October is here. In previous years the only thing guaranteed to bring tears to my eyes would be the cost of getting my boiler fixed as I fired up my central heating. Now, since my breast cancer, there are two new things that annually make me weep: Strictly Come Dancing and Pinktober (Breast Cancer Awareness Month).
I hope through sharing this we can help other women in similar situations. I know I can only speak for myself and I was lucky enough that the nipple-sparing surgery still enabled me to keep some resemblance of what was previously there, but if my experience helps one woman feel slightly better about their future or less scared then I will be happy.
It is now over a year since I completed what is termed "active treatment". Now I hate to seem ungrateful but however delighted I am to be alive, I would still welcome a head of hair without a bald patch, eyebrows that do not need drawing on each day and eyelashes that reach a lash count in excess of ten.
Every breast is different, and they can change dramatically over a woman's lifetime. Some are perky, some saggy, they can weigh anything from 100g to 1.5kg, and nobody has an identical pair. I tell my patients that their breasts are sisters, not twins, so when I operate, I'm not promising symmetry and perfection, I'm trying to recreate what they already have.
So after making the decision to have a preventative double mastectomy due to carrying the BRCA1 mutation the time had come, at the weekend I was at the races with my friends, a few days later I was to have my breasts removed. I did not want to die of breast cancer considering my risk was about 85%. I have watched cancer destroy my family and I needed to put a stop to it.
The loss of a breast, or a scar, the diagnosis, treatment and recovery will mean different things to different women - we are individual, complex, nuanced. I wanted to tell these women's stories and share the brave, sad, painful, moving and sometimes even funny truth. This is how they look. This is how they feel.
If my mum had this surgery all those years ago I would still have her here to guide me. Instead, I have a memory box full of random items such as an old pill box and her hospital bands. To most people these might seem like junk, but to me it's all I have left of her. Now and then I go and sit on the floor and empty the box and read some of the notes in there and her old diary.