As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Gef is profiling the models for the Fashion for Life fashion show, in aid of Isle of Man Breast Care and Breast Cancer Now Volunteering in the IOM. The show, which takes place on Friday 22nd October, will feature 80s-inspired fashion, modeled by local survivors of breast cancer. You can book tickets at: villagaiety.com/whats-on/fashion-for-life/

What is your name?

Sue Kennish

Tell us about you and your life pre-diagnosis.

I was busy, fit and healthy with a happy family life. I worked full-time as a District Nurse with a wide circle of friends.

When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?

I was diagnosed in June 2018, aged 57.

How were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed through a routine mammogram. I regularly checked my breasts, but I had felt no changes prior to diagnosis.

I was diagnosed with two different hormone receptor-positive cancers in the same breast: invasive ductal (stage 1) and invasive lobular (stage 2). Apparently I am unique in that!

On diagnosis, I was shocked, bewildered and anxious, but I was grateful for the early diagnosis and optimistic prognosis. As such, I was able to maintain a positive attitude throughout, for the majority of the time. 

Tell us about your treatment

Having two tumours, although both small and in the early stages, my surgeon Mr Nadeem explained the need for an extra wide excision. The surgery, which included reconstruction using my own tissues, would be complexed by having small breasts (I brag about being almost an A cup).

The result of the surgery was amazing- to the point that my husband jokes I showed everyone but the Postman! Even my friends had fallen in love with Mr Nadeem.

After surgery, it was confirmed that there was no lymph node involvement and the cancers had been fully removed through surgery. This meant I did not need further surgery (in my case, this would have been a mastectomy) or chemotherapy.

I had 15 daily sessions over 3 weeks in Clatterbridge, and I took daily oestrogen-inhibiting medication for 5 years.

Best advice I was given

Mr Nadeem advised me of my options and remained sensitive to my wishes, keeping me centre to all the decisions made. I felt guilty and ungrateful for wanting to keep my nipple, which would make the surgery easier, but his advice included the importance of acknowledging my choices. I can never thank him enough for his care, compassion and consideration. 

One of the best pieces of medical advice was from the staff at Clatterbridge, who reminded me to keep drinking fluids (after a 4-day cracking headache) since treatment is dehydrating. 

I also had great advice from a friend, who continually reminded me the importance of performing arm exercises several times a day post-surgery to maintain movement. 

Advice I would give

Always take someone with you to appointments, as they’ll remember things you may not have even heard.

Be open and honest with friends and family, otherwise their fears may be unfounded.

Avoid Dr Google! Everyone has their own story, so don’t dwell on the experiences of others.

Accept the support of those who offer it.

Be kind to yourself.

What I wish I’d known

The recovery process was much longer than I anticipated. Three years on, even though I am cancer-free, I am still recovering.

The possible effects following treatment such as chronic neuropathic pain in breast & arms, ‘cording’ (restriction & tightness of under arm movement – hence importance of exercises) & side-effects of medication

Tell us about your life now and the impacts it has had on you

During rehabilitation, I met and made wonderful friends who have added another positive dimension to my life. This led to participating in the Fashion for Life show 2 years ago. It is the most emotionally charged & uplifting experience; even if mixed with terrifying wobbles!

Mentally, I have lost confidence (appearances can be deceptive) and I feel happiest and safest at home. Consequently I am not as comfortable in social situations. I also have anxieties that every subsequent health issue must be cancerous- which has been quite debilitating but thankfully this common phase has now passed.

Physically, I have 3 tiny tattoos (marking for radiotherapy), to remind me how fortunate (and trendy) I am. My hair used to have a kink but it’s now quite curly. And, for some reason, I can no longer tolerate red wine, but on the advice of my Oncologist, I’ll keep trying!

I very recently had another cancer scare in my other breast. While I was fortunately okay, I have re-evaluated my priorities. So, despite being promoted at work a year ago, I have decided to retire and have so much to look forward to! Life is for living and I am going to embrace it- I know how lucky I am to have that chance.

How were you supported by Breast Cancer Now Volunteering in the IOM, Isle of Man Breast Care and other Manx BC Charities?

The Island is so fortunate to have the Manx Breast Cancer Support Group. The support offered by the dedicated team of breast care specialists & volunteers from all the charities and the Manx Breast Unit is immeasurable.

Thank you to Sue Kennish for sharing her story.

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we are selling Mystic Chest t-shirts and jumpers at: https://www.gefthemongoose.net/shop/collections/mystic-chest

Learn more about the collection and the story behind it at: https://gef.im/2021/10/13/check-your-mystic-chest/

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