For Pink October, we are revisiting Kathy, who did an interview with us previously. Kathy is a former police officer who was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. In the previous interview Kathy talked about her diagnosis and her reconstruction, we catch up with her over a year later to see how things are with her now.
Last time you mentioned how happy you are with your post-operation care concerning your mastectomy, is that still the case?
Certainly can't remember saying I was 'happy' about anything to do with my mastectomy! Is happy even a word that can be associated with cancer treatment? From a psychological point of view having the mastectomy meant the cancer was gone, which was a relief. Most of the immediate post op care, such as wound dressing etc, I did myself anyway with dressing I'd paid for myself. I saved the NHS a fortune! I bought my own prosthetic and most of the wound dressings. I was particularly pleased with the reconstruction surgery, the surgeon was lovely a very skilled man who inspired confidence and made me feel human again, well as human as I ever get!
During your cancer treatment you deliberately chose a route that would involve you keeping your hair. What advice would you have for other women looking to do the same? Did this impact heavily on your treatment choices?
I do think that it is extremely important to stress that everyone's experiences of cancer treatment will be very different and drugs that were suitable for me won't necessarily work for somebody else. I have recently been told by a highly qualified professor of oncology that cancer treatment isn't an exact science! I would take that to mean that there is a great amount of guess work going on, and whilst that is probably very educated guess work, it is still guesswork. Accepting treatment or not is a choice, it isn't obligatory. I wanted to be sure that the drugs I took would do me the least harm. I'm well aware that all oncologists (if they're honest!) will have a go to drug, the one they use the most often and if patients just accept without question that's what they'll get! From a personal stand point I was very invested in my treatment and so asked loads of questions, did loads of my own research and generally made a nuisance of myself. That approach doesn't work for everyone and I'm the last person to say what anyone else should do. Did it impact heavily on my treatment choices? No, I don't think so. I'm still alive 7 years after treatment and very few people even know I've had treatment. Hopefully I'm still in remission. I'm not the most popular patient on the cancer ward, a fact about which, I'm really not bothered.
Has developing breast cancer impacted on your self-esteem? Was your skin, teeth etc. impacted by cancer? If so, did you adjust your beauty routine since? What have you found the most difficult?
Inevitably, I'd have to say yes it has impacted on my self esteem. Initially after the mastectomy I felt like a freak, I had a huge foxtrot Oscar scar running across my chest from sternum to under my right arm. It was red, angry and bumpy and the skin was so tight the stitches barely held it together. It took ages to heal . I hated wearing a prosthetic, I found it really uncomfortable and always worried that it would move, which in turn affected my confidence. I've found that my skin is much more sensitive than it was, I couldn't use Bio oil to try to improve the appearance of the scar, it just caused an angry rash. I can't use soap anymore, even unperfumed. Everything I use has to be hypoallergenic, which of course is always more expensive. My nails are still brittle and break very easily, making it impossible to grow them, so inevitably I keep them really short. I've also found, and I'm not sure if this is an outcome of treatment, I have to wear wider fitting shoes because of pain in my feet!
A lot of women mention feeling a lack of femininity when they have gone through cancer; did you feel this way? Has it changed over time? What advice would you have for other women who are feeling a lack of confidence?
I've never been a particularly girly girl but the first thing I did do when I was diagnosed was go through my wardrobe and donate anything low cut or tight fitting to charity. I think not losing my hair was a huge boost to not feeling a lack of femininity. I have always liked pretty, matching lingerie so I bought the prettier mastectomy bras. Incidentally I still wear them, mainly because normal bras just don't sit right even after the reconstruction. I wear a thin pad on the reconstructed side, which evens me up and gives confidence. What advice would I give others? I really don't know, I suppose the best advice I can give is accept your new normal, look for styles and shapes that suit you.
Lastly, are you getting involved with any special events for Pink October? Are there any features you are particularly excited about or interested in?
Most assuredly not! There are a number of cancer charities that I subscribe to by monthly standing order. I support Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now , I give them donations, buy the raffle tickets and the Christmas cards. I've never wanted to get involved with support groups and find the whole pink thing ever so slightly repulsive, so no I won't be going to coffee mornings, ice bucket challenges, braving the shave or anything else during October! I'm not knocking it, if it makes people feel good then go for it! It just isn't for me.