Posts Tagged ‘breast cancer risk factors’

The past few weeks have been really crazy. As well as moving out of two houses, moving into another, getting my Salford house fixed up for rental and getting myself ready to go back to work, I managed to squeeze in some reconstructive surgery. The surgery was all last-minute and two weeks after moving back to Manchester, I found myself back at my parents, recuperating.

I also had my first Cancerversary on the 1st of June, my AD 1, so it’s been a strange time of transition and recollection. I had to pinch myself to check I was all still there when I woke up last Saturday.

Being back in Manchester was weird. It’s not like I haven’t visited, but since moving back, everything feels completely different. It’s as if somebody hit the pause button on Manchester world. Now I’m back on the carousel, everything is moving in fast forward, and I could quite happily jump off again.

A postcard from Manchester

A postcard from Manchester

The operation last Monday gave me some respite and allowed me to delay my inevitable return to life. My version of normal has been severely warped over the past year. I’ve been living in a completely different world, one of hospitals and support groups. I’ve faced my mortality at an age when most still consider themselves immortal. It feels like I’m waking from the dead.

So here I am again, all taped up, a little bruised and swollen but another step closer to normal. Post-cancer, I’m so blasé about any kind of medical intervention that I wasn’t the slightest bit phased by the prospect of more surgery. I have absolute faith in the plastics team at Ninewells, and before the operation my main concern was placing my order for post-op coffee and toast. Hospital toast always tastes so good. Why is that?

The operation I had last Monday is called a Mastopexy: Greek for “up-lifting of droopy breasts”. This doesn’t require any explanation however I’ve had some tweaks and adjustments on my healthy breast to balance things out. People asked if I wanted to go up a few sizes, but this was never an option, besides, I’m neither blonde nor dumb enough to want double GG’s.

It’s now 10 days post-surgery, and today I returned to hospital to get the dressings removed. I was anxious about seeing my breast, as all I’ve seen for the past week is a bruised, swollen mass, however I am really pleased with the result. As with my reconstructive surgery the only scarring is around the nipple, so it’s a very neat job. It feels good being symmetrical again and I’m proudly sporting a much younger, perter looking pair than I had before.

mine aren't mystic

Mine aren’t mystic, just symmetrical

I’m trying to be really positive about the breast reconstruction saga, as my body has been mutilated in so many ways over the last year. In a previous life I tried internet dating, and I wonder what my profile header would read today: ‘Breast cancer survivor seeks short-sighted man. Must like scars’.

In ‘more cancer news’, there have been some interesting developments in both mine and my mother’s treatment for cancer. Mum has recalled that some of her aunties may have had breast or ovarian cancer, suggesting a familial history, so our oncologist has recommended we go for genetic screening. It does have implications for future treatment, however at this stage I’m not worried, just curious to find out more.

The chances of mum and I having a hereditary link like Angelina Jolie are very slim, as only 5% of breast cancers are caused by genetic mutations. If we do, there’s a possibility we will be offered preventative treatment. I’m all for prophylactic surgery and Angelina has done much to raise the profile of hereditary breast cancers, however I think there should be more focus on preventing the 95% of cancers that aren’t caused by genetic mutations, as research shows that a large proportion of these are preventable.

There are many things I could have done to reduce my risk. I could have reproduced when I was younger & more fertile; I could have breast-fed those babies for 12 months; I could have used a non-hormone based contraception; I could have reduced my alcohol consumption and I could have made my life a bit less stressful. These are all factors which can alter hormone levels in your body, huge risk factors in a cancer like mine which was both Oestrogen+ and Progesterone+, risks I only became aware of after my diagnosis. This angers me, as I think many young women are unaware of the long-term consequences of lifestyle choices such as delaying parenthood. It’s no coincidence that the rise in breast cancer in women under 40 is rising steadily with the average age for childbirth.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’ll never know exactly what caused my cancer, however there’s no point in blaming yourself. How many of you were ready to have children before you were 20? How many of you considered your mortality when you were out enjoying yourself at 21? How many of you actually read the ‘Risks & Contraindications’ blurb on your contraceptive pill packet?

So what can you do to minimise the risks? Keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight are the main ones and this was my primary goal throughout treatment. Diet is really important and many anti-cancer diets promote a plant-based, sugar-free, dairy-free diet. Breast-cancer-prevention-diets suggest consuming lots of green tea, broccoli, mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reishi) and as much turmeric as you can stomach in one day. Vitamin D is really important too, as studies in the US show that the incidence of breast is much lower in the sunshine states. Alcohol is a huge risk factor and research shows that the risks increase exponentially with consumption. As little as 1.5 units a day (that’s 125ml of wine or  ½ a pint of lager) can increase your risk by 5% and each additional daily unit increases the risk by 7-10%. Perhaps it’s time to ditch that ‘healthy’ glass of red?

Being healthy during treatment was much easier as it gave me a focus, but back in the real world, avoiding the bad stuff is really difficult. I try to avoid dairy, then someone buys me a cream filled cupcake; I want to reduce my alcohol intake then someone offers me a glass of wine; I need to minimise stress in my life but I have to go back to work; I want to eat less meat, then my mum cooks me the best beef casserole in the world. It’s incredibly difficult to eliminate all of the risks, so if anyone can tell me how to survive as a tee-total, sugar-avoiding vegan whilst everyone around me is gorging themselves on red wine and steak then I’d love to hear from you.  So although I am trying, perhaps I should heed the guidance Yoda gave to Luke Skywalker:

“Try not. Do. Or do not!! There is no try”