Two years & two breasts later…

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016. This post describes my treatment, including two mastectomies, and how I decided not to have reconstruction after mastectomy but to live flat.

Cancerversaries come thick and fast for me at this time of year.

I haven’t written much publicly about my breast cancer, but I feel that now is the right time for me to get on my soap box and start shouting about it.  I want women and men to be aware of all of the possible symptoms of breast cancer – not just the lumps – and, once diagnosed, to have all treatment options presented to them; especially if mastectomy is recommended.

Two years ago, in January 2016, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in my left breast after a routine screening mammogram; my second at the age of 54.    I had no symptoms and certainly hadn’t felt a lump, but two weeks later I heard those words that we all dread hearing…. “I’m sorry to say that you have cancer”.  I had already guessed that it would be bad news.  I could read the face of the doctor who’d taken the core biopsies from my breast, even though she had tried to stay neutral, telling me that nothing was certain, but, yes, the area did look suspicious.

I’ve never been so glad to have had my breasts squeezed flat between two huge x-ray plates, however painful it may have been.  I believe that the timing of that mammogram saved my life or at least meant that the cancer hadn’t spread beyond my breast.  As I said, I had no lumps and I did check myself pretty regularly, so I went to that mammogram with confidence that I definitely didn’t have cancer.  Even when I was recalled for further investigations, I naively persisted with that thought.  All that positivity stopped as soon as the doctor’s face gave away what she had seen.

So, no lumps but a new realisation that this meant nothing and that I could be diagnosed with breast cancer anyway.  I was shocked – this was not in my life plan!! When I was being examined, the breast surgeon seemed to pay particular attention to an area at the bottom of my breast, showing it to the Breast Care Nurse who was there to support me.  I saw in the mirror that there was dimpling in that spot and both of them exchanged glances to visually confirm between themselves that this was the symptom that I should have been aware of.

I was only vaguely aware that dimpling could be a sign of cancer, and I had no idea that I had an area of dimpling.  Those of you who know me, also know that I have (or had) very large breasts.  This suspicious area was right at the bottom of my breast and very well hidden.

I want you all to know and to be aware of breast dimpling as one of the possible signs of breast cancer.  If you see it, please go to your GP and asked to be checked out.  There are many other ways that breast cancer can make itself known, if only we are aware of what to look and feel for. Copping a feel of your breasts could lead you to an early diagnosis, mean that you avoid chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy.  Or, copping a feel of your breasts could mean that you have to go through all of those, but it could very definitely save your life!

I think that this is one of the best illustrations of what to look out for.

lemonbreast

So….. I had a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy on February 11th 2016 – 2 years ago this week.  I was relieved that it seemed to have been caught early enough for me to need only conservative surgery followed by radiotherapy.  It was thought that the tumour was only 20mm.  How little did they know!!  My world really did come crashing down on 24th February 2016 when I was told that actually the tumour was multifocal (in lots of places throughout my breast) and was actually 70mm and Grade 3; I would have to have a total mastectomy.

This is where my second soap box subject comes in – having all the treatment options presented when mastectomy is recommended – and, for me, this is a really important one as it is not discussed very widely or openly.  Being told that I needed a left mastectomy was one of the worst moments of my life, especially as the news was broken to me by a hassled doctor who was wearing the worst wig I’d ever seen, who couldn’t meet my eye, and who was obviously in a hurry to be somewhere else.  But that’s another story!

I broke down and bawled my eyes out.  I just couldn’t conceive of losing a breast.  I’d heard of people having mastectomies but had never known or met anyone who’d had one and so had no idea what it entailed.  It really did seem to be the worst outcome possible…. but then it was broken to me that I’d need chemotherapy as well. One breasted and bald – what else could go wrong?

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Last chemo session – bald & beautiful!

Mastectomy always means reconstruction, right?  Wrong actually.  Why is it assumed that all women will want to have reconstruction?  One reason could be that the medical professionals think that we all want to look exactly like we did before our surgeries, and that our breasts define us as women.  While this may be true for many women, it was not what I wanted.  Although it did take me a few days to reach this conclusion.

