I have always been pretty squeamish about hospitals, health checks, blood and needles – you name it, I would really rather avoid it! Likewise doing regular breast checks wasn’t something high on my list of priorities either – I think in the back of my mind I had always believed that if I didn’t pay too much attention it was fine and everything would always be ok – but how stupid can one person get!?
So with patchy attempts at checking my breasts, (and only really when I occasionally remembered) it came as quite a surprise when visiting the UK during September 2016 that I spotted something unusual on my right breast.
I was in a different bathroom with a different light to normal and I discovered a dimpled patch that I hadn’t noticed before. I asked my husband to take a look and he very kindly suggested that maybe I was just getting a bit older and hmmm, a bit fatter! Believe me, he will never be allowed to forget those words!
I returned to Dubai and struggled to see the dimpled patch in our villa bathroom but on close inspection it didn’t go away so after three months, I asked the fabulous British Mums Dubai Facebook group for recommendations on where to get myself checked in Dubai and was directed to the Well Woman Clinic in Satwa and Dr Houriya in particular.
First off, I was given a mammogram and then an ultrasound examination, closely followed by an MRI and biopsy on my right breast. It all happened fast within two weeks, and whilst each procedure wasn’t pleasant (remember, I really hate needles), the nurses and doctors were wonderful and made it all the more bearable.
On 12th February 2017 I received the news by telephone – “You have cancer. It’s a rare one, it’s lobular rather than ductal and only 10% are like this. It’s a relatively good one to have as it doesn’t tend to be aggressive but it’s the ‘naughty boy’ of cancer – it can spread and hide” I was told.
It was a really hard 24 hours to get through as you can imagine but I was invited in to meet Dr Houriya, the breast specialist the following day.
Dr Houriya was fantastic– very warm and straightforward and I trusted her immediately. She told me that the next few weeks would be tough whilst we found out exactly what we were dealing with – and she was right.
Mentally this was hard; I didn’t know how long I had been having the cancer for, whether it had spread and what the prognosis was. I went for another MRI, ultrasound and biopsy on my left breast (which they aborted as they couldn’t see anything to test on the left breast) and a PET scan which is a highly sophisticated test to see whether the cancer had spread in the rest of my body.
The results were encouraging as the cancer didn’t appear to have spread though. However, I was warned that nothing was conclusive until I had my surgery. Dr Houriya discussed treatment options – a lumpectomy and mastectomy and I knew immediately I wanted a double mastectomy to be sure I didn’t have to go through the whole thing again with the left breast (lobular cancer is notorious for going into both breasts).
I was also offered the option of reconstruction (with a cosmetic surgeon) and this was an easy decision for me – because I wanted to look and feel as ‘normal’ as possible post-surgery and some perky new additions were surely a bonus after going through the surgery!
I flew to the UK to hug my sons and celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday and arrived back two days before my surgery. I felt nervous about the operation but badly wanted the tumour out of me and I had every faith in both my medical and cosmetic surgeon.
The operation went well and the great news was that the cancer had not spread into my lymph nodes. However, the surgeon confirmed two things that we did not know before the operation. Firstly, that I had ductal AND lobular cancer in the same tumour and secondly, that there were pre-cancerous cells in my left breast which would have developed into cancer in the future. So in hindsight everyone agreed that I had made the right decision to have a double mastectomy.
After surgery, everything was pretty sore but manageable and I went home after two days stay in hospital. I hated the two drains (tubes) that were inserted into my sides that drained blood and fluid from the breast area and I had to wear these for two long weeks. Other than that, I was sore and tired but felt pretty good.
We still had to check the likelihood of the cancer recurring and therefore whether chemotherapy was needed too. This is done via the ‘Onco test’ where tissue samples are sent to the US and a calculation on a scale of 1-100 is given. The higher the score, the more likely it is that there will be recurrence. Chemo is started for a score of 30-100 and potentially given when the score is 18-30. Imagine my joy when the oncologist told me I had a score of TWO – no chemo for me then! Hurray!
I was prescribed a hormone inhibitor called Arimidex for the next ten years. It has some side effects (mainly tiredness and for some people hot flashes and joint pain) but overall it’s a small price to pay.
I stayed off work for six weeks, resting and getting stronger and after four weeks I had no pain at all, although I still felt uncomfortable and sleeping was difficult. Four weeks post-surgery I graduated from my ‘granny bra contraption’ to a sports bra and then to a normal bra – which was very uplifting in all senses!
Eight weeks post-surgery I went back to working full time and was able to exercise my lower body though the weight-lifting had to wait a while! I know that I have been incredibly fortunate with my experience – I was in Dubai with great medical care, good insurance and no long waiting lists for scans and procedures. I have also been very lucky that I don’t have to have chemo and my decision to have a double mastectomy means I don’t have to fear the cancer coming back in the other breast.
I have received wonderful support from my brilliant husband, friends and family and my employers were exceptional. I like to think that I already appreciated the little things in life but this experience has really made me take stock about what is important and how lucky I am in so many ways.
As I posted to the British Mums Dubai group just before my operation – DO take the time to check yourself and get regular scans and health checks – you know it makes sense! Also, if you see/feel something that isn’t normal for you – be brave, take action – I know how glad I am that I did.
Written by British mum Pippa Wicks
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