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  • Julie Muller

Post Cancer - New Beginnings

A woman and her red welsh sheep dog walk into the sunset along a grassy  track edged with low bushes
A new life in Northumberland

So much has happened since last year. I am now living in an Airbnb in Northumberland close to the Scottish Border, and my husband and I are in the process of buying our next home.

My son has found himself a house-share in Malvern and has started a new apprenticeship.

My daughter has finished her MA and is preparing to start her PhD in Exeter.

This time last year I had been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time and I was preparing for a mastectomy and reconstruction. Covid was still lingering like a very ‘bad smell’ and I was having to isolate myself from everyone to make sure that the operation could go ahead.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan and I had my operation on 29th December.

However, the reconstruction was just not meant to be, and on the 1st of January 2022, I had to have an emergency operation to have my reconstruct ‘removed’ and it was replaced with a temporary inflatable implant.

What should have been a short time in hospital turned into an eight-day stint and when I emerged into the great ‘outside’, I had to bring a drain with me which I carried in a pretty floral material bag.

Although I had my procedure in Coventry, I was lucky enough to be able to attend my local breast cancer clinic for my aftercare – and that was such a relief.

Two days after leaving hospital, my drain was removed, my wounds were examined, and everything was healing well.

Four weeks later I returned to the clinic to see Jo Skillman, my consultant, and she began the process of inflating my breast implant with saline solution. I was really anxious at first. After all, no-one likes the idea of having a needle poked into them – especially into your breast. But I needn’t have worried. Jo used an ultrasound to locate the port in the implant

and, through this , she injected the saline solution, and I honestly didn’t feel a thing.

Over the course of the next few months, I returned to the clinic to have additional fluid injections and as the implant gradually increased in volume, the skin around it gently stretched to accommodate it. Slowly but surely, I was regaining my female form.

When I came out of hospital after my operations, I was determined to get my life back to normal as soon as I could. In early February, just five weeks after my second operation I started working for the National Trust on their Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire as a Visitor Welcome Assistant. This was a fantastic job because it involved chatting to all sorts of people from all corners of the globe, walks of life and social backgrounds. What was more – I could take Shep and Bruno with me and, before every shift, the three of us would patrol the estate, assess the conditions of the paths, and find out where the livestock were. We were also able to tell the visitors the wildlife that they were likely to see.

Having walked around the estate, Bruno and Shep were quite content to lie in the back of the car and to meet and greet the visitors when they arrived. Frequently, they were given loads of fuss and, they always raised a smile or three. It was a joy to see!!

Last summer was stunningly beautiful and I spent a lot of my time working outside under a glorious summer sun. As I am lucky enough not to have a large bosom, my ‘implant’ was imperceptible to others, and I felt confident to spend much of my time wearing shorts and strappy tops.

After a few saline injections, Jo judged that my breast had reached the correct size, and she put me on an eighteen-month waiting list for my temporary implant to be replaced.

I prepared myself for the long wait.

However, life rarely proceeds as you expect it to and in July, Antony got a new job up in the Northeast. The race was now on to sell our little house in Malvern and find somewhere else to live as soon as we could.

Of course, the question was – would it be possible to have my implant exchange before the move?

Within days of telling my consultant of our impending move, I was summoned to a pre-op assessment in Coventry but, contrary to my first thoughts, this did not mean that my operation was imminent. This was just standard practice, and I was still on the long waiting list.

So, the long wait began.

In-between working at Brockhampton, and selling the house, Antony and I ploughed up and down the motorways in search of a new home.

It was when we were on one of our house-finding expeditions, that I had a surprise phone call, and offered a date for my procedure to take place just a few weeks later.

It is strange to be excited about an operation, but I really wanted to get it ‘over and done’ with so that I could start my new life n Northumberland, with my breast cancer firmly behind me.

The operation took place on 19th October at University College, Coventry. As part of the operation, I needed to have fat cells translocated from my thighs to my breast to line the cavity where the new implant would be laid. My consultant used a black marker pen to draw lines on my body to indicate where incisions needed to be made during the procedure.

Of course, an artificial implant will always hang differently to a normal breast, and I was offered the chance to have minor surgery on my other breast so that they would look more symmetrical but, in the end, I just opted for the less invasive exchange of implants.

When I came out of hospital I felt like a new woman. My new breast felt smooth and soft to my touch – gone were the ridges and edges of my temporary implant.

I don’t think I realised just how much I had disliked my left breast. Ever since the lumpectomy in 2017, it had been sad and misshapen and stained with the dye which had been used to locate my sentinel lymph nodes.

But, after the implants were exchanged, I felt more feminine than I had felt for a very long time – and I owe all of this to Jo Skillman.

If ever there is a miracle worker in the area of breast reconstruction it is Jo.

I will always be grateful to her – not just for her surgical skills, but for the care and compassion with which she treats all of her patients – Thank you Jo!

Now, I am living in Northumberland. We are buying an amazing new home that will be big enough for all of our family and friends to come to stay and, I have an interview for a new job at Cragside – another National Trust property.

And even more importantly, I have started to write my environmental blog once again which I hope, one day, will help all of us to handle our environment with more care –

After all, the health of our planet is in all of our hands.

Life is good!!

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Dec 20, 2022

All of us at Malvern Hills AONB are delighted to hear all this positive news and we wish you and Anthony all the very best for your new life in the North. Merry Christmas!

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