Loveya, LADY LUMPS!
Some people look at a plump, milky ball of mozzarella cheese and think ‘fat’. Me? I saw curves. A cheesy pizza bursting with roasted peppers was my idea of heaven, and that love of grub had given me a plump, milky body to match!
At uni, in Leeds, I’d swill down pints of cider, then head to the pizza parlour just opposite my halls of residence to top off a top night.
I didn’t want to waste time cooking, so I was a regular.
And by the end of my communications degree course, I’d gone from 11st to nudging 13st 7lb at 5ft 4in.
I didn’t care – I wasn’t one to hide away what a good appetite had given me.
So I’d proudly display my 38D boobs and shapely hips in tight dresses. I had the confidence to carry them off.
Then, starting work in a residential home for adults with learning difficulties, eight months after leaving uni, my eating became more haphazard.
‘No time for food,’ I’d say to my housemate, Eleanor, 24, as I rushed out the door to start my 7.30am shift.
I’d shovel biscuits down whenever I got a spare 10 minutes before my shift finished at 10pm, and then I’d punch the speed dial on my phone for my fave Chinese veggie takeaway. Life was good.
But one morning, three years on, as I stood lathering-up in the shower, my hand brushed against something on my left breast.
I felt again.
Yes, there was something there – a small, hard lump like a pebble just under the skin. Just like Mum.
My mum, Wendy, 46, was a martyr to cysts in her breasts.
Looks like I’m the same, I thought.
I booked an appointment with the GP, and explained about Mum’s problem.
‘Likely nothing to worry about at your age,’ agreed the GP. I was only 24.
But just to be on the safe side, I was referred for tests.
Five weeks later, I went on my own to the breast cancer clinic at St James’s University Hospital, Leeds. I wasn’t nervous;
I was too busy wondering which low-cut top I was going to wear later that night when I was due to meet up with pals in Liverpool.
I sat still while the ultrasound probe went over my skin. What about the black clingy number?
Next I had a mammogram, because the ultrasound doesn’t always see through the breast tissue in someone so young. Or maybe the bold burgundy top would be better?
Next up was a local anaesthetic, so the doctor could take a punch biopsy from my breast. Click! Click!
Five times the machine stabbed into my boob like a stapler. Then a needle was probing beneath my armpit
to draw out some tissue. I wondered why I was having so many tests just for cysts. For the first time, unease was creeping in.
And at this rate,
I was going to be late getting ready… Finally, a titanium clip was inserted to mark the spot where the lump lay. Over, at last. Later as I rushed around grabbing my gear for my night out, bruises began to appear on my breast.
I tutted. Nothing revealing for me tonight! Instead, I stuffed jeans and a T-shirt into my bag, wincing with pain. But as soon as me and my mates were out on the town, I didn’t think about my boobs once.
A week later I sat in front of the doctor again, expecting him to talk about cysts.
Only… he looked very serious. ‘We’re really worried about the lump,’ he announced, bluntly.
I felt my mouth go dry.
‘I can’t confirm it’s cancer for sure until we get the results from the biopsies. But I think you should prepare yourself for that.’ I willed myself to keep it together and listen carefully but, as soon as I opened the door into the waiting room, I began to sob. For the next week the word ‘cancer’ reverberated around my head. I’d gone on my own. Had I heard the doctor correctly? Or had I perhaps exaggerated his words?
Next time, I took Eleanor with me. I searched the doctor’s face once again. ‘Our suspicions were correct – I’m so sorry,’ he said. The tumour – an invasive ductal carcinoma – was 9cm. The doctor wanted to start chemo straight away to shrink it, and then we could decide if I’d undergo a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.
‘But I’ve booked tickets for Glastonbury,’ I blurted. Trust me to be thinking of my social life! Chemo was planned around it, so I’d be able to go when I wasn’t wiped out by the treatment. And I started to prepare myself as best I could.
