This case study offers an evocative insight into one woman’s journey through breast reconstruction surgery with The McIndoe Centre, just outside of London. Her frightening and, at times, frustrating quest highlights the tough decisions she had to make and the incredible support McIndoe specialists offered along the way.
You can either listen to Victoria's story by pressing play on the video above or continue reading.
Breast Reconstruction After a Mastectomy (Breast Implants)
Breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is extremely common. The effects of breast cancer can be utterly devastating for anyone. Not only do you have to go through the gruelling and emotional process of the cancer itself, but you may have to think about breast reconstruction surgery to help with the psychological aspects of rehabilitation.
Here, Victoria shares her story in the hope it might help inform others.
“My name is Victoria Strong. Destiny, perhaps?”
An evocative insight into one woman's journey through breast reconstruction with The McIndoe Centre. Frightening circumstances reveal heartwarming and life-changing results.
My cancer was caught at a very early stage during an annual mammogram. I was living in Paris at the time and to this day I'm supremely grateful to my extraordinary radiologist for that “early catch.” But by now I'd already been living with life altering CFS/ME for eight years -- a medical condition that needed strong consideration in deciding my breast cancer treatment. Normal protocol for 'insitu' was radiotherapy, but in my case mastectomy was the better choice. I interviewed numerous surgeons in Paris before choosing the one I felt weighed ALL aspects of my medical and personal profile. Again because of the ME, we decided to go with an implant rather than a full reconstruction. However, my body “rejected” the implant – twice. It hardened and actually moved. Four surgeries later, to say that the result was unsightly was an understatement. (This was no fault of my medical team; I learned that implants don't work for every patient.) But with my primary focus on other life challenges and, most importantly, being cancer-free, I carried on and tried my best to ignore the physical and psychological discomfort.
I began to dress in baggy clothing since it was impossible to even wear a t-shirt. I started to see myself only from the neck up, disconnecting from, in part, who I was. This is remarkable because my professional work was as a mind-body sexual therapist and relationship coach! I believed and taught the importance of mind-body as one...and yet, even I “forgot” to live this following a cancer diagnosis.
Cut to my move to the UK. It took me some time to find my wonderful GP, but when I did I asked her to look at the implant. I honestly figured she might say “that's normal.” Instead, her eyes widened and she quickly said “no, it's not normal to live like that.” What a relief. Cultural messaging no doubt shapes us and I think somewhere I'd internalized the notion that ALL cosmetic concerns are superficial luxuries. Au contraire! I came to understand that how I lived in my body was key to how I lived my life.
My G.P. immediately made arrangements for me to see a specialist. After tests confirmed it was only an implant “capsulisation” the specialist referred me to a reconstruction surgeon he thought was right for me. Someone “young, very nice, highly skilled, and creative.” That someone was Mr Martin Jones...who it turns out was all that, and more.
Mr Jones embodied what I was looking for in a surgeon; someone who works from the perspective that breast cancer recovery/reconstruction is about the overall quality of each patient's life long after leaving the operating theatre. In addition to his amazing surgical skills, the time, care and attention he showed me in explaining details and in answering all of my questions was impressive. And I had a lot of questions! I believe in being an educated patient, and have done so for decades. I participate in the decisions around my health and wellbeing and Mr Jones not only welcomed that, he encouraged it. Everything he did and said went a long way to making me feel comfortable with going forward with him, his team and his recommendation for a DIEP.
When all my questions and concerns were addressed and my decision made, I was then comfortably “all in.” From check-in onwards I knew I was in good hands and so I relaxed into the next days and weeks. During my hospital recovery, the entire staff said they'd never seen someone recover so quickly. That's a testament to Martin Jones, first and foremost.
I think educating myself, then trusting, is my magic elixir. The formula: doing research, speaking up and never feeling embarrassed about voicing my concerns or asking questions no matter how mundane they may seem, and relying on my finely-tuned intuition.
For a variety of reasons I had very little support from family or friends, so I was quite alone in steering myself through this frightening ordeal. And yet here I am. Proud and moving forward. For other women who may relate, all I can say is that from my experience with Mr. Jones and McIndoe it IS possible to face bc reconstruction and have all you need to not only recover but thrive.
Each of us who receive a diagnosis of breast cancer have a unique set of circumstances that accompany us on our journey to wellness. It's imperative we remember this. And that we accept no less from those who treat us.
It's been two years since the DIEP and one year since the follow up symmetry surgery. The result was and is beyond my wildest dreams. I'm even considering re-launching a concept I'd developed a few years ago around sexuality after breast cancer.
This reconstruction paved the way for me to be able to reconnect to myself; to feel more whole. Even to “re-meet” my feminine essence. I hadn't realised any of this until about two weeks after the DIEP. Even with scars and bandages when I looked into the mirror, I smiled. Well, hello me.
Breast Cancer Treatment and Consulting a Breast Reconstruction Specialist
The treatment of breast cancer varies from person to person. However, Victoria had been living with life-altering Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (otherwise known as ME) for eight years – a medical condition that strongly influenced her breast cancer treatment, resulting in the need for a mastectomy.
A mastectomy involves removing the entire breast which is a safe procedure, often with minimal complications. The aim of a mastectomy is to remove all cancerous tissue from the breasts.
It is always important to seek expert advice when undergoing any kind of breast cancer treatment. At the McIndoe Centre we have a team of breast surgery specialists on hand to help with any questions or concerns you may have about the entire process.
Although a mastectomy isn’t always the most suitable treatment for breast cancer, due to Victoria’s health complications, it was the best solution for her.
Breast Reconstruction, Serving Patients in London for Over 40 Years
Although The McIndoe Centre are based just outside of London, East Grinstead, we have many patients that live in London come to us for their breast reconstruction surgery.
For Further Questions, Advice and Support, Contact The McIndoe Centre Today
If you are considering any form of breast reconstruction, please take the opportunity to discuss this with one of our specialist breast reconstruction surgeons.
We would be happy to advise you. Please call the Helpline on 0800 917 4922 for free and professional advice or submit a contact form here for more information.