My name is Vicky Brandle and I was 52 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 25th October 2013.
I was shocked to hear the news and petrified of the treatment that I was going to have to go through. I have a phobia of being sick and I was afraid of needles. I came to terms with my situation quite quickly though when I realised how lucky I was compared to many others who never get a chance to fight their cancer. I had five sessions of chemotherapy in the Pine Therapy Unit at Darent Valley hospital and lost all my hair. I then had a Mastectomy on 13th March 2014 at the same hospital. This was followed by Radiotherapy at Maidstone Hospital and by the end of June 2014, I was back at work.
At the time I was so happy with the scar from my Mastectomy that I had no intention of having any breast reconstruction. By the end of the following year, my partner of 13 years didn’t want to be with me any more so we separated. I moved out of our home in Greenhithe, Kent and made a fresh start in Harlow, Essex.
I still went back to Darent Valley hospital for my annual check up that year but at the time I was still too upset about the break up to even consider reconstruction when I was asked.
They say that everything happens for a reason and I believe that this is so true. In March 2016 a friend suggested to me that I should consider having the reconstruction. I began to think about it, so when I was asked if I would like to have breast reconstruction at my next annual check-up, I said that I would be interested in finding out more about it. I had continued to have my check-ups at Darent Valley Hospital because I was happy with the treatment that I had received, and I didn’t want to be referred to what is now my local hospital in Essex.
My consultant at Darent Valley referred me to a specialist plastic surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, they specialise in breast reconstructions using muscle and skin from your own body to make a new breast. He talked me through the options and suggested that I attended one of Restore’s Show and Tell events to help me make my decision. Restore is a charity set up by ex breast reconstruction patients of QVH, to help support women contemplating breast reconstruction. After attending a Show and Tell in December 2016, I felt that I wasn’t ready to go through major surgery. I had my daughter with me and she agreed that it was a lot to go through. At my next follow up appointment I explained how I felt to my plastic surgeon, he was very understanding however he did say that I could change my mind at any time. He told me that I could take as long as I needed to make my decision and said that I could attend another Show and Tell session if I wanted to.
So in February 2017 I attended another Restore meeting, this time with a friend. I heard the same information and listened to the ladies telling their stories again but something was different that night, I felt more positive and I waited to speak with one of the ladies before we left. My friend said to me that it was too much to go through, but I decided there and then that I wanted to go ahead with the surgery. I asked to go back to the Queen Victoria Hospital to speak to my surgeon again and he set the ball in motion. It was agreed that my surgery would be the DIEP flap reconstruction using skin and muscle from my tummy to create a new breast. I was put on his waiting list for the surgery, with appointments made for a scan to determine if my tummy was suitable for the operation. The main operation was booked in for 31st January 2018 at QVH.
I had my pre op appointment and I met one of the anaesthetists there as well as one of the Restore ladies by chance and after speaking with them I felt relaxed and ready for my operation. By chance the night before my surgery I watched a programme on TV about the Queen Victoria and was very reassured by their national and international reputation for carrying out pioneering reconstruction surgery.
My daughter took me to hospital that day and I wasn’t scared about what was about to happen to me. I remember talking with the anaesthetist as he was putting me to sleep and I remember being wheeled in the corridor to the ward after my surgery. I felt so comfortable and safe and I remember the male nurse who checked up on me throughout the night. He was so kind and gentle.
My surgery was on a Wednesday and by Saturday lunchtime; I was on my way home. I recovered well and felt ready to go back to work after 6 weeks but I waited for 10 weeks just to be sure. In hospital I had been given a comfort pack from Restore and shortly after getting home, I made contact with them to say thank you and to see how I could get involved. By May 2018, I was modelling with them at the Show and Tell events in both Queen Victoria and Darent Valley Hospitals and I have never looked back.
In September 2019, I went back to QVH for some minor symmetry surgery and in 2020 I was back again for the creation of a nipple. Recently I have had my nipple tattoo to complete my reconstruction. I have had no complications and have received the best treatment I could have hoped for. I have been supported throughout my journey by my wonderful breast care nurses, surgeon and staff who have always been there to answer any questions or concerns I may have. The Queen Victoria Hospital is very special to me and I’m sure, many other women like me who are fortunate enough to be referred there are too. It is where my life changed for the better. I feel so privileged to have been able to have my surgery there. It has given me my life back, made me feel more confident and much braver than I was before. I have also met some amazing people on my journey who are now some of my best friends and I am now honoured to be one of the Trustees.
I still have to pinch myself when I think how lucky I have been to have my reconstruction at the Queen Victoria Hospital.
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