THE BLOG

Why I Decided to 'Live Flat' After Breast Cancer - and Ended Up on EastEnders

16/07/2015 17:43 BST | Updated 16/07/2016 10:59 BST

It was such a huge shock when I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago aged 45. I'd no family history of cancer and like most women was aware of the usual symptoms, checked myself regularly, but had no signs of anything wrong.

The only thing I'd noticed was that my right breast was a bit bigger than the other when I put on my bra, but standing naked I couldn't see or feel anything.

I'd gone to my GP for something totally unrelated and thought I may as well just ask her to take a look.

The rest, as they say, is history because she referred me immediately for tests which showed that I had Grade 3 IDC breast cancer.

At the diagnosis appointment my surgeon went straight on to suggest a mastectomy followed by a stomach tuck to reconstruct a new breast, and explained how they'd have to reduce the other breast as I was fairly well endowed and it was unlikely they could reconstruct to match.

In hindsight, I think he was trying to make me feel better about losing my breast. But perhaps I'm unusual as I had no problem with that, I didn't want a reconstruction, I just wanted the cancer gone.

Two weeks later they carried out a mastectomy on the 'cancer' breast, and a few months after that the surgeon agreed to remove the other breast for symmetry. I've not regretted it for a day.

I'd lost my job when I was diagnosed, so when Macmillan gave me a grant for bras and clothing, it helped beyond words. I applied for welfare benefits but as it turned out I didn't fit in to the entitlements. I decided to turn the bad into good and took the time to set up a dog walking and pet sitting business.

Whilst there was lots of useful information out there about breast cancer and advice around breast reconstruction, it wasn't until I came across other ladies in the States who had opted out that I felt normal finally and had a place I belonged. But their whole process was very different from the UK, so last summer I decided to set up my own support group, Flat Friends. It started off as a closed Facebook group where we could chat, advise about the likes of clothing and underwear. Most women discover that it's expected they'll want a reconstruction but a surprising number don't and are made to feel abnormal. They can find refuge with us like minded women.

And in the meantime, while I was working on this, Macmillan approached me to see if I'd be willing to be put in touch with the BBC's EastEnders team to help with some research on a storyline. I was really keen to share my experience and talked them through the emotions of living flat. A month later it went a step much further and I was asked about being the character's Carol Jackson (celebrity Lindsey Coulson) body double and to film the scene where Carol looks at her post mastectomy scars in the mirror for the first time.

I was delighted to do it. Lindsey Coulson got the emotions spot on and I really hope this will go a long way to changing people's perceptions about women living without breasts.

And what of my own personal life?

It's not made me less of a woman with no boobs. I am confident and sexy and wear lovely clothes. And my partner, Ian, and I are closer than ever - we are getting married in August!

I am also involved in a big research project with University of Sussex, to find out what surgery options women are offered after breast cancer. My goal is that every woman, wherever they are in the UK, has the same options and that prophylactic mastectomy is offered as an equal choice to reconstruction, if the patient would like to take that route.

No one should face cancer alone. For more information call 0808 808 0000 or visit http://www.macmillan.org.uk/

http://www.flatfriends.org.uk/