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‘I felt like Frankenstein’s monster’ - my experience of overcoming breast cancer

PUBLISHED: 08:52 25 October 2018 | UPDATED: 13:20 04 November 2018

Tracey and her husband Paul Pretty at the Keeping Abreast Fashion Show. Picture: Tracey Pretty

Tracey and her husband Paul Pretty at the Keeping Abreast Fashion Show. Picture: Tracey Pretty

Archant

Tracey Pretty from Harleston had a mastectomy aged 44. Two years on and still in the clear, she talks about her personal battles dealing with body confidence and coming to terms with her diagnosis.

Tracey Pretty ready for the Keeping Abreast More Than Just a Fashion Show. Picture: Tracey PrettyTracey Pretty ready for the Keeping Abreast More Than Just a Fashion Show. Picture: Tracey Pretty

“My lump didn’t really feel like a typical lump, it was more like thick skin which I now know is another way that breast cancer presents itself.

“I went to get it investigated on Christmas Eve of 2015. The doctor didn’t seem too worried and didn’t think it was anything serious, he gave me antibiotics.

“The medication made no difference so my doctor immediately referred me to the hospital on January 14, 2016, when I was 44 years old.

“When I first saw the specialist she said she thought that it was a cyst, my mammogram scan confirmed that it was breast cancer and that I had two lumps.

Tracey Pretty post operation in NNUH. Picture: Tracey PrettyTracey Pretty post operation in NNUH. Picture: Tracey Pretty

“Doctors told me that I would have to have a mastectomy but I wouldn’t need to have chemotherapy.

“From the moment they tell you about the cancer, everything moves so fast. It’s out of your control really.

“At the time my best friend since primary school had been through breast cancer the year before me and literally just got her all clear when I had to tell her about mine.

“I have to thank her because she made me more aware of checking myself, because I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Tracey Pretty and her four sons aged 27 and 19. Picture: Tracey PrettyTracey Pretty and her four sons aged 27 and 19. Picture: Tracey Pretty

“If she hadn’t have been through it I think I probably would have been further along when I was diagnosed, and I was lucky that the lumps were just in the breast and it hadn’t spread anywhere else.

“On March 3, 2016, I had my operation. I found out, after my breast went away to be examined, they found a third lump.

“After eight and a half hours of surgery I made it to recovery, I was then told the blood supply was failing to my new breast and I had to go back.

“My husband Paul had to sign the papers because I wasn’t competent enough to sign them myself. They told him the operation would only be one hour... Five hours later I was back out of surgery.

Keeping Abreast Fashion Show at The Open.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2018Keeping Abreast Fashion Show at The Open. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2018

“After the operation I wasn’t very good, whenever doctors tried to move me out of bed I would pass out.

“But the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) was absolutely brilliant, I couldn’t fault the ladies on the ward, even down to the cleaners.

“I think it wasn’t until after everything stopped that it really hit me. You’re getting rushed along with appointments and follow up care and then it just stops, and you have time to think about it.

“I did implode a little bit, I suddenly went into a real dark space, I felt like I was in a hole and couldn’t get out. It was very difficult to get past.

“A lot of people thought that because I didn’t have to have chemotherapy, that it ‘wasn’t that bad’.

“I felt like Frankenstein’s monster. I couldn’t bare looking at myself in the mirror, I had scars all around my breast and one from hip to hip.

“When looking it the mirror I would just cry, it took me a long time to get over it and could accept it.

“Counselling from the Big C really helped me and I have been quite positive since.

“My first step to becoming more confident was the Keeping Abreast Fashion Show in 2016. I was only six months post reconstruction and that was the best thing I could have ever done for my confidence.

“My outlook on life is completely different to what it was before. I’m far more relaxed about things, I don’t let small problems worry me anymore.

“There’s more life to live, we make much more of an effort to go out and see our family and friends.

“I also have tattoos now, I would never have got tattoos before. Now I get one every time I get told I’ve been clear for another year.

“I think I would be more prepared for what is coming if I got cancer again. It’s one of those things that always stick’s in your mind- ‘what if’?”

“My advice to people going through what I have is to take all the help that is given to you. It will end, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Paul, Mrs Pretty’s husband, shared his experience of her diagnosis.

“You don’t really have time to think about it, I still had to sort the boys, house and pets out so I was always busy.

“I didn’t want time to think about the cancer. I didn’t want to think ‘what are we going to do next?’ I would rather take it one minute at a time.

“Tracy was worried about what I thought of her scars and I don’t even recognise the scars.

“I never see anything nasty in them, I see them as something positive because Tracey is here.

“The nurses at NNUH were just brilliant, they let me stay overnight in the waiting room and would bring me cups of tea.

“My advice for another husband going through this situation is to talk to as many people that have been in the same position as you as you can. They always understand and know what you’re going through and it’s the best advice you will ever get.”

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