After being told that I was going to have my left breast cut off, I was shown some gruesome after and after photos. I think they were actually called before and after, but I like to think of them as after mastectomy – numb, flat chested with no nipples – and after reconstruction – numb, breast shaped chest with no nipples.

My extremely kind and caring Breast Care Nurse assumed that I would want to undergo breast reconstruction because that’s what everyone does, and I agreed that that is what I would do…… because I knew no different and was not given any information to let me know that there was another option – no reconstruction.

It turned out that the only reconstruction option open to me was the DIEP flap procedure, or tummy tuck as it was sold to me.  I was so lucky as I would definitely go down a jeans size after the 8-hour operation which would leave me with a hip to hip scar and a “breast” fashioned out of my own fat from my stomach.  Oh yes, and no nipple – that would have to be added later.

I would have to have delayed reconstruction because I was expected to have radiotherapy and they couldn’t do surgery until a year after my last session! So, I would be living as a uniboober for at least 18 months – this would be interesting for someone whose remaining breast was a GG cup.  As it turns out, the enforced delay was a gift.  More of that later – I was in shock and had accepted that I would undergo the reconstruction surgery and have the positive upside of being able to go and buy new jeans after the operation!

Fast forward to a few days later.  Doubts had been growing in my mind about whether I really wanted to undergo such a long procedure and recovery. I kept pushing them away because everyone I spoke to thought it was the best thing for me to do and they all seemed to focus on the tummy tuck part.  I also thought that reconstruction was the only option.  Why wouldn’t I?  I hadn’t been given any other choice.

I clearly remember having one of those light bulb moments after Googling (this was one time that Dr. Google came up trumps) “does anyone not have breast reconstruction after mastectomy”. I found the Flat Friends website,  and public Facebook site, and I felt that I had found some kindred spirits.  There were women out there who had chosen not to have reconstruction and were living happily as uniboobers or completely flat.

This was a total revelation to me and I knew immediately that this was the route I would go down.  The more I Googled, the more I saw photos of flat and semi flat women.  These photos were far less shocking to me than the after photos that I’d been showed in clinic.  It was so wonderful to interact with women who felt the same as me and to know that I wasn’t a freak for wanting to live without a replacement breast.  In fact, the thought that kept replaying in my brain was why not have both removed and live totally flat?

March 17th 2016 – the date of my left mastectomy.  Not such a fun St. Patrick’s Day for me that year!  My surgeon had rejected my idea of a bilateral mastectomy, so I woke up after the operation as a uniboober…….. and I hated it.  I hated that I’d had my breast removed, and I hated that I was now so lopsided and would still have to wear a bra with a fake breast in the other cup.  It’s amazing how one can adjust to anything though.  Once my scar had healed, I got used to my large silicone breast and wore it every day.  It was so funny to take my bra off with my breast attached to it at the end of the day – it certainly made a thud as it hit the floor!

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Hair growing back & my first home grown dahlias

Still, I couldn’t get the thought of a Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy (CPM) out of my mind, and I mentioned it to my surgeon at every check-up.  He was clearly loth to remove a healthy breast but once I started to use the symmetry argument, he became more open to the idea.

At my annual check-up, sitting topless on the side of the examination couch with my GG cup remaining breast lying pendulously down my front, I asked him whether he thought it fair that I should have to go through the rest of my life so lopsided.  I think at that point, he realised that I was serious and rational and probably wouldn’t shut up about it.  He agreed that he would perform the CPM but that I had to go to talk to a psychologist first to make sure that I wasn’t mad.  This seemed a small price to pay, but I did, and do, wonder why women who opt for reconstruction don’t have to see a shrink too?

November 9th 2017 – the date of my second mastectomy.  What I haven’t mentioned is that I’m terrified of having operations, and I’d already been forced to have two. My decision to have an elective operation is one of the bravest things I’ve ever done.  It turned out to be one of the best things that I’ve ever done!  Having lost one breast to cancer, I had decided to face my fear and have the other one removed – I found that to be very empowering.

