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Women share stories of moving on from breast cancer with help from the West Norfolk Breast Unit

Group photo at QEH. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Group photo at QEH. Photo: SUBMITTED.

Six women have shared stories of how they have moved on from breast cancer with help from the West Norfolk Breast Unit.

The group have all had to face the difficult decision of whether to remove their breasts in order to beat breast cancer and save themselves from any threat in the future.

Yoland� Craig and Elaine Rudd. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Yoland� Craig and Elaine Rudd. Photo: SUBMITTED.

They are all now embracing the future with fresh confidence after making that decision, thanks to their new breasts created by the team at the breast unit at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which opened in May last year.

Consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon Amy Burger, who works at the QEH, has been helping women to regain confidence by providing reconstructive surgery.

She said: “As a surgeon who deals with breast cancer it is always one of the hardest things to remove a breast, even though it is for the right reasons.”

Miss Burger said that for some women reconstruction is an important part of their treatment and recovery, but it is not possible or suitable for everyone.

Eileen Smedmor and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Eileen Smedmor and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.

“It means a huge amount to me as a surgeon to create a shape and see that women are happy with the results,” she added.

The reconstructive process starts with women having to wear a temporary implant for six months to expand the skin around the mastectomy location.

Collagen, muscles from the back and fat from the stomach area can all be used to help recreate the appearance of a breast.

The appearance of the breast is also enhanced with the creation of a nipple during surgery and an areola can be tattooed on by specialist nurses within the breast unit.

Emma Matthews with Amy Burger and Eliane Rudd. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Emma Matthews with Amy Burger and Eliane Rudd. Photo: SUBMITTED.

Katie Docherty, 34, from Lynn, is just one of the patients who has been helped by the breast unit.

Katie found a ping pong ball-sized lump within her right breast when she was 31, less than a year after she gave birth to twins Miles and Delilah.

Following a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Katie decided to have preventative surgery with the removal of her left breast.

Katie, who had reconstructive surgery earlier this year, said: “From the beginning I always knew that if it came down to it I would much rather have no boob than run the risk of having cancer again.”

Eileen Smedmor and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Eileen Smedmor and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.

She said she wanted to remain feeling comfortable in her own skin and not lose confidence.

“I am really pleased with the results of the surgery – they’re better than they were before I had children,” she added.

Sisters Lucy Drew and Charlotte Johnson decided to have risk-reducing surgery after tests showed that they had the BRCA gene, which meant they had an up to 85 per cent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.

Lucy and Charlotte went for genetic testing in 2012 after a number of relatives had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Charlotte, who works as an oncology nurse specialising in lung cancer, said: “When we had the results there was no doubt in my mind about having the surgery.

“Having seen young people die with cancer and supporting their families, it makes it really clear that myself and Lucy are fortunate to discover the gene early.”

Charlotte Johnson and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Charlotte Johnson and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.

Lucy, who works as a medical secretary at the hospital, underwent a double mastectomy first.

She said: “We were lucky as we found out we were a high risk and were able to do something about it before anything could develop.

“I knew there was a high chance that the tests would come back with a positive outcome for the BRCA gene.”

Lucy initially had the expanding implants fitted for six months ahead of her tear drop implants.

She said: “I am really pleased with the final outcome. Amy can work magic! They are lovely.

“Having the surgery has really taken a weight off my mind and keeping my boobs was just not worth the risk.”

Charlotte underwent her first operation, the double mastectomy, in June last year when Miss Burger inserted the expanders.

These were removed in December when the permanent implants were fitted.

Lumps and cysts led to Yolandé Craig, 43, of South Wootton, seeking medical guidance and she was later found to have abnormal cells following a lumpectomy.

Yolandé, whose mother died of breast cancer aged 50, decided to have a double mastectomy in January last year after a number of tests had come back inconclusive.

She said: “I think my story would have been different if they had not kept on digging after the inconclusive tests as Amy found a small cluster of tumour cells within my lymph nodes. Luckily I did not have to have chemotherapy.”

Yolandé also had expanders fitted first prior to the silicone implants.

She said: “I am really pleased with the results. When you show people they say it is unbelievable that they are not real.”

Yolandé has also raised £10,500 for the breast unit after holding a ball at the Corn Exchange in Lynn in August.

She said: “The breast unit team is really supportive and the care was second-to-none.”

Emma Matthews, 47, of Lynn, said: “I think it is important for other women to know that if this was to happen to them that everything can turn out alright.”

She had noticed a discharge from her right breast but only mentioned it in passing during another test at her GP practice.

Emma was later sent for a blood test and she was then referred to Miss Burger at the Breast Clinic, who took a sample of the discharge.

Emma then had a mammogram and ultrasound tests on the same day and returned for a biopsy.

The biopsy found abnormal cells and Emma was given the option to have a lumpectomy but chose to go for mastectomy, which took place in September last year.

She said: “They discovered that the cells were spread over a 13cm area and that in two locations they had broken through the ducts.

“I am not going to have kids and I’m not a Page 3 model so I decided to have the mastectomy.

“With a lumpectomy I ran the risk of having to have radiotherapy and returning to have bits taken out.”

The expanders were fitted during the mastectomy and in February Emma had a tear drop implant and she has recently had a nipple created.

Emma said: “I would recommend to other women to check out anything they are concerned about and to have the mammograms.

“A few minutes of discomfort is not a bad price for your life.”

Feeling confident was one of the reasons why Eileen Smedmor decided to go ahead with reconstructive work after having a mastectomy in June last year.

Eileen, 63, of Downham, had discovered a lump last year but due to other commitments only raised this during an appointment with her GP.

Within six days, she had been seen at the West Norfolk Breast Unit where she had a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.

During the diagnostic tests, Eileen was found to have two lumps in her breast and took the decision to have a total mastectomy.

She said: “I wasn’t fazed when Amy told me I had cancer but what affected me most was having a boob again.

“My sister had been battling Motor Neurone Disease and after watching that, cancer seemed insignificant. Cancer is curable and treatable, that wasn’t an option for my sister.”

Eileen wore an external prosthesis for several months before having the expander fitted during an operation in August.

Eileen, who is also being treated for rheumatoid arthritis, is hoping to have the expander replaced by an implant soon.

She said: “The expander has given me a shape and in a swimming costume or evening dress you wouldn’t know the difference.

“Having the reconstructive surgery has given me confidence.”

Eileen is also encouraging more women in West Norfolk to keep up with their NHS Breast Screening appointments as just 72 per cent attend their mammograms.

She said: “I would recommend to everyone to attend those appointments or speak to a doctor if you find a lump.

“If it is nothing, then you have nothing to worry about, but you also have peace of mind that you are okay.”

Lucy Drew with Elaine Rudd and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Lucy Drew with Elaine Rudd and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Katie Docherty and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Katie Docherty and Amy Burger. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Group pictureat QEH. Photo: SUBMITTED.
Group pictureat QEH. Photo: SUBMITTED.

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