After three years hiding her scars, Linda Bright, 68, from Felixstowe, talks about her incredible journey fighting breast cancer to love her body again...
Me and my boobs have been through a lot. Two pregnancies, breastfeeding, stretchmarks…
As I got older, I attended routine mammograms and regularly checked for lumps.
Then, in August 2011, lying in bed one night, my right hand brushed my left armpit. There was a walnut-sized lump near my breast.
Hoping it’d go away, I ignored it until, 10 days on, I showed my hubby Dave, then 66.
‘See the doctor,’ he said.
My GP suspected it was a swollen gland, and said to come back if it didn’t go down.
Six weeks on, it was still there, so I was referred to Ipswich Hospital. There, I had a mammogram and an ultrasound, which revealed a mass deep in my breast, armpit and neck.
Doctors took a biopsy and, an anxious week on, Dave and I returned for the results.
‘It’s cancer,’ the consultant said.
My head swam as he told me I’d need chemotherapy to shrink the tumour – and that was just to start with. As we walked out of the room, the tears streamed.
We drove to tell our girls Tracy, then 41, and Tina, 38. They stayed strong but they were worried.
I’m a grandmother of eight, and a great-grandmother of four.
‘They need me,’ I wept to Dave.
My six months of chemo was gruelling. My hair fell out, as did my toenails and fingernails.
Next, I’d six weeks of intensive radiotherapy. It worked, shrinking the tumour enough to operate on.
So, in February 2013, the surgeon removed my left breast.
The scarring was horrendous, and, as a result, I’d be unable to have a breast implant.
‘Once you’ve healed, we can rebuild your breast with tissue from your tummy,’ the surgeon explained to me.
‘A free tummy tuck!’ I said, trying to see the bright side.
But, back home, I couldn’t look in the mirror. Scared of Dave seeing my ravaged chest, I kept covered up, wore nighties in bed.
After nearly 50 years of marriage, I couldn’t even hug him.
‘You’re still beautiful,’ he’d insist, but I couldn’t believe him.
Thankfully, scans showed I was cancer-free, and, 18 months on, it was time for my reconstruction at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
Surgeons used fat, skin, and blood vessels from my belly to rebuild my left breast, and reduced my right, to give me a 38C bust.
I’d hoped for a magic solution. But without a nipple, the new skin looked alien, my scars uglier than ever. And, undressing at night, I felt horrible.
Then, one day in December last year, I saw an online story about a US cancer survivor who’d had a black bra tattoo done.
I’ve already got two small tattoos, but I’d never been keen on large designs. Yet this one was big, bold and covered her scars… It was just what I wanted!
‘Go for it!’ Dave smiled.
So, in January this year, I spoke with my surgeon, who agreed it’d be safe. Tina came with me to a recommended tattoo artist, Tom.
I felt totally at ease stripping off for him, I was so excited.
‘I want delicate black lace, with butterflies either side,’ I explained.
Tom suggested a rose in the centre.
‘No, a pink ribbon,’ I said, as it’s the emblem of breast cancer awareness.
Over two sittings and a total of nine hours under the needle, it was complete! The instant I got home, I whipped off my top to show Dave.
‘Wow!’ he exclaimed.
Now, when I undress, there’s something pretty to see, not scars.
I can never thank Tom enough.
Now I happily wander round the bedroom topless!
It goes to show you can still celebrate your body, no matter what you’ve been through.
‘She’s beautiful all over’
Proud hubby Dave, 71, added: ‘I’ve got my wife back! I always supported her and I’m glad she’s not ashamed to get changed in front of me any more. I love her no matter what. She’s proved to herself and others that, despite any scars, she’s beautiful all over.’