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Photo by Sue Lacey Photography
I’m so happy with my new shape – I feel as though I have the body that I always should have had.  How extreme that it took breast cancer to get me there.  I feel confident, brave and strong, not to mention that I don’t carry around two huge breasts.  This is not to say that there are no down sides.  There definitely are….. I’m numb under both of my arms and over most of my chest, I have excess folds of skin under both my arms and I have strange aches and pains and sometimes flashes of pain.  But these are nothing compared with the joy of never having to wear a bra again if I don’t want to and, if I do, to be able to choose the size I’d like to wear.  I’m thinking a C cup!!

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Photo by Sue Lacey Photography
I am trying to embrace my new life after cancer.  I feel that I have made the best of a pretty bad situation and taken control of how I want to live.  I want to advocate for the right of woman to be given all of the options after a mastectomy, and that includes the option to remain flat.  And I want to increase the visibility of women who choose to live flat.  I’ve discovered that I don’t need breasts to feel like a woman.  I think that I look pretty darned great topless – a little different to the norm, but great nonetheless.

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Photo by Sue Lacey Photography
How many of you have seen a photo of a woman with no breasts or nipples?  I had the enormous pleasure to have a topless photoshoot by my great friend and photographer, Sue Lacey  last week.  I’ve included a few of the photos here.  It turns out that losing both of my breasts was OK after all.

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Photo by Sue Lacey Photography

 

32 thoughts on “Two years & two breasts later…

  1. What a wonderfully positive outcome after a hell of a journey. I’m one breast down and in the midst of chemo at the moment… so this has made me quite tearful as has brought a few emotions back… having a lumpectomy and then being told the lump was way bigger than they thought and that I needed a mastectomy was the cruellest blow… I am not sure what the future holds but am glad to hear your story and the photos are beautiful x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hope that chemo is being as good as it can be. I feel for you. I hope that reading the blog was not too emotional for you. I too was in the depths of despair after I’d had my mastectomy. Its only now that I feel positive about myself again. It’s a long hard journey, as you know. Thanks for such a lovely comment xx

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  2. I’m so happy to be reading this – I had a single mastectomy in June 2016, felt very pressurised to have a reconstruction but resisted, partly because for me as a small person my only option was a silicon implant, and more importantly because I don’t see why i should bloody well have to disguise my trauma so as not to upset other people. It’s taken me a while but I’ve now ditched the rubber boob altogether and am learning to love my asymmmetrical status. Easier for me than for many I know, cos I was only ever a B cup at biggest, so the lopsidedness isn’t that obvious, but it still feels like a big taboo. Encouragement is great because the more of us who can get out there and show our scarred but still beautiful bodies the more acceptable it will become.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As a ‘small boob’ woman who doesn’t need to and hates wearing a bra – I’m with you. Liberation indeed not to defined by your curves or cleavage – the focus is on your beautiful eyes and the windows to your soul. Two masectomies is traumatic and brave and it is inspiring and empowering to others to persist with the course of treatment you want.
    I stand guilty of neglecting / rejecting regular mammograms given their dangers and false diagnoses but am truly thankful for you sharing all the little changes we need to look out for.

    With incidence of cancer now down to 1 in 2 we really need to be investigating and sharing all the root causes of inflammation that underpin every chronic condition. Don’t forget to thoroughly check out your oral health with 3-D imaging – root canals, hidden abscesses, gingivitis and periodiontal. Gum disease and infection are one of the primary causes of inflammation that are not widely spoken about as contributing to cancer, heart disease and autoimmune conditions.

    Please consider registering for and sharing the forthcoming online (please google) HOLISTIC ORAL HEALTH SUMMIT from March 12-19.

    Thank you for sharing your journey and inspiring me to look more closely at my ‘flat chest.’
    Much love xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Juliette, great blog and some really fabulous pictures!

    We definitely have a lot of ‘cancerversarys’ this time of year. I was diagnosed in January (8th 2016) & had a lumpectomy & getting those post op results I can totally relate to that day on Feb 24th when things fell apart. I was like that on Feb 4th ( world cancer day – must be some irony mixed in there !). I was too greeted with the it’s worse, grade 3, lump was larger initially thought &you need a 2nd op to remove Lymphnodes and you’ll be needing chemo.

    Seriously???
    Took quite a while for it all to sink in.

