Mastectomy and immediate DIEP with reduction of other breast.
In November 2019, on recall from a routine mammogram, my first fear, like so many others, on hearing the dreaded: “Sorry, but it is Triple Negative Breast Cancer”, was the fear of dying. I never considered how my feelings about being a woman would be affected. I just wanted to get rid of this awful disease and survive. I’ve always been a glass half-full person and cancer wasn’t going to beat me.
What I didn’t expect was the realisation that breast cancer and the subsequent treatment would actually try to destroy every bit of my femininity and such a large part of who I am as a woman.
Chemotherapy commenced early January 2020, with loads of expected side effects including losing my hair from every part of my body and destroying my nails. Nothing can prepare you emotionally for standing in the shower and seeing the hair you’ve had all your life falling into the shower tray. I also struggled with the looks of pity that even strangers gave me when this baldness made it obvious that I was battling cancer, despite all my best efforts not to be seen as a victim. During my chemotherapy treatment a MRI discovered another malignancy (Lobular) in the same breast.
Then along came Covid19, with the further worries and restrictions this brought. I could no longer meet and gain face-to-face support from family, friends and work colleagues. FaceTime and phone calls never make up for a hug from those who love you. The news was grim for all cancer sufferers – some chemotherapy treatments stopped nationally – but I was lucky mine continued, thanks to the hard work and planning from so many.
Local surgery was, however, put on hold for a short time and at one point I had no idea when I would receive my required mastectomy.
I have had large breasts all my life (34FF and aged 61) and the thought of no immediate reconstruction filled me with dread. It was yet another massive blow. I wanted to look normal and get on with my life without the continual reinforcement of cancer hanging over me in the absence of my breast. The temporary prosthesis would be huge and look false, especially given nature’s natural ageing processes that are more noticeable in large breasts and, of course, heavy. I couldn’t see how I would be able go swimming looking normal and, given the unpredictability of Covid19, I worried if I would ever receive a reconstruction at a later date. While I totally understood the pressure that Covid19 was putting on so many aspects of the NHS, I also thought that one operation must be better than two, with less bed occupancy days, less overall recovery time and cheaper for the NHS.
I tried so hard to concentrate on the priority of receiving a mastectomy, but the thought still filled me with dread. I’m sure my mental health would have suffered. I was so lucky that my partner was amazing, perfect support without being overprotective, and I have never doubted he would still love me for who I am with or without the breast.
At my Plastics appointment I was unexpectedly offered an immediate DIEP reconstruction at the same time as mastectomy and, given my large breast size, also a reduction on the other breast! The NNUH had developed a new protocol which would mean a much quicker discharge from hospital, to protect patients like me from Covid exposure and enable more available beds to treat others. On my part, I would have to keep fit pre-operatively, post- operatively get out of bed and mobilise at a quicker pace to enable this early discharge. I also had to ensure I had adequate support at home and take responsibility for the provided guidance regarding my recovery. I felt it was very much a partnership, but I could always gain support and advice from the experts 24 hours a day.
It was a quick, positive answer from me and everything went largely according to plan. I am writing this at three weeks post-op and am recovering well. A small complication of a wound breaking down due to my excessive bruising has been swiftly treated and is improving. While this may leave me with a larger scar area at the base of my reconstructed breast, the results are still amazing, even at this early stage. I can look in the mirror and see a whole woman who has the rest of her life ahead of her.
I have, and continue to receive, outstanding care and support during my cancer journey. The entire team treating me at the NNUH have been amazing…. a huge thank you to you all. I did receive my histology results on the mastectomy tissue, which actually showed a further malignancy (Micropapillary) – three cancers in the same breast! But no lymph gland involvement seen.
Mere words can also never explain how grateful I am to everyone involved in developing this new protocol to enable operations like mine to take place in this challenging time.
Cancer Survivor, Aged 61
Chrissie also talked with Heart Radio, here are some snippets or her interview (recorded September, 2020):