My name is Sara and I feel lucky. That’s what I say to myself every day when I take my clothes off and look at my boobs! I’m sure most people wouldn’t say the same but to me my boobs are my best feature! Not because they look great because believe me, they do not! But because they make me feel better about my life, my health, my future. My story started many years ago when my beautiful mum was still alive. I went with her to the genetics clinic at The Royal Marsden where she discussed getting tested for the BRCA gene. At the time I didn’t really think about why she was doing this but looking back I totally understand her motivation for doing it. Her selflessness to her family was one of her many amazing attributes. She already knew she was dying and that being tested wasn’t going to make a difference to her, but it would to her family. This is another reason why I feel so lucky. She left us with the most amazing legacy, knowledge.
I remember being asked all those years ago if I wanted to get tested at the same time. I said no. I knew I wasn’t ready to do it. I wasn’t in the right place in my life. I had my mum to look after and I didn’t want what I called ‘a dark cloud’ hanging over my head, weighing my thoughts down, not knowing what I would do with the results if they came back positive. I always knew that if I did carry the gene, I would have a full mastectomy and reconstruction and an oophorectomy, but I was very young then, single and not really in the right place to go through all of that alone. So, I decided to leave it and spend all the precious time I had left with my mum not having to worry about myself.
Skip forward many years, and everything changed. I met the love of my life when I was 38 years old and in January 2016 we found out we were having a baby. And then went into panic mode!
Why didn’t I get tested before I fell pregnant? Why did I wait so long? What if I have the gene and have passed it onto my baby? All these things were racing through my head and I just felt sick. But then my amazing and calm brother, who is a doctor, put my mind at ease. He reminded me that before this point I was not in the right place to do any of this. And he was right. I couldn’t imagine being on my own, having a mastectomy, whilst at the same time trying to meet the right man!!! It just wasn’t the right time he kept saying and he was right.
In the July of 2016 at 7 months pregnant I decided to start the process and let me tell you it was a very long process. Thank god I had the amazing support from my husband and family. I decided to go through the NHS as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get this done privately and self-funding was not an option for me. I made an appointment at my GP and took with me the forms I had filled in with my family medical history. They then referred me to the Genetics Clinic at Northwick Park but the wait to get an appointment was quite long. This was obviously not the most ideal time to be stressing about appointments when you are nearly about to give birth!
I was finally booked in and went for my appointment when my daughter was 2 weeks old. I remember sitting there listening to all my options, but I knew for me there was only one option. Get rid of it all!! I was adamant that I wanted to go down the preventative surgery route but knew that I would want to wait until I had finished having my family before I had my ovaries removed. I had the blood test done at this appointment but didn’t get my results back until December. Luckily, I had a baby to keep me busy. When I got the call, I really wasn’t surprised that it was positive. I think for some reason I always knew. People asked me if I was sad, upset, even devasted. I was none of those things. In fact, I was actually relieved, because now I knew what I needed to do.
Obviously, the better outcome would have been a negative result and to not have the BRCA 2 mutation, but I still think that I could get breast cancer or ovarian cancer even if I wasn’t a carrier, it’s just that my chances would have not been as high. The pure fact that I was able to do something about it made me feel so much better about the situation. So, when people asked me how I felt I just said ‘Lucky’. I am lucky that I have this amazing knowledge, I am lucky that we now live in a generation where we can do something to prevent breast and ovarian cancer. I just felt lucky. And it was all because my mum left me this gift. I have her to thank for all of this. And then my next journey began…
Happy New Year 2017! I must admit I did go into panic mode a bit. It sounds ridiculous now, but I thought, oh my god what if I have breast cancer already!! I need to get checked right now; I need to know right now!! This is just my personality though. I am very impatient and need things done yesterday. I decided to go and see a private consultant who checked me over, ordered for me to have a mammogram, ultrasound and CT scan. All of this was done within a matter of days and all came back negative which was exactly what I needed to give me some peace of mind and the courage to go forward.
