Helen Chand was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. Since then, she has vowed to share her unique experience so that others have the information she felt was missing.
I promised myself after my active treatment had finished, I would share my story of being diagnosed at aged 49 with breast cancer, already having breast implants in place for many years, 18 in fact.
It did alter things for me during diagnosis, surgery, and radiotherapy, or should I say, it threw in some curveballs that sent me researching. Yet, I could find nothing. Plenty on implants as part of breast reconstruction, but nothing else. I naively thought I must be one of many people in this situation, yet that didn’t seem the case.
It was the same with my oncology team. They hadn't really come across many cases of breast augmentation prior to a diagnosis before. It got me thinking that, as the years go by and breast augmentation is now so common, unfortunately some of these women who have chosen that surgery will get breast cancer. I wanted to share my experience in the hope one day, they might find it if they too want to research information or experiences of others.
I was diagnosed with Stage 1, Grade 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in February 2019, yet In May 2017 I felt a tiny pea sized lump in the same area. I was sent for an ultrasound by my GP. Between the ultrasound clinic and my GP they established that it was a ripple in my implant as they were old and due for replacement. I walked away quite satisfied with this and, from that moment, I just got used to the “ripple” getting a little larger, wishing I had a spare few thousand dollars for an upgrade!
That was until one cold evening in January 2019. I was outside and found myself hugging my chest, my hand fell across my left breast, just under my armpit and suddenly there was quite a bulging lump. I went back to my GP and was diagnosed with breast cancer 5 days later. I should have listened to my body more or sought a second opinion in 2017. My collarbone was sore by 2018 and I hadn't slept on that side for months. All along, thinking that I only needed a new implant. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
My biopsy and lumpectomy surgery were slightly complicated but not too bad. I had a fine needle biopsy first to check that a core needle biopsy wouldn’t burst the implant, then a core needle biopsy was performed. The tumour was about 1cm by 2cm and was sat just on the edge of the implant. Tumours can in fact grow into implants. That was something I didn’t know and was keen to get mine out before it had chance to!
I immediately thought I would have my implant removed because of the position of the tumour, but my surgeon was optimistic that he could save it. I remember looking up at my surgeon just before my surgery, who smiled when I said, “do not burst my implant”. “Mrs Chand”, he said “I will not burst your implant". However, I seemed to have spent the last month signing consent forms in case anybody did. It was the first thing I checked when I woke up. He had done a good job.
After my lumpectomy and chemotherapy, my 20 rounds of radiotherapy began. Prior to that, I had quite a lengthy appointment with my radiation oncologist . He began to talk to me about my implants and the effect the radiation would have on it. I asked what other people had experienced and like the rest of the oncology team, it wasn’t something he had dealt with much.
He explained that treatment would definitely cause scarring to the tissue around the implant, hardening of the implant and in some cases, rupture. I joked that it was high time they be replaced, that nervous joke when you know you might be in for further bad news.
He explained to me that that would not be quite so easy as when it comes to replacing implants post radiotherapy, surgeons are reluctant to operate due to the complications in healing due to the damage done to the skin, tissue and muscle by the radiation. This still remains my biggest concern.
The damage from the radiation has hardened the implant. But, replacing it when I eventually need to, or if I want to for cosmetic reasons, is still an ongoing concern. With all this in mind, people often ask me, if they know my situation, if I regret breast augmentation all those years ago.
I don’t. I had my reasons for doing it and am glad I did, but it definitely made my breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and radiotherapy different. Anticipating the worst at times was mentally draining. I just wanted to find someone who had been through similar, and I searched very hard. Now, hopefully, if someone reads this who is in my situation, knows someone who is, or remembers reading it in years to come and this blog post has offered them some help, I will be extremely happy.
My message would always be, do not be fobbed off if you feel a change in your breast and trust your body. If you are not satisfied with a GP's diagnosis talk to your breast surgeon. Or if you have lost touch, find a new one. They would probably know a ripple if they saw one. A silver lining to this story is that my left breast was actually saggier due to breastfeeding more on that side some years ago, so now it has shrunk and lifted due to the radiation it actually matches the other one. I am definitely taking that as a win 😉.
Helen Chand, @HelenJaneAgain shares her experience of breast cancer and beyond on her instagram page. See more from Helen below: