"By luck I found Nicola Jane on the internet".. read more of Fiona's story:

Fiona is a 54 year old Mum of two son's. She loves making her home sparkle, loves her designer outfits and her chihuahua Rosie!
My name is Fiona Larking a 54 year old lady from Kent. I have two sons, Tom 29 and Matt 27 and live with my partner Monte. I work in a GP practice as a receptionist /administrator.
I have always looked after myself and like to appear well dressed and fashionable, so found it difficult to accept I had cancer, especially as it doesn’t run in the family. I have spent all my time devoted to my boys who are my biggest achievement in life… my family are my everything! I love well-made designer bags, shoes, clothes and love Chanel skincare and make up. Love sparkles in my home! I am caring in nature, will always help anyone where I can and love to shop and help plan an outfit. That’s me summed up!

I also try to do my bit to raise some money for Breast Cancer Now charity, as this really helped me to understand breast cancer and to move forward. I have arranged several tea and cake afternoons and Wear it Pink Days.
Things got hard when I parted from my husband who’d been my best friend since I was 15. My youngest son was 5 with type one diabetes and my eldest was 8. We worked together for a few years until he re -married and things then changed. I was on my own!  My first experience of cancer (cervical) came at a terrible time. Tom my eldest son was trying to get into a school of his choice. My now closest friend, and then headteacher of his primary school, had to attend an appeal to plead our case, as I was in hospital having my procedure. I think because of the cancer they let him in.
Several years passed until 2018 when abnormal cells were found again. As I was only young at the time of the first diagnosis, they didn’t do the radical hysterectomy that was initially planned but, did warn me this may be the case in the future. That day had come! It was all scheduled.
October is Breast cancer awareness month with all the pink stories and self-check adverts. I have to be honest I didn’t ever check! I’d decided it wouldn’t get me as I’d had my bad luck. How wrong could I be?!
By this time, I was working full time for an energy company and organised my leave at work for surgery. Whilst watching Loose Women on the morning of my last day at work, when we were all going out for a meal, I thought I’d just have a look and noticed the nipple on my left breast looked a little flat to one side. I thought old age again as I’m now 51, but the advice on tv did say nipple changes, so that made me think. I had cellulite looking skin under both breasts, but both my sister and mum told me ‘oh that’s what happens when you grow older!’ That same evening, I called my local GP and the receptionist who I’ve known for years told me to come in immediately, but I turned her down as I was on the way to a meal but said I would get it checked another time. During the meal I mentioned it to my friend and she said, ‘it’s probably nothing but please check it out’.
I planned to do this the next week, when I didn’t have a lot on. But the next morning the receptionist at my doctors called me again and the nurse said she would have a quick look. So I rang work and said I’d be late.
From this day my life would never be the same again! The doctor took one look and told me he would be making an immediate referral. ‘But I’m having a hysterectomy on Friday!’ I exclaimed. He said this may be more important. I called my sister who told me we needed to phone KIMS, our nearest private hospital in Maidstone. They gave me an appointment the next day.
The consultant I saw looked at me and said  ‘you did the absolute right thing by coming here today, this looks highly suspicious I’m afraid’ and sent me off for a scan, mammogram, biopsy, etc. It was lobular breast cancer, which I later learned cannot be detected as there is no lump and is not always detectable on a mammogram, as I’d had the year before which showed nothing.
I was in shock and I think I said, ‘but I have a hysterectomy booked for Friday and a holiday to Greece scheduled after’. She politely said, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t think either will be happening,‘ and set up a meeting with my gyne consultant who called me the next day.
This consultant told me the hysterectomy would need to be put on hold, the breast cancer had to take precedence, as this was far worse than abnormal cells. This really worried me! What if it had spread? Would I have to have chemo? I didn’t want chemo as although my hair is short and fine, it was MINE!
I did say, ‘can’t you just cut this out and then reconstruct me?’ I’d researched it, but she looked at me and said, ‘no we try to avoid that as we try to shrink tumours first before any major operations.’ Ok, well that’s that then. As the price of the consultations were £2k I had to move to NHS. My lovely breast cancer nurse said I will keep in touch, but you will be given a new one. The treatment was completely different!!
I went along to every appointment supported by my family. I cannot tell you how many scans and needles, too many to remember. But I had real hair wigs made by my lovely hairdresser friend and my head was in a good place to deal with the next bit.
My next appointment was to get my chemo plan. It was a 9am appointment, my consultant rocked up at 10 am or so, so I’d been agonising already for an hour.  She then said, ‘So I have all the results, it’s too big for chemo so I will write to you with a date for a mastectomy and although it’s not showing in your lymph nodes, we will take a biopsy to be sure, ok?’ Er no actually, I looked at my sister and partner who were crying, ‘So I’m losing my whole breast?’ She then ushered me into the room next door where I met my new nurse. My first words to her were spoken in anger. I said I didn’t want to lose my hair, but I’d got my head round that eventuality and now I’ll lose something that won’t grow back. She replied, ‘I think you are being very unfair.’ I’ll never forget this. I’d not cried until this point.

