When Gina was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she struggled due to surgery complications and changes to her body. Throughout it all, her family were there to support her.
My diagnosis was a complete shock
My wonderful husband and I have four grown up children - two girls and two boys - and they are my world.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May last year. I got called for my first routine mammogram at age 52, after which I got a letter which called me back for further tests because they had seen something suspicious on one side. I hadn’t felt a thing myself.
When you first get your diagnosis, it’s a whirlwind. I have never been seriously ill, I have never been in the hospital. It was a complete shock.
I had a mastectomy, during which they took my breast tissue, nipple and lymph nodes. My cancer was caught early and it hadn’t spread through my lymph nodes. Thankfully, I didn’t need any further treatment like radiotherapy - just hormone therapy.
I opted for an immediate reconstruction using a muscle from my back, which was done at the time of the mastectomy. Two hours afterwards, I had a hematoma, so I had to go back into surgery for another operation.
Since then, I’ve experienced a lot of difficulty and complications, so I have decided to have my reconstructed breast removed and to go flat.
All four of my kids have been amazing
I only have two of my four children living at home now, but when I first got my diagnosis I asked the other two to come home for the weekend so we could sit down and talk about it. I think they knew something was up.
They all reacted very differently, as the four of them have very different personalities. But they were all concerned and upset, and wanted to look after me.
Meanwhile, my husband went into autopilot, and it wasn’t until about a year later that the trauma of it all hit him. He actually lost his job the month before my diagnosis. There are very few positives to this, but the silver lining was that he was there with me the whole time through my treatment.
My girls and I have always been very open, we talk about everything. I thought my boys wouldn’t really want to talk about it because it’s ‘women’s things’, but they have - and they still talk about it now! They have surprised me and they have been amazing.
My kids and I have always had a very close relationship, but I think it’s only now that they have all realised I am only human.
Having breast cancer changed me
I have lost a lot of body confidence due to cancer. For a long time, I wouldn’t undress in front of my husband and I wouldn’t let him touch me at all. I thought my body was grotesque.
I also used to be a very outdoorsy woman: sailing yachts, hill walking, doing all sorts of things. It might not be forever, but now I feel like I couldn’t do anything like that anymore. New situations, meeting new people and going out of my house is still a struggle.
I have been through the mill with depression from my diagnosis, and it was really strange because I thought it was my husband who had depression. I rang his sister to talk it through and she said, ‘No Gina, it’s you.’ We had a long chat and I broke down when I realised.
Family support has given me things to look forward to
Time is a great healer and so is talking. Through the support of my family and social media, I am gaining more confidence. There is this whole community that I am listening and talking to. I’ve also been approached to be part of a documentary, I’ve done a few interviews and I also get involved in fundraising. The more things I can get involved in, the better.
And something I’m really looking forward to is getting matching tattoos with my two daughters. Once I’ve finished with surgery and I’m healed we’re all going to get a tattoo done on our right breasts.
I’ve never wanted a tattoo, but this is going to be very meaningful for all three of us. My daughter is going to draw the design. I don’t want anything big, just a tiny little flower or something. I’m actually a bit scared of having a tattoo! But if I can get through what I went through, I can deal with a little tattoo, right?
Mother’s Day is different this year
Usually, we are always together for Mother’s Day – sometimes going out for lunch, or the kids cook for me, followed by a beach walk.
This year, I don’t think they will all be able to travel home due to the national lockdown. For the first time ever, we may not be a six pack on Mother’s Day!
Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever type of breast cancer you have. Whether you need us today, tomorrow, next week, next month or next year, we’re always with you.
If you would like to support people like Gina, please consider donating to Breast Cancer Now so that we can continue with our life-changing care and research.