Friday, 25 November 2016

My boobs tried to kill me: 1 year later...

My boobs tried to kill me: 1 year later…

 Time flies when you’re having fun! Well maybe not fun exactly but a life without an alarming risk of getting breast cancer anyway. I cannot believe that a whole year has passed since I had my preventative double mastectomy; a decision I made following a positive result for the BRCA2 gene mutation.

If I think how I felt on the morning of this day last year it makes me feel a bit sick. I was overcome with nerves and fear of the unknown. As I walked into theatre I felt an urge to run away from the pain I knew I was about to put myself through and the journey I had ahead of me.

On the other side however, the second I woke up from surgery the relief I felt was instant; knowing I no longer had an 87% risk was incredible.

I’m not going to lie, the weeks following surgery were painful and living with a flat chest for months was emotionally difficult. The following six months of ‘expansion’ sessions, where my empty expander implants were injected and filled with saline, was draining and at times it felt like there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel.

Six months ago I underwent a second surgery to exchange the expander implants for permanent gel implants and have been incredibly impressed with the results. With a bra or bikini on no one would ever notice the difference and the scars that I have both underneath my breasts and vertically from nipple to the base are healing and fading as time passes.

My nipples and some of my breast are still numb and probably always will be due to the nerves being removed with the breast tissue. My upper body strength has decreased dramatically and I feel myself still being careful. The new implants are in a pocket of my chest muscle which can feel strange at times and can also make my breasts look an odd shape when my muscle is tensed. I will also never be able to breast feed. But all of this is a tiny price to pay for a life free of breast cancer and so much better than the alternative.
This year has been fantastic for raising awareness of breast cancer and the genetic link of the BRCA genes. I have appeared on the ITV news twice, which was then picked up and featured on various national morning breakfast shows. The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun all published editorial pieces about my journey and my blog as did a number of local press titles. Tough Mudder chose my story to promote completing the course for charity and Breast Cancer Care featured my story in their magazine and online channels. I can’t explain how proud I am that my blog has been read 20,000 times and want to thank every single person that has read or shared it.

I’m going to take a break from my blog and all things BRCA for a little while and concentrate on getting back to normality. I am sure I will start writing and campaigning once again when the time comes to have my ovaries removed to reduce my heightened risk of ovarian cancer also due to the BRCA2 gene. However if there is anyone going through something similar please do contact me, I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have and offer advice.

I want to say a massive thank you to my surgeon for making the process as easy as possible and giving me incredible results. He made me laugh at every appointment and made me feel like he really cared about me and the results. Thank you to the lovely calming anaesthetist that held my hand when I was most scared as I fell under anaesthesia and thank you to all the nurses that looked after me whilst in hospital. Finally thank you to my incredible family and friends for everything that you did to help me through the hardest point in my life so far.

I don’t think I really had a choice whether to have surgery or not, the only choice I had was to have this surgery as a preventative measure or to wait until I actually had cancer. I chose to prevent breast cancer by taking charge and out-smarting my DNA as the alternative didn’t even bare thinking about. Through all the hardship and pain it remains that having my preventive double mastectomy was the best thing that I ever did.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Yes my boobs are fake, the real ones tried to kill me!

I’m now 8 days post ‘exchange’ surgery and (keeping fingers firmly crossed) finished with breast surgery for good!

When I opted to have my boobs removed, reconstruction was always part of the plan. In the six months between my mastectomy and this operation my muscle and skin has been stretched with under the muscle tissue expanders. This exchange surgery was the second part in the two-stage process of reconstruction; the hard abnormal looking expanders were swapped for nicer, softer and more natural looking gel implants.

I was only given two weeks’ notice of my surgery date so I apologise for not keeping my blog up to date! I suddenly found myself trying to arrange time off work and rushing to get everything straight before I had to go into hospital again.

