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After going through chemotherapy, radiotherapy and two breast reconstructions, Sukhy lost her former body confidence and self-esteem. Over time, she’s found a way to get it back, and she’s sharing her story to help others.
I was only 35 when I found the lump, but the doctor still fast-tracked me to the breast clinic.
When I got there, however, I was told, ‘You are very young, so it’s probably just hormones.’ Then, when they did the ultrasound, the technician became quiet before saying, ‘I’m just going to do a little biopsy.’ I knew then that something was up.
I was diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer in December 2019.
Initially, they thought it was DCIS, and that I wouldn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Unfortunately, during an appointment on my birthday in February 2020, I was told it had spread to my lymph nodes. I was scheduled for a mastectomy with reconstruction and full removal of my lymph nodes, and started chemotherapy the following month.
Due to the pandemic, nobody was allowed to come with me, so I went through chemotherapy alone. Thankfully, the nurses were absolutely amazing. I knew I was being looked after, and that if I had any questions I could ask them or the doctors.
I don’t think I worried too much about my mastectomy and reconstruction at the time because I was dating someone, and that gave me the security that I didn’t look hideous.
However, after I had radiotherapy, the implant shrunk by up to 60%. There was a huge difference between my breasts. I couldn’t find comfortable bras because the underwiring would irritate the area where I had radiotherapy, and in warmer weather I felt that I couldn’t wear any summery tops.
Thankfully, I was able to get a DIEP reconstruction to sort the issues with my original implant, and I thought that would be the end of it. My surgeon told me I’d have a flat stomach and look the way I am supposed to look, but I didn’t. I was so swollen. I couldn’t go back to doing running and yoga, I couldn’t pick up my kids. That was one of the toughest parts.
Six months post-surgery I’m pleased to say that I’ve been working on my fatigue and my strength and am back to running again – albeit slower than I was. But it’s progress, nonetheless.
I’ve also managed to come to terms with my body. I don’t have the flat stomach that I was promised, but it’s ok. I’m thankful that I was able to have surgery, and having even breasts has given me a lot more confidence.
There was a point when I was happy with my body, and then I wasn’t - and then I was, and then I wasn’t again. There are so many changes to get used to when you go through treatment; it feels like such a rollercoaster.
I began to hate the way I looked when my hair started to fall out. For women in particular, beauty is associated with hair, so not having any was difficult. Now it’s grown back, I have chemo curls - and that annoyed me too, at first.
Breast cancer smashes your self-esteem in so many ways, and it’s such a difficult thing to get over. Throughout active treatment, I would tell people, ‘I’m fine, it’s ok,’ but it almost didn’t feel real then. It was only after treatment was finished that it hit me.
As a way of processing everything that had happened, I started an Instagram account to tell my story. I also wanted to share my experience of cancer as a South Asian person, as we don’t really talk about illness.
In fact, when I was first diagnosed, I thought, ‘I can’t have cancer – I've never seen any South Asian people with cancer.’
There are so many issues with cancer and the shame that can come with it, but I wanted to show people that they were not alone. I told my mum and dad what I was planning to do and explained that – even though they don’t like telling people about illness – I thought it was important.
I’ve since had people message me and say they can relate to my experience – not just people from the South Asian community, but other younger people with kids.
Sharing my story on social media also generated a lot of support from my family and friends. My mum’s family in India would call up every week to check on me, and some of them would send me messages saying they thought what I was doing was amazing.
My parents did struggle with my diagnosis, especially my mum. When I lost all my hair, I must have looked really sick, and I think it was hard for her to see me like that.
They still supported me, though. Dad drove me to every chemotherapy session, and my two best friends organised it between them that I would never be alone at any of my appointments.
When you get diagnosed with cancer, everyone tells you about the operations and the physical side of things, but no one talks about your mental health. When you speak to people who have finished treatment, though, everyone seems to find it difficult.
When I finished treatment, I attended Breast Cancer Now’s Moving Forward course to help with those emotional struggles. It helped me so much in terms of rebuilding my confidence, and the services that Breast Cancer Now provide are amazing.
For anyone else who has been recently diagnosed, I’d recommend getting something in place for your mental health. You can get therapy through the NHS, but there are other resources if you need someone to talk to. I found exercise to be a great form of therapy, as it allowed me to get away from my thoughts for a short period of time.
Even if you can only connect with other people on social media, you don’t have to go through breast cancer alone.
Sukhy shared her story with us as part of our Fashion Targets Breast Cancer Campaign. This year, we've teamed up with River Island and Dorothy Perkins to create the 'Fashion. Your Story' collection. By purchasing from the collection, you'll be supporting people like Sukhy, and helping fund vital research and care through Breast Cancer Now.