    It’s great to have a blog like this as I can imagine that being told you a mastectomy is recommended is very scary. You need quick, informative, honest & real accounts. It’s also interesting to hear so many are led toward automatic reconstruction.

    I’ll definitely be sharing your brill blog. It’s great to help women in a really tough situation have all the options, including remaining flat chested if that works for you.

    Pre Breast Cancer I probably hadn’t seen, or hadn’t paid any attention to photos of mastectomy’s. I’m naturally a lot more tuned into these things now, but it’s really great to make these pictures more visible and full credit for doing this. And you definitely do look fabulous topless & boobless !

    Wishing you all the very best,

    Rebecca
    Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for leaving me such a lovely comment. It’s very scary when you hear that the situation is even worse than you first thought. Hopefully, you’re through the worst of it too xx

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  5. Just had my lumpectomy & was supposed to see the Consultant tomorrow, but it’s now been postponed until next week. Another seven days of worrying whether they’ve got the cancer cut out. Feeling good all the same & whatever will be will be.
    Thanks for writing this & may you continue to enjoy every moment of life xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jane
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Sorry that you have to wait another week for your results – waiting is so hard. I so hope that you get good news next week. xx

      Like

  6. Hi,
    You have done so well. The whole family is really proud of you, Grandma Betty included. I never knew about this sight before but Uncle Liam mentioned it on a group text so here I am. Not only did you get through it yourself; but you are now inspiring others to make decisions based on themselves not the entirely irrelevant opinions of others. Carry on the good work, the world needs people like you, the people who go through hard times and then utilise that experience to give others the help they wouldn’t receive. For so many people you are now a light in dark times, and a bright one at that.

    Katie Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Katie
      Thanks so much for reading & I’m very glad that you liked it. I’m trying hard to let people know that positive stuff can come out of a negative or difficult situation. Keep reading – there’ll be more posts coming. Some more flowery ones too! xx

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  7. Stumbled across your blog while off recovering from bilateral mastectomy surgery. Amazing how few resources, blogs, stories, pictures there are for women who choose not to reconstruct. I’m still in limbo with regard to reconstruction. Your story is inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lucy
      I’m really glad that the blog resonated with you. It’s partly the reason that I decided to go public with my story – it was so difficult to find photos and resources as you say. I hope your recovery goes well and you come to the right decision for you re reconstruction.

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  8. Thank you for speaking out. I did the lumpectomy, chemo, radio, Herceptin, tamoxifen(ongoing), oophorectomy and I’m a Brca2 mutation carrier. I’m also supposed to go the long surgery and the reconstruction but there is something in the back of my head still saying ‘really/why’. I’m just a little bigger than you were:): I don’t know what I will do in the end. I do know that your post and others like it are incredibly valuable to me. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such a wonderful comment. I hope you come to the right decision for you and that your recovery continues well & smoothly. I started this blog to try & get across the issue of patient choice and it’s very rewarding for me to receive these types of messages so thank you very much.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I found your blog via flat friends on fb. What you said really resonated with me. Today I was told I have BRCA 1 so a double mastectomy is my next move. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in Dec and have already had a lumpectomy and 6 out of 8 chemo sessions. I have always said I wouldn’t have reconstruction surgery. But now its a definite people are on at me to reconsider!! I think removing the breasts and not putting anything back will make it easier to detect a reacurrence does that make sense? I have no problem wearing a prosthesis. I just want the simpliest operation that has me out and recovered asap. I have 2 daughters 11 & 4 who need me at home. Sorry for the long post x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lisa, Im sorry to hear about the BRCA1 situation. I think you should go with your gut feeling and try not to be swayed by what other people think. They’re not going through what you are. Flat Friends is a great support group & you can ask anything on there or just vent if you need to. Good luck with whatever you decide x

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  10. Very interesting story, I have just had a left mastectomy due to DCIS , I declined reconstruction and I’m planning to have the right healthy breast removed too ,
    I’d much rather be completely flat than lobsided

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes that’s my plan, I just need to convince my surgeon that’s it the right decision for me , I’d be quite happy flat chested with some pretty padded sports bras x

        Like

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