This lack of notice also meant an appointment had to be rushed through to get me measured for my new implants. In this appointment I was used as a willing guinea-pig as my surgeon tried out a cool bit of kit for the first time. In this appointment I was scanned with a 3D imaging camera attached to an iPad which then built a 3D simulated model of me on the screen. I could then literally press up and down buttons to view what different size implants would look like on my frame. After having a giggle of what I’d look like with Jordon- esque knockers I decided to go for implants that would leave me with slightly larger breasts than I had originally.

One major difference between my reconstruction following a mastectomy and a cosmetic boob job is the fact that I don’t have any of my own tissue to support breast implants; meaning the implants go under the muscle to keep them more stable. This also means that if I opted for large implants, without any natural tissue to disguise them, my boobs would look incredibly fake.

For me, my mastectomy was always about reducing my deadly high risk of breast cancer and never about the look of my breasts. I opted for reconstruction because it is inhuman to expect any women to live without breasts and at only 28 I want to be able to move on with my life and feel body confident again.

For these reasons I chose 400cc tear drop shape gel implant. My expanders were filled to 250cc but were a very unnatural shape so although they are now larger in capacity they look a lot more natural. I’ve actually been left with incredibly natural looking breasts for someone with no breast tissue.

On the day of surgery all of the usual nerves kicked in; I again felt the urge to run away as I walked into theatre and climbed onto the table to be anaesthetised. However the surgery was straightforward and after a few hours of recovery I was allowed to go home.

I was in pain for a couple of days but since then the pain has been minimal. I would suggest wearing a really supportive post-surgery or compression bra both in the day and at night to help with pain and swelling. I am suffering with post surgery fatigue again and sleeping a lot but this is normal and all part of the healing process.

**Warning** Full frontal breast nudity!

I wasn’t going to add the following picture as it is basically just pictures of my breasts which is a little embarrassing for me knowing my Dad, my boyfriend’s friends and my work colleagues read my blog. BUT I feel it necessary to share this image as I have had so many messages from women world-wide that have taken comfort in the honesty of my blog and I know that seeing images of post-mastectomy breasts really helped prepare me for my own surgery.

This collage shows my breasts before any surgery, after my mastectomy, with my expanders fully expanded and then at present. The fact that these results have been achieved whilst massively reducing my risk is incredible – my surgeon is a genius!

Although I looked absolutely fine with clothes on the third picture shows the extent of what expanders actually look like: they were so far apart that they hardly fit in the photo together!

I cannot explain how grateful I am to my surgeon for helping me though every step of the process, making me laugh at every appointment, being involved in publicity with me and for not only reducing my risk but giving me a great aesthetic result too. The breast care nurses have also been incredible and I’m very grateful to the lovely anaesthetist who made me feel calm at the scariest point.

Yes my boobs are numb and I’ll never be able to breast feed and maybe they do look fake but I really couldn’t care less; I’ve reduced my risk from 87% to around 3% and it is the best decision that I have ever made.

This time around I have found myself justifying or explaining my surgery a lot and I really think that is a shame. The comment “so you’re just having a boob job” has been said to me way too often and it’s disappointing that there is still so much ignorance surrounding this issue. I had my breasts removed to potentially save my life and reconstruction so that I can look as near to normal as possibly – very different to a cosmetic boob job. Please help by sharing my blog and spreading some knowledge around.

Thank you for your support

K x

I can finally feel happy in a bikini.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Cancer is a C**t

I’m making no apologies for the title of this post, because well, if you can’t use the most offensive word in the English language to describe cancer then what can you use it for! Plus I’m sure that anyone that has been affected by cancer would agree with me anyway. 

So it’s been 5 whole months since I went under the knife and had my breasts removed. I’m still living with my temporary ‘expander’ implants which to be honest are really not very fun. The left one has moved so far to the left that I refer to it as my arm-pit boob! They are completely rock solid and I still feel quite fragile as if they are knocked it’s like being winded.

