My detour on the path of life...
My name is Keeley and I live with my lovely husband on the edge of the beautiful Peak District. I’m an outdoor and active person who loves walking, yoga, travelling, crafting and cooking.
My breast cancer journey started 3 weeks before an epically planned 6-week adventure to New Zealand in January 2019.
It was to be the trip of a lifetime celebrating our 50th birthdays and our 1st wedding anniversary (we finally got around to tying the knot after 16 years together!). I inadvertently found my breast cancer during my monthly check. Upon further investigation, the small pea-sized lump that I found turned out to be just a cyst but thankfully (and yes, I am thankful) the various tests that I had at the hospital uncovered something a bit more sinister.
Everything happened so quickly – I was desperate to know the situation as I still hoped to go to New Zealand (forever Mrs Positive!). My first appointment at the hospital was at the “one-stop breast clinic”…. I still find the name of that funny today! There I had a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy. Unbelievably only the biopsy came back with something that needed further investigation.
“D” for diagnosis day was actually OK – I think I had prepared myself for the worst anyway and as someone who is always super positive and very structured (I’m an accountant) I just thought “OK, it is what it is, let’s do this!”. My husband on the other hand, was completely different and immediately thought of all the negatives. I guess it’s easier to go through something like this yourself rather than watch a loved one go through it.
An MRI scan and an additional biopsy later confirmed the size and type of cancer which would lead to discussions with my consultant on my treatment plan. It was to be a mastectomy (due to the size) and immediate reconstruction. My head was a whirlwind when it came to the various types of reconstruction, but I was delighted when my surgeon said I didn’t have enough tummy tissue for a DIEP (every cloud and all that!). He recommended an LD flap reconstruction (where they take muscle from your back) along with an implant. I decided I needed to research it to death before deciding.
Ahead of my main surgery, I went into hospital for a sentinel lymph node biopsy – thankfully that was clear and there had been no spread to the lymph nodes. A couple of weeks later and I was sat in my hospital room with no make-up, no nail varnish (my toenails hadn’t seen the light of day for over 30 years!!), compression socks and the hospital gown….. surprisingly, my blood pressure was lower than when I had my pre-op. I guess I was happy that my treatment was starting. I was totally relaxed and especially more so when the anaesthetist not only turned out to be hilariously funny but also somewhat easy on the eye!!
I felt surprisingly good post my surgery and was fortunate enough not to experience any pain whatsoever. The 3 drains that I had were the most inconvenient part but having done a load of research beforehand, I’d bought a couple of long handled tote type drain bags – they were life-savers as both hands were free and that made moving around and doing things so much easier. The consultant said to expect to be in between 3-4 nights, but I was only in 2 nights. I’m not one for playing a patient and I just wanted to get back home.
Thankfully, my recovery went really well – I religiously did my exercises (doing yoga for over 20 years definitely helped), I made sure I had the right balance of rest and doing things. I always said that I would try doing things and if I couldn’t do them, I’d ask for help. The only thing that I couldn’t do on my own in the first few days was wash my hair, but my husband got a good routine going over the kitchen sink. He’s now known as Vidal to my friends!!
I always wanted to get back to “normality” or my “new normality” as it would be known as soon as possible so getting dressed, doing my hair, putting on make-up, getting my nails painted, re-gaining my independence by driving and going back to work were all important to me….. as was getting out of my totally unsexy (but completely comfortable) post-surgery support bra!
The search for a comfortable post-surgery bra wasn’t at all easy and living in a small town meant that I was restricted to online options. In fact, I ordered so many bras from different stores and suppliers online that my husband thought I was going into bra distribution! None of them were suitable – they were frumpy, clunky, ill-fitting and uncomfortable. I wanted a bra that looked like a bra, not some sort of hammock…. I was surprised at just how difficult this would be.
It still amazes me that the choice is still so limited. I found the post-surgery bras from Asda (in the photo) to be the most comfortable in the early days but there was no way that I wanted to wear them daily – I mean, just look at them! It took me weeks to finally find some comfortable t-shirt type bras from M&S. I like t-shirt bras because I wear a lot of tighter fitting tops and I don’t like to see the lace underneath. Still, it would be nice to have a bow or two to make them more feminine.
I’ve been super lucky with my journey as I didn’t need any radio or chemotherapy (my oncotype DX test, which tests the likelihood of recurrence came back really low, so chemo was deemed as having little/no benefit). I am taking tamoxifen and will have to for several years but thankfully, I haven’t had any side effects from those either – so, all is good!
I’m a real advocate for positivity and as a hiker, I always said that this journey was a “detour on the path of life” and that I would soon be back on the main path in no time. It was true. I was back to work after 7 weeks and I’ve been doing everything that I did before for several months now, including all my pre-surgery yoga poses.
I am so thankful that I’ve had “a relatively” easy ride. I always thought that as a woman, having a mastectomy would be the worst thing that could happen – it really isn’t. In fact, I was so pleased with my reconstruction that I kept showing everyone although I did stop at showing people at work! I wanted people not to be afraid of checking and finding something. I’m passionate about the #feelitonthefirst campaign on social media and always post to remind everyone of the importance of monthly checks. During my research of the internet, I found a lot of information on the bad side of breast cancer and not a lot on more positive journeys. I therefore blogged about my experiences to give ladies another angle. After all, each journey is different and although not necessarily easy, not all bad! I’m now 18 months post-surgery and back to making the most of life - after all, life is for living!