My mum Lorraine was my best friend, and as every day passes, it doesn’t get any easier. We were extremely close, when I was aged 14 I spent months in intensive care on life support, she would never leave my side for more than 5 minutes to have a quick shower. I never imagined she would suddenly be taken away from me at such a young age and not be around to see me graduate, or get married.
I also lost my grandma and great aunt to the same illness when I just only a few years old.
When I reached the age of 25 it became apparent I had to be tested for the BRCA1 mutation
Having such a strong family history of both breast and ovarian cancer. This time for me was terrifying, as all I could think about was getting cancer and the only person I wanted there was my mum. After some counselling, I got my results and unfortunately tested positive leaving me with a risk of up to 87% of getting breast cancer, and 65% of getting ovarian cancer.
To try to reduce my risk as much as I could at my age I opted for a double mastectomy.
This means all breast tissue is removed, I opted for reconstruction using implants. Having my breasts removed at the age of 26 was very tough but I actually found the decision quite easy. Knowing about my genetic risk I will hopefully be around to watch my children grow up, a chance my mum unfortunately didn’t have.
My operation went very well and with friends and family around me, I recovered in no time. I was in quite a lot of pain and struggled to sleep.
I decided to write a blog about my journey.
My blog was like a diary, summarizing my family history, the test, the surgery, the recovery and hints and tips. I was absolutely overwhelmed with the response, within weeks it had been viewed over 100,000 times and I was contacted by women and press all over the world to share my story. Two weeks post op I appeared on BBC news and continue to do media work to raise awareness. I have spoken to many women who feared they had a risk and they have now gone on to have risk reducing surgery to eliminate that risk. It is so important to raise awareness and talk to others, as these women may have never known, and gone on to develop breast cancer.
Following surgery drains are inserted into the site and mine were in place for 12 days. They drain blood and fluid from the body and are quite large. Carrying these drains is so difficult when you are already in pain. With the help of my friends mum I decided it would be a good idea to make two pretty bags to contain the drains, these bags simply sit on either shoulder and the drain is placed in. I found these so useful I thought it would be great if I could make these available to people all over the world. Drain Dollies were then born, and I spent all my recovery time planning out how I could make this work. The first decision I made was to donate 10% of every sale to “Prevent breast cancer” this charity is based where I had my operation in Manchester, and they strive to create a future free of breast cancer.
Two years have now passed
“Drain Dollies” have grown into a recognized product in the breast cancer community, with many breast care nurses and surgeons recommending them. Drain Dollies are supplied to both retailers, charities, hospitals and individuals. Although there is still much work to be done, as many women still contact me post op saying they wish they had known about them. Drain Dollies have gone all over the world from Iceland to Hawaii and America. The special thing about Drain Dollies is that I often get to know these women and many have become friends of mine, engaging in many conversations about their surgery, offering them any advice and support I can.
Drain Dollies are very practical which means ladies can carry out tasks for themselves such as making a drink, brushing their teeth, which is impossible if holding drains. They also provide dignity whilst recovering, and the ability to leave the house and see friends without feeling self-conscious.
“What can I say drain dollies were a life saver. I didn’t know about them until after my operation. Unfortunately, the hospital didn’t have anything like this so I ended up leaving with them in pla
stic bags! I emailed Charlotte and explained that it was upsetting my boys and that I needed something as soon as possible and she made sure I had them the next day, simply amazing, caring service. Everyone I’ve spoken to at my clinic I’ve told them about drain dollies and also ordered a few to donate to the hospital for other ladies who might find themselves in the same position as me. Thank you drain dollies, you’ve made my recovery so much easier. Charlotte you’re fantastic!”
I am constantly working on making Drain Dollies more widely recognized to enable more women to have access to them. I am so proud that I have created something that is so helpful and helps women in such a special way, and I know my mum will be looking down on me beaming with pride.
I still live with the fear of ovarian cancer, at the age of 28 I still need my ovaries to have children, but once my family is complete I will be having a hysterectomy. This will be a tougher decision than the double mastectomy as I will then be in the menopause in my 30’s.
Even though I have been faced with such tough decisions I still feel incredibly lucky.
I have two breasts that nobody would ever know have been through such a journey, a journey that has potentially saved my life and I will be eternally grateful for.
They may have a few scars but they are scars that show determination and courage. I feel lucky to have been armed with the knowledge I have and to have been able to act on it. I feel empowered that I made a life-changing choice that in no way diminishes my femininity and confidence.
After finding out she carried the BRCA1 mutation Charlotte had a double mastectomy aged 26 due to her genetic risk. Whilst recovering Charlotte designed a bag to hold post-surgical drains in order to make herself feel better and able to do things for herself. After realising how beneficial these were she decided to make these available to all women who have mastectomies, whilst raising money for a great charity. Drain dollies are distributed all over the world and come highly recommended by some of the leading breast surgeons.