Wonky boobs…

(some thoughts about my breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy)

I have probably always had wonky boobs – I guess we all do – but they have been more obviously wonky since my breast cancer surgeries in June and July 2020.

May 2020:

When I was diagnosed, during the first lockdown, I went into ‘doing’ mode, doing everything and learning everything to get me out the other side of this cancer experience as fast as possible. I didn’t (allow myself to) feel any emotions about it at the time, because I didn’t want the emotions to get in the way of my recovery.

In hindsight, I realise that it is obviously an extremely emotional thing to go through, possibly even worse to go through alone (& in isolation for 20 weeks), and of course I eventually reached a point where trying to hold all the emotions in check was causing me pain and harm.

November 2022

After having a meltdown when I went for my second follow-up mammogram last year, one of the nurses asked me what was happening for me, and out it all poured, along with all the snot and tears! As a result of that conversation, she referred me to an oncology counsellor and also referred me back to my surgeon to review my reconstruction surgery, and so began the first stage of allowing myself to heal.

I’m not all the way there yet, and I still don’t know why I’m finding it so hard to get through this, but I’m gradually starting to feel like I’m making progress.

The emotional stuff:

The counselling has helped me to feel less traumatised and to process my feelings around my breast cancer diagnosis. The thing that keeps cropping up is a feeling that it was my fault – that I should have done things differently so that I didn’t develop cancer. No matter how much I know on an intellectual level that I didn’t cause my cancer, or let it in, I have struggled with changing the story in my head.

My expectation for myself has always been that I should be invincible and it’s a tough narrative to change! A few weeks ago week my counsellor suggested that I could try using ‘I wish…’ in place of ‘I should…’ so I’m giving that a try and it really helps. As an indication of how far I have progressed, I have ‘written’ versions of this post in my head many times, but it has taken until today to be able to formulate my thoughts and actually write them down. I still don’t know if I’m saying what I meant to say, but it feels like a positive step to be writing anything down so I’ll run with it…

The physical stuff:

The other part of dealing with what’s left after mastectomy, the physical stuff, will take longer but I have started that process this week too.

I had an immediate implant reconstruction after my mastectomy (the only option at the time due to the lockdown), but it is deemed to have failed. They consider two criteria – comfort and symmetry in clothing & sadly mine fails on both! If it was comfortable, I don’t think I would care so much about how it looks, but it is so uncomfortable and that makes me feel really sad about my body. I feel damaged, and I don’t want to feel that way.

The surgery-revision process is a bit convoluted because my surgeon referred me to a different hospital, who are now referring me back to him, and even then I might get referred back! I just want to sit in a room with someone who can give me all my options so that I can make an informed decision, but different people do different things and can only speak about what they can offer.

I truly think it is amazing that there is a choice of surgical options to recreate a missing breast, but none of them feel right for me, and none of us know how any of these things will feel until we’ve taken a huge leap of faith and picked one and had changes made to our body. I don’t want to be flat on one side of my chest but I don’t want to have my tummy cut open either. I think I want to have my other breast removed and be flat on both sides, because it will at least leave me symmetrical, but obviously it’s a huge decision. And I’m exhausted from thinking about it and worrying that I might make the wrong choice. Perhaps it sounds like I’m whinging too much – maybe I am – but I feel how I feel. I know I am lucky to only be worrying about a surgical revision, and not be facing further cancer treatment. But I also know that I can feel lucky and sad both at the same time.

It honestly doesn’t help when a male surgeon repeatedly tells me that lots of women pay to have tummy tuck (which is one of the reconstruction options) as if I should be grateful to be having it for free! He also said that as a woman who has had three children, I probably need one anyway! I don’t, as it happens, and he hadn’t even examined me at this point in the consultation.

And of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with anyone having a tummy tuck, if they want/choose/need one, but I don’t want (or need) one and it feels like such a massive surgery to go through just to pretend that I still have two boobs. And maybe it is still the right thing to do, in spite of how I feel, because it will give me a shape that feels better…

It feels like such a male-dominated conversation, which is weird given that men don’t even have boobs to start with?! I’m definitely going to seek out a female surgeon for my next conversation, because however technically brilliant a male surgeon might be, he can never know what it feels like to have or lose a breast. And the losing part is brutal & and carving up another part of my body doesn’t change that.

On a positive note, the surgeon I saw this week has referred me to a more specialised psychotherapist and maybe that will help me to get my head in a better place so that I am better able to make a decision about further surgery. I hope so!