It’s difficult because I look completely well and most people wouldn’t expect such a young woman to have undergone a mastectomy. The most awkward part is when people that don’t understand go to hug me and I have to step backwards because it completely knocks the air out of my chest otherwise. I also find it hard having to ask for help when carrying something heavy. I used to be so strong and do everything myself but the surgery has ruined my upper body strength and I hate being a girly girl and having to ask for men to lift things for me.

On Wednesday I have my pre-op appointment to prepare for my exchange surgery. I can’t believe it was nearly a year ago that I attended my first pre-op appointment. In my next surgery a new incision will be made, the expanders will be removed and permanent implants will be inserted.

I’m nervous for the surgery as it means once again going under the knife and once again having work done under the chest muscle with is really painful. Having said that, I am really excited to have soft breasts again, to have the gigantic gap in-between my breasts improved, and if all goes well, being finished with surgery!

I had taken a short break from blogging to concentrate on my new job and take a break from all things breast cancer but life has a funny way of turning your plans upside down.

A month ago my beautiful half-sister Melissa broke the news that she once again has breast cancer. This news is absolutely devastating. She was diagnosed with breast cancer about five years ago and underwent mastectomy surgery on the affected breast plus intensive chemotherapy. She was really sick for quite a while but thankfully she beat it. The effects of her treatment meant she then had to undergo further reconstruction surgery and all of this was before she was even 30.
At the time of her diagnosis and treatment we didn’t know about the BRCA link so she was advised not to remove her healthy breast. Five years on, now that she’s put her life back together, the cancer is back in that ‘healthy breast’. How incredibly unfair.

Thankfully though they are positive that they’ve caught it early and that she will beat it again.

As if that wasn’t enough, yesterday my lovely auntie told me that she too has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She hasn’t got the BRCA gene and it’s completely unexpected. Thankfully again the prognosis is good as it was caught early. This news just brings it home how real it all is and how many women it really does affect.

I had a conversation with someone this week who said they couldn’t believe how much ‘shit I’d been dealt’ but I truly don’t see it like that. I was given a warning and a chance to change my fate – that makes me the luckiest girl alive. 

Next stop – surgery round 2…bring it on!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

One of the lucky ones

It’s been a while since I've added to my blog, I've been trying to get back to ‘normal’ and used the break in hospital appointments to briefly distance myself from everything BRCA. So let me update you on what’s been happening…

Three weeks ago I attended the breast clinic for my second expander fill procedure and another 100cc was injected into each breast. This extra 100cc has stretched the expanders so much so that I won’t need any further expansion, which is brilliant news and it means that I'm getting close to the end of my reconstruction.

The expanders are doing their job and stretching my tissue but because of this they are absolutely rock solid. They are really uncomfortable and at times painful. I literally feel like someone has glued rocks to my chest and the big numb lumps feel very alien to me. They feel so odd that I've let all my friends, some work colleagues and even my nail lady feel them to understand just how strange they are!

I've got to be honest; I have struggled recently. I can’t hug anyone and I have to sleep propped up on my back. I wake up in pain a few times a night where I've rolled onto my side or my front and the expanders are crushing my ribs. My left boob has shifted a few inches to the left and now sits more under my armpit, which is adding to the discomfort.

I've tried getting back into training but that is proving a little frustrating because as soon as I get back into it I seem to over-do it. On leg day I got competitive and wanted to prove I could squat more than the boys and the day after that I even trained my arms and my back. This left me in a lot of pain and too ill to get out of bed for a few days! I've since had a week away from the gym and will have to take it a lot slower when I go back.

There is light at the end of the tunnel though as I have now been put on the waiting list for exchange surgery! The wait should be between 3 and 4 months for the operation in which a new incision will be made underneath my breasts, the expanders will be removed and nice new squishy permanent implants will inserted. Once that surgery has finished, all being well, I will be able to move on and put all of this behind me. 

I've been really grateful that I have still been able to use my experience to raise awareness and my last hospital appointment was filmed by ITV. A feature was shown on the ITV Anglia news the same week in a really positive and informative piece. My excellent surgeon was kind enough to be featured too. If you missed it you can view it on-line here

I've also written an article for Breast Cancer Care’s magazine ‘VITA’ which will be out in April.

