Learning How to Swim Again
When I was 22, I found my first breast lump. I went to my GP (doctor) who advised me to wait until my body completed two menstrual cycles to see if it would go away… but it didn't. Instead, it grew and it grew quickly. Within two weeks, I ended up having a lumpectomy after I had just turned 23.
After the operation, I returned to work and didn't think about it anymore. The lump was gone, and so were my worries.
Eighteen months later another lump had appeared in the same breast, so at 24 I underwent my second lumpectomy. At the age of 31, I had my 3rd lumpectomy on the same side. This time things went horribly wrong.
After two weeks of having stitches in, I felt unwell. I was delirious. I went to my GP Saturday clinic where they told me I had an infection and to take antibiotics. I was going away that day. Could I still go? Yes was the reply.
I went away to visit my future in-laws. They arranged for my fiance and me to stay in a static caravan. I was tired so I went to sleep. My fiance came in and wanted to sleep on the side I was on. I didn't want to move. At this point, I thought he had a water pistol.
The whole front of my top was soaking.
My fiance put the light on and told me not to look.
He rang the nearest hospital and they told him to drive me as fast as he could. They also told him to take me as I was not to change, just cover up with a blanket and dressing gown.
We got to the hospital. A nurse saw my nightshirt and it had blood at the bottom of it peeking out from my covers. She asked if it was from my stomach area. I said "No my breast".
It took them 4.5 hours to sort me out. I had a hematoma that had burst, but worse than that, I had MRSA.
The wound was syringed and dressed and packed with clear plastic around me like cling film.
We returned to the in-laws.
I crawled off to bed. I was exhausted.
Eventually, we met up with the rest of the family and they asked why we hadn't bothered them. They were up anyway as they are farmers. When they saw me they later told me I looked "dead" while I was sleeping.
After eight months of having the wound syringed before going to work and after work eventually, the consultant agreed I could have the wound cauterized closed. The MRSA had eventually gone.
Three weeks later I looked at my scar. It didn't look or feel right. I went to my GP. This is what they said
"Because of your age it won't be cancer but we are going to send you back to your breast consultant to be sure".
Because of this, the breast consultant did a needle aspiration biopsy and told me "I won't need to see you again"
Two days later I get home from work to a voicemail message from my consultant.
"Sorry I've made a mistake, I need to see you urgently".
I made an appointment for the following week. The nursing staff called me and then told me I had to take my top clothing off. I refused. I said I am here to speak to the consultant and not be examined. I was frustrated and upset. When a nurse arrived she had hidden her lanyard and ID. Little did I know what was coming
Another lumpectomy was performed by this lovely consultant. He wasn't going to leave it to his registrar like last time. He was going to do day surgery and ensure I was ok.
Three weeks later I got the results. “Your previous 3 operations and this one have been Ductal Carcinoma in Situ.” I nearly collapsed. Breast cancer. No one had told me I had been living with breast cancer for Ten Years!!
I was lucky I didn't need chemotherapy or radiotherapy, just surgery. I ran out of the hospital with a nurse wanting to counsel me. I didn't want to hear it.
8 years later I had another lumpectomy. I was doing a part-time law degree, working full time, and being a company secretary for my first husband's company.
In November 2005, the cancer returned. My first husband cheated on me with my best university friend the same day he was taking me to the hospital for the tests.
I felt my life was over and attempted an overdose. Luckily I survived
I had my 6th lumpectomy in February 2006. I asked my new consultant for a mastectomy. They responded, "You are better off finding another man with two breasts rather than one.”
I wish I hadn't listened.
I had another lumpectomy.
In December, I was having more tests as it was back again. This time I begged for a mastectomy as I had met someone else and felt they supported me.
In April 2007, I had my first mastectomy. They made me go through three months of counseling prior. I was of sound mind to make this decision despite my medical history of 6 operations on the same side!!
I referred to myself as "lopsided lush".
I asked the breast care nurse what had caused the initial lump.
"Did you wear underwired bras when you were younger without being properly measured and fitted?"
Yes, I had. That's what may have caused the lump.
Imagine my horror as to how I could prevent this from happening to others. I did something about it. A friend helped me set up a website to raise awareness.
Then I attempted to go back swimming. It wasn't as easy as I expected as I had lost most of the use of my left arm and needed help changing from my male partner. Changing rooms were segregated so I had to ask for help at my local leisure center.
I get the help and went swimming.
Two years later in April 2010, I was talking to a friend. She wanted to go swimming following her mastectomy but she couldn't afford swimming lessons.
I rang my local council swim coordinator and we devised a plan. We applied for funding and got it.
Swimming After Surgery (SAS) was born in October 2010 in Telford Shropshire.
This provided free swimming with female lifeguards in a pool away from prying eyes to help ladies who had cancer to help rebuild their lives.
In 2015 I needed the help of the group too as yet again DCIS occurred in my right breast. No messing about breast-conserving this time I demanded a mastectomy. I had to follow hospital protocol of counseling for three months and then I had the operation.
I am now your "Flat Mate" as I call myself.
A sense of humor goes a long way.
Due to the pandemic the Swimming After Surgery (SAS) sessions are not currently running but we are helping ladies by signposting them to benefit advice, and other support groups and making shawls/blankets free of charge for those going through treatment
My second marriage failed with him saying "you will never find another man as you are a cripple with no tits"
I now do what I want when I want. I am happy being with my cat. Life is for living
Cancer has not killed me. I have survived and thrived.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.