'There is life after breast surgery'

Amanda Allen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Here she talks about having a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, and how it changed her life.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2005. After my mother died in December 2004 and my grandmother in January 2005, both from having breast cancer, I became paranoid that I would get it. I'd been to see a genetic team about getting tested for a faulty gene, but hadn't been tested yet."

Finding out

"In February 2005 my right nipple became inflamed and I made an appointment at the breast clinic. They gave me a mammogram on both breasts and surprisingly found nothing wrong with the right breast, but there was something showing up in the left. I had a probe biopsy and the same day was diagnosed with duct carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the same diagnosis my mother had. I was 33 years old.

"I'd prepared for the worst, and said straight away that I wanted to have my breasts removed. I had it in my mind that I would have a double mastectomy in the next few years anyway as a preventative measure.

"My surgeon advised a double mastectomy with reconstruction. They would take muscle from my back, bring it up under the armpit and then down across to the breast, where they would fan it out and attach it into position to create a pocket to put the implant in."

Before the operation

"The hospital put me in touch with a woman who had had the same kind of operation so that I could talk to her about it. I owned a horse, and it turned out that she had a horse too – I was more worried about being able to ride again than anything else at that point. She said riding was fine. I didn't have to think twice about having the surgery. There was fantastic support from the breast cancer support nurses.

"I had my left breast removed in March 2005, and the right in June 2005. Before the first operation I obviously felt a bit worried, but in a funny way I was looking forward to having it sorted out. When I woke up after four hours in surgery, I felt sick and in a little pain, but once that was under control I was quite comfortable.

"I was glad it was all over. I wanted to see what my breast looked like, but could only see the dressing. I first saw my new breast soon afterwards, when I had to put on a crop top for extra support. I was amazed at how natural the breast looked."

Recovering from surgery

"I was in hospital for five days. The area where I felt the most pain was my back, where they'd removed the muscle. I had trouble pressing down on my left elbow to raise myself up in bed. Generally I didn't find the recovery too bad, probably because of my age. Most of the women I saw at my hydro pool physio sessions after surgery were much older than me.

"When I got home I was really looking forward to riding again, and also to driving the brand new sports car I'd bought myself as a treat. It was sitting on the driveway waiting for me to drive it – knowing it was there helped me get through those weeks. It was a month before I was ready to drive and change gear with my left arm, but when I did, oh – it was amazing. I only pootled around small distances at first, but it was lovely to get back out."

Back to running and riding

"After about six weeks I went back to my job in accounts and payroll. I started back running and riding again, and carrying hay around at the stables, which helped to build up the muscles in my back. Then, 10 weeks after my first operation, I was back in again to get my right breast done. The thought of not being able to ride or go running was awful, and I was quite determined to get back home and recover quickly.

"The second surgery went fine. By the end of 2005 I'd had a third operation to cut and sew up the areola area in such a way as to create nipples. Once the new nipples were tattooed with a light pinkish colour, they looked amazing."

Scarring

"I've come out with pretty much a perfect pair of boobs. I went for the same size as I was normally, and they look a bit fuller and rounder than they did naturally. I'm proud of them, and I've been known to sunbathe topless on holiday.

"The scars have really faded over the years, and although I've got seven-inch scars on my back, they're thin and covered by my bra or bikini straps. On my front, there's a tiny scar around the areola (made from skin from my back) and a scar from my armpit towards the areola.

"The doctors had told me not to expect to get any sensation in my breasts, but some feeling has slowly come back. I didn't feel anything when I first had the tattooing done, but in later years when I've gone for tattoo top-ups I've been able to feel it.

"I didn't have any other cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, because the cancer hadn't spread. I was very relieved to hear that after my first operation. They were able to remove all the affected tissue during the mastectomies.

"In 2012 I had an operation to replace the implant in my left breast, because I had some pain and the doctors thought the implant might have ruptured. It actually wasn't ruptured, but I'm glad they replaced it."

Life after breast surgery

"I like to promote breast reconstruction surgery to women. I do modelling for various bras and things, and I've done photoshoots and fashion shows. I'm happy to talk to women who are considering breast reconstruction, and happy to let them look at mine and feel them. You can't get a proper idea of how they look and feel from a photograph – they feel quite normal.

"I haven't got children and I haven't got any sisters to worry about the risk of breast cancer.

"Since having my new breasts I've had a second chance in life. I'm fairly confident and would try most new things given the opportunity. Physically I might be a bit less strong, but I'm more determined and there's nothing I can't now do. I've been rock climbing, and I've done a sky dive to raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. There is life after breast cancer surgery." 

Amanda had her breast reconstruction in 2005. Treatments offered today might not be exactly the same. Find out more about breast cancer treatment.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer has a free information phone line on 08080 100 200.

Page last reviewed: 04/11/2014

Next review due: 04/11/2016

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