“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.

I hadn’t been checking myself, although as a nurse I knew I needed to be and I was aware of the symptoms too. But when I had itchy skin around my nipples I ignored it and didn’t worry. I was having regular mammograms every two years and nothing had been picked up. Then in 2015 I noticed a lump. I mentioned it to a friend who is a doctor and they insisted I had it investigated.

They found two lumps in one breast and one lump in the other. I was really frightened. I knew before the results even came back that it was cancer and I remember thinking “why can’t you just treat it now”, I didn’t want the wait. I had an ultrasound and biopsies and when it was confirmed as cancer I was told I would need a double mastectomy. One of the lumps was big and they were worried about my lymph nodes too.

Before the mastectomy I seemed upbeat and was chatting to everybody, but that was just the nerves. And I remember being sat on the table whilst the doctor marked up where the surgery was going to take place with a pen and I felt so embarrassed with my chest exposed.

I woke up after my mastectomy and looked down and I had drains in both sides but there weren’t any breasts. I was completely flat-chested. It was a real shock.

After three days I was told I could go home but I live on my own and I couldn’t have managed with the drains. I stayed a few more days in hospital and then a friend came to stay with me to help out. I felt very tired and the wound was becoming inflamed. They weren’t sure if I had cellulitis or not so they put me on antibiotics.

I found Breast Cancer Haven after my operation. As soon as I walked through the door I felt at home, it was so welcoming and peaceful. I had an initial appointment to work out what support I needed and I chose shiatsu massage and Lymph massage. A year after chemo I got involved with Gentle Yoga which was helpful for my lymphedema. I still struggle with that and have to do regular exercises and the Qi Gong sessions were important for me in the same way. I also went to their Managing Lymphedema Workshop and Tina, a senior cancer nurse therapist, gave me lots of practical advice.

After my mastectomy I had chemotherapy once a week for 10-12 cycles which made my hair fall out. I went to a Look Good Feel Good workshop at Breast Cancer Haven. I told them that I was struggling with mascara that it kept clumping and asked if they could help. It was at that point they said “Linda, you don’t have any eyelashes!” -  I hadn’t even realised.

Once chemo was finished I was referred for radiotherapy for four days a week. I used to have to sit in a drafty corridor to wait for my appointments which were held in a basement. I couldn’t wait for it to end. I wanted to cry and just talk to somebody but I never felt able to at the hospital.

The best thing about Breast Cancer Haven was seeing the same people every week who were going through the same thing as me. All practitioners are so empathetic and the volunteers in the café do a lovely lunch. I still love visiting and meeting others who I feel I can easily talk to."


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