Moving forwards:

So this week everything has felt really stirred up, like I’m almost back to the beginning (minus the cancer of course, for which I’m incredibly grateful, always). I want to have never been in this place and I want it to be behind me, over and done with, sorted, and not affecting my life in any way…but it doesn’t work that way, and I’m finding it tough.

But also this week, lots of people have listened to me, hugged me, let me cry, and given me space to work through some really big feels and I am so grateful to all of them. I strive to be better at holding it in when I’m working, but for all the times that it has spilled over in the past, and for all the times it spills over in the future, I’m sorry and thank you so much for being there.

As for the wonky boobs, I don’t know yet what the answer is, or when anything will happen, so until anything changes, I’m just going to try not to hate them too much and keep working on the stories in my head.

A final thought:

And one final thought, which is not about me or even specifically about breast cancer.

If you know someone who is going through anything which is big and scary and life-changing, please be open to asking/talking to them about how they feel. Sometimes the hardest thing is trying to hold all the feelings inside because you think everyone expects you to have moved on, or needing to talk about it but feeling bad that you might make them feel uncomfortable.

If you ask and they don’t want to talk, they’ll let you know, but maybe they really need to have you listen.

John Roedel says it better than me:

& last but not least:

Have a look here if you want to know more about breast cancer, including causes, symptoms, screening & treatment.

And please don’t forget to check your boobs!

How to start journaling

After a few years without a writing practice, I decided that 2020 was the right time for me to begin journaling again. But I didn’t know where to start!! I posted the question on Instagram and here is a collection of the beautiful advice I received and the approach I have decided to take.

Journaling ideas:

how to start journaling

The simplest advice I had was to use a journal firstly for dumping any feelings that came up whilst writing & secondly for noting down any feelings of gratitude. This is a great place to start as it helps us to observe our thoughts and feelings as well as letting go (or parking) anything that we don’t want to keep carrying around all day, whilst at the same time seeking out some positives from our day.

Someone reminded me that there are no bad feelings, just interesting information so I made a note of that in the front of my journal before I got started.

Other suggestions that I found helpful as ideas for journaling, included:

  • writing down positive affirmations (did you know that even if you don’t actually believe them, writing or saying affirmations has an impact on how we feel; take though because this works if we tell ourselves negative affirmations too!)
  • noting down visualisations for how we want to feel, even if we’re not there yet and not sure how to get there either
  • adding some art – flowers, tickets, photos, doodles… whatever works for you (I really like this idea as I’m quite a visual person)
  • setting intentions for the day/week/month/year/life…

And then someone gave me a brilliant list of suggested questions or prompts that we can use to shape/review our day – these can all be present or past tense depending on where you’re at in your day. There were lots but here are some favourites:

  • what am I struggling with today?
  • am I being true to my values?
  • what do I need to take time with?
  • what brings/brought me joy?
  • what would I do if I wasn’t scared?
  • what makes/made me laugh?

Interestingly, this list brought to mind a fabulous poem by John O’Donohue that I had recently found so I printed off a copy and stuck it in the front of my journal. The poem invites the reader to review their day – you can find it by clicking this link: At The End Of The Day – a mirror of questions

My journaling process:

writing a journal

I started my journal with two words for the year. I had been thinking about them for a few weeks, weighing them up and deciding if they were right for me. Having decided that they were, I wrote them on the second page (the first page was filled with my journaling ideas) as an intentional focal point. A benchmark I could come back to when I needed to.

I chose two words – ‘heart’ and ‘connect’ – and added notes about what they mean & why they matter for me.

My journaling practice so far has been split into two points in the day – when I wake up & when I go to bed. I keep the journal (and a purple pen) on the floor by my bed (because that’s how I roll!!) so it acts as a gentle prompt to connect when I’m in that space.

When I wake up:

I have been starting the day with some intentions and some positive affirmations as I find they give me a focus for the hours ahead. Some of them have a personal focus and some are business-related and I really just observe how I’m feeling about the day and note down things that I feel will guide me through it.

It feels really good to stop for a moment before the day gets going, which sounds a bit mad after doing nothing but sleep for a few hours, but I’m finding it really useful.

Some days I set myself defined goals for the day. Usually there’s a reminder about eating well or going to bed early because those are my weak areas…!

When I go to bed:

I have been ending each day with a review of achievements (checking-in with any goals I set myself that morning), things I’ve loved that day, moments that made me smile and how I’m feeling in myself (mentally and physically)

It is so easy to forget to celebrate ourselves and I find this process really helpful. I probably have a tendency to carry around or pick over things I didn’t do well and a few moments doing the opposite has proved really beneficial so far. I go to bed feeling much more positive about myself which funnily enough results in me waking up much more positive about myself – who knew!!

