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Breast care patient stories
30 October 2017

We've launched a new fundraising appeal to help build a £2.5million Breast Care centre. Here are three stories from patients...

Breast cancer patient Jo Whitelaw

“There is a lot of getting up and down and walking to and from for imaging and treatment, and it’s a very impersonal space”

Former breast cancer patient Jo Whitelaw remembers the experience of visiting the hospital all too well.

But the now 55-yearold also remembers the “amazing” care she received. She said “The hospital was my security blanket. I got all the support and reassurance I could’ve asked for from the team. They were always there when I needed them.”

Jo, from Great Blakenham, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 after discovering a lump in her breast. Initially she thought it was benign as she’d had others removed in the past. But it did turn out to be cancerous. When the lump was removed cancer cells were still found so Jo went on to have her breast removed and gruelling chemotherapy and drug treatment to fight the disease.

Jo went on to have a breast reconstruction and nipple tattoo and over her two year patient journey visited the hospital many times.

She said: “It’s a very open and impersonal space. I remember when I first went to hospital I sat there and looked at all the people in the waiting room and felt very alone. “The new centre could be more personal, but then there would be opportunities and spaces to talk if people wanted to.”

Jo, married with two children, four grandchildren (and another on the way) has now been clear of cancer for five years.

While the hospital team were Jo’s security blanket, she turned to the animals in her yard to relax. A keeper of horses, sheep and chickens, Jo credits them to helping her relax both during and since her cancer.

Jo Whitelaw 

Breast cancer patient René D’Arachy

“I never even knew breast cancer existed in men,” said René, who found out the difficult way.

“For some reason in 2005, I don’t know why, I happened to rub my chest and my nipple felt odd. I didn’t think much about it, I thought it was just because I was getting older.”

But three months later when the nipple inverted, a friend convinced the now 72-year-old to see his GP. The hospital later confirmed it was cancer and Rene went under the care of consultant surgeon Caroline Mortimer.

He said: “I’ll never forget the conversation with her. I had breast cancer. I was a man. I wasn’t going to have chemotherapy. I was going to have my breast taken away.

“Often I was the only man in the waiting room at hospital. One or two women did look, but they didn’t stare. As I’ve learnt, cancer doesn’t care who you are or what sex you are.

“The nurses and doctors do their utmost. You couldn’t go to Harley Street and pay for better treatment, but they do need a better environment.

“Waiting for appointments isn’t great but you have to remember everybody is in the same boat and the staff are trying their best. You may have been waiting for two hours but so has the person sat next to you.”

After an operation and drug treatment, René was clear of cancer and, in his own words, “lived a fruitful life thereon” despite needing spinal surgery in 2015.

But this summer two things happened which brought René, from Hintlesham, back to the hospital – his arm became swollen and his armpit developed an unusual shape he describes as a ‘perfect conical depression’.

At 72, René’s cancer has returned and he is taking part in drugs trial which he hopes will save his life.

Born in Burma and adopted, René was brought to the UK as a child in 1953 and raised in Croydon. He undertook an engineering apprenticeship with International Computers Limited (ICL) and sadly his adoptive parents died before he was 21. He worked at various computer companies before moving into hospitality – that industry brought him to Suffolk and he now works night shifts at Hintlesham Hall.

He said: “In a way I feel a fraud as cancer patient. For some of us it’s not a painful disease. If you have pain others can relate to it but for me it was a silent disease, a no feeling disease.”

 Rene D'Arachy

Surgery patient Sarina Sargeant

It was an easy decision for mother-of-two Sarina to ask our hospital for a double mastectomy.

Every woman in recent history on her mother’s side of the family had battled cancer. And Sarina, above all, didn’t want her two young children to see her suffer as she had done with her own mother.

So when a genetic test designed to find out if she was likely to get breast cancer showed ‘anomalies’, Sarina took the brave decision two years ago to have the operation to remove both breasts and reduce her risk.

She said: “I didn’t want my children to see me go through what I saw my mother go through. “I was fortunate to have the option of surgery. The Ipswich Hospital team were so great to me.”

Sarina had reconstructive surgery following the mastectomy and lives happily in Martlesham with her husband and children, Benjamin, 5, and Ruby, 9. The 38-year-old works full-time as an accountant in Ipswich.

Sarina’s mother passed away from breast cancer at 44. After a mastectomy in her late 20s, she had spent 10 years in remission.

Sarina said: “I went through the hospital experience twice, I sat there with my mum and then again for me.

“It was very crowded at times. Sometimes you had to stand in the waiting room. And it was quite drawn out with the waiting in different areas, it didn’t feel personable.

“It was difficult being a working mum when the clinic had to be shared with other specialties. They can only have breast clinics on certain days of the week and sometimes I couldn’t make the clinics.”

“The staff were amazing but they don’t have the best facilities to work in. A new centre, somewhere that feels less clinical, would definitely make it easier for patients.”

 Sarina Sargeant