“I wouldn’t call myself a particularly positive person, but I’m way more resilient than I ever thought I could be."
Hannah, 35, is a clinical trials manager. The mum-of-one, who is married and lives in Twickenham, West London, has been featured in a number of breast cancer awareness campaigns since first having breast surgery in 2012. Resilient, pragmatic and determined to enjoy “every wonderful minute of life,” she has undergone a number of major operations relating to cancer (three in the breast area and one on her liver) since the age of 26. But how did her story begin?
“I decided that now I was heading towards my 30s, it was time to stop taking my physical health for granted and that I needed to get fit, so it was ironically while moving a treadmill into my home that I first noticed a lump on my breast, when I knocked it by accident. The year before, I’d had breast enhancement surgery, so my first move was to go and see the plastic surgeon, because I naturally assumed it was something to do with that. I was only 26, after all. Surely too young for it to be anything more serious than that? Plus there was no history of breast cancer in my family.
“Literally within moments, my life changed for ever. The surgeon advised me that it was nothing to do with the implant, and that I needed to get my breast checked out by my GP ASAP. When I went to see the doctor, she first of all told me she couldn’t feel anything and that is was probably hormonal, and I almost let it drop. Almost, but not quite. With the plastic surgeon’s words ringing in my ears, I insisted on a referral, and thank goodness I did. The ultrasound and biopsy confirmed it was cancerous and, about four weeks later, the surgical team removed a 10cm tumour from my left breast. I had a mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction surgery with an implant.
“It is still a mystery to me today how I possibly could not have noticed this huge lump at the time. That’s why I am now a staunch supporter of promoting awareness to encourage self-testing. After all, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 40 years and under.
“On hearing I had cancer, I didn’t know how scared I should be. I could barely even think, to be quite honest. How long did I have to live? What was going to happen next? It was real torture waiting for my treatment plan to arrive, even though the medical team were brilliant, those four weeks felt like a lifetime. Unfortunately, the pathology revealed that the cancer had reached one of my lymph nodes as well, and some of these had to be removed too. I had chemotherapy and was given hormone treatment that I had to take for five years.
In 2017 – just a month after becoming engaged to Pete, her long-time work colleague and now husband - a scan showed a reoccurrence of cancer. It was on top of the area which had been reconstructed. The implant was removed and, in spite of a reconstruction being impossible on one side due to lack of skin and radiotherapy, Hannah – displaying her indomitable spirit once again – simply got on with her life and the next year married Pete, who she warmly calls her “absolute rock” and the love of her life.
“We were meant to get married in London, but at the last moment we jumped on a plane and flew to Las Vegas to tie the knot, followed by a wonderful honeymoon in Mexico. This was one of the best memories of my life – apart from when I gave birth to my miracle baby a few years later…
During her treatment, Hannah’s embryos had been frozen to allow her to try for children at a later date. However, totally unexpectedly, after only a short break from in her hormone treatment, she got pregnant naturally, and gave birth to her Lilah Rae in July 2020.
“There is nothing like a gorgeous little girl to provide an amazing distraction to any woes you might have. I am half-Middle Eastern and, in Arabic, Lilah means “night beauty”, which reminds me that there is good to be found even in the dark times, whilst Rae – to us - means “ray of sunlight”, which is a constant reminder for me to always try and be grateful and positive. I wouldn’t call myself a particularly positive person, but I’m way more resilient than I ever thought I could be
Hannah has altered her diet and likes to eat well these days. She also likes to keep fit and is a regular at the gym. Apart from that, she takes each day as it comes, and loves going for long walks in Richmond Park with Pete, Lilah Rae and Reggie, their much-loved Battersea Rescue dog.
“If I’m going on a date night with Pete, I’ll wear the Liberty, as it’s beautiful and a real confidence boost. For everyday wear, I must have comfort, so my preference is the padded Carrie bra, which is great for hiding any unevenness.
“The whole process has been a bit of a roller coaster, to be quite honest, but it has helped me to see what is important about life, and what is not. But I know I am one of the lucky ones too - I had some great girlfriends to help me through the tough times, and meeting Pete and giving birth to Lilah Rae has made all the pain worthwhile. Not to mention Reggie of course…
“If I am being completely honest, I am not a fan of ‘toxic positivity’ and I think it is important to respect the grieving process and to honour your feelings and emotions. I do my best to remind myself of all the good things I’ve got in my life, and to allow myself to have a bad day when they come along. My advice to my younger self would be to take each day as it comes and not to be so mean to yourself. It is such a waste of time and energy. You wouldn’t do it to others, so why be so hard on yourself?
“I am so proud that I have this opportunity to share my journey with other women who have had to have surgery due to breast cancer. I am really pleased that I took the time to find out everything along the way. I know it is different for everyone, but I have found it to be incredibly empowering and I feel utterly privileged to model for Nicola Jane, even though I weirdly thought my modelling career was over when I was flat on one side a couple of years ago - how wrong could I have been? I now call myself asymmetrical or – amongst my friends – a member of the One Titty Committee. It turns out that there is humour to be found in everything…"
Every body tells a story – if you would like to share yours and spread a message of hope, like Hannah, please let us know. We would love to hear from you.