Pauline Polley, from Dorset, had a mastectomy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a breast reconstruction 18 months later.
“I found out I had breast cancer when I was 38. I’d noticed my nipple was slightly raised. My GP referred me to the specialist breast clinic, where I was diagnosed with a tumour deep within the breast. My husband and I were dumbstruck.
"I had a lumpectomy 10 days later, but the tumour was big (33mm) and there was cancer in my lymph nodes. So 10 days after the lumpectomy, I had a mastectomy on my left side.
“Washing my breast in the shower for the last time was awful. I put my gown on and thought, ‘I’m not going to look at it again’, but I couldn't help it.
"When I woke after the surgery, it hit me what had happened. I looked down and one side was dead flat.The other was my normal D-cup. I couldn’t have a reconstruction at that stage, as I had to have intensive radiotherapy to the breast area.
“I had chemotherapy for eight months, and then radiotherapy for five weeks. I also started therapy with Herceptin, as part of a medication trial.
“I had a prosthesis (false breast), which goes inside your bra, but I didn’t like using it. You need a lightweight, synthetic one during radiotherapy so it doesn’t irritate the skin. It doesn’t have the weight of a normal breast and I looked lopsided, which was annoying.
“Once, I was walking from my car to the hospital when I realised the prosthesis was all the way up my neck and I hadn’t realised. What must people have thought! I also play a lot of golf, and it used to get in the way.
"After the mastectomy I thought I never wanted surgery again, but my friend Sarah had a reconstruction and it looked good. I decided to go for a consultation with the surgeon.
"Because of the surgery and radiotherapy I’d had, there was only one option available to me. The surgeon would take a section of my back muscle, keep it attached to all the nerves and blood supply, put it over a silicone implant on my front, and stitch it all back up again. He’d build me a C-cup, and reduce my right breast to a C-cup later. I decided then and there to go for it.
"In June 2003, I had the reconstruction. I was really looking forward to it: I woke up after the surgery and it was brilliant and exciting to see a breast there again.
"The cut in my back was about 12 inches long, from the spine to my side. It felt weird, a little tight, and the breast seemed very high. They do that so the weight gradually stretches the skin. I didn’t have much pain, and didn’t take the painkillers I was given.
"It was such a relief to put a bra on and not have to worry about stuffing a prosthesis in. A few weeks later, they reduced my right breast to a C-cup, and took part of my right nipple to make a new nipple on my left breast. It’s very clever and the stitching is tiny. I had the nipple centre tattooed in and it looks brilliant. I have sensation in about half of the new breast and the rest of it is numb, and if you touch my back I feel it in my front, which is a strange sensation.
"At first the breast felt alien, but now it’s become part of me. After the mastectomy, it was difficult to go into a lingerie shop and see all the bras and tops that I couldn’t wear. Now, I can wear anything.
“Having the reconstruction has helped my confidence, and my husband has been brilliant. He doesn’t treat my breasts any differently. He said, ‘Whatever you decide to do, you know I’ll still love you because it’s the way you are’.
"In September 2006, I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in my liver. With chemotherapy and hormone treatment the tumour has shrunk and stabilised. I have scans every three months, and I’m on Herceptin and hormone treatment.
"If a woman is considering a breast reconstruction, I’d say talk to a surgeon to find out about all your options. Try to see some women in the flesh who've had it done; I’m always happy to show women mine. If it’s possible to have a reconstruction done at the same time as your surgery, I think that’s a good idea. That way you won’t have the feeling of nothing being there for a while.”