After a few more appointments I asked about reconstruction and was given a few options, but not straight after the operation as it was likely I’d need radiotherapy, but was shown what a scar may look like (mine did not!) and a softie! My heart literally sank! The biopsy revealed I had HER2 - E+ and was stage 3. So, the operation was scheduled on the 6th December 2018 when a full left breast mastectomy took place. Sore, but I was alive and thought I was on the mend. On Christmas Eve of 2018, I was asked to come in again as the mastectomy had revealed the tumour was much bigger than the scans had shown and it had in fact gone into 5 lymph nodes.
Another operation planned in January 2019. This journey wasn’t finishing anytime soon.
On the morning of the scheduled operation, I got a call to say due to unforeseen circumstances it had been cancelled!  Another type of emotion to deal with!
I waited and waited but no re-scheduled appointment was offered. I was told initially it needed be within a certain time scale as nodes can spread, so I rang the medical secretary to find my consultant had gone on holiday and the secretary had left. I then called PALS, what do I do? I eventually got a phone call from my consultant who told me she’d be back next week and I wasn’t to worry! Really?! I did get an appointment for 14th February, which resulted in full clearance of my lymph nodes. My follow up showed it had affected 9 nodes and some micro cells. I felt concerned about the delay but was reassured this wouldn’t cause a problem. I lost confidence after this, but again grateful the cancer had gone. The consultant then went on to say I’d need chemo or radiotherapy and adjuvant treatment. I thought well, is this nightmare ever going to end as I’m now losing my hair and breast!
I then saw a lovely oncologist who said as I’m HER2 - ER+. I would benefit from intense radiotherapy for 3-4 weeks followed by adjuvant treatment of Femara Letraxole with Chemo being an option. This was followed by a stream of statistics! All I remember is thinking, I’m not giving up my hair for a 2% chance of killing a stray cell, so I declined the chemo. My sister and partner agreed that what I’d get out if it didn’t outweigh the side effects.
The only problem now was due to the clearance, which caused cording, I could not move my arm enough to get in the radiotherapy machine! A lovely physiotherapist worked on me every day for a week! It gave me just enough movement to raise my arm.
A month later I rang the bell. I had counselling which I really benefitted from. I had been asked several times during my journey if I needed to work. I had NO financial help apart from £200 from MacMillan, so my partner generously cashed in a pension to help me. I did realise from the counselling that stress has a big part to play when you are unwell, especially with something like cancer and my job was very stressful and tiring.
So, I sat down with my son’s girlfriend and said the one job that I’d really like to do would be something within the NHS where I could help someone else and be that smile you receive when you get to reception (which I didn’t always get on my journey). I was so lucky to get a job within a local doctors practice with part time hours and an amazing team of people to work with, and my Rosie chihuahua who keeps me sane every day! I had continuing physio for over a year to help get my movement back, but am now left with a sewn together patch of bulkiness, when a tight, badly fitting bra can cause numb fingers and an achy arm…would you believe!
I am lucky to now belong to a lovely spa hotel and try to swim and also a little gym work to help.
I am now in my third year, but during the three years clear I have had lung pneumonia due to covid.  I passed out and hit my face on the pavement, cracked my cheek bone and had a bruised face for weeks and as I’m writing this blog, I now have cellulitis to my face! A day in hospital and was told as I’m high risk secondary (which I’d already been told by my consultant) and a brain scan will always need to be done to check with any pain going forwards. As I’ve had terrible headaches and flu like symptoms, this is now a trauma point that cancer could return to. As I’ve said previously, I can hide my scars but not my face, so have struggled a bit but I’m still smiling as I do every day and trying to be ME…the now new me! I still haven’t had the hysterectomy, but have said I’ll follow up all my appointments, but just no more operations if it’s still at bay. I want to enjoy my job and my life for as long as I have it.
The reason I wrote to Nicola Jane is not only do we all have a story to tell of our journeys but we are women, who need to feel good about ourselves and for good mental health. I’ve struggled up until now to find MATCHING sets that are pretty. I’ve always been embarrassed of my ugly nonmatching post-surgery underwear up until now. At M&S the choice of mastectomy underwear is now even more limited, with no matching items. My favourite stores, such as Ted Baker don’t even cater for post-surgery underwear and yet the number of breast cancer patients increases each year. So, a massive thank you, finally a place to go for all my lingerie! I love the T-shirt bras and the floral Liberty I was sent from Nicola Jane is beautiful. I now need a good fitting prothesis so that will be my next mission.

It’s nice to see photos of ladies modelling the bras, as it’s quite disheartening to see a lovely lady with both breasts, as I would not look the same. I was advised not to have reconstruction as I have a dip in my chest, and it would be too invasive as I’d need a few operations to re-build a C/D cup breast. So, I’m trying to make the most of what I have! By luck I found Nicola Jane on the internet. I will most certainly promote this in any way I can. I’m so very grateful to be able to share my story (having read those of some of the amazing ladies you’ve featured). I’d like to also add that although my journey was very up and down, I have since been treated with much kindness by our lovely but very stretched NHS and will always be grateful.

Good health and luck to you all x
Fiona Larking

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