Malmesbury grandmother who had the stomach to write about cancer ordeal
2:00pm Sunday 27th October 2013 in News
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it would be remiss not to reflect on the subject given this is the most common type of cancer in the UK – affecting 50,000 women and 400 men a year.
One of those women is 56-year-old Elaine Godley, who lives in Malmesbury.
She’s even written a book about her experiences of the disease and treatment to offer hope and information for others facing a similar diagnosis.
“In March 2008 I discovered a lump in my breast which turned out to be something of nothing,” she said. “However, it did show my right breast was full of calcium which can lead to breast cancer.
“So when the mobile unit came around in 2009 I went along.
“I was recalled within two days so I knew something was up. Dodgy cells were found and a biopsy taken very quickly.
“What they found was something called DCIS – ductal carcinoma in situ – the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer.”
DCIS is called non-invasive because it hasn’t spread beyond the milk ducts into any normal surrounding breast tissue.
However, Elaine’s condition was diagnosed as ‘high grade’ which means it can be fast-growing.
In discussion with a consultant Elaine decided very quickly to have her breast removed. She also opted for a procedure known as a ‘TRAM flap’ – a Transverse Rectus Abdominis Myocutaneous flap.
Some of her abdominal tissue would be removed and used to create a new right breast.
“It never occurred to me not to have my breast reconstructed. My surgeon said to go away and think about it but I didn’t need to. If he felt this was the correct procedure for me, then that was it.
“However, I was a little overweight, my BMI was too high at 34 and I had to do something drastic to improve the situation before the operation. I did it and my BMI was down to 30 in time for the operation.”
Elaine drastically changed her lifestyle overnight in preparation for the surgery.
She immediately cut out down on work commitments, cut out alcohol, did more exercise, started taking supplements and changed her diet. She became dairy and gluten free to name just two changes – and she largely sticks to those rules even now.
“When I came round from the operation there were four nurses and a porter with me, holding various drips.
“One, whose husband was an electrician, said ‘I was wired up a like a fuseboard’.
“I remember dreading looking at myself for the first time and I just peeked at myself.
“All I saw was a strip of tape across my stomach and tape across my boob.
“And I saw I had a flat stomach – for the first time!
“The nurses said they knew I would be okay as I’d had such a positive reaction to the surgery.”
What surprised Elaine was the lack of practical information around the procedure and its effect after surgery.
It was this lack of support which prompted Elaine to keep a diary and chart her feelings and experiences.
Her book My Right Breast Used To Be My Stomach was published as an e-book on International Women’s Day this year.
Elaine couldn’t have coped with the recovery process without the support of her mum Norma, now 78.
She booked into a bed & breakfast near the hospital and managed visits from family and friends during Elaine’s eight-day hospital stay.
Elaine said: “Mum helped me so much, she stayed with me for two or three months. What no one had told me was that you just cannot look after yourself at all after an operation like this.
“I couldn’t stand properly or move properly or even sit up properly.
“I had to sleep sitting up for six weeks propped up with six pillows.”
She also had another shock – an insurance policy which she believed covered her for cancer, wouldn’t pay out.
“As I had DCIS, the insurance company didn’t count it as cancer so it wouldn’t pay out. So I would urge anyone to check the small print to ensure there’s no get-out clause there. I immediately cancelled the insurance as it was useless.”
In all, Elaine worked out she travelled 10,000 miles to and from medical appointments to deal with having cancer.
Facing breast cancer has been one of many trials in Elaine’s life. She’s been married three times but the relationships haven’t worked out – one ending violently. She has a grown-up daughter Charlotte , 31 and a son Andrew, 19, who lives with his dad in south Wiltshire. Andrew has Asperger’s syndrome.
If you ask Elaine how many grandchildren she has, she’ll say two and then immediately qualify it by saying, she used to have three. Herein lies the greatest sadness of her life. In 2010, her grand-daughter Lucie-Mai died suddenly and unexpectedly aged just 17 months.
“When you go through terrible things in your life, you do feel impatient about the little whinges and moans you hear from others. “I’m so proud of my daughter and her family for coping so well. For me breast cancer is another inconvenience which I’ve had to deal with.”
In fact businesswoman Elaine battled breast cancer again in 2011 when she felt something wasn’t quite right. She insisted on tests and a tumour was found within the site of her mastectomy surgery – a rare occurrence. It was removed.
Today, she’s awaiting further tests for some ‘dodgy cells’ which have been spotted this time near her left breast.
Elaine is well known in Wiltshire as the woman behind the I AM WOMAN Business Club in Swindon.
Her advice to women across the county is clear.
“Go for check-ups and screening regularly. Check your body yourself regularly – men and women. Understand your body and listen to it if something feels wrong or even ‘not quite right’ and care for yourself.”
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