Day two in Sarah’s story (catch up on part one). Here, Sarah shares some insights into her experience of surgery, all with a good dose of humour of course!

Sarah and her daughterOk, the examinations the second time I saw the consultant were a trifle embarrassing, but I was a bit past caring. He drew what would be my “boobs” (can I use that word?) on my notes with a Sharpie marker pen and explained what he would be doing during the surgery. He told me he would be “technically” giving me a breast lift as he removed the tumour. I WAS MORTIFIED. Did I need a breast lift?! I didn’t think I did! He even told me I had the assets of a 30-year-old but that when he was finished I would have the assets of a 21-year-old! Is this really a good look at 52? I wasn’t sure. 

After a few more scans it was determined that the breast lift was out the window – I was to have the nipple removed as I had in fact grown two small tumours, right behind the nipple, and they would be a challenge to remove (hell, I thought, I have twins – another name to think of). Surgery day came around and I was dropped off by my daughter who then went on to school as usual. Good for her I say, resilient and grounded, studying for her A-level mocks in Physics. Explains why she wanted to come and watch me have the radioactive injection. And why she was asking so many questions to the needle-wielding gent in the dodgy overalls and visor.

"I asked if he had done art"

My Surgeon came into the room where I had been sat with my Macmillan Nurse, Orla, and explained what would happen in the next few hours. He asked me to remove the gown to my waist (by this time I just took my clothes off from the waist up as a matter of course, no one wanted to see my legs) and then proceeded to draw all over my right boob with his black sharpie pen – turned out we might be able to save my nipple after all. He did warn me that other surgery may be required if the “cells shaved off the back of the nipple” came back containing cancer cells. Yuck – the mere thought of this made me want to heave and still does.

Concerning as it was, he wanted a “before” photo (I’m not into that sort of stuff) so, there I was, naked from the waist up, standing against a white wall covered on one side with a lot of marker pen, three other people in the room along with Orla and the surgeon’s camera. It was almost a party, we just lacked the music. He promised not to put the pictures on Facebook or Instagram. I asked if he had done art when he was at school – the answer was yes, he also said he had done sculpture too. I was in good hands. What a result!

I was advised that the next process was to have my lymph nodes removed from my right armpit, with the same surgeon, as they had found a few of those despicable cancer cells there too. Orla walked me through this, but didn’t ask how I was doing this time. I’d told her not to – she didn’t need to see me fall apart again. She had been rostered to a nearby ward and popped in just after the surgery as she “liked to keep tabs on her ladies”, she came and sat with me for about twenty minutes, and as always, we laughed loads. Largely at my body modifications.

So, recovery from both ops was all good and we are now well on the way to Christmas and the New Year. So I can write off 2017 as just a pants year. Or so I thought. 

Surgery looks different for everyone, and while the surgeons do what’s necessary, it matters that you’re well informed about what your breasts might look like afterwards, and offered reconstruction if you want this. Read about our campaign to eliminate restrictions placed on reconstructive and balancing surgery, so that you can attain the post-surgery body you feel comfortable with.

Tomorrow, join Sarah on the next part of her journey as she starts chemotherapy.

About the author

Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2017. She’s sharing her story to highlight the importance of breast screening, and difference it makes when you have supportive experts involved in your care.

Sarah is a keen rower who enjoys training on the River Thames, which she loves, and staying healthy. She won her race at the Dublin rowing championships three weeks after her diagnosis and plans to race in Hungary at the World Masters Rowing Championships in September 2019. She lives in south west London with her daughter.