I keep my belly in my bra
her After years of obsessively checking did she bosoms, had found a lump. But Liz next? have the stomach for what came
Letting out an earpiercing scream, I pelted down the stairs, shocked.
As I reached the living room, my mum, Mel,
54, was already on her feet.
I skidded to a stop, hoicking my T-shirt up and my left bra cup down. I pointed to my boob. ‘It’s a… a… lump!’ I shrieked. ‘For goodness’ sake, Liz,’ Mum sighed. ‘I thought there was a fire!’
I was only 14, but I’d been checking my breasts for months, ever since she’d taught me how.
Something about my dad’s mum, Gertrude Elizabeth, dying of breast cancer when he was just 10 had stuck with me, like a stone in my shoe.
I was named after her, too. What if I got cancer, like her?
Terrified, I had been checking my budding boobs up to 10 times a day.
Now, I’d definitely found something. A hard, pea-sized lump in my left breast. ‘Let me see,’ Mum said. After a gander, she decided it was nothing.
My doctor said the same. A harmless cyst was the explanation.
I felt stupid, and I kept my obsessive boob-groping to myself after that.
I finished sixth form and went into a job in insurance.
In March 2012, I met chef Jamie Hansell, 19, through friends and we started dating.
‘Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to get bad man flu?’ he would tease whenever
I got a sniffle and pronounced myself on my deathbed.
Then, two years on, I was in the shower, checking my bosoms as usual.
‘That’s not right,’ I muttered, noticing that the tip of my left nipple dipped inwards.
‘Muuum!’ I yelled. ‘What’s this?’
I barely chucked a towel around me before repeating history – flinging myself at her with my girls hanging out!
But this time, the GP referred me to Southend University Hospital.
I had an ultrasound scan, which came back clear. I’d got worried over nothing.
‘Women your age are at a relatively low risk of breast cancer,’ the doctor explained.
Come the November, though, the skin on that breast had started to dimple.
When I gave it a feel, there seemed to be a huge lump lurking under the skin.
Once again, the GP referred me to the hospital.
‘It’ll be nothing,’ I explained, asking my best mate Abi, 21, to come along to the appointment.
Mum was a busy travel agent, and this would’ve been just another wild goose-chase for her.
So, me and Abi planned a girlie day out. A little check-up to put my mind at rest, followed by big slabs of chocolate cake and coffees in town…
Abi waited outside, fiddling with her phone, as I followed a nurse on to the ward.
I pulled off my top and bra, and waited to hear it was all OK.
‘I’m a bit concerned,’ the doctor murmured, feeling my skin. ‘We’ll need to do a biopsy.’
I immediately collapsed into tears. They pooled in my ears as I lay there while doctors removed a little chunk of flesh.
Then, finally, I heard the words I’d been waiting for.
‘We’re 99 per cent sure it’s nothing,’ the doctor soothed.
Abi and I went for cake, as planned, and I gave myself a talking-to.
Everything was fine – they had said as much.
A week later, with Mum by my side, I walked into my follow-up appointment and stopped short.
There was a surgeon, three nurses and another woman. This wasn’t good.
‘We’re really sorry…’ they began.
I was a hyperventilating mess before they even said the words I’d dreaded all my life. Breast cancer.
I was 21.
Mum reached out her rocksteady hand to grasp mine.
‘What do we do now, then?’ she asked the medics.
My cancer was stage one, meaning it was in my breast but nowhere else. It had appeared in the seven months since my last scan.
‘Will I die?’ I whispered through my tears.
‘Not any time soon,’ one of the doctors smiled.
Just weeks later, they performed surgery on my breast and managed to remove the satsuma-sized lump.
But the horror was only just beginning.
I had to have my eggs frozen the following January, just in case I ever wanted the children I’d never even thought about!
A month later, I started the first of six lots of chemo.
My mouth was full of ulcers, my curly red hair fell out in hanks and I felt sick just getting out of bed…
But I was still young. And I was still alive.
