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Real lives: `I chose life over my 40DD breasts' Meet the former Playboy bunny who had both breasts removed to protect her from cancer, and her daughter, who hopes to do the same.

Byline: Text by Tracie Bunce

Jenny Pitcairn-Hill, 53, has four children and works as an administrative assistant. She lives in Crawley, West Sussex.

`I had always had big boobs, 40DD. In fact, they even got me a job as a bunny girl at London's famous Playboy club. I loved the attention they brought me. They made me feel sexy.

`Previously, I was a nurse. On my way to work one day I saw an ad in the local paper for a "bunny hunt" at the Playboy Bunny Club in Park Lane. I had to compete with hundreds of gorgeous girls to get the job. It was all about whether you were a good "people person" and, of course, went in and out in all the right places.

`At 21 I was "old" for a bunny, but I made the most of it. When I walked up this glass staircase that overlooked the road, car horns would toot and blokes' jaws would drop to the floor!

`I was still working as a bunny when Mum died. She was in her early forties when she discovered a lump - the breast cancer that eventually killed her. Knowing Mum, she would have waited to see a doctor because she "didn't want to make a fuss".

`After the lump tested cancerous, she had a breast removed. I remember thinking, "Well that's that then. We can all get on with our lives."

`Though I knew my grandmother had died of breast cancer, I thought the disease was random. At 24 I quit being a bunny, got married and had kids. For a few years life went on as normal, but then Mum said, "It's come back." By then the cancer was too advanced for surgery and it had spread to her bones. I remember thinking, "Why didn't you have both breasts removed when you first got cancer? Then you wouldn't be dying now."

`Around the same time, my Dad, Thomas, was battling lung cancer. He died 19 years ago on Mum's birthday and I was inconsolable. `Mum moved in with me and the children and I cared for her, along with 24-hour cancer nurses. She became very frail and died in her late forties, a few months after Dad.

`Four years later I was still on antidepressants when doctors and specialists told me I had a one-in-three chance of getting breast cancer. It hit me like a ton of bricks. "I'm going to go the same way as Mum and her mum," I cried to my husband.

`I started having mammograms twice a year and I checked my breasts for lumps almost obsessively - when I got dressed, in the bath, everywhere.

`The breasts I had been so proud of were now a time bomb. I had long since stopped viewing them as sexual objects. Instead, I was afraid of them. I got my first lump at 35 - I'd known it was only a matter of time.

That day I had been moving chairs around and accidentally bashed my chest. I was checking for bruises when I felt it in my right breast.

`Within 24 hours I had seen a consultant and had a biopsy. The lump was sent away for tests, but I didn't need the results, I just knew. I thought, "I'm going to die. How will I tell my children? I don't want to leave them all alone."

`I told my eldest daughter, Sula, then 11, that I had cancer. She asked lots of questions: "Will you have to go into hospital?", "Will you die?" Kids are so matter of fact, which made it harder.

`For three torturous weeks I kept manically busy, and started preparing the children for when I was gone; I even made a will. Only Sula knew what was happening as the others were too young to understand. My husband and I had split up a year earlier but Sula was fantastic, a rock.

`When I went to see the consultant, he casually said: "It's all right," when all I'd been able to think was, "I will never see my daughters looking beautiful on their wedding day or know my grandchildren."

`During my forties I found eight lumps - all benign. Each time, the anxiety was awful. We'd try to carry on as normal but it was impossible.

`In 1996, during a routine visit to the consultant, I was given an opportunity to remove the fear of breast cancer for ever by having both breasts removed. I didn't have to think twice.

`When I came round from the operation I was swathed in a huge bandage and I couldn't move my arms. But all I felt was immense relief.

`I turned down reconstructive surgery - I don't feel less of a woman being flat as a pancake than with bunny-girl boobs.

`It's still possible to get cancer in the tiny amount of breast tissue I have left, but the chances are minimal.

`The operation was four years ago and I don't regret it for a minute. I worry about Sula and my youngest daughter, Janine. Sula's desperate to have her breasts removed and I support her 100%. I would love nothing more than for her to have peace of mind.'

Sula, 27: `Mum confided in me when she found her first lump. I was only 11 and very scared. Because Mum had no partner at the time to talk through her worries with, we became even closer.

`I remember Mum being so practical, making arrangements for us to be cared for. Every time she found a lump, I'd think, "This time she's going to die." I hated it.

`As my breasts grew, I hated them. Big boobs run in my family and I had a good pair by the age of 13. I enjoyed them when I was older because of the attention, but my nan and great grandmother dying of breast cancer was always at the back of my mind.

`When I was nine, Nan came to live with us, but I was never allowed to see her. One day she asked to see me - she must have been close to the end and looked like a ghost. I remember Mum being very weepy and a depressing mood hanging over the house.

`I became terrified of losing Mum too - even when she wasn't having tests on a lump or waiting for results.

`One day Mum said, "I've decided to have a double mastectomy to put an end to all this worry." I was shocked at first, because I didn't want her to have an operation, but happy because we could be a normal family again.

`Even lying there in hospital, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from her. She was happy and easier to be around, so life improved for us all.

`I was 23 with a little girl, Lara, aged four, and pregnant with my second daughter, Sheridan, when I realised that if I got breast cancer my little girls would be left without a mum. I took a gene test and I've got a one- in-three chance of getting it - that's terrifying.

`I decided I wanted a double mastectomy and Mum thought it was the right decision. But I also wanted reconstructive surgery, as, unlike Mum, I wanted to look the same afterwards.

`My then partner was horrified at first. He was worried about how I would cope emotionally and though he never said it, I'm sure he was anxious about whether he would still fancy me.

`But the consultant was adamant. "I'm not happy about carrying out this operation on a woman of your age," he said. "If you feel the same way, come back when you're 30." Several years on, I do feel the same.

`I fear for my little girls and worry that they'll have to live with the terror of getting cancer, just like Mum and I. But medicine and science advances all the time and I hope that when they grow up, there will be a cure.'


Photograph by Gemma Day
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 12, 2001
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