Introducing Mandy; a blogger, Coppafeel charity trekker and self confessed history and art nerd!

The wonderful Mandy (@mrsachard)

This week seems to be rushing by in such a blur! It’s Wednesday already and that means it’s time to introduce another of our wonderful guest bloggers. Today we’re thrilled to have a blog from the lovely Mandy (@mrsachard).

Normally at this stage we would include a little bio to get to know our blogger a bit better but Mandy has introduced herself so well that we’ll get straight to it!

Without further ado, here’s Mandy:

“Hi I’m Mandy, 42 year old mother of two boys (12 & 9), wife to Aaron, a Chartered Surveyor by profession but a History & Art nerd in my spare time.  I’ve also recently taken up a lot more walking due to the fact that like my fellow Valiant Lingerie guest blogger Laura I’m taking on the 100km Sahara Desert Trek for the charity Coppafeel, which has now been moved to March 2021 – phew – more time to train!

What’s the reason for taking on such a massive challenge you may well ask! Well, it’s simple really – I’m a cancer survivor when there are so many who haven’t been as lucky so I want to do everything I can, not just to spread a positive post cancer message but also get the word out there about how fundamental it is to know your body, regularly check and get any changes looked at straight away.

I was diagnosed with Mucinous Carcinoma (MC) in August 2016, just after my 39th Birthday.  I’d found a marble sized lump which was also causing an achy pain in my left armpit.  MC is rare being found in approx. only 2% of breast cancer diagnosis.  I was somewhat reassured when my surgeon initially told me that MC is generally “well behaved” and slow growing. 

Unfortunately the MC which had taken up residence in my left breast was clearly going through a rebellious phase, further tests revealed it was behaving far more aggressively than expected and it had already spread into one of my lymph nodes, hence the lump in my armpit. 

I underwent a left side skin and nipple sparing mastectomy with axillary lymph node clearance and immediate implant and latissimus dorsi muscle reconstruction.  This was followed by 4 months of chemotherapy, 3 weeks of radiotherapy and tamoxifen for 10 years.  In Nov 2018 I went under the knife again to have a mastopexy and implant on the right-hand side for symmetry.

Whilst it may sound strange, I found the active treatment phase possibly the easiest to deal with. Whilst there are dark and scary times, you simply don’t have time to dwell on them because you have a schedule of treatments and appointments getting you through day to day, week to week and you are surrounded by a safety net of health professionals with you every step of the way.  I look back and 2016/2017 memories are a drug addled haze, of course I wouldn’t wish any of it on my worst enemy, but you have no option but to crack on and get through it. 

I chose writing as an outlet once I’d finished chemo, I started a Facebook blog “The Full Chard” as a way of trying to find my way back to my old self.  I wasn’t sure how that was going to turn out, but the writing was cathartic, I found humour in a lot of what I’d been through and I wanted to share something of my experience with others.

Far more difficult was the aftermath.  I remember thinking at my last radiotherapy appointment when I was taken into a side room afterwards and effectively “cut loose” until my 6 month check-up “what now”? 

Suddenly, that safety net you’ve known for the best part of a year is gone and whether intentional or not, the expectation from everyone around you is that you should be ecstatic, happy and looking forward to getting back to “normal”…….whatever that is.  I tried, I really did, I didn’t want to let anyone down, I was back at work 2 weeks after my last radiotherapy session, back doing school runs, still writing funny anecdotes on my blog.  I managed 6 months but during that time my mental health deteriorated pretty badly.  When I read my blog back now, its fairly obvious things weren’t quite right for quite a while.  It took a long time to ask for the help I knew I needed.  Ultimately I was suffering with PTSD, my self-worth was lower than in my boots, I was having suicidal thoughts – yes even I found that ironic when I considered how determined I was to beat the cancer during treatment.  I felt so alone but later discovered it is incredibly common to feel that way after treatment.  That made me wonder why more women aren’t warned about the potential for it earlier on during active treatment so it doesn’t come as quite so much as a shock.    

My mental state wasn’t helped when early on in my attempts to “get back to normal” I went shopping for new bras with my mother in law.  The experience resulted in something of a rant on my blog.

I had to dispose of all my bras following my surgery because it’s not advisable to wear ones with underwire and all my pre-cancer bras were underwired. I had since been living in a handful of support crop tops and a post mastectomy bra from M&S which while perfectly fine practically weren’t exactly floating mine or my hubby’s boat.

I didn’t strictly need a post-surgery bra because I didn’t have prosthetics or knitted knockers to put in the pockets provided. My requirements, a non-underwired but supportive with a bit of padding and ideally something pretty, perhaps satiny or lacy, to make a relatively young women look and feel desirable you might think would be straightforward.

How wrong was I! I couldn’t find a single thing that didn’t resemble the kind of boulder holder you imagine you might be wearing when you’re also putting your false teeth in a glass by your bed – not the kind of look I wanted. Other than that, it was your very average, very plain T shirt bra, no lace, satin or anything remotely pretty to be seen.  There were a few nice lacy bralets but they had no padding or support of any kind.

The issue I had was that I was pre my symmetry surgery at the time. The naughty boob which tried to kill me had gone and its replacement needed no help what-so-ever, she was as perky as you like. She would have looked fabulous in a cheeky little bralet. The one that didn’t try to kill me however,  bless her, was descending further and further towards my belly button every day so she needed quite a lot of extra help in the form of moulding or padding to compete with her new friend next door.

I went in so many stores and looked online and there was nothing, not a thing that I would consider remotely close to what would make me feel confident and comfortable and I just couldn’t understand why. In every single store I went in I explained what I was looking for and why, in one, I was offered a bikini as an alternative. In another it was suggested that I could choose to ignore the medical advice I’d been given and just wear underwired anyway! I felt myself getting upset and had to leave.

What you might consider a relatively minor issue I suppose actually resulted in something of an epiphany, not in a wholly good way at the time, I came to the conclusion that with the best will in the world, normal, or at least most people’s experience of something normal like buying a bra was not something I could aspire to anymore. My boobs didn’t conform to what the bra makers deemed to be their “market”, not only that but I couldn’t and didn’t want to conform to everyone else’s idea of what I should be feeling or thinking.

It was a defining moment in my recovery, I learned that my old “normal” wasn’t…….couldn’t be where I was headed.  As you can imagine that was incredibly scary and found myself going through a grieving process for the old “me”.  But I knew I had to let her go and accept I wouldn’t find her again, however hard I looked. 

What I can say now, however hard that period of my life was, I am all the better for it now.  It has taken a lot of time, pain, heartache, intensely feeling my way to who I am now (by no means the finished product…….but are any of us?).  It may sound strange but I am grateful to cancer and I really quite like who I am now.  In some ways I am more tolerant, I no longer sweat the small stuff, in others I am less so, not a bad balance to strike in my opinion.  I appreciate so much more than I did before, I am more selfish when it comes to self-care and ensuring my needs are met (usually with a bit of quiet and a good book) but my deep desire to help others who may find themselves in the same position is strong and empowering.

Where my boobs are concerned, following my symmetry surgery my right girl doesn’t need quite as much help as she did, she’s by no means perfectly symmetrical with her sister on the left, in fact she’s now quite a bit bigger since they didn’t take any breast tissue out of that side.  I am still however, searching for a bra that does the job my old bra’s used to and I’m so excited to see what Ellie and her team are beavering away to produce.”

Thank you, Mandy, for sharing your wonderful writing with us all. We suspect Mandy’s experiences and feelings of being “cut loose” after treatment will feel familiar to many.

And how many of us recognise Mandy’s experiences of bra hunting after surgery?! Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimised by bland, unflattering post-surgery lingerie! Not for much longer!