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Vicky's Story

Vicky Jackson from Wellington was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and underwent 18 rounds of radiotherapy and six months of chemotherapy. Treatment was successful and Vicky went on to have six-monthly check-ups.

Then in 2017 a ‘zinging’ electrical sensation through her breast caused Vicky concern, which ultimately lead to another diagnosis of breast cancer. Vicky thought she knew what to expect but was surprised by how different the experience was. When she was advised to have a mastectomy Vicky knew straight away what she wanted from it … and is delighted with her results.

A baked bean size discreet lump

The first time I had cancer was in 2006. I opened my bedroom curtains one morning and I can’t explain why but when I reached up I could feel something. It was a very discreet lump that felt like a baked bean, on the edge of my armpit and breast tissue. I saw my GP and eventually got a referral to Mr Usman at Princess Royal Hospital. He is incredible, very empathetic, very professional, not once did he not take me seriously. He was not immediately sure what the lump was and wanted to check; he thought it might have been just a ‘rogue’ gland.

Right from the very beginning I knew there would be surgery to take it out just in case. I had three lots of tests – a mammogram, CT Scan, and needle biopsy. He told me there was something there.

It wasn't like a regular pain

I didn’t see it coming, I’m a glass half full kind of person but I’m realistic, I would rather be pleasantly surprised, prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. It became a total rollercoaster.

I had a lumpectomy, six months of chemo and 18 lots of radiotherapy in 2007.  Treatment was successful with no remaining signs of cancer.

I went to the Cancer Centre before the new one was opened, it was so busy and small, there just wasn’t much room but I was lucky that my husband was able to be with me.  Later on, facilities were so stretched that patients couldn’t have anyone with them, which I would imagine would be horrific.  I found the nurses in the Centre to be absolute angels and they really looked after me.

I kept having check-ups and then in 2017 I had to go back and had a mammogram in the summer. Earlier that year I felt a zinging, it was like an electric shock going through my body. It wasn’t all the time and, at first, I wasn’t too concerned. I couldn’t think of anything I had been doing to cause it, but it didn’t feel like a regular pain.

I thought I knew generally what to expect and that it would be similar the second time around, but it was not.

I couldn’t feel a lump the second time around and I definitely wasn’t thinking about it being cancer.

The mammogram results were exactly the same as those from 2016, there were no visible lumps, but my gut was saying something’s not right. I saw Mr Usman again, straight away and he said he thought he could feel something ‘very discreet’. I had more testing and a needle biopsy that was very painful. I was told it was another cancer and they wanted to do a lumpectomy.

I didn’t ask too many questions as I thought I knew what to expect based on my original diagnosis and experience.   Given that it was the same type of cancer – grade three primary, hormone negative, I thought my treatment experience would be similar and I knew generally what to expect.  Turns out that I was wrong!

Originally, Vicky underwent eight lots of chemotherapy via a drip in three-week cycles. The first time around her hair had all fallen out and Vicky expected the same thing to happen again, but it didn’t – side effects were different as the chemotherapy she was given was different.  This time it was in tablet form, taken with lots of water. She was hospitalised for a fortnight after the first chemo session due to a severe reaction. Vicky lost the skin from the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet – and she also developed sepsis.

I wanted to look like me

I had a lumpectomy at Christmas 2017 and it was sent off for testing. Mr Usman said there was still pre-cancerous tissue left on one side so I had to go in again and he recommended doing a mastectomy.

I was in absolute bits, I wanted to look a certain way, not have zip lines on my chest. I hated losing my hair the first time, my eyelashes and my eyebrows, I found a great lady who tattooed my eyebrows back. I didn’t mind having no hair but it was a real joy when it came back, I wanted to look like me.

The second time I was expecting all of that to happen again – but it didn’t.

There are so many different methods of reconstruction

When I was told I needed a mastectomy I knew straight away what I wanted out of it. I wanted a double mastectomy with reconstruction surgery but at the time I was told I couldn’t because I had lost too much weight as a result of the chemo reaction and my previous radiotherapy may cause problems with tissue rejection.

There are so many different methods of reconstruction but it’s got to be right for the individual. There is a way to take back muscle and move it around to create a breast.  The plus is that it’s your own tissue which your body is then much more likely to accept, however, there’s a risk of being left with muscle weakness in your back.

There’s another operation involving a pig skin envelope placed around a silicone implant, but they told me they couldn’t do that for me because of previous radiotherapy. Whilst I couldn’t see any historic damage to my skin, there was a risk due to tightness in my breast and rejection of the pig tissue. The hospital said that they would refer me to alternate teams to find a solution.

Within a couple of weeks of finishing chemo I had new boobs

In 2018, I was introduced to Mrs Matey at NewCross/Priory Edgbaston. I had been eating again and gained a little weight, she said it would be possible to take some of the tissue from my tummy for reconstruction. That would mean no muscle wastage and using my own tissue meant that my body was more likely to accept it. Sometimes they’re able to keep people’s nipples too but I was advised keeping mine would pose an increased risk. Her authority and self-belief was exactly what I needed to hear in that situation, I put my body in her hands and she’s done a cracking job!

I went to the Priory in Edgbaston and they were all brilliant, they just ‘got’ what I wanted, I wanted to look and feel like myself. Within three weeks of finishing chemo I had new boobs! Ms Waters worked on my tummy and Mrs Matey on my boobs. They used the holes created where they removed my nipples to remove my breast tissue and ‘re-upholstered’ by boobs with my tummy tissue.  They re-plumbed everything so blood flowed correctly. It was a 12-hour operation and I was in hospital for a week afterwards.

Vicky had to have drains fitted for excess fluid and a period of physio to ensure her body could recuperate. Nearly four years on her operation has been featured in medical journals as examples of what is possible in reconstructive surgery.

Vicky and her husband David are now looking to the future, seeing the world, and making the most of good health.

Life is for living

I felt a bit vulnerable after the operation, I didn’t know what my body would be capable of, but a month later I was walking the cliff path in Cornwall!  I felt fine to do it, whilst it was a bit scary, I had to take the stabilisers off and it was great for my confidence.

Last year marked three years since the operation and treatment. I feel great, I’m pleased my boobs are in a medical journal and I’m very proud of them. I know reconstructive surgery isn’t for everyone but for me it was very important to help me feel like me.

Cancer isn’t an easy journey, but it’s not all bad. You learn a lot about yourself and other people, you learn what’s important to you.

Life is certainly for living, it’s not a dress rehearsal is it!!!