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A Patient’s Story

Beauty and femininity

On an evening in February/March 2010 while examining my breasts, I felt a lump that I hadn’t noticed before at the top edge of my right breast. The next morning I called my occupational health clinic, told them about the lump, and asked for an appointment with a doctor. I managed to see a doctor quickly, and the initial assessment was that the lump was nothing serious. I was referred for an ultrasound scan, which was done a couple of days later.

At that point I was told that it was only excessive growth of the mammary gland. I was relieved. However, the breast became painful, and I went to see a doctor again after about a month. I was sent to have mammography in May, and at the end of the month I had a doctor’s appointment. The doctor told me that the mammograms didn’t show any abnormalities but wanted to refer me for core biopsy. I had the biopsy taken, and then, just before Midsummer’s Day, Helena called and told me that I had breast cancer.

That piece of news did upset the applecart. I had to digest it on my own for a week before I could tell anyone else, even my husband. It was a bit of a shock; the first thing I was thinking about was the kids since they were still so young. Arttu was four, and the girls six and nine. And I was only 35 years old myself. Why me? My faith in the big guy up there has never been very strong, and it certainly didn’t get any stronger now.

In July I went for another mammography to see if I could have breast-conserving surgery, but since the whole breast was full of cancer cells it was removed in July. It was tough for a young woman. However, I was promised that I could have a new breast after about a year, and that kept my spirits up.

I had my first cycle of chemotherapy treatment in August, and a week later my hair fell out. That was tough too. I was however most worried about losing my eyebrows. What would a person look like without the eyebrows! Well, the eyebrows were the only body hair that I didn’t lose. My eyelashes didn’t fall out until towards the end of the chemotherapy, and within a couple of weeks after I had stopped taking cytotoxic drugs they had already grown back as short stumps.

During the last cycle of treatment my body protested a little and it was really hard to swallow the last tablet. I tolerated the intravenous chemotherapy relatively well. I was always in a daze for two days after it, and I also lost my sensation of taste for a good week but recovered it gradually, one taste at a time, before the next dose of drugs. My diet on those “tasteless” days was quite exciting: pasta with butter, cheese-flavoured crisps and probiotic yoghurt drinks. But I filled myself up when I could actually taste something.

I never really had any doubt that I would make it. And I did make it. I had good support networks, and I could work throughout the treatment in so far as my condition allowed and received partial sickness benefit. The fact that I was missing a breast didn’t cause any relationship problems or other issues. The missing hair caused a few funny incidents though. Once in the swimming pool changing room a little girl was bug-eyed in wonderment when she first saw me bald-headed and then – abracadabra – with long hair. I had a good laugh about it but the girl’s mom found it hard to choose her words in that situation.

In January 2011, I started receiving radiation therapy. I didn’t have time to continue working then but otherwise that phase went really well too. My throat got a little sore during the radiation therapy, that’s all.

And then in autumn 2011, Helena constructed a brand-new breast for me from a piece of tissue that she took from my tummy. The surgery went well and the breast is gorgeous and firm. Sensation of the skin is also gradually returning. In autumn 2012, I had the other breast reshaped because, compared with the reconstructed breast, it looked like an old mitten with a raisin at its tip. A silicone implant was inserted into this breast through my armpit, and that’s the only place where I have scars. The breast with the implant is also gorgeous, and my breasts are now symmetrical.

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