How I Survived Breast Cancer…The Story Of Sally Westwood

 By Sally Westwood

“You have a Lobular Carcinoma, and it’s a nasty one.” My stomach dropped to the floor in shock. That can’t be right. There’s no cancer in my family. “But the good news is”, my doctor continued “it’s a stage 1, at a very early stage.”

Twelve years previously I had had breast reduction surgery and ever since my annual mammograms had shown up several ‘fatty necrosis’, which are common lumps after breast surgery or trauma of any kind. My mammogram in April had shown these up again and were the same as the previous year, stable. Nothing to worry about. Or so I thought.

Then in June I felt a ‘hardness’ at the top of my breast in the shower, there was no lump as such. For some reason I decided to see my doctor about this and she confirmed that there was something ‘irregular’ and recommended an ultra-sound scan, which I had immediately.

The Radiologist said she thought it was a new fatty necrosis and to return for another scan in 3 months’ time. I put it out of my mind and forgot about her advice.

In October I happened to be seeing my doctor and she asked whether I had had the recommended follow-up scan. I told her I didn’t think it was necessary. She felt my breast again and insisted I have another scan.

I did. The Radiologist, this time, said she wanted to do a needle biopsy. The mass had grown when she had expected it to have shrunk or disappeared. And it was cancer.

Lobular Cancer is a cancer of the lobules in the breast as opposed to Ductal Cancer which affects the milk ducts. It is more common in women who have not breast fed their babies, such as nuns – not so in my case – and has highly migratory micro cells. A dangerous kind of cancer as these micro-cells could have migrated anywhere and remain undetected, in some cases for a few years, until forming a secondary carcinoma.

My doctor recommended an immediate radical double mastectomy. I was stunned and in total disbelief. My husband held my hand and asked all the questions my brain just couldn’t process. It was also the day of our wedding anniversary.

The choice was surgery in Zimbabwe, with no breast reconstruction, or South Africa where I could have a breast reconstruction at the same time. I was too traumatised to think of travelling to another country and opted for the Zimbabwean surgery.

With hindsight, I should have taken the South African option as CIMAS at the time was willing to pay 70%, as it was they paid 70% for the local surgery.

The post-surgery biopsies showed that the carcinoma hadn’t mastasized, that is migrated, and my lymph nodes were clear so I was extremely lucky as this meant I didn’t need to have follow-up chemotherapy or radiotherapy, as the cancer had been removed in its entirety. I opted for a second opinion from a South African Oncologist who gave me the ‘all clear’. My only treatment is taking a daily dose of Anastrozole, a hormone blocker, as my carcinoma had Oestrogen and Progesterone receptors. I will also require 6-monthly ultra-sound scans of my chest and liver for the next 5 years.

Unfortunately the scar right across my chest was horrendously tight and keloid so I had to have follow-up breast reconstruction in South Africa which only added to the trauma.

My advice:

 

  • Don’t ever assume you will never get breast cancer because it’s not in your family, or you don’t smoke and use alcohol.
  • Have regular Mammograms
  • Do self-examinations, and if you feel anything suspicious, have it checked out.
  • Take time to explore all your options and do the research.

 

You can follow Sally on Twiter @Zimbird

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