'You embrace your scars' - Friends pose in lingerie after breast surgery
- Credit: Fuller Photography
Three friends from Norfolk who have undergone breast cancer surgery have posed for a lingerie photoshoot to challenge misconceptions.
Laura Middleton-Hughes, from Norwich, was diagnosed with incurable cancer four years ago, aged 28, and underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
Eleanor Howie, from King's Lynn, was 24 when she had a similar procedure as a preventative measure after being told she was at very high risk of getting breast cancer.
And Caroline Scott, of Attleborough, had a single mastectomy and reconstruction after being diagnosed with the disease, aged 31.
The trio have opened up on their experiences to reach out to women who have lost self-esteem and body confidence after undergoing cancer surgery, ahead of Cancer Research UK's campaign for World Cancer Day on February 4.
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Miss Howie and her sister Francesca both had preventative surgery in their 20s after finding out their mother and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer aged 31, and that they carried the same faulty BRCA1 gene.
Their mother's treatment was a success, but their aunt died at 34.
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On the 10th anniversary of her mastectomy, and at the same age as her aunt was when she died, Eleanor said she believed the procedure saved her life.
She said: "Before Angelina Jolie talked publicly about her faulty BRCA1 gene, there was very little information on preventative surgery, especially for women who were in their early 20s like me and Francesca.
"Psychologically, preventative surgery was very difficult for me because I had a healthy body and yet I was subjecting myself to this very invasive surgery which would change my life and my relationship with my body forever.
"Some women feel their treatment strips away a lot of things they associate with their femininity. They lose their hair, their eyelashes and their breasts.
"You become disconnected from your body to such an extent that it doesn’t feel that it belongs to you anymore but over time you reclaim it, you embrace your scars, which are part of your story, and you do slowly rebuild your confidence."
Around 150 new breast cancer cases are diagnosed every day in the UK, adding up to 55,000 per year.
Four out of every five women who receive the bad news end up requiring surgery, according to figures from Cancer Research UK.
Miss Middleton-Hughes was one of those women, and set up online cancer community support group Secondary Sisters with friend Nicky, who also received a cancer diagnosis.
She said: "After my mastectomy I did initially feel frumpy and I didn’t think I would ever feel sexy and pretty again. You do lose confidence and, at first, I could never look at myself in the mirror but my reconstruction helped me.
"It allowed me to accept who I was and it was a sign that I was getting through my illness. It felt that I was taking back control of my body and confidence and self-esteem soon came back.
"Breast surgery can be invasive but my treatment is the end product of a lot of research. It’s because of improvements in treatment and research that I enjoy doing all the things with the people who are so dear to me."
Miss Scott, 38, a trustee at Norwich-based charity Keeping Abreast, said she did not hesitate in agreeing to her mastectomy after her diagnosis as "I wanted to live".
She added: "Before I had cancer I would never of dreamed of posing in my underwear but after surgery your outlook on life changes dramatically. I want to live and I want to grasp life with both hands – a few scars is not going to stop me modelling or being a voice for thousands of women whose self-esteem has perhaps taken a knock after having surgery.
"Our bodies may have been left a bit battered, but ultimately surgery saves lives and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I wear my scars with pride and feel empowered by what my body has got me through."
Cancer survival has doubled over the last 40 years, but Cancer Research UK, expects its efforts to he hindered by an anticipated £300m black hole in funding over the next three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This World Cancer Day, the charity is encouraging people to take part by getting a Unity Band via the Cancer Research UK website.