Something at my last appointment really put everything into perspective for me. Whilst I was being filmed in the breast clinic waiting room and laughing with the news presenter and press team, a lady sitting opposite made it very obvious she didn't want to be in the shot. She sat there in a headscarf alongside her husband; both looked very anxious waiting for her appointment. An hour later when my appointment and the filming were finished, my boyfriend and I walked back to the car. On the way I saw the same couple in their car, the husband comforting his wife whilst she sobbed. This bought tears to my eyes and just reminded me that not everyone leaves the clinic with good news and not everyone beats cancer. 

I have said it many times and I’ll say it again. I am one of the lucky ones. 

K x 

Friday, 15 January 2016

New year, new boobs...

New year, new boobs. Well sort of.

I’m now 7 weeks post mastectomy and starting to regain some normality however I do still have a little way to go yet. 

6 weeks recovery time flew by and all of the things I was worried about missing just didn’t seem to matter. I didn’t miss the gym or work and didn’t feel like I was missing out on festive season parties. My body and mind needed and relished the rest. 

It has been great getting back to work and feeling like I’m getting back to normal but it’s also been a huge struggle and I’m working reduced hours for a couple of weeks as I’m so exhausted and in a little pain.

As part of my breast reconstruction I was given expanders or ‘spacers’ instead of implants. These create space under the chest wall muscle for permanent implants by gradually stretching muscle and skin. On January 5th I underwent my first expansion appointment or ‘fill’. 

The procedure is so clever; first the metal valve on the expander is located using a magnetic device then a large needle injects 100cc of saline through skin and muscle into the expander. Luckily for me my breasts are completely numb and I couldn’t feel the needle. What I did feel however was a very strange sensation of stretching and pressure. Think a balloon being inflated inside your body.
I didn’t look down the whole time convinced that if I saw the needle I’d feel the needle. When the process was over and I did finally look down, I couldn’t believe that I now had what resembled breasts. My flat chest had expanded to a similar size as it was pre-mastectomy, my inverted depressed nipples had popped out and I finally felt like I had a feminine shape again. 

My second fill is on the 9th of February and I’ll repeat this process until I’m at a good size and, more importantly, there is enough space under my chest wall muscle for more permanent implants. It’s unreal how many people have asked me if I can just keep going until I’ve got ‘Katie Price boobs’ or have said ‘if it was me I’d just keep going and going’. For me it was never about the size of my boobs, it was the fact that my boobs were literally trying to kill me. Now that deadly risk has gone all I care about is having a womanly shape I can feel comfortable with, I may even feel happy to wear a bikini one day. I have never wanted to be a glamour model.  

Everyone that knows me knows that I have joked (sometimes inappropriately) through this whole journey, but it isn’t all fun and games. My boobs are and always will be numb. The scars are still an angry red colour. There are lumps and bumbs where the skin and muscle has been pulled around and one expander has slipped an inch sideways so I have more of a side-boob on my left side.  

My nipples literally have a life of their own. I can’t feel them at all but they still decide to pop out to say hello whenever they’re cold or excited! I’ve also got constant back and shoulder ache whilst my body gets used to the stretching of my muscles too. 

Excitingly, ITV are still following my story and it’s a possibility that they’ll be attending and featuring my next expansion appointment. Tough Mudder and Breast Cancer Care are still interested in my story too. I’ve been chosen out of thousands of entries to be featured on the Tough Mudder website to promote completing the challenge for charity and I’m also being featured in Breast Cancer Care’s internal magazine.

 My blog is so so close to that magic 10,000 mark so please read and share. You never know who may be going through the same thing or how far it could spread.  A wonderful lady from North Carolina, USA messaged me about my blog after undergoing the same operation. I’ve also had messages from hundreds of people in the UK and Europe. I can’t explain how happy that makes me and how worthwhile it makes all of this feel. 

Thank you for reading, K x