I had my hair lopped from elbow-length to my shoulders. ‘I don’t want to see loads of it come out,’ I explained to Eleanor.
Alongside the chemo, I was given steroids. Might as well have been handed a pump!
One morning, I started to put my clothes on. Buttons wouldn’t fasten. Zips wouldn’t reach. The steroids had blown me up like an air bed. ‘Nothing fits me any more,’ I cried to Mum.
Almost overnight, I’d gone to 15st and size 22. Mum gave me a cuddle, then we went out to buy me bigger clothes.
Soon, wigs were added to my shopping list as my hair started to shed. I looked in the mirror and could barely recognise myself. This body I’d always loved, with all its curves and confidence, was something else now and I despaired.
I didn’t look like me. I looked like a cancer patient. And the poison wasn’t even working.
But a second course finally began to shrink my tumour, and the time for my op drew close.
I’d decided on a mastectomy, because I didn’t want to risk the cancer returning and a reconstruction would be carried out at the same time.
But what would replace my breast? I didn’t fancy implants.
‘I don’t want anything foreign inside me,’ I said, grimacing.
The surgeon outlined another option. ‘We aren’t often able to do this,’ he said. ‘But we could rebuild your breasts using your own body fat.’ Eh?
‘On a lot of women this isn’t possible, but I think we can make it work for you,’ he said. The penny dropped.
A lot of cancer patients were too skinny to have new boobs moulded from their own fat. But I was well-upholstered. I’d never loved my flab more... I chuckled.
If I’d been a skinny Minnie, it wouldn’t have been possible.
The surgeon planned to cut fat and muscle from my back and flip it forward under my armpit to my breast area.
‘I can’t promise it’ll be the same size as your other breast,’ he cautioned. ‘Sometimes we can only manage an A or B cup.’ Mine were still magnificent Ds.
But what did I care about wonky boobs? At least I’d be free of cancer and silicone!
And in October 2015, I underwent a six-hour operation, and came round to be met by a big smile on the surgeon’s face.
‘It went perfectly,’ he said. ‘We managed to take enough fat and muscle from your back to give you the D cup you deserve.’
‘It’s a good job I was carrying the extra weight then!’ I laughed.
But recovery was tough. For months I was barely mobile because of the toll it had taken on my body.
For the next two years, the pain in my back was often excruciating.
And my normal high level of confidence was now shattered.
Two years on, my hair still hadn’t started growing properly again.
The strands were thin and wispy. I peered in the mirror. Even though it’d been a couple of years since my surgery, still all I could see was a cancer patient staring back at me.
For the first time in my life, I hated how I looked. And that really wasn’t me. ‘I have to do something,’ I thought.
There was nothing I could do about my hair, but I could do something about my weight.
My lovely lady lumps had given me a new boob, sustained me through my cancer…
I’d always be grateful.
But now I needed to change.
In August 2017, I stood on the scales at Slimming World.
I weighed 14st 4lb and fastened on a target of 11st. Out went pub lunches and takeaways, and I began to start cooking my own food at home.
I changed jobs and began work for a charity.
Instead of travelling there by car, I walked the two-mile route. Soon I’d lost 2st. The flab had disappeared from all over my body, except in one place… my reconstructed boob! The muscle and fat taken from my back was standing firm at the front and doing its job.
It meant that breast was much bigger than the other. But my lopsided boobs weren’t going to stop me from flaunting the new me! My old confidence was back. At a party, I sashayed around in a low-cut black velvet dress and revelled in the compliments.
At my worst, bloated with steroids and bald from the chemo, I was wearing a size 22 and scared for my life.
Now I’m back to being the party-loving girl who never turns down an invite.
I’ve been in remission for three years, but I have regular scans on my other breast, because I’m deemed to be high risk. I’ve reached my 11st target.
I wear a 32E bra – it’s tight on one side and loose on the other. But who cares! I know there are much worse things than being wonky… and at last I’m bustin’ with life again. Georgia Emblen, 28, Leeds
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