , well, happy woman. But… I couldn’t live with one breast…
My surgeon was VERY clear, the tumour was large, 10cm, lobular, growing from deep inside, maybe it had spread to lymph nodes.. I would need a lot of strong chemotherapy, six weeks of radiotherapy and my body would need to heal… but 2 years??
I’ve always been a person who likes to be guided, have rules, trust those who know better so I went along with it and with hindsight it was absolutely the right thing to do.
The emotional and physical rollercoaster for the next year was intense. My femininity disappeared bit by bit, a breast, hair, eyelashes, having to wear a hideous prosthesis that I felt everyone could see. I went on holiday and spent the entire week looking at other women’s breasts!! I had more conversations about boob jobs and real breasts than the boys did hoping I would spot someone like me!
As I approached the end of the 2 years and had met my wonderful, fabulous plastic surgeon I started to feel excited… He knew what this meant to me so I know it was really hard for him to explain that I would need to lose 2 and a half stone before he would operate.. Why? I was fit, well, had been this size for years on and off! He wanted it to be perfect for me, to have optimum recovery and healing and although he was going to use my tummy to create my new breast he didn’t need that much!!! I cried all the way home, more than I did when I was first diagnosed. I wanted this so much, nothing was going to stop me…so, I joined a slimming club, I enlisted a work colleague to train with me at the gym and I lost the weight.
My journey was nearly over… but it wasn’t really, I was only at chapter 5! While I waited for a date I scoured the internet… what would it be like, what would I look like? So many differing opinions but no real answers. I persuaded Mark that he should come with me to a Show & Tell evening at East Grinstead hospital where I would have my surgery. My BCN had suggested it, telling me so many patients had found it really useful, and that was my first encounter with a group that was to become Restore. Mark was reluctant at first as he was worried about me facing more surgery and pain and couldn’t really understand why I didn’t understand that he loved me as I was and didn’t need to put myself through this. I compromised and said – no nipple!… I would just have the breast but none of the follow up surgery.
Well.. what an inspirational evening! I listened to a lady representing the group introduce the evening and the charity. I met BCNs who are passionate about their work and completely understand our need to do this. I met a physio who explained we would ‘hate’ her by the time she had finished with us and a psychological therapist who gave us comfort in the knowledge that not just us as patients but our families would also be supported. But most importantly I sat in a room full of women all facing decisions about reconstructions and desperate for that information I had sought on the internet and in leaflets.
We were then taken into a room (without our Partners) where we met a group of Angels. They were women who had been or were on the same journey we were facing. They openly shared their stories, bravely showed us their reconstructed breasts, all at different stages, different procedures and then honestly answered our questions.
I was so impressed with one lady in her 60s who had a double mastectomy, reconstructed breasts and fabulous nipples!!! Reconstructed and tattooed I couldn’t believe what I was seeing…. There was no way I wasn’t having one of those!
I was left so inspired by what I had experienced I casually mentioned to one of the BCNs on my post surgery appointment that if they ever needed some help…. She nearly bit my hand off!! Before I knew it I too was modelling, sharing my experience, I hadn’t even got my new nipple at that stage…Every session was so rewarding, I loved meeting all the patients sitting where I had sat… what else could I do? I’m now 5 years on from my reconstruction and I can honestly say it was probably one of the happiest days of my life. I have never regretted it and my confidence has grown as I reflect on the journey that is behind me. I continue to support other ladies by being the Chairwoman of Restore and look forward to continuing a life where I wear my scars with pride.
Come to a Show & Tell event
Find out more about different types of procedure and the experiences of patients by coming along to one of our events.