Updated: Dec 17, 2022
By Heather Glover
I'm one of the 55,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer, and one of over 10,000 women who lose their breasts as a result of the disease each year in the UK, and DON’T have reconstruction.
In my mid 40s, whilst living an active and happy life, I found what felt like a large breast lump in my right breast whilst taking a shower. I wasn’t worried at all. I had a shower in the morning, worked as a nurse all day, returned home and ate dinner with my family, before heading out to the gym that evening. Cancer couldn’t happen just like that (so I thought). Besides, since being a teenager I had experienced many breast lumps. I had undergone investigation and scans - I’d had a mammogram 23 months earlier for a breast lump - it always turned out to be “nothing,” so I wasn’t worried on this occasion.
Having been a nurse all of my working life, I never knew there were so many forms of breast cancer (triple negative, HER2+, lobular, inflammatory, etc.). Breast cancer had touched my life very recently as my sister in law was diagnosed 7 months before me. She was two months older than me, we went to school together, and she too had TNBC. Unfortunately, we still do not have a cure for breast cancer and Catherine passed away before she reached 50, in March 2020, just as the Covid pandemic was announced and the UK lockdown began.
After my Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) diagnosis, I received chemotherapy from the summer until just before Christmas 2017. When I had surgery in January 2018, a lumpectomy and Wide Local Excision (WLE) and removal of my lymph glands (as cancer had infiltrated one of my lymph nodes) - I was informed that the tumor was exactly the same size as before all that chemo. That worried me a lot. What if it had escaped and spread and was resistant to the toxic effects of these drugs? I completed my course of treatment with radiotherapy in March 2018. I returned to nursing in May and trained for a half marathon, which I ran in under 2 hours, in Sept 2018.
At the beginning of December 2018, I was feeling tired - but isn't everyone exhausted on the run up to Christmas? I was woken in the night with severe breast pain in my affected side. Of course, paranoid, I got checked out straight away. Despite a really thorough examination, there was no abnormality except a slightly swollen breast. I had suffered with a seroma when I had my initial surgery, and the opinion of the breast care nurse was that my exercise regime (press-ups) had caused localized trauma and this in turn caused the pain and swelling. Nothing sinister to be found, phew, all was ok. Seemed like a logical explanation to me. (My sister-in-law’s breast cancer had recurred by this point.)
Just 4 weeks later, on New Year’s Eve 2018, while taking a shower, I found a big lump on my scar line. I was devastated. I felt immediately sick this time around. I was petrified.
Fast forward to the end of my investigations, stage 3 TNBC had returned, twice as big and twice as aggressive. This was due to the increase in the tumor marker Ki67 (also sometimes referred to as a biomarker) which was 18% at my first diagnosis and 78% subsequently. This actually led to some debate as to whether this was a recurrence, or a new primary, but either way, the treatment plan was the same.
In Feb 2019, I had a single mastectomy. My surgeon had agreed to perform a bilateral mastectomy as a preventative measure, but I would have had to wait an extra week for his theatre time. My right breast was so painful and I couldn’t sleep due to the worry and pain, so he brought my surgery forward and I underwent a mastectomy without reconstruction. They were worried that the skin wouldn’t heal due to previous radiotherapy, so I was unable to have reconstruction, or even an expander. I didn’t have enough flesh anywhere for a flap reconstruction, hence I remained flat. I then underwent 4 of 6 months chemotherapy- I just couldn't tolerate the full course. Whilst I didn’t lose all my hair this time around with a different cocktail of chemotherapy drugs, and I wasn’t even sick, I felt like I was slowly being hammered into my grave. I felt like my heart would stop or I’d just stop breathing - just like that. After the first dose I said I wanted no more - this terrified my family. I said the same after every dose, until I finally reached 4 months and said that was enough.
In spring 2019, I joined the charity Prevent Breast Cancer, and I think this is what helped pull me through that chemotherapy regime, as well as my family. 100 women from the Greater Manchester area were invited to become “BooBees” and we travelled in a big pink bus raising both awareness amongst the community, and funds for the charity. The camaraderie and friendships, the laughs and the tears and having a purpose apart from just surviving, had a real positive impact for me. I now do as much as I can to raise support and awareness for the important work they do, as they believe they can predict who is at risk of breast cancer, and can prevent the disease from developing with targeted screening, protecting the lives of our future generations.
In January 2020, I had risk reducing and symmetrizing mastectomy to my left breast. Reconstruction wasn't a possibility for my first surgery due to my skin having had previous radiotherapy. So my second mastectomy was performed to look the same. I couldn't get along with using prosthetics - I felt like I was changing character every time I put my bra on, I felt fake, I felt constantly reminded that I'd lost my natural breasts. I still wanted to wear pretty lingerie under summer blouses and dresses or just to tease my husband though, and I couldn't find any.
Fast forward to 2021... the birth of the Skarlette - a beautiful flat bra designed by flat women, for flat women. This was the result of my friend Kate making me my own most beautiful flat bra, as I was so disappointed and frustrated with the poor selection of lingerie available for a flat chest. I felt so incredibly amazing that I wanted to share this experience with every woman in a similar position to me. I hadn’t even realized how “unfeminine” I must have been feeling, but I was overwhelmed with emotion when I put on my Skarlette for the first time. And that's when we decided to launch our business. Don’t get me wrong, it’s liberating not having to wear a bra, but every woman deserves the opportunity to feel sexy and attractive when she wants to. Our Skarlette lingerie is achieving this.
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Thank you for allowing us to share your story, Heather! SBC adores you!