Yorkshire woman who battled breast cancer urges other women to get regular checks

April 2013

A Yorkshire woman who successfully battled breast cancer is urging other women to perform regular breast checks and to take immediate action if they find a lump. 

Louise Wilkinson pictured with Sharon Kleiman, out-patient physiotherapy team leader at Spire Leeds

Louise Wilkinson, who is married and lives near Wetherby, described her battle with breast cancer as ”the worst year of my life”. ow on the road to recovery she is sending a clear message out to other women. “Don’t do what I did and put off going to your doctor. If you find a lump or any abnormality in your breast don’t be afraid, get it checked immediately. If you catch it early it could save your life,” said Louise, who works for National Grid in Leeds. 

“The frightening thing about my experience is that the lump did not hurt and I felt perfectly well. I originally noticed a lump in my right breast back in 2009 but as I had a history of benign cysts I was not panicking about it. I did not realise I had cancer and it was growing.” 

About 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year * and more than 90% of all women diagnosed with it at the earliest stage survive their disease.**  Louise, who is in her 50’s, was trying on new swimwear for an upcoming holiday in the summer of 2011, when her husband Gary, noticed her breast had an irregular shape and looked dimpled. “We were about to go away, and consequently I did not visit my GP until October,” said Louise.

After referral for a mammogram and ultrasound scan in Harrogate, Louise was confirmed to have breast cancer. One of her friends recommended consultant medical oncologist Dr Tim Perren at Spire Leeds Hospital. He looked at all of the results and confirmed it was a tumour, measuring about 5cms. Dr Perren explained the options and helped Louise decide which treatment to have. Louise elected to have a course of chemotherapy from November 2011 to April 2012. The intention was to reduce the size of the tumour before surgery so that she would only need a lumpectomy, not a mastectomy.

“The oncology team were incredible” Louise said “Catherine, Heidi and Juliet gave me constant support and encouragement throughout my chemotherapy sessions at Spire Leeds Hospital”. 

In May 2012, following chemotherapy, Louise had the lump removed under the care of Mr Philip Turton, consultant breast oncoplastic and aesthetic breast surgeon, at Spire Leeds Hospital. This is a reconstruction procedure, done using a large muscle from the back.

“Louise’s condition was very serious at the time she presented. It was advanced which is an indication that the lump had been there some time and presents a greater difficulty in removing the cancer,” said Mr Turton. He describes the procedure he performed, called an extended Autologous Pedicled Latissimuss Dorsi Flap. “I removed an entire quarter of Louise’s breast where the disease had been, then reconstructed the huge defect this left by taking a flap of skin, muscle and fat from Louise’s back. This flap had its own blood supply from blood vessels under the arm pit so that it could be rotated from her back to the front of her body still attached to its vessels, keeping the tissue alive.”

Seven days later the histology results showed the cancer was still present and that the chemotherapy had not killed it completely. Mr Turton agreed with Louise that he would perform a mastectomy to remove the remaining cancerous tissue. He managed to save a large section of Louise’s skin and inserted a saline bag to stretch and hold the skin in place whilst Louise had radiotherapy. The procedure would allow a full reconstruction at a later stage.

“Mr Turton and his team did a marvellous job. I am very pleased with the results,” said Louise, who was then referred to Professor Dodwell, consultant oncologist, and underwent 18 sessions of radiotherapy. 

A vital part of her treatment involved Sharon Kleiman, Spire Leeds Hospital’s outpatient physiotherapy team leader. Louise said the help she received from Sharon had been ‘invaluable’ to her.  “Louise had to go through a great deal both physically and mentally. She had chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy which is a lot to undertake,” said Sharon. “A normal consequence of surgery is that patients have a reduced range of movement and Louise found it difficult to lift her arm above her head, which she needed to do for the radiotherapy.” 

Her physio treatment included massage, joint mobilisations and exercises. By the time Louise had radiotherapy she had almost regained full movement in her arm.  Another important part of her treatment involved Spire’s breast care nurse team, Eileen Harris and Jill Maffey who provide a supportive role to patients and their families from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.  Jill said, “Many people may not realise that there are now many more options available, which also provide a good aesthetic result. It might help reduce some of the fear if women were more aware of this.”

After completion of her treatment, Louise was introduced by Sharon Kleiman to The Haven, a charity that offers Breast Cancer Support and therapies, free of charge, for breast cancer sufferers. Sharon is taking part in a ‘Dancing Strictly’ show during March, with part of the proceeds being donated to The Haven.

Today, Louise is on the road to recovery and back at work for National Grid in Leeds, where she is a project assurance support officer. “I returned to work quite quickly after the treatment. My employers were fantastic and I found a staged return helpful,” she said. “I cannot speak highly enough of Dr Tim Perren, Mr Philip Turton and the team at Spire Leeds Hospital. They have become like family to me and I could not have got through this without them and the support of my husband, family and friends.”  Louise added, “It’s been a rocky ride and it wore me down at times. Now I’m back at work full time, my hair has grown back and I feel great and very lucky to be alive.” 

* www.breastcancercare.org.uk ** www.cancerrersearchuk.org

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