Whilst chatting with my consultant he asked me what my plan was. I told him what I wanted to do, and he said he would take care of me. My husband and I just felt so relieved that we were in good hands. However, I did tell him that I wouldn’t be able to have the surgery done privately but he was amazing and said he would see me at Barnet in his NHS clinic. Obviously, I knew this process was going to take much longer but I didn’t care at this point, I was just glad I was ‘in the system’. It was then a long journey to where I am today. I went to various appointments with my breast consultant and the surgeon throughout 2017. We chatted about the surgery, what I was looking for and what kind of boobs I would like.
I had decided to have implants over the muscle which he said would enable me to have a much better recovery. It all seemed very easy, but I was acutely aware of just how lucky I was. Sitting in the waiting room with patients who had cancer, who were clearly going through treatment made me realise what a privileged position I was in. So yes, when I say it all seemed very easy it was, but I never took that for granted.
As part of the process I also had to have what the NHS called ‘counselling’ to ensure that I was in the right head space and frame of mind to go through with all of this. I think up until now maybe I have painted a very positive picture of how I was thinking and feeling. But even though I knew this was exactly what I wanted, and it was totally for the best, there was also a part of me that worried about afterwards. Would my husband still find me attractive? Would I be happy with the outcome?
These were the things I chatted about when having counselling to ensure I was ready to do this… But these are all totally normal feelings to have. I just had to remind myself why I was doing it. I never wanted my husband or my daughter or my family to watch me go through what my mum went through. I never wanted them to have to watch me suffer the way I watched my mum suffer. So, these thoughts outweighed any negative thoughts I had.
I think it was September 2017 that I was finally given the green light. I was in the surgeon’s books and all we needed was a date. But it’s obviously not as simple as that. I told them that we were hoping to have another baby and so waiting was not really an option. They did understand but I needed to also understand that this was elective, and I was not ill so obviously people that were ill came before me. And of course, I totally understood this. But they were great, and I finally got a date, Tuesday April 24th, 2018. And although it was brilliant that I had a date it was 6 weeks before my wedding day. Never a dull moment in our family!
So, the days running up to my surgery were the worst. I was told to prepare myself for the possibility of being pushed off the list that day because of an emergency surgery.
This is a really hard place to be in mentally, let me tell you. I was desperately trying to stay positive all the while thinking that this may not even happen the day it’s supposed to happen. But the 24th came and my husband and I headed to The Royal Free at a very civilised time fully ready for what was about to happen. We checked in and then had a meeting with my surgeon who just wanted to prep me for surgery. I was so calm. I wasn’t nervous at all. I think I had been waiting so long for this that I was actually excited, if you can believe that.
It felt like I had been ‘under the knife’ for all of 5 minutes although I think it was about 7 hours in total. I woke up in a bit of pain, not tons, but the wonderful anaesthetist came to see me to give me more drugs and to let me know that my lash extension still looked great!
I was in the hospital for less than 24 hours. I was quite relieved when they discharged me the next day before lunch came around! I left that day with 2 new very pert boobs and 2 drains to carry around with me for the next few weeks. Oh, the glamour!
The next few weeks and months were spent recovering at home. I was lucky to have such supportive family and friends. It was very tough on my husband and my little girl as I literally couldn’t do anything. I did find it hard that I couldn’t pick up my daughter or give her a cuddle and she got very frustrated and upset quite a lot. But there was nothing I could do. I knew I had to be careful as I didn’t want to risk getting infections. Short term pain for long term gain as they say!
It wasn’t all a bed of roses. I had my low moments of course but these lasted only seconds when I remembered again why I had done this. Our wedding day came around and thankfully I was able to wear two nice dresses (obviously one was not enough) and I danced the night away without a second thought. I was reminded a few times of the fact that I had only had the operation 6 weeks prior, when people came up and hugged me – this was not ideal but worth a few moments of pain.
Halfway through typing this I realised that it is nearly a year since my surgery. How time flies… I think maybe I should have a boob celebration on 24th April. I’m not quite ready to run through the streets flashing them about but to me they are definitely worth celebrating.
And so, nearly a year down the line and I haven’t looked back. I am happy and healthy and trying to live life to the fullest. I’m sure there are many people out there who read this and think that every person is different, and everyone deals with things differently, and they are right. This was my story and I am proud to tell anyone who wants to hear it!”