I chose not to have reconstruction surgery

PUBLISHED ON: 16 June 2017

After having a mastectomy following a breast cancer recurrence when she was 34, Cathie chose not to have reconstruction surgery. She shares her story and the impact breast cancer has had on her body image.

Cathie with her partner

Being diagnosed was a huge shock

You just think, ‘This is not really happening’. I had a dull ache in the side of my breast that was just niggling at me. I didn’t regularly self-examine as I was 29 and thought I was invincible. I had a poke around and found this lump. The doctors said it was likely nothing, but the ache just continued.

I couldn’t really take my mind off it. I finally got referred to the breast clinic and that was when everything changed.

The treatment was really hard. I had a lumpectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. I just felt so tired and exhausted.

Deciding to have a mastectomy

Nearly five years later that ache came back in exactly the same place, and I just knew what it was straight away. It was confirmed it was a recurrence.

I had a single mastectomy and didn’t need to have chemotherapy again because it wasn’t a new tumour. It was really scary to think I had spent nearly 5 years thinking it had gone but realising it had still been there the whole time. Even after all the treatment. I kept thinking, ‘If it’s been there the whole time, it has to have moved, it has to be somewhere else as well’.

When they said I could have a mastectomy, I just thought, ‘Take it away’. I just wanted it gone.

After a while, I started really hating the way I looked. I just couldn’t deal with feeling lop-sided, so I decided to have the other breast removed. I just wanted to feel balanced again.

Why I chose not to have reconstruction surgery

After my double mastectomy I tried wearing prostheses again but they’re so uncomfortable. I became a full-time fitness instructor after the mastectomy and found the prostheses impossible to wear during my classes. I just made the decision to not wear them. I just thought, ‘This is how I look. I’m going to have to go with it’. I rarely wear them at all now.

I decided against a reconstruction as my wonderful breast care nurse suggested I may not be happy with the results. Due to having had radiotherapy, the type of reconstruction I would have to have doesn't give you your breast back. It gives a form that looks good in clothing but it's not a real breast.

Cathie leading an exercise class in a Breast Cancer Care t-shirt

Cathie leading a fitness fundraiser for Beast Cancer Care

I didn’t consider the impact of not having breasts

I try to be philosophical about it, trying to remind myself that I am alive and healthy so what does it matter but the truth is, it matters a great deal.

Breasts are so intrinsically connected to being a woman. It’s tied into everything about you. I think people think it would be easy to live without breasts. They think that it doesn’t matter because you’re still a woman, but it does matter and it is difficult. I'm sad and angry that I have to live without breasts but I can't change it. 

Breast cancer never truly leaves you

After my treatment there was a feeling of isolation and being left adrift. When you’re going through treatment, you’ve got appointments and consultations and you feel like someone is looking after you. But when your treatment ends, that stops.

Your close friends and family are as frightened as you when you get your diagnosis. When they see your hair is growing back and that you’re starting to get on with life, they think you’ve moved on.

But for you, it is still there every day, and it never ever truly leaves you. But you also feel that you don’t want to keep banging on about it. That’s when I found it really difficult, and that’s where Breast Cancer Care came in.

It was good to know there was someone I could talk to

I tried the Someone Like Me service and was paired with another young woman. It was good to know there was someone who got it and understood how I felt. I met other women during my treatment, but they were much older. Although we were in the same situation, we had different concerns. Knowing there was someone I could talk to if I needed to was hugely important.

The pink ribbon was also important

It sounds a bit corny, but that pink ribbon, it is who I am. It’s the symbol of my story – where I am now from where I was.

And even though it’s been a pretty horrible journey at times, I’ve come out the other side and I think I’m a stronger person and it’s all down to that pink ribbon.

Every person’s breast cancer story is unique. For 25 years the pink ribbon has been a powerful symbol for millions affected by the disease. This year, we’re sharing their stories of strength and inspiration.

This is Cathie’s story. Share yours to inspire others today using #PinkRibbon25.

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