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Frances - Interview 02

Age at interview: 64
Age at diagnosis: 54
Brief Outline: In 1999, Frances was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. She is now 10 years post-diagnosis.
Background: Frances is retired, and single. Ethnic Background: White British.

More about me...

In 1999, Frances was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction surgery, and was offered a choice of chemotherapy, which she refused. As a result of her breast operation she experienced lymphoedema for several years. She was able to access a local lymphoedema nurse specialist who offered her a fitted sleeve to manage the symptoms, but after some time she decided to stop wearing it. Her lymphoedema symptoms decreased over time after she continued with some arm and hand exercises to relieve the swelling. She took tamoxifen pills for 5 years following her diagnosis, which led to some tiredness and hair thinning.

Generally, Frances felt well supported and lucky to have good care in hospital and by her GP. In the time since her cancer diagnosis, she has found that a positive attitude has helped her greatly. Although she was made aware of support organisations, she wanted to try and face up to her cancer and recovery on her own. She has moved on from her cancer, and it’s no longer the most important issue in her life.

Frances felt that there were some positives from her experience. Of note, she found that having breast reconstruction was very helpful. Also, she found the support of her friends very useful, and felt that now that she has been through cancer, she can offer support to others going through similar experiences.
 

 

Frances burst into tears when she realised she’d have to wear a lymphoedema sleeve as it was ugly...

Frances burst into tears when she realised she’d have to wear a lymphoedema sleeve as it was ugly...

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Well, I to start with I thought, “This looks like lymphoedema from what I’ve read about it. I wonder if it is.” I tried to get rid of it myself by smoothing it and it sort of went and then it came back again. So I thought, “No, it’s no good.” So I rang up the cancer centre and said, “I think I’ve got lymphoedema. Can I talk to someone?” So they put me in touch with her and that was fine. I went to see her pretty soon and she said, “Yes you have got lymphoedema.” I think I burst into tears. I burst into tears when I realised I’d have to wear the sleeve. The actual diagnosis didn’t worry me too much but the sight of what I’d have to do, I thought, “Oh, no. I can’t bear this.” 
 
And what was it about the sleeve that just made you?
 
Well, it’s ugly. And it meant I couldn’t, I wasn’t coping on my own. I had something that was forcing me to do something and I didn’t like that at all. 
 
And so I went to the lymphoedema nurse. She was brilliant and very helpful. I went to her for a number of years, well, I suppose eight years, nine years, and it did swell but she gave me a lot of sleeves to wear, which brought it down. After a while I felt the sleeves were not helping. I felt they were making it swell again, so I stopped wearing them. Again I thought, “I can cope with this.” I did all the exercises, got my arm back into reasonable shape, you know, and now you would hardly know it had happened. It doesn’t notice. I don’t wear the sleeve any more. I have been to the nurse since and she said, “That’s fine with me. If you can cope without it do so.”

 

 

Frances didn’t want a prosthesis after her mastectomy for breast cancer but opted for a...

Frances didn’t want a prosthesis after her mastectomy for breast cancer but opted for a...

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Well, I think they’re affecting me in an extremely positive way. I’ve never been sorry I had that reconstruction. It’s been the joy of my life ever since, which is a terrible thing to say but there you go. And I was determined to have it. I couldn’t bear the idea of facing life sort of lopsided, and I’m quite vain I suppose, I like clothes and things. I thought, “I don’t want this”. And these stupid little bags that they give you. I mean they’re not stupid, they’re a great help to some people, but they would move about, and you’d think, “Oh, I don’t want this thing”. And it wouldn’t be the right shape and, you know, and I wasn’t having that. I mean at one point they offered me one which was made of some kind of, don’t know if it’s silicon or some kind of gel, and it was it was pink! It was like a blancmange and it was sort of sitting there wobbling and... take it away!  I picked it up and I threw it in the air and I caught it and I thought, “No”. So I thought, “No, the real thing is all I want”.
 
And one very good side effect was that he removed the tissue from my stomach and took it upstairs, as it were, and it means I’ve got a flat stomach, and he said, “You have the flattest stomach in [county].” I said, “Oh, good”. So that’s been a huge benefit, as you can imagine. 
 
 

Having had breast cancer Frances has come to terms with the concept of death and can cope with it...

Having had breast cancer Frances has come to terms with the concept of death and can cope with it...

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Do you think that having had cancer has changed any of your views on life at all?

 
You value it certainly. You feel more prepared to die, I think. I’ve, you know, it gives you a feeling of life and death. When you don’t have anything like that you’re thinking of life, death doesn’t really play much part. You know it happens but you don’t really want to think about it. I don’t mind thinking about it now, so that’s a positive thing, and I can cope with it when other people die, better than I could. It’s always upsetting of course but I think this is the natural thing and maybe there’s something afterwards. Who knows? And I think cancer has made me feel that.
 
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