Karen talks about her experience of breast cancer

"The news that I'd need a mastectomy actually came as more of a shock than getting the original news of my breast cancer. No one had ever mentioned the possibility that a lumpectomy might not be enough.

I was working for Channel 4 when I experienced problems with my tummy. Luckily, through Channel 4 I had access to private health care and went to see a Gastroenterology specialist. I was examined thoroughly and had a lot scans to see if they could find what the problem was. I was very relieved when I went back for the results to be told they couldn’t find anything wrong. However, they said even though my tummy seemed to be fine they had seen a tiny lump in one of my breasts and advised me to have it checked out.

To be honest, I wasn’t really worried as I had found a lump in the same breast when I was at university and it had turned out to be a cyst. 

I made an appointment to see my GP and told her I couldn’t feel a lump and on examination she said she couldn’t feel one either. My GP said it was best to have a biopsy just to be sure but that I wasn’t to worry as she was pretty sure it would be fine. After the biopsy I was sent to have my first ever mammogram as I was too young to have had one previously.

When I returned for the results, I was told that indeed the original tiny lump in my breast was just a cyst but the results of the mammogram showed a different lump in my other breast and that it was suspicious. Further biopsies confirmed it was cancer not long afterwards. 

To this day, I still joke that Channel 4 saved my life!

The Breast Care Specialist told me that it was invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), also known as infiltrating ductal carcinoma. I’ve been told that IDC is the most common form of breast cancer, representing 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. Being told my cancer was “very treatable” was good to hear but I hadn’t taken anyone with me to get the results as I thought they would have said “bring someone with you” if it was going to be bad news. 

The next step was a lumpectomy, this involves surgery to remove cancer or other abnormal tissue from your breast – unlike a mastectomy only a portion of the breast is removed. Unfortunately there was no clear margin (a pathologist examines this rim of tissue - called the surgical margin to be sure it’s clear of any cancer cells). Decisions were made and more surgery was needed to remove any remaining cancer cells, just to be sure. Again, there were no clear margins so to minimize any risks I had a mastectomy in November 2018.

The news that I'd need a mastectomy actually came as more of a shock than getting the original news of my breast cancer. No one had ever mentioned the possibility that a lumpectomy might not be enough. I think they drip-feed you information as you go along with your treatment as it would be overwhelming if they went over every possible scenario.

My brother, Steve and sister-in-law, Cathy have been a huge support to me through my treatment and recovery. I don’t live near my family so it has been a little difficult at times. Steve and Cathy came to stay with me after my operations and I was very thankful for their care. I had DIEP flap surgery to reconstruct my breast after the mastectomy. An incision is made along your bikini line and a portion of skin, fat, and blood vessels is taken from the lower half of your belly, moved up to your chest, and formed into a breast shape. It’s definitely something that takes a while to recover from and I stayed with my brother over the Christmas period for some extra TLC. I was relieved that I wouldn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy but sometimes do feel guilty that I’m a cancer ‘fraud’ for only needing surgery. 

I must mention that the support groups I found on Social media were fantastic. Living on your own can be quite isolating, especially during the pandemic lockdown, but there was always someone to chat with, day or night, and I feel very grateful for all the support I received. I even decided to start blogging about my cancer treatment and have been touched by how many people have said they’ve found it helpful in understanding what cancer patients go through. I called it atozeeofbc.com. 

I was looking forward to doing the MoonWalk London in 2020 and it's sad that COVID has meant it couldn't take place this year. But I'll be there on the starting line, in my decorated bra, when we're able to do charity walks again. I've done The MoonWalk London before, two Half Moons and one Full Moon, but this time it will different.

It will be the first fundraising event I've done since being diagnosed and although the previous walks were great fun, it will feel so brilliant to be able to help people like me, who are going through treatment, now I understand what that really means. I think it has special importance now, when COVID has stopped not only cancer charity events but also delayed cancer diagnosis or treatment for some many people. The pandemic has been terrible but cancer patients can't be forgotten and need support now more than ever”. - Karen

If you feel inspired to unite with us against breast cancer... check out our challenges here and if you would like to share your story with us, please email us and we will be in touch. 

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