I can honestly say I don’t miss my breasts

By Paula Bailey

They were kind of superfluous to requirements and to be honest, life is much easier without them!

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2019. I had been on annual monitoring at the local hospital after national screening found benign changes in my left breast. When I got the diagnosis it was cancer in my right breast – that was a surprise! I remember my first question was “What happens now?” My second question “How long will I be off the bike and out of the water?”

A whirlwind followed. Lots of decisions to make very quickly, barely any time to think beyond the next appointment. The thing that surprised me most was the presumption that I would want some form of reconstruction, the expectation it would happen at the same time as my mastectomy and the fact that I’d need a reduction on my remaining 38G breast. There was never any question of a lumpectomy. When I thought about it and found a group called Flat Friends UK online, I was pretty clear that I didn’t want reconstruction (Why have more surgery???) and equally as certain that I wanted to ‘go flat’ for symmetry. I told the surgeon that if I cycled with one 38G, I’d probably fall of my bike on corners and end up swimming in circles – dark humour was a way of dealing with it. But I also wanted ‘the double’ because the screening had been because of my left breast in the first place, I knew if it wasn’t removed, I would then be waiting for another diagnosis.

I was extremely lucky that my female surgeon accepted my request for a double mastectomy for symmetry. I was also extremely grateful (and lucky) because when my results came back there was also cancer in my other breast. I feel even more lucky I didn’t need any further treatment. Six weeks after surgery, I walked the Race for Life in Derby supported by a good friend. The sign on my back said I was walking for my dearest friend from school days who had died from metastases after breast cancer and also for ‘My Boobs (they tried to kill me)”.

I do find it quite ridiculous that many women desperately want both breasts removed for symmetry, but depending on the surgeon or the health trust it sometimes takes years and visits to a psychologist before that can happen. Everyone’s story and emotional response is different, and I get that its a ‘no going back’ decision and a woman has to be certain. We are capable of making that decision and it is kind of presumptuous to think we’re being ruled by emotions and not being objective in making decisions about our bodies.

I can honestly say I don’t miss my breasts. They were kind of superfluous to requirements and to be honest, life is much easier without them! Although buying swimsuits and wetsuits for my very peculiar shape is interesting. The cancer diagnosis was a time to re-assess my priorities. Work always came first. I realised that seeing as I couldn’t presume I’d live to retirement, I might as well get on with doing the things I thought didn’t have time to do – spending more time with family and taking on open water swimming events which I’d never have thought I’d do. Her Spirit has certainly helped with the second! It made me realise that I can do things that I thought people like me couldn’t or didn’t do.

It’s also given me the confidence to take on challenges that I might never have done. It’s amazing to see so many women taking on different challenges and activities at various stages of life and after facing various challenges personally.

Paula is playing a key part in the Her Spirit’s Lakes to London 500KM challenge  which is aiming to raise £100,000 for Breast Cancer Now. You can sign up too and join her  Lakes to London

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