gemmas-journey

My mastectomy photoshoot with Abi

Gemma Cockrell

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2013, a week after my 44th birthday. It was a funny thing, cos I really wasn’t surprised. My doctor and I were convinced it was just a cyst in my left breast but after a mammogram the diagnosis was confirmed. Over the years I have come to think of it, in lots of ways, as a blessing. Although some of you, if not all, will probably think I’m nuts for thinking this way about a cancer diagnosis, I’m hoping you’ll understand as it has, after all, brought me closer to my family, led me to build a new business and experience lots of new friendships!


The diagnosis was, however, a crushing blow. I had three children and a husband and I really wasn’t ready to leave any of them! After three operations (I’m a good bleeder!) and a month of radiotherapy, everything seemed to be ok and the following year’s mammogram was good. Life went back to a normal pace and nothing really changed although looking back I think I spent a lot of that year thinking about not dying rather than actually living. However, my next mammogram wasn’t so good and I knew right away that the cancer had come back. I also knew that I would have to have a mastectomy as you can’t have radiotherapy in the same area twice. I decided then and there not to have reconstruction. I was told I didn’t have enough body fat to make my own new breast and would need an implant and pig skin to make one, a choice I wasn’t willing to make.


My consultant at the time really tried to convince me that a reconstruction was the way to go but it just didn’t sit right with me. I was given a couple of leaflets with hand drawn pictures of a mastectomy scar. I am a firm believer that all women who are going through this should make the decision based on what’s important to them and gather whatever information they can but I couldn’t find anything real, and didn’t have the time to really find out what a proper scar was going to look like. So, knowing I didn’t want to put myself through a longer than necessary operation I chose to not have reconstruction.


When I woke up from my operation I had drains coming out of me, which was a little bit strange to say the least! Unfortunately, I had a bleed again and ended up in emergency surgery at midnight. When I next woke up I was trussed up like a chicken so it was about 10 days before I even had a vague glimpse of my scar. I’ll admit I was extremely apprehensive about the first look, but my husband and I sat on the bed and looked together. And guess what? It actually wasn’t that bad, yes, a bit red and sore but I knew that would calm down. After a while I tried wearing a prosthetic but they are hot and heavy, so then I tried a ‘knitted knocker’, which was far more comfortable but in the end I decided I just couldn’t be bothered and spent the next 18 months lopsided.


In early 2017, against the wishes of my consultant, I had a second mastectomy because I just felt as long as my breast was there I would worry about the potential risk, and of course I wanted to be even! I am so glad I chose to do this as they actually found cancer in the breast after it had been removed. Again, I woke up with drains but I knew what to expect this time. However, my second scar is totally different to my first and will never be as neat and tidy. The keloid scar is very often uncomfortable and sore and much more red that the other side but I am still absolutely happy that I made the right choice.


Going forward, I would like women to feel confident enough to make their own choices, to have access to more information and pictures and quickly. It is the least you can give yourself when you are going through a disease that will change your body. So, my choice is to be me, a flat chested me, who enjoys every minute of every day, proudly walks around the house showing my battle wounds, and has now done this amazing photo shoot with Abi, in the hope that women can be more informed than I was about just what a mastectomy scar looks like.
I just want everyone to be happy in their own skin.

Love Gemma xx


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