Louise shares her experience of breast cancer from diagnosis, through treatment, to recovery, and offers advice to others touched by cancer.
In 2009, shortly after turning 40, I had a Bupa Health Assessment. Feeling fit and healthy, I felt confident that all my results would be normal.
I got the call with the results – they’d found something on the mammogram and needed me to come back as soon as possible for more tests.
I met with an amazing consultant, Lester Barr, who confirmed my results were cancerous. I was told that I would need to have a small lump removed. Although it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I felt OK as we got rid of it.
At a follow up consultation, Mr Barr confirmed the cancer was more widespread than first thought. He explained that the lumpectomy was no longer an option and that I needed to have a full mastectomy.
I was devastated. I zoned out during the conversation while my mind turned over the information I’d just been given. Both he and his breast nurse Nicola began to provide details about what they needed to do – a ‘latissimus dorsi reconstruction’, “A what?” I asked.
Mr Barr explained the procedure, about how they were going to cut me open, remove my breast, fill it with a substitute and sew me back up. They would then send me for treatment that would batter my body from head to toe with nausea, headaches and joint pain… but all I was bothered about was losing my hair. Mad, I know!
I didn’t mind them taking the boob. It was just a boob at the end of the day – I could live without it! It was just my hair, my crowning glory. I burst into tears.
I had the op in November 2009 and it went very well. Mr Barr did a fantastic job; you couldn’t really tell the fake from the natural. I had my first chemotherapy session on 9 December 2009, then every three weeks for about six months.
On Christmas Eve we went out for tea at the pub. I scratched my head and in my hand was the first clump of hair. “Oh my god” I thought. It had started; there was nothing I could do to stop it. During Christmas week I hardly combed my hair or touched it at all, in some way hoping that I could hang on to it.
On New Year’s Day, after few glasses of wine I asked my husband to shave my hair off – I think the wine gave him the courage to do it. When he finished he gave me a big hug and I went for a bath and balled my eyes out.
Afterwards, I put on a white dressing gown I’d been given for Christmas with a big fluffy collar. Sporting my new bald head and together with my heavy set rimmed spectacles, I looked in the mirror and thought… “there’s Harry Hill!”
I consider myself very lucky for lots of reasons: for having such good family and friends who’ve supported me along the way; for having found the lump through my health assessment and finding amazing consultants like Mr Barr and Mr Wilson; for having such a great place to work; and for getting through chemotherapy and radiotherapy with little sickness compared to others.
I’d like to wish all those who have been affected by cancer my heartfelt best wishes. Cancer isn’t just an illness, it’s life consuming. Cancer is always there lurking in the background. Although I’m fortunate to be fit and well now, every little illness sparks that feeling of ‘has it come back?’, ‘could this be related to my cancer?’ - I thank god every day that I caught it early.
My dad had recently departed when I was going through cancer, and I gained a lot of strength from knowing he was up there looking out for me – keeping me positive and providing me with the strength to take it on.
A year after my treatment I organised a charity event to raise money for Genesis Breast Cancer of which Mr Lester Barr is one of the trustees. We raised over £1,000 for what we called the ‘Pink Party’.
And I continue to be a passionate supporter of cancer charities – by raising money and educating people on cancer. The more people know about cancer, the more likely they’ll spot it early where survival rates are much higher!
For further information and advice visit Bupa's health information pages about: