Coping with a new reality: breast cancer (one outfit at a time)

by Lorraine

coping with breast cancer

Since starting this blog 2 years ago I have made many new friends and had the pleasure of getting to know some of my readers really well through their comments and conversations on the style forum. One of them is Lorraine whom I (and you) got to know better after she won a prize in last year’s huge giveaway (another big one coming up in October, stay tuned!) and proceeded to upload her photos in the style forum (here are some recent ones). Since then she has been an active participant of this site and even wrote a personal article on how to beat depression. She also helped me edit my style book.

It therefore came as a shock when she told me in May that she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have since been amazed how well she coped with the diagnosis and the subsequent treatment and she agreed to keep a diary of the whole process. Even photographing her outfits during treatment, which helped her to feel good about herself and stay positive. Wearing the right clothing became increasingly more important. 

This is her powerful story. Today is part one, with the second part following tomorrow. I’m sure it will inspire you and hopefully remind you to do your regular personal checks and mammograms. Please note that outfits are shown in the order that she wore them, but not necessarily on the exact same date.

Monday May 13

I decide to wear a sports bra as I have been feeling uncomfortable. As I reach in the drawer for one I catch sight of myself in the mirror and see a dent in my left breast. When I reach up I can feel a lump next to it. I freak out. Within an hour and a half I am sitting in front of my doctor. She asks me when my last mammogram was – May 14 last year. She is non-committal but says she wants to refer me to a specialist. By then I have already Googled breast cancer symptoms and know that dents are nearly always a sign of cancer.

Monday May 20

Day1

After a week, during which I am planning my funeral and wishing I didn’t have so much ‘stuff’ to leave behind, my appointment is finally here. The consultant tells me my breasts are quite ‘cysty’ and does an ‘unofficial’ ultrasound, as there is no operator available. She tells me the lump is under 2cm – considered ‘small’. She then does a biopsy, which is like having a nail gun fired at your chest. Despite anaesthetic, it hurts. I stand up and nearly pass out.

Back in the consultant’s office I tell her that I am shallow and vain and don’t want to lose my hair. Despite telling me I am getting ahead of myself she describes the operation she will do. I will probably lose my nipple as the lump is so close to it. She wants me to go for an ultrasound and mammogram at another hospital – and will see me again at the end of the week with all the results.

Tuesday May 21

Day2

I receive a letter reiterating what was said yesterday – it’s either a ‘cystic lesion’ or ‘cancer’. Somehow seeing it in black and white brings it home to me.

Wednesday May 22

Day 3-1

My husband and I have tickets for Chelsea Flower Show but are driving in the opposite direction to London. At the second hospital a nurse does a mammogram and I am shown into another room for the ultrasound. The radiographer confirms the size of the lump – 1.67cm. “Is it cancer?” I ask, knowing the answer. “Yes,” she says, “you did well to find it.” She adds that the lymph nodes in my armpit look clear. By then I have Googled enough to know this is very good news. At Chelsea Flower Show I stop to have my photo taken with a giant gnome for my friend in America. I walk round in a daze. At the Cancer Research show garden I feel like screaming.

Friday May 23

Day 5

My consultant tells me the biopsy shows the lump is invasive cancer, but small and early. It is also very oestrogen receptive which means that tablets to reduce or stop the oestrogen levels will be very effective. I will have to have surgery, followed by chemotherapy (if required) followed by radiotherapy and the tablets.

She describes the different options for surgery and runs her hands over her own breasts as she speaks. It seems I am lucky. I have ‘sufficient tissue’ for her to remove a ‘golf ball’ sized piece of flesh – the tumour and a margin – with little difference to my shape. I laugh. She now talks about trying to keep the nipple but I can tell she is sceptical. She describes the surgical procedure she would like to do – a mix of lumpectomy and plastic surgery known as oncoplasty – where flesh will be swung round from below the breast to fill in the hole. She tries to find a picture on her phone (!) but decides that they are not suitable to show me. She does, however, find a post-surgery picture on the internet of the procedure and I agree that the result – a long curving scar and circle of smooth skin forming a nipple – looks quite good. The choice of operation is my decision……

I will be able to have a fake nipple, a tattoo of a nipple or a skin flap at a later date.

I half-jokingly ask her if she can do a nip and tuck and a lift at the same time and she says she can do whatever I want but it will all head south again eventually! I can have the other breast reduced to match if I want. She gives me a date for the surgery. I have a lot to think about.

Saturday 1/Sunday 2 June

Day7

I spend the weekend in a frenzy of activity, cleaning and cooking in case I am unable to do anything after the op. I have stopped taking my HRT tablets. I spend hours Googling medical papers about the development of the operation the surgeon is proposing. I consider if I want to keep the nipple and risk further surgery. I decide not to have surgery to the other breast. I don’t really know what to do. I have a meltdown.

Monday June 3

Day 4

Back at the hospital I have pre-op tests.

Tuesday June 4

Day 6

At a third hospital I have Sentinel Node Mapping. The tumour is injected with a substance and I have to lie very still as the operators watch a screen to track the route it takes. There is much scratching of heads as it goes in an unexpected direction but eventually they decided it is OK. In the actual operation a dye is injected and the two marry up to highlight the first lymph node the tumour drains to (the sentinel node). This is in my armpit and will be surgically removed and examined during the operation.

Wednesday June 5

breastcancerday9

The day of the operation. I don’t sleep well and feel I haven’t had enough time to think this through. I have to keep visiting the loo. It’s an early start as I am scheduled in at 8.30am. At 6am the phone rings and I am told there has been a “systems failure” and I should not go in but wait for a further call. The call comes at 7.30am. “How quickly can you get in?” When we arrive the police are there and I later find out from my anaesthetist that thieves have stolen the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) cylinder. It seems it’s the drug of choice for pop up raves. He reassures me he doesn’t use it in his ‘mix’.

I am processed by a stream of health professionals. The consultant arrives and we have a quick conversation about the surgical options. We decide that the oncoplasty offers an aesthetic result and losing the nipple gives her the best chance of removing the cancer. She makes deft marks on my breast with a felt tip pen.

Then, for a few minutes I am on my own and can’t resist peeking at my notes. I read the tumour biopsy results. It states ‘Grade 3’ followed by a question mark. There are only four grades and four is the worst.

I walk round to the theatre and joke with the surgical team that I am there for a facelift. The next thing I know I am being offered morphine and then I hear the consultant’s voice telling me they found cancer in the sentinel node. She didn’t do a ‘clearance’ (where they remove all the nodes) but just removed the adjacent node. She doesn’t tell me more as I am too woozy from the op.

Back in my room I drift in and out of sleep but when I come to the implications that the cancer has spread sink in and I am devastated. I am convinced the consultant is coming back but she doesn’t and I am discharged from the hospital. As I get dressed I put on a sports bra and am shocked – my breast looks square.

Stay tuned for the second part of Lorraine’s journey tomorrow.

 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Trina

Talk about the power of positive energy. Thank you so much for sharing this incredible story with us.

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2 Ann

A very powerful story of strength. I’m looking forward to reading more tomorrow. Thank you for sharing and reminding me that everyday truly is a gift.

blue hue wonderland

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3 Suzanne

Wow…this is powerful. I am so glad that Lorraine has detailed her very private journey. It is terrifying and brave.

Having had surgery 5 weeks ago where a mistake was made by the Dr. I know how difficult sudden illness can be.

I look forward to the next post.

bisous
Suzanne

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4 Rita A.

Hi Suzanne!

How scary! I hope you are well on the way to recovering!

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5 Sylvia

Doctor’s errors are very scary. I hope you’re doing well Suzanne..

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6 Lorraine

Thanks for your comments Suzanne.
What a terrible thing to happen to you. I was fortunate in that I had the utmost confidence in my surgeon and I think she did a good job. I can’t imagine how I would have coped if it had gone wrong.

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7 The Style Crone

Lorraine, I am touched by your story and your ability to describe your feelings during this stressful and frightening time. You and your ensembles are beautiful and your honesty, self expression and courage, I’m sure, will be helpful to others.

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8 dana

I have been down that road (4 years ago)…I had the same problem with choosing the right outfit.

She looks really lovely in all photos! Wish her all the luck with treatment!

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9 Annette

Lorraine, thank you so much for sharing your story. Very honest, very brave, very touching.
Thank you,
Annette

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10 Aileen

Lorraine, I am so shocked that this has happened to you and wish you all the very best for the future. To think you were able to look so amazing while going though all this is quite remarkable. You are truly amazing!
I love your outfits and how you have coordinated them. It’s incredible you were able to think about what to wear when you were going through this tough time.
I am looking forward to the next part of your story. What an inspiration you are to everyone. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I am truly grateful to you. You are a remarkable woman.

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11 Lorraine

Thanks to all you ladies for your comments. 40+ Style and the friends I have made through it have really helped me to get through this. I decided from day one that I was going to (try to) look fabulous – in surgery, in radiotherapy and even in my coffin (although hopefully that won’t be for some time!). Planning my outfits was a great diversion for me!

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12 Aileen

Yes, I can understand now that planning what outfits to wear would be a good diversion and also keep your spirits up. You look so good in all these outfits and so positive too.
I’m looking forward to seeing what you wore next.

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13 Rita A.

Thanks for being so brave to post your journey, Lorraine! This touches so many women, either directly or indirectly (family members, friends, etc.). You are a wonderful example of how to get through a horrible time with good humor and doing something you love. 🙂

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14 Greetje

Your story is terrible though it reads like a novel (very well written and very genuine.)
And your wonderful outfits contradict in every way what was happening. You look perfect and glorious. I do so hope it ends well. This post is going to stirr up a lot with women.

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15 Susan

Lorraine, what courage, and strength, in the face of something so scary and unknown, you have shown. I so admire you for that. To even have a sense of humor before surgery! I found your post very informative, as breast cancer has touched me indirectly, and want to thank you for sharing.

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16 Heidi/Frantic But Fabulous

Wishing a speedy recovery and the best possible outcome. Another style blogger sharing her breast cancer journey is Shana of Ain’t No Mom Jeans: http://www.aintnomomjeans.com/2013/09/fun-with-breast-cancer-the-first-haircut-and-nyfw.html

May you both kick cancer’s butt!

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17 Jeanne

Thank you for running this story. It feels so honest that it makes me very uncomfortable. I’m waiting eagerly to read the next part. Here’s a hug for the author. I hope the rest of the journey is a positive one.

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18 traceyliz65

What a story of strength and controlling what you can! I so love that you took good care fo yourself and your outifts are beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are in my prayers.

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19 Lynn

Thank you for sharing this story. Very powerful. It seems trivial to say it after reading what you went through, but your outfits are lovely, and you are beautiful. I think always looking the best we can is important, especially in low times. I wish you perfect health!!

XOXO
Lynn

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20 Petra

Wow! Lorraine, this account of what happened to you is amazing, interesting, informative and heart-wrenching too. I love the way you focussed on your clothes and can understand why you did that. I am so looking forward to hearing more…

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