Over the years, Belinda Bennett, co-founder of East Devon News, has written countless stories about brave, inspirational people who have taken on cancer and won.
But she never thought that, one day, she would be fighting cancer herself.
At the end of January this year, Belinda shared her shock cancer diagnosis with the readers of East Devon News, revealed how she was coping, and what lay ahead.
While the coronavirus pandemic stopped most routine NHS cancer treatments and surgeries, Belinda’s breast cancer care – which started in February 2020 – thankfully started up again in the autumn and her much-anticipated mastectomy was scheduled for mid-October after she put her April-planned operation on hold so she could have a full course of chemotherapy to give her the best chance.
Here, in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Belinda explains what it was like to have her breast removed.
Yay! I am the other side of mastectomy surgery. You would not believe the relief I feel. Ever since my diagnosis with stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer, going under the knife has been my greatest fear. I got through neo adjuvant chemotherapy so well that, at one point, I wished I could just stay on that. I was worried I wouldn’t wake up from surgery or, if I did, I would be in agonising pain or feel sick.
A lot of breast cancer survivors have told me that having the mastectomy is the easiest part of treatment. I was sceptical. As it happens, my experience seems to mirror theirs. The biggest hassle was getting my COVID-19 test result back in time for my surgery slot.
My worst fear is having to have more chemo. I really am tired of being bald and desperately want my hair to grow back.
Because of the pandemic, the surgery was moved from an NHS hospital to a private one. I am not complaining. My surgeon, the specialist who was the first hospital person to see me at the start of my journey and performed the initial punch biopsies, still carried out the procedure. It was lovely to have my own room and receive a truly personal and supportive service – especially when I had to face surgery on my own, with no family members present at the hospital because of virus restrictions.
I walked down to the operating theatre and, honestly, had no time to feel scared. I was asleep within two minutes of hopping up onto the table. That was at 11.30am on Wednesday, October 14. I woke up at 1.50pm in the recovery room. I didn’t feel sick and I wasn’t in pain. Half an hour later, I was laughing ‘wheeee’ as my bed was wheeled back to my room. I know, disgraceful behaviour for a middle-aged woman.
As soon as I felt up to it, I peeked down the front of my hospital gown. Nothing terrible to see – just a line of surgical tape/glue. Oh, and a pot belly. That is something I never considered; how much a breast hides the middle age spread.
The biggest disappointment was having a fabulous meal delivered to my room – just as my transport home arrived.
My surgery: non-skin sparing total mastectomy with lymph node clearance.
The surgeon told me that the operation went well and that, having removed all of my lymph nodes, he did not detect any hardness or swelling in them. At diagnosis, scans showed at least one node appeared swollen – indicating the cancer may have spread from the breast to the lymphatic system. After six months of chemo, a further scan showed it was no longer enlarged. I will find out on Friday whether or not the cancer had spread to the nodes and if the cancer was still present when they were removed. I will also discover if the surgeon managed to get clear margins and how diseased the removed breast was. These findings will determine the next steps for my treatment.
I am anticipating a cocktail of targeted cancer drugs (not chemo) and radiotherapy. My worst fear is having to have more chemo. I really am tired of being bald and desperately want my hair to grow back.
I was able to go home on the same day as the surgery.
The worst things after surgery were:
- Lack of movement: I felt very stiff around the operation site
- Pain and numbness in the upper arm
- Having to do exercises
However, the only pain relief I required was paracetamol and Ibuprofen. A pain block was applied to the nerves during surgery.
On a lighter note, the biggest disappointment was having a fabulous meal delivered to my room – just as my transport home arrived. I took a photo of what I had to leave behind. It looked delicious.
The next hurdle will be seeing my scar for the first time and coming to terms with it.
During my six months of chemotherapy, I wrote a Regency romance for all avid readers. Foxglove Hall is completely FREE. Click here to get your copy (can be read online, downloaded or printed).
- Read more of Belinda’s articles on her breast cancer diagnosis here: