Gina was offered a single mastectomy with reconstruction after her breast cancer diagnosis but has regrets about the outcome. Here is what she wishes she knew before getting her surgery.
I was given a lot of mastectomy options to choose from
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 a routine mammogram picked up something suspicious in one of my breasts.
I needed a mastectomy, and I was given several options to choose from. I could have a single mastectomy and stay flat, or I could have a reconstruction using an implant, my belly fat, or part of my back muscle.
It’s very difficult to make informed decisions when you’re being told so many different things. However, I eventually went for the one that uses my back muscle because the surgeon who was doing it was a pioneer in that operation.
I was told: ‘You’re a prime candidate, it will be amazing, we’ll just need one, maybe two, operations.’
But almost a year down the line I'd had three operations and still needed three more.
I had complications after surgery
Two hours after my first operation, during which I had every bit of breast tissue, plus my nipple and lymph nodes removed, I had a hematoma. I had to go back into surgery for another five-hour operation. After that, I had another surgery to increase the size of my breast and form a nipple.
But I hated what it looked like, what it felt like and how it made me feel.
My surgeon sent me to counselling with a health psychologist and, as a result of this, he agreed to remove my reconstructed breast. That final operation was planned for May, but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In November, I was finally able to have it removed. The relief was instant - no more pain and discomfort. I am totally happy remaining flat on one side and wish I had made that clear to my surgeon at the start of my journey, as it would have saved me and my loved ones a lot of heartache.
A lot of people don’t understand why I have come to this decision to go flat on one side. But they haven’t felt like I felt. It has been very hard for me, both mentally and physically, and it’s been tough to reach this conclusion.
I’m regaining confidence in my body through community
I have lost a lot of body confidence. I thought my body was grotesque. I feel like I can’t enjoy a lot of my old hobbies. New situations, meeting new people and going out of my house is still a struggle.
However, I have found some amazing support, especially through social media. There is a whole community that I am listening and talking to. I think that’s why I was able to make the decision that I don’t need my breast to be feminine, to be me. Because of them, I am regaining my confidence.
I have since been approached to be part of a documentary, I’ve had a few interviews and I fundraise. The more things I can get involved in, the better.
I have decided that something good has to come from me getting cancer. Of course, it was an awful thing to go through, but even if I just inspire or help one person make the right decision for themselves, I am happy.
This decision has really helped my own personal healing, too. I don’t want to forget about having breast cancer. It will always be in my life, and therefore I’ve got to make it positive.
My best advice is to take your time
The best advice that I would give my earlier self is to speak to other women who have had breast cancer. Of course, you must talk to your surgeon and the breast care nurses (who are all amazing), but the other women I spoke to were the most helpful.
I’d also say take time to make your decision. I know that when you get a diagnosis of cancer it feels like there isn’t much time, and you need an operation straight away. But you can have the mastectomy and, later, once you have healed physically and mentally, think with a clear head about what procedure you would like to go ahead with.
I’m having my breast taken away now, but if I change my mind further down the line, they can put in an implant or do another reconstructive surgery. That door is never closed to you; it’s there for the rest of your life.
I still have worries, but I feel better about myself
At this point, I would like to have my other breast removed, too, but surgeons are reluctant to operate on a part of me that is healthy.
As for life with one breast, I think I like having the option to wear a prosthetic bra for special occasions. I’ve never liked wearing tight clothes anyway, so I feel I can hide my chest quite easily. And sometimes I just can’t be bothered!
I’m a 53-year-old woman, I have four children - I don’t need to worry about how my body looks. I know my husband loves me anyway, and I have found so much support online.
If you are struggling with your body image or any other concerns following a primary breast cancer diagnosis, you can find helpful advice and resources on our free Becca app.