Deborah Hodges-Pearce

I am Deborah Hodges-Pearce. I was diagnosed on 9th June 1996, I was then diagnosed for a second time on 4th February 2016, 20 years apart, and ironically World Cancer Day!

Cancer has meant that I have had to have a right-sided mastectomy. I ended up having lots of problems and having 10 operations in three years. I’ve also opted for a left-sided preventative mastectomy which also came with its problems.

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34 in 1996. I had found a lump high up on my right side above my breast about three years before. I visited my GP and because I was so young and was on the contraceptive pill the GP said that we should keep an eye on it. A couple of years later I became a Police Officer and started to notice the lump had changed so went back to my GP. He referred me to the breast clinic and I attended and was given a fine needle biopsy. This came back as ok but due to my age and the length of time I had the lump, they decided to do a lumpectomy.

I had the op and was due to go on holiday so they used dissolvable stitches and told me to go on holiday and they would give me the results when I got back, this was on Tuesday and we were due to go on Saturday. Thursday afternoon I received a phone call from the clinic to say that I needed to go back that afternoon. I went back and they told me that I had cancer. They had taken another look at the biopsy and discovered that the cells were on the turn. They told me to go on holiday and when I was back I would have to come in and have another lumpectomy and lymph node removal to ensure they had got it all and then 20 sessions of radiotherapy. I had DCIS.

After the operation, I had radiotherapy, and also a year off work. I had to take Tamoxifen for five years which gives you menopausal symptoms which is not fun.

I got on with my life and after five years was told that I had no more chance of getting breast cancer than anyone else. During this time I had an implant as the op had left me very flat at the top of my breast. I also had annual mammograms.

During this time I got called back after a routine mammogram but it turned out to be cysts which they aspirated. I continued with my mammograms and in January 2016 I got called back again.

I have to say that I was not prepared for them to tell me that I had breast cancer again. I had another mammogram, ultrasound, markers placed as there were two suspicious areas and then five biopsies.

Thank god I had my wife with me. I had no option than a mastectomy as I had previously had radiotherapy and you cannot have it twice in the same area. I remember crying and not really remembering what happened next. I was put on Letrozole for five years which is due to end in February 2021, menopausal symptoms again, oh joy!

I went directly to see the breast surgeon, what an amazing man. He explained everything to us and I had to make a decision there and then, which is extremely difficult when your head is buzzing with all the information that is being thrown at you.

I eventually decided on a mastectomy and immediate Diep flap reconstruction. I had to go to Leicester for this as it was not done at Northampton General Hosptial. And this is where the saga began. I had to have a CT Scan to ensure that my nerves and blood vessels were ok as I had had a C section in 1985 with my twin girls. All was ok and the op was booked on Brexit voting day. We duly went to Leicester and I was all prepped for surgery. Then at 11 am they told me the op wouldn’t be going ahead as they did not have an ICU bed for me if there were complications.

I was devastated and my surgeon was fuming. After taking some time for this info to sink in we decided to go with a skin-sparing mastectomy. I actually came home the same day. I can’t say that the care I had there was good at all.

Anyway, I then had lots of problems with my skin not healing, and kept breaking open due to the previous radiotherapy and ended up with lots of bags to collect the seroma. I had zero and build-ups as well. I finally had an LD flap, a huge build-up of seroma on my back which had to be drained. I also had an implant as well.

I decided that I wanted my “good” side off as I didn’t want it again and the fact that I had had two tumours this time, two different grades and two different types. After having to see the psychologist they agreed to remove my left breast. I had this in November 2018 and my nipple was saved. Unfortunately it died because the hospital did not have the GNT cream that I needed.

It was decided that I would have to go back and have it removed, which I did. About 3 or 4 days later I was shivering and breathless, walking like an old lady. My wife was concerned so we went to the GP as we thought it might be sepsis. My pulse and blood pressure and temperature were fine but the GP agreed so I was admitted to hospital. This was on a Tuesday and that night I had a little blister type thing on the edge of the scar which burst and all this liquid leaked out.

The following morning my doctor came to see me and when he examined me the whole thing erupted, it was like latte running out of me. He decided he would have to take the implant out that afternoon and I would have to be flat on that side for the time being.

I came round after the op and had a 10cm wide by 8cm cavity in my chest. The upshot of his was I had the District Nurses in everyday from Christmas Day for three months including vacuum pumps to help it heal.

It is now almost two years since this and I am flat on this side and will remain so. Although there is enough skin for me to have an implant, I don’t want to risk it or put my wife through the stress of another op.

I have been very fortunate to have been nominated by one of my daughters to receive a 3D nipple tattoo. I finally had this finished in September 2020 after having to delay it due to our friend Covid 19.

All of this has been a very trying and testing time in so many ways. It has affected my relationship with my wife and friends. Being told to stay flat at the beginning because they would still love me. The problem with this is that until you have lived this journey you cannot know what decisions you would make.

You find out who will be there for you and those who aren’t or won’t be. It affects everyone in your family, they feel guilty about what you are going through and I found that on both occasions you can be the one supporting them as well as dealing with what you are dealing with. It’s a hard journey having to make decisions that are life changing.

I have finally been genetically tested and I am negative for BRACA1, BRAC2 and PALBO2 (which is Jewish heritage breast cancer gene).

You have two choices when diagnosed and that is to get into bed and give up or pick yourself up and carry on.

I hope by ending up having the bilateral mastectomy I have lessened my risk. Having the negative gene test also means that my risk is no greater than anyone else.

I do have mild depression due to all the ops etc but hopeful I will be able to stop the tablets in the near future.

It’s not all doom and gloom as I have met some truly wonderful women through Breast Friends Northamptonshire and just wish it had been around for my first dance with Breast Cancer.

Remember, be kind to yourself and check those boobies.