Some nights I also add in a focus for the next day too. For example, I have got into the habit of spending time on social media when I first wake up, which sometimes steals the time I need for a pre-work walk or a relaxed breakfast.

Last night my final journal entry reads as follows: “NO social media in the morning until I’m up, dressed fed and walked” And because I saw that first thing this morning, I got up and did some work, had a shower, ate my breakfast at the dining table and went to work without looking at social media… Proud moment right there!!


Thank you to everyone who gave me the inspiration to get started. If you’re new to journaling I hope some of these ideas help you to get started. & if you’re already journaling, I’d love to know what works for you Jx

Read my top five wellness tips here

My top 5 wellness tips…

I’ve had several really interesting conversations this week about weight loss, hormones, wellness, men(!) and life in general! It got me thinking about my top 5 wellness tips, so I decided to share.

  1. weight loss has come up in conversation with clients a few times this week following some recent coverage in the news. Last week James Corden spoke out against ‘fat-shaming’ on his show (see it here if you missed what he had to say) and earlier this week the topic of obesity hit the news, with psychologists calling for a change in the language used by health professionals. We all know that weight loss can be a complex issue. We eat for many reasons apart from needing to satisfy hunger, and making changes to long-term habits is never easy to start with. However, here are some simple strategies that might be helpful if you are struggling to get started:
    • switching to a smaller plate helps to reduce portion sizes – your body will only take a few days to adjust to smaller meals
    • avoiding foods and drinks which contain artificial/zero calorie sweeteners will help to adjust your palate, so that you gradually stop wanting sweet foods
    • taking more time to chew each mouthful of food not only slows down the rate at which you eat but also promotes better gut health
    • swapping out energy-dense foods for less energy-dense options will reduce overall calorie intake – eg. replace some of your pasta with an extra portion of vegetables
    • making choices, rather than denying yourself everything, will help you to create new habits which are more easily sustainable – eg. choose a glass of wine or a pudding, not both; share a piece of cake rather than having a whole piece
    • focusing on one strategy at a time, and getting good at it before you add another, is sometimes easier than making lots of changes all at once
  2. hormones have been fairly high on my agenda recently and several female clients have chatted with me this week about their own situation. Until I needed some hormonal support myself, I had no idea how complicated it can be finding the right guidance. I am very fortunate that my GP practice has a gynaecology specialist available (only 2 hours per fortnight, but still better than not at all) but I know that option isn’t always available. My advice would be to keep asking for help until you get what you need! If your surgery doesn’t have a specialist on site, ask for a referral. And keep asking until you feel you have everything you need. And go back if things change (which they will!) None of us need to put up with feeling ‘less-than’ just because our bodies are changing, and there are so many potential options out there. In particular, if you need help with pelvic floor issues book yourself an appointment with a Women’s Health Physio who will be able to advise you in much more depth than your GP. You may need to pay privately for this, but there is help available if you need it.
  3. wellness is a generic term covering a whole multitude of health & well being-related issues but one thing that came up for me recently is how much I have been judging myself. Over the past 3-4 years I have been experiencing some anxiety symptoms in certain situations. Without realising it, I have been running an internal dialogue on repeat, telling myself how stupid/weak/silly/pathetic/blahblahblah I am for having these feelings… And then last week someone suggested that maybe I could just accept the feelings for what they are (a small part of where I am in life right now) instead of giving the feelings all of my focus and attention. And a week later I already feel different about the anxiety. It may still rise up but I’m not searching it out or expecting it. And when it comes, I think I’ll be better able to let it go by me. I am not those feelings. I just have those feelings sometimes. And that feels ok. Maybe you have a negative conversation looping around your head too? Maybe you could let them go a bit by accepting them as a small part of a much bigger and more glorious you…
  4. men have been a source of much chat this week too! I have absolutely no tips about men at all – not for nothing am I a very single person!! And I don’t want to spark a sexist debate, because there are always two sides to every situation. And I know that not all men are the same. BUT I will say to the women reading this: don’t let anyone stop you shining your light…none of us need to feel ‘lesser’ so that someone else can feel ‘more’. For any men reading this, the same applies. Let’s all just be great at being us & keep shining!
  5. life in general – this is a big area to cover in one bullet point but here goes:
    • do what makes you happy
    • be kind
    • walk somewhere everyday
    • find exercise that you enjoy and do more of that
    • shop local
    • buy yourself a shower squeegee!

That’s it – everything I know all on one page!

I hope something was helpful for you Jx