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My husband gently kissed the huge scar on my breast and said I was still beautiful; An open letter to Carol McGiffin.

Carol McGiffin revealed in the Mirror last week that she's secretly been battling breast cancer after finding a tumour in her left breast last April.

The former Loose Women presenter told how her fiance Mark Cassidy, 21 years her junior, was a tower of strength after she had Kay and before struck a mastectomy and was put through an intensive course of six rounds of chemotherapy and 15 sessions of radiotherapy.

But Carol, 55, admitted to struggling with the physical changes to her appearance, worrying particularly how it would affect her relationship with Mark. And fellow breast cancer survivor Kay Wardley, 64, can truly empathise.

She was diagnosed in September 2012 and despite fearing he would no longer find her attractive, her husband David, 56, who owns a building company, supported her steadfastly throughout.

And here, in an open letter to Carol, artist Kay, of Datchworth, Herts, tells of her own battle to love herself again - and how her relationship is stronger than ever.

Despite not knowing one another, in many ways we are very similar.

Like you, my husband David is a few years younger than me. And like you, I feared about how he'd feel about my scarred body after my treatment. But I needn't have worried as he has been my rock throughout the whole sorry ordeal.

David cancer For me it started in September 2012 with a routine mammogram. I wasn't worried, it was my third mammogram and the last two were clear.

But this time they found a lump in my right breast. I was called in for more tests and then I did start to worry.

A week later, I was in the changing room at my golf club when I got a call from a nurse, telling me I had stage one breast cancer and that I was due in for a lumpectomy the following week. I was appalled to be told on the phone, I don't know why it was done like that. I was in shock. All I wanted was to get to my husband and have him hold me, but I couldn't get to him for three hours. He was at work and I'd invited guests to a formal lunch and I couldn't leave, so I had to tell him the news over the phone. That was heartbreaking.

For the next few hours it was like an outof-body experience. I told two of my close friends at the club, and then we had to go to a lunch and put on a brave face knowing just those friends knew I was sitting there with cancer inside me.

I couldn't feel the lump in my right breast, and neither could a doctor, which is why the mammogram was so important. I would urge anyone to go for theirs.

When I finally did get home I cried for most of the evening and night. David gathered me up in his arms and told me: "Whatever happens, we'll face it together."

I didn't know what was going to happen after the lumpectomy, whether I'd have to have chemotherapy or lose my hair.

And I worried whether I'd get through this. My mother died of cancer, and I'd lost friends to it too, so I feared the worst, that it could be terminal.

As I cried, I told David I'd better make my hair look nice while I still had it. So he said: "Right, you're going to the best hairdresser." And the following day he booked me into the Nicky Clarke hairdressing salon in London to have a cut and colour. It cost the best part of PS300 [[euro]408] but David and I didn't care. It was his treat. Because if I was going to lose my hair, then I was going to make it look as fabulous as I could. It gave me a huge boost and was so sweet of him.

The week after my diagnosis, I was booked in for a lumpectomy at Pinehill Hospital in Hertfordshire. I reacted badly to the anaesthetic and felt awful, and the painkillers were too strong. I'd also had lymph nodes taken from under my arms and I was really uncomfortable. I couldn't lie on my front or my side. It was hard. And I still had to wait for the results from the biopsy on the lymph nodes, which was difficult.

Like Mark was for you Carol, David's support was essential. Every hospital appointment, he drove me there and back. But at the very beginning he said he knew it was going to be hard for me, and also for him which people forget about.

He said he'd always tell me when he was having a bad day. He never hid how he felt from me so I'd never fear he was suffering in silence. David didn't want to worry me any more than I already was, and that was hugely important.

A week later, at my next appointment, the surgeon said he was pleased with the scar, and so was I. It was very neat, tidy.

But when I went back the following week the surgeon said they'd found something in the biopsy they weren't happy with, and I'd need to be operated on again. This time, they removed a lot more flesh, which meant a much bigger scar. For the first week I couldn't see anything because the dressings were still on. And I also started to fear that perhaps the cancer had spread after all.

It was the waiting that was the hardest part. And David suffered too. There were times I'd look at his face and he looked as though he'd aged 10 years. I'd ask if he was OK, and he'd say he wasn't and we'd just hold on to each other tighter than ever. We've been joined at the hip since we met in September 1983, and this brought us together even closer.

I was so worried how he'd react to surgery. I'd seen friends go through breast cancer. After one had a mastectomy, her husband could not bear to look at her, let alone touch her.

But David was invaluable. And his support was never stronger than when I saw the extent of my scarring for the first time, 10 days after the second surgery. When the surgeon took the dressing off in the hospital, I looked down but didn't see how bad the scarring was as it went from the nipple downwards. But when I got home I looked in the mirror. The stitches and blood were black and my breast was a different shape.

For the first time it truly hit me I'd had cancer inside me, because I could now see where it had been cut away.

So when you said you looked like you'd been bitten by a shark, Carol, I knew what you meant.

I was looking at my reflection, crying, when David came in and very gently kissed the scar as if to say "none of this matters". He said: "You're still beautiful and you always will be."

Immediately, it made me realise things would be OK with us. It was such an amazing gesture at such a low point.

He also helped me shower, wash my hair and dress; such tender moments we wouldn't have shared it weren't for the cancer.

Carol, you said that even though Mark says your scars don't bother him, you can't believe him, and that you wonder how he can love you when you're struggling to love yourself.

But it's important you make yourself believe him, to help him through it too. Because if he thinks you don't, it will hurt him more.

I was lucky. I didn't need chemotherapy, but I was put on a course of 23 rounds of radiotherapy. I tried to turn negatives into positives so when I got my schedule, I drew up a spreadsheet of girlfriends who could come with me. It was an opportunity to spend time together, and people want to help in any way they can. And by the time I'd finished radiotherapy, on Christmas Eve 2012, I'd spent days with friends I never would have had the chance to otherwise.

Two years on, life is great. David and I feel blessed things happened as they did because it changed us.

The scars are still there. My skin and nipple are still a different colour and the dent is still there. Every morning when I get out of the shower, it's there. But now it's a symbol of how lucky I was. I'm on the drug Tamoxifen for another three years, which gives me side effects that drive me mad, especially the hot flushes. But they're a reminder there's something there keeping any residual cancer cells at bay, so it's a love-hate relationship.

And mine and David's relationship is closer than ever. I still don't know how he knew instinctively what to say and do for me through the dark times, but he did. And for that, I'll always be grateful. And I hope for you Carol, that soon you'll feel the same way.

AS TOLD TO MELISSA THOMPSON Breast Cancer Care's booklet, Your Body, Intimacy and Sex, helps couples after a breast cancer diagnosis. Visit breastcancercare. org.uk to order a copy.

I still don't know how he knew what to do and say through the dark times. I'll always be grateful...

CAPTION(S):

Carol with her fiance Mark

The couple's wedding in 1984

Kay and David before cancer struck

PICTURE: TIM ANDERSON Kay and David 'Our relationship is closer than ever'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 24, 2015
Words:1599
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