IMELDA BELL | AUTHOR | LIFE CHANGING EVENTS
Life changing events
One morning in December 2017, I rolled over in bed and felt a tightening in my right breast. I’d been aware of a thicker area for a while, but this time I felt what every woman dreads – a definite lump. I called my GP and got an appointment the same day. After examining me, he didn’t think it was too sinister, but referred me to a specialist breast surgeon. We are fortunate to have private healthcare, so a few days later, I found myself at the one stop breast clinic at KIMS Hospital in Maidstone. Confident that it would be nothing to worry about, I didn’t think to ask my husband or anyone to accompany me and I faced several examinations and tests on my own. After a mammogram and an ultrasound during which a biopsy was taken, I was called back to see my consultant. I sat down, still sure everything was precautionary and was greeted with the words, “You almost certainly have breast cancer!” Shell-shocked I drove home, with an appointment the following week to get confirmation. That was the longest week I have experienced, as I clung to the slim hope that he was wrong.
A week later, I returned with Andy, my husband, to get the results. My legs nearly buckled under me, as I climbed out of the car and walked the endlessly long, heavy-limbed walk to the consultants office. Once there, he confirmed what we feared, it was cancer. The area of thickening I had felt months earlier and not known to worry about was Ductal carcinoma in Situ (DCIS), which is an early form of breast cancer and covered a fairly large area of my breast. The lump was a cancerous tumour! Due to the size of the area of DCIS, a lumpectomy was not an option, I would require a mastectomy of my right breast.
Please take the time to familiarise yourselves with the possible signs of breast cancer. I was not aware of all of them, and had I visited my GP earlier, perhaps my breast would have been saved and things would not have progressed as they did.
The image below is from Breast Cancer Care’s website.
Once it was confirmed that my treatment plan was surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted therapy (Herceptin), I decided to take control of some things. I was told I would probably lose my hair, so I decided to cut my long hair to make the change less traumatic and at the same time, help someone else by donating my hair to the Little Princess Trust. In the photos below, you can see the before and after.
As a photographer, I am very fortunate to have many talented friends, and my close friend Claire came all the way from Durham to see me. I don’t really like being in front of the camera, but I didn’t want to regret not having photographs taken before surgery changed my appearance. Claire used my studio and my camera to do a photoshoot of me, showing off “my assets”. I’m not one to show off my body, as I have gained so much weight over the years, so being photographed in minimal clothing was not something I would have been comfortable doing, but Claire was great and put me at ease and we had a lot of fun. It really gave me the opportunity to experience what it is like on the other side of the camera, which has helped me grow as a photographer too. There were a few tears along the way as we spoke of what was scheduled in the forthcoming year, but it was a wonderful positive experience and I’m very glad that I did it. I edited the images, but I haven’t looked at them since my surgery, but I wanted to share them with you. In one of the photos, I left the bruise from a biopsy, as I felt that it was part of my story. I love the photos and I’m so grateful to Claire for taking them for me.
Surgery was set for the 8th January, and on schedule I was admitted to KIMS and my right breast was removed. I was warned that although initial tests showed that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes, once the nodes are removed and examined, they can find areas which were missed during a needle biopsy, so worst case scenario would be further surgery to remove the lymph nodes. I spent a few days in hospital and then returned to see my consultant the following week to see what the next step would be. Unfortunately the results weren’t as expected, the biopsy of the lymph nodes they had removed had come back showing that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, so I was stage 3. The next step was a second surgery to remove the remaining lymph nodes and two weeks later I was admitted to the Spire in Tunbridge Wells for an axillary node clearance. After surgery I was determined to heal and be well enough to attend the Guild of Photography Awards just to get some normality back into my life. Unfortunately I then developed an infection and ended up in hospital for a week as soon as I returned home. Thankfully I got over all that, and was fit enough to have a portacath fitted as a day patient at KIMS in Maidstone in time for my first chemotherapy on 27 February. Here I am with my mascots Faith & Hope, who have their own Instagram account documenting my journey.
My friend Claire will be back to do a second photo shoot with me, so check back to see how we get on with that. Thanks so much for all your support and good wishes. And remember to check your boobs!!