Throughout my breast cancer experience I have been loved and supported by amazing women. Written on International Women’s Day 2018, this is a shout out to them.
Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago I’ve been surrounded by amazing inspirational women. Some of them I know very well, and indeed am related to, and some I’ve had only a brief relationship with. Others I know only virtually. What they all have in common is that they offered me love, compassion, encouragement or information. What better day for me to celebrate them than today – International Women’s Day
Laura is one of the most remarkable women that I know – she’s also my daughter. She’s overcome a lot in her young life – not least having me as her Mum – and has succeeded in everything that she’s decided she wants to do. A superb singer, artist, writer, thinker, friend and daughter, Laura has been there for me at every stage of my treatment and recovery.
One my most difficult times was when I was in hospital, waiting to have my mastectomy. I’m terrified of operations and was going to pieces during the long wait for it to be my turn. The thought of having the mastectomy and how I’d look afterwards meant that I was very anxious, and my blood pressure was going through the roof. Laura somehow managed to keep me mostly calm, whilst also making sure that her Dad was coping OK too.
If she thought that was the worst she had to cope with then she was very wrong! I had a complete breakdown when I was told that I couldn’t go home after my operation and she soothed and encouraged me to look at my wound much sooner than I wanted to. This was very much the right thing – but it took a lot of persuasion on her part before I could bear to look at my newly flattened chest.
Where would I have been without my female family members? I have so many strong women and girls in my family – mum, daughter, sisters, aunts, cousins, nieces, son’s girlfriend, mother in law, sisters in law. All of them did everything they could to let me know that I was not alone. My Mum and three sisters, Sara, Francesca and Rachel have loved and supported me from the day that I told them I had cancer. And they were my loudest cheerleaders when I decided that I didn’t want breast reconstruction and when I went on to have my second breast removed.
In the early days Mum listened to me and also did an awful lot of my ironing – something that I’ll always be grateful for! Although Sara lives in France she was always at the end of the phone and a WhatsApp group. Francesca filled my freezer with amazing food that we could defrost and microwave, and Rachel looked after my dogs for long periods. I’ve never felt alone throughout the whole experience because I always had one of them to turn to.
The companionship and sisterhood of my women friends has bolstered me up so often. I’ve made new friends and strengthened bonds with those I’ve known for years. Fledgling friendships have flourished and bloomed under the most intense conditions. I’ve taken great strength from the regular texts that I received from some, and the visits from others. It’s just fantastic to know that somewhere out there people are thinking of you.
I feel that I have to give a special mention to Sue, who I met while we were walking our respective dogs just before I was diagnosed. Through our love of nature, being outside, our dogs and a shared view of the world we have become very close. I’ve cried on her shoulder and she’s made me laugh when I really haven’t felt like it. She is one of the most positive people that I have ever met, and I’ve drawn so much strength from knowing her. It was only natural that I asked Sue to take my topless photos that you can see in “Two Years and Two Breasts Later”. She made me feel beautiful as a woman living without breasts.
I’ve been fortunate to have been treated by and cared for by some wonderful nurses at St Albans Hospital and at my GP’s surgery in Rickmansworth. From the first time I met Kim, my Macmillan Breast Care Nurse, I knew that I was in safe hands. We really hit it off and I looked forward to going to clinic so that she and I could have a good chat together. She was supportive when I said that I didn’t want breast reconstruction and encouraged me to keep talking to my surgeon about having my healthy breast removed – a total star.
Then there are the women whom I have never met but know virtually or over a phone line. The first thing that I did when I got home from hospital having been diagnosed was call the Breast Cancer Care helpline. I must have called them ten times in that scary first week post diagnosis. All of the women to whom I spoke were so calm and caring and gave me exactly the information for which I was searching. It is an invaluable resource and the (mostly) women who take the calls are just wonderful.
Early on I had the great good fortune to find a blog by Elizabeth O’Riordan called “Breast Surgeon with Breast Cancer”. What a brilliant blog it is – filled with information and written equally in such an inspiring and down to earth style. Again, I felt that I wasn’t on my own – someone else knew what I was going through.
Last but by no means last is Flat Friends, founded by Gilly Cant. This group of women are all living with one or no breasts and have not had reconstruction. They gave me the inspiration, encouragement and courage that I needed to finally make my decision to have my second breast removed and to live as a woman with no breasts. I will always be grateful to Gilly for having the drive and tenacity to set up this flat and fabulous community of women.
Thank you to all the women in my life – you showed up and showered me with love at the most challenging time of my life.