‘Who fancies the pub?’ I’d ask friends the minute my immune
The horror was only just beginning
system had recovered enough for me to socialise safely, two weeks after each round.
Then we’d sit in the boozer putting the world to rights, with me downing G&TS.
‘Should you be doing this?’ Mum asked, when I staggered in one night.
‘No one told me that
I can’t,’ I laughed.
On days when I wasn’t up to the pub, I’d stay in and watch The Jeremy Kyle Show.
It helped me feel better about myself when times got bad.
Like in the February, when I got septicaemia in my arm from a line the doctors had put in and was bed-bound in hospital for two weeks.
By March, I’d lost so much of my shoulder-length mane that I got a friend to come to the ward and shave it all off.
Later that afternoon, Jamie turned up to visit me.
As soon as I clocked his beanie hat, I knew.
‘You’ve shaved your head, haven’t you?’ I laughed.
Sure enough, he whipped off his hat and we were matching baldies.
After the chemotherapy came radiotherapy, then, finally, in August 2015, I was finished with my treatment. But the doctors had a warning.
Tests showed I had the BRCA1 gene, meaning that
I had a far higher likelihood of getting breast cancer.
It had come from my dad’s mum, Gertrude Elizabeth, just as I’d feared long before I even knew such a thing existed.
‘You’ve got a 15 per cent chance of getting cancer again in your left breast, and 65 per cent in your right,’ I was told.
Well, then – that was a no-brainer…
‘I want to have a double mastectomy,’ I insisted.
Mum was horrified at the prospect of me enduring more recovery time.
I didn’t even ask Jamie what he thought. After all, I might let him play with my toys, but they were mine. I loved my 32GG boobs, but not enough to let them kill me.
‘We’ll use your stomach tissue to fix you up again,’ the surgeon explained. ‘You’re young, so the skin is still elastic enough for it to do the job of your boobs.’
I gasped. My tummy would become my bazookas?
‘It’s like a tummy tuck and breast reconstruction in one,’ he smiled.
I looked down at my little podgy tum, mushrooming over the waistband of my jeans like a saggy soufflé. My belly was a size 14 and I’d always hated it. ‘Go for it!’ I said.
So, last September, I underwent the seven-hour op to give me a double mastectomy and reconstruction.
When I came round, I was so dosed up with drugs that I rambled rubbish at Mum for a full hour.
Later, though, my boobs and belly burned with pain.
I was covered in bandages from my chest to my hips, and wrapped in a towel to keep the wounds warm.
Two days on, a nurse chivvied me out of bed and I hobbled to the shower and unwrapped the bandages.
As I washed, I caught sight of myself in the mirror.
A huge black scar ran from hip to hip and my boobs were purple and swollen. Even my belly button was jagged and black.
‘But that stomach looks pretty flat,’ I smiled.
And my boobs were about the same size they’d been before. Clearly, the doctor had protected my assets, as promised.
After two months of being helped to the loo by Jamie, Abi spoon-feeding me and Mum running around fetching and carrying, I was finally healed.
Now I’m cancer-free, and
I look better than ever!
My scars have healed to a silvery pink, and my crowning glory has grown back to pretty much the same length it was.
My stomach really is flat as a board, and my new breasts are a perfect 32G.
I still think it’s funny, tucking my belly fat into my bra each day! But, to look at my breasts, you would never guess what they were made of.
I’m having nipples tattooed on soon, and I now have just a one per cent chance of getting cancer in the tiny bit of remaining breast tissue. So, for the first time in my life, I’ve stopped worrying about it.
Which is the cherry on my perky, perfect cakes!
Liz Williams, 24, Shoeburyness, Southend-on-sea
For the first time in my life, I no longer have to worry
Me, age 14, with Mum and brother Charlie
The black scar and belly button was a shock after surgery Solidarity! My boyfriend, Jamie, shaved his head when I lost my hair
I think I look better than ever now!