Six inspirational women share their stories of life after breast cancer care at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn, to help others
PUBLISHED: 12:05 24 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:05 24 November 2017
Six inspirational women are sharing their stories of life after breast cancer to show the positive side of recovery for others going through the same journey.
The stories include a mother-of-three diagnosed at just 31, alongside two sisters who had preventative surgery after learning they had the BRCA gene.
Every year thousands of women face the difficult decision of whether to remove their breasts in order to beat breast cancer or to save themselves from any threat in the future.
Breast Cancer is one of the most common cancers in the country with around 150 new cases diagnosed each day.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon Amy Burger has been helping women to regain confidence by providing reconstructive surgery.
She said: “As a surgeon who deals with breast cancer it is always one of the hardest things to remove a breast even through it is for the right reasons.
“For some women reconstruction is an important part of their treatment and recovery, however, it isn’t possible or suitable for all women.
“It means a huge amount to me as a surgeon to see that women are happy with the results.”
The reconstructive process starts with women having to wear a temporary implant for six months to expand the skin around the mastectomy location.
Most of the reconstructive operations at the hospital use implants placed within a hammock of collagen but surgeons also can also use muscles from the back.
The appearance of reconstructed breasts, as well as breasts which have undergone lumpectomies, can also be improved by taking fat from the stomach area and grafting it into the breast area. This is possible using the Lipofilling machine, which was purchased for the QEH Breast Care Unit by the Keeping Abreast Charity.
The appearance of the breast is also enhanced with the creation of a nipple during surgery and an areola can be tattooed on by specialist nurses within the breast unit.
Miss Burger said: “To be able to give our patients, who have been on a difficult journey, something positive is incredibly rewarding.
“Much of the service that we can offer to patients is with huge thanks to the fundraising efforts of patients, their families and hospital staff over the years; thanks to them we have a fantastic new breast care unit, and can offer additional techniques such as lipofilling.”
KATIE DOCHERTY REFUSED TO GIVE UP
Katie was just 31 when she found a ping pong ball sized lump within her right breast, less than a year after she gave birth to twins, Miles and Delilah, who are now three.
Following a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Katie took the decision to have preventative surgery with the removal of her left breast.
Now 34, Katie, who is married to Liam with an older son, Dylan, six, had reconstructive surgery earlier this year.
“Having been through cancer I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin and not lose confidence in my clothes or swim wear, which is one of the reasons why I chose to have reconstructive surgery. Body confidence is important and I still want to wear a bikini on holiday.
When first diagnosed she decided she was not going to let it beat me.
Katie continuing to work at Broadland Housing Association despite going through six sessions of chemotherapy and having her right breast removed.
Katie, who later underwent 15 days of radiotherapy at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in March 2015, said: “We had organised an event at Christmas 2014 to hand out presents to children at a shelter and I really wanted to be involved in it. You never know what someone else is going through and while I was dealing with a difficult situation there are other things which are just as hard.”
Following the chemotherapy, Katie had made the decision that she would like her left breast removed to reduce her future risk.
Katie, who used prostheses between the operations, underwent the second mastectomy during the reconstructive operation which took place in May 2016.
Katie said: “The experience has left me more resilient and also when opportunities come up to do something exciting I say yes. “
SISTERS LUCY DREW AND CHARLOTTE JOHNSON
Lucy and Charlotte decided to have risk reducing surgery after tests showed they had the BRCA gene, which meant they had an up to 85 per cent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
Actress Angelina Jolie revealed in 2013 that she had preventative surgery after discovering she carried the gene.
The pair went for genetic testing in 2012 after a number of relatives had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Charlotte, who works as an oncology nurse specialising in lung cancer, said: “When we had the results there was no doubt in my mind about having the surgery
“Having seen young people die with cancer and supporting their families, it makes it really clear that myself and Lucy are fortunate to discover the gene early.”
Lucy, who works as a medical secretary at the hospital, underwent a double mastectomy first. She said: “We were lucky as we found out we were a high risk and were able to do something about it before anything could develop. I knew there was a high chance that the tests would come back with a positive outcome for the BRCA gene.”
She said: “I am really pleased with the final outcome. Amy can work magic! Having the surgery has taken a weight off my mind and keeping my boobs was just not worth the risk.”
Charlotte was pregnant with daughter Brooke at the time of the testing so delayed her surgery in order to breast feed.
She underwent her first operation, the double mastectomy, in June last year.
Charlotte, who has also had nipple tattoos, said: “Having seen a picture of my boobs before the first operation,”
Lumps and cysts led to Yolandé, 43, seeking medical guidance. She was later found to have abnormal cells following a lumpectomy.
Yolandé, whose mother died at the age of 50 of breast cancer, took the decision to have a double mastectomy in January 2016 after a number of tests had come back inconclusive.
She said: “I think my story would have been different if they had not kept on digging after the inconclusive tests as Amy found a small cluster of tumour cells within my lymph nodes. Luckily I did not have to have chemotherapy.”
She said: “I am really pleased with the results. When you show people they say it is unbelievable that they are not real.
“They stitched the nipples and I have also had a tattoo to create the areola.”
Yolandé has raised £10,500 for the Breast Unit after holding a ball at King’s Lynn Corn Exchange in August.
She said: “The Breast Unit team is really supportive and the care was second to none.”
The 47 year old said: “I am coming up to 50 years old and I have a perky pair of boobs. It is important for other women to know that if this was to happen to them that everything can turn out alright.”
She had noticed a discharge from her right breast but only mentioned it in passing during another test at her GP Practice.
Emma was later sent for a blood test and she was then referred to the Miss Burger at the Breast Clinic, who took a sample of the discharge. Emma then had a mammogram and ultrasound tests on the same day and returned for a biopsy.
The biopsy found abnormal cells and Emma was given the option to have a lumpectomy but chose to go for mastectomy, which took place in September 5 2016.
She said: “They discovered that the cells were spread over a 13cm area and that in two locations they had broken through the ducts.
“I am not going to have kids and I’m not a Page 3 model so I decided to have the mastectomy. With a lumpectomy I ran the risk of having to have radiotherapy and returning to have bits taken out.”
“I would recommend to other women to check out anything they are concerned about and to have the mammograms. A few minutes of discomfort is not a bad price for your life.”
Feeling confident was one of the reasons why Eileen decided to go ahead with reconstructive work after having a mastectomy in June last year.
Eileen, 63, discovered a lump last year but due to other commitments only raised this during an appointment with her GP.
Within six days, she had been seen at the West Norfolk Breast Unit where she had a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.
During the diagnostic tests, Eileen was found to have two lumps in her breast and took the decision to have a total mastectomy.
She said: “I wasn’t phased when Amy told me I had cancer but what affected me most was having a boob again.
“My sister had been battling Motor Neurone Disease and after watching that cancer seemed insignificant. Cancer is curable and treatable, that wasn’t an option for my sister.”
Eileen said: “I have always taken pride in my appearance ever since I was little. I spend time on my hair and make-up so not to have a boob really affected me.
“I used the silicone prosthesis and it did feel quite natural. But you are still inserting an implant into a bra every day and it did become quite heavy.”
Eileen, who is also being treated for Rheumatoid Arthritis, is hoping to have the expander replaced by an implant shortly.
“Having the reconstructive surgery has given me confidence.”
Eileen is also encouraging more women in West Norfolk to keep up with their NHS Breast Screening appointments as just 72 per cent attend their mammograms.
She said: “I would recommend to everyone to attend those appointments or speak to a doctor if you find a lump. If it is nothing, then you have nothing to worry about but you also have the peace of mind that you are ok.