Karen and her story

Karen Comes Through Cancer Journey With New Breasts And New Tummy

Karen

Just one month after setting a date for her wedding, Karen Cole was told she had invasive lobular breast cancer.

By the time she walked down the aisle she had already lost her left breast and describes herself as ‘a baldie bride’ as chemotherapy treatments had taken away most of her hair.

 “It has been tough,” says Karen, “I felt very unfeminine. Being almost bald and then being without my breasts, I never really felt dressed. I never got used to the false breasts and it is fair to say my confidence did take a big knock.”

Karen had been self-checking her breasts for lumps but never found anything to worry about. However, she had spotted a dent in her breast which she was later to learn could also be a tell-tale sign of cancer.

“I think it is important for women to know that there are other things they should be aware of when they are checking themselves and that they should go to their doctors if they notice any changes to their breasts whatsoever,” she said.

Family history – her 86-year-old mum has twice suffered from the same disease – meant Karen, who lives in Halesowen with husband Andy, decided on a second mastectomy at the start of this year.

But, thanks to two women breast reconstruction specialists, Karen’s second mastectomy was immediately followed by an operation to give her two new breasts using skin and tissue taken from her midriff.

This meant that besides new breasts, 56-year-old Karen was also given a tummy tuck into the bargain. Now she is back at work, full of confidence and sporting a new figure she just loves.

“My last two January’s have been spent in hospital, losing one breast in 2012 and another in January 2013. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I already have my eyes on a couple of outfits and this New Year is going to be a real celebration.”

Karen, HE Placement Co-ordinator at University College in Birmingham, was treated at BMI Priory Hospital where consultant plastic surgeons Anne Dancey and Ruth Waters carried out a bilateral DIEP flap operation.

Blood vessels and the skin and fat connected to them were taken from the lower abdomen and transferred to the chest without sacrificing any of the abdominal muscles.

Miss Dancey explained:  “A DIEP flap is essentially a tummy tuck but, instead of throwing the excess skin and fat away, we use it to reconstruct a breast or both breasts as in Karen’s case.

“The abdominal skin and fat (the flap) is painstakingly elevated on 1.5-2mm blood vessels, which provide a blood supply to the tissue.

“The flap is completely detached and then re-plumbed in to blood vessels in the armpit. The beauty of this procedure lies in the fact that the abdominal muscles are left undamaged. Once the flap has been detached we have only got an hour or so to regain its blood supply or it won’t work.”

 She added: “A reconstructed breast will never be the same as a normal breast, but it really can be pretty close.”

It was a tough time for Karen but she says it has all been worth it and although I was well prepared, the reconstruction was tougher than I expected. Anne told me I would feel rough and I did. The 10 hour operation left me feeling like I had been run over by a bus!

“However, within a month I was beginning to feel myself again and as the breasts had time to settle I was delighted with how natural they looked - and a little bigger than before!

“As for the tummy tuck, it was exactly the sort of morale booster I needed. I now have a flatter stomach than I have had since my 20s.

“It has been a hard journey but I have had great support from family, friends and work. Whenever I started feeling a bit down there was always someone to cheer me up and keep me going – particularly my three little granddaughters.,

“All I can say to other women going through the same thing is stay focussed and stay positive. Breast cancer is no longer a death sentence.  It can be beaten and life can be good again.”