'My mastectomy and breast reconstruction'

Pauline Polley

Pauline Polley, from Dorset, had a mastectomy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. She had breast reconstruction surgery 18 months later.

“I found out I had breast cancer when I was 38. I’d noticed that my nipple was slightly raised. My GP referred me to the specialist breast clinic where I was diagnosed with a tumour deep within the breast. My husband and I were dumbstruck.

"I had a lumpectomy 10 days later, but the tumour was big (33mm) and there was cancer in my lymph nodes. So 10 days after the lumpectomy, I had a mastectomy on my left side.

“Washing my breast in the shower for the last time was awful. I put my gown on and thought, ‘I’m not going to look at it again’, but I couldn't help it.

"When I woke after the surgery, it hit me what had happened. I looked down and one side was completely flat. The other was my normal 'D' cup. I couldn’t have a reconstruction at that stage as I had to have intensive radiotherapy on the breast area."

Life after mastectomy

“I had chemotherapy for eight months, then radiotherapy for five weeks. I also took Herceptin, as part of a drugs trial.

“I had a prosthesis (false breast), which goes inside your bra, but I didn’t like using it. You need a lightweight, synthetic one during radiotherapy so it doesn’t irritate the skin. It doesn’t weigh as much as a normal breast, and I looked lopsided, which I found to be annoying.

“Once, I was walking from my car to the hospital when I realised the prosthesis was all the way up my neck and I hadn’t realised. What must people have thought? I also play a lot of golf, and it used to get in the way.

"After the mastectomy I thought I never wanted surgery again, but my friend Sarah had a reconstruction and it looked good. I decided to go for a consultation with the surgeon."

The reconstruction

"Because of the surgery and radiotherapy I’d had, there was only one option available to me. The surgeon would take a section of my back muscle, keep it attached to all the nerves and blood supply, put it over a silicone implant on my front, and stitch it all back up again. He’d build me a 'C' cup, and reduce my right breast to a 'C' cup later. I decided immediately to go for it.

"In June 2003 I had the reconstruction. I was really looking forward to it. I woke up after the surgery and it was brilliant and exciting to see a breast there again.

"The cut in my back was about 12 inches long, from the spine to my side. It felt weird, a little tight, and the reconstructed breast seemed very high. They do that so the weight gradually stretches the skin. I didn’t have much pain, and didn’t take the painkillers I was given.

"It was such a relief to put a bra on and not have to worry about stuffing a prosthesis in. A few weeks later I had an operation to reduce my right breast to a 'C' cup. They took part of my right nipple to make a new nipple on my left breast. It’s very clever and the stitching is tiny. They tattooed the nipple centre, and it looks brilliant. I have feeling in about half of the new breast, and the rest is numb. If you touch my back I feel it in my front, which is a strange sensation."

The new breast

"At first the breast felt alien, but now it’s become part of me. After the mastectomy it was difficult to go into a lingerie shop and see all the bras and tops that I couldn’t wear. Now, I can wear anything.

“Having the reconstruction has helped my confidence, and my husband has been brilliant. He doesn’t treat my breasts any differently. He said: ‘Whatever you decide to do, you know I’ll still love you because it’s the way you are’.

"In September 2006 I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in my liver. With chemotherapy and hormone treatment, the tumour has shrunk and stabilised. I have scans every three months, and I’m on Herceptin and hormone treatment.

"If a woman is considering a breast reconstruction, I’d say talk to a surgeon about all your options. Try to meet some women who have had it done. I’m always happy to show women mine. If it’s possible to have a reconstruction done at the same time as your surgery, I think that’s a good idea. That way, you won’t have that period of time while there's nothing there.”

The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. A woman developing breast cancer in her 30s is uncommon.

Page last reviewed: 15/07/2014

Next review due: 15/07/2016

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Comments

The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Keda said on 17 January 2010

I will be seeing a plastic surgeon in 4 days and have found this article very positivel. It has definitely helped me make up my mind to go ahead.
I had a left side, radical mastectomy in late 2007 after a 3.5cm lump was found. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and they were also removed. Further scans revealed the cancer had spread to my liver. I has part of the liver removed and am also on Herceptin and 3 monthly scans. After 2 years I am now ready to face another operation, but can't wait as wearing a prosthesis has so many down sides. I long to feel "normal" again.
Thanks Pauline and good luck for the future.

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lisa williamson said on 20 July 2009

hi all. i was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer in 2001 i was 31. i under went chemo and radio after having the lumps removed and then lymph nodes from one side. i decided to have genetic testing and was found to have the gene! i spoke to my surgeon and oncologist and we have decided to go for a double mastectomy and reconstruction! i just need to decide which way to go! having read Pauline's story i wouldnt have that op. has anyone had any other op done and can you tell me about it?

pauline i wish you continued good health and thank you for your honest story. x

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User66410 said on 23 April 2009

Little did I know at the time of writting the comment dated Dec 2008 that I to had breast cancer and had a mastectomy January 2009.

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User66410 said on 09 December 2008

Pauline, you are an inspiration to everyone who has breast cancer, I wish you a long happy life.












































































































































































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