Life after a mastectomy

“Hi, this morning I had breast cancer. This evening I don’t,” says a placard held up by Victoria Derbyshire during her mastectomy video diary.

In an announcement that screamed power and strength, journalist Victoria Derbyshire reported on her breast cancer journey. Documenting the quick turnaround from diagnosis to the removal of one breast, she turned a private event into an open diary. With one in eight women in the UK developing cancer, Victoria’s videos, available on YouTube, were an honest  account of medication, surgery, recovery and self-preservation.

But after an incredibly invasive and traumatic surgery, how do you come back from a mastectomy?


Lorraine Ross from Perth had a mastectomy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. Lorraine was called into hospital for more checks after a routine mammogram.

“By the time I got to the biopsy stage, the consultant had advised me that he had found three sites with suspicious cells in the mammogram,” she explains. “Stomach in boots at this point, still a bit in denial, I thought well it won’t mean surgery if it’s in three small sites? The consultant looked at me as if I was stark raving mad and said, ‘Yes Mrs Ross, I think I can safely say, even at this stage, that you’re heading for surgery.’”

Around 4,600 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in Scotland each year – and for some, a mastectomy is the most appropriate treatment. A mastectomy is surgery to remove a breast due to cancerous cells.

“Everyone thinks of it as a death sentence straight away. They think that’s it without thinking about what could happen with surgery or any other treatment plan,” explains Lorraine. “I got my head into gear. I was thinking I’m lucky here and having an immediate reconstruction after my mastectomy gave me an option where I could retain my femininity.” It was this positive attitude that made Lorraine determined to get through it.

Credit: Breast Cancer Care

Going under 

“For me, cancer was a word – it wasn’t a death sentence. That was going to be my mantra if anything. It’s a word; it’s not a death sentence. I just have to get through the surgery and that was my fear. Even the thought of going in for an operation made my stomach hurt and my toes curl.”

For Lorraine, mental preparation was just as crucial as being physically ready for surgery. From going out for walks, lying down for an hour each day to listening to Paul McKenna’s Happy Tape, Lorraine created her own psychological plan to prepare for surgery and the aftercare.

On 13 February 2014, Lorraine went under anesthetic and experienced a minor setback – a power cut to be precise, delaying her operation. Taking it all in her stride, Lorraine returned, ready to get her life back on track.

“The whole thing, whilst I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through it, was actually managed very well by the NHS. I think because I had prepared myself both mentally and physically, I knew what to expect,” says Lorraine. “When I came back I could see what happened, I had a few scars but they fade with time… In terms of my body, it’s as good as it’s going to get. It’s been rebuilt and I’m grateful for that. In terms of having the reconstruction, I never gave it a second thought – it was happening and I was so grateful for that opportunity.”

Model material 

Fully recovered, Lorraine now volunteers with Breast Cancer Care to help women who have recently been diagnosed or just out of surgery. She is also preparing for another big step ­– down the catwalk during Breast Cancer Care’s The Show Scotland, which will see 22 women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer walk the runway.

“We all come in different shapes and sizes and The Show Scotland will celebrate this,” Lorraine says. “I helped out at last year’s show and it was inspirational. I was on such a high seeing how these courageous women had taken everything that had been thrown at them medically, and some of them had secondary breast cancer. They were there giving it all, absolutely having a ball.”

Lorraine says she couldn’t have got through the experience without her friends, family and healthcare team and thanked everyone for their support.

Credit: @breastcancercare Facebook

Know the sings

According to Breast Cancer Care, signs and symptoms of breast cancer can include:

  • A change in size or shape
  • A lump or thickening that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue
  • A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange)
  • Redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
  • Your nipple has become inverted (pulled in) or changing its position or shape)
  • Liquid (sometimes called discharge) that comes from the nipple without squeezing
  • Constant pain in your breast or your armpit
  • A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.

Many symptoms of breast cancer, such as breast pain or a lump may in fact be caused by normal breast changes or a benign (not cancer) breast condition. However, if you notice a change, it’s important to see your GP as soon as you can.

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