Chantal's breast cancer experience

Chantal shares why she chose to have a preventative double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery

You must attend your regular screening appointments, and don’t let life get in the way.


When Chantal was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2018, her treatment plan included a combination of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy.

Being diagnosed with cancer and receiving treatment was a difficult time for Chantal, especially as during this time she also learnt that she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene. This discovery led to one of the most difficult decisions of her life, opting to have a double mastectomy. 

Here, she shares her story and her wonderful experience at London Breast Institute, part of HCA Healthcare UK. 

Chantal's story

Chantal, a Marketing Director from Hampshire, first noticed a lump in her breast whilst showering. She wasn't too concerned initially, but went to see her doctor to get it checked out. At that point she knew that it must be more serious as in the next week she was asked to have a mammogramultrasound and biopsy. She was then diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.

She soon started a course of chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy including the removal of her underarm lymph nodes and radiotherapy at her local hospital in Reading. During her chemotherapy treatment, Chantal was asked to undergo testing to see if she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene as her mum had been diagnosed with breast and then ovarian cancer. The tests came back confirming that Chantal was a carrier – something which gave her extra concern, particularly as she has two daughters and a niece who could also be carriers. She then made the decision to have her ovaries removed in April 2019 as a preventative measure but wasn't quite ready yet to undergo a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction.  

The importance of gaining a second opinion

When she felt ready towards the end of 2019, she started conversations with her surgeon in Reading. It was important for Chantal to have her breasts reconstructed from her own tissue rather than having implants, knowing that she would first need to lose some weight for this approach to work most effectively. Her surgeon advised against this approach, and it was then that Chantal turned to the team at London Breast Institute, part of The Princess Grace Hospital, for a second opinion, after she was recommended there by a friend. 

In February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the UK, Chantal attended her first consultation with Professor Kefah Mokbel, Consultant Breast Surgeon at London Breast Institute, and she was completely astounded by her initial meeting: "It's so hard to put it into words, but as soon as I met Professor Mokbel I had a really good feeling about my choice to come here for my preventative surgery. He took the time to really listen to me and my reasoning for preferring to have reconstructive breast surgery using my own tissue. In our next consultation, he invited Stuart James, Consultant Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeon, where together they discussed my care with me. I felt so involved, and really felt that I was in complete control about what was happening to my body, which was so important given the sensitivities around the operation." 

"Knowing I wanted to lose weight before my operation, I was thrilled when I was able to lower my Body Mass Index (BMI) from 40 to 23, which I am incredibly proud of. Professor Mokbel and Stuart James made it clear that it was crucial that I was completely happy with my weight and body shape before surgery and shouldn't drastically change weight after the surgery, as visually this could affect the reconstruction." 

Having the operation on her terms 

Whilst Chantal was physically in a good and healthy shape for surgery at the beginning of 2020, she decided to wait until she reached her ideal weight before surgery, a decision which was supported by the team at London Breast Institute. Chantal finally reached her goal in September 2020, and following an appointment with her consultants, she booked her procedure for 7th November. It was a lengthy and complex procedure – taking eleven hours in total - but was a complete success. Chantal was moved to the intensive care unit at The Princess Grace Hospital as she was being monitored every fifteen minutes to ensure the blood flow was going through to the new tissue around her nipple area, now that it had been moved from her stomach to her breasts. 

Astounded by her recovery

Commenting on her operation and recovery, Chantal adds: "I honestly couldn't rate my care highly enough. Especially the breast cancer nurses who supported me along the way, they were all incredible and couldn't have been more lovely and always so encouraging. Not only was the care I received second-to-none, but I was astounded by my speedy recovery. I was told by a different consultant elsewhere that my recovery could take up to six months and that I would have to have drains fitted for a minimum of 6-8 weeks, but Professor Mokbel assured me right from the start that at the London Breast Institute they follow a different recovery plan and that drains are not needed at home, and I was absolutely right to trust him. After undergoing an eleven-hour operation and after only four days in hospital I was able to go home – without the need for any drains, what a relief! Within two weeks of being home I was back at my desk (at home of course) and able to start working again – it honestly was remarkable." 

With regards to any additional treatment, Chantal will need to have regular checks and scans every six months. As her cancer was linked to her hormones, Chantal is on a 10-year hormone treatment plan which can affect bone density, so she will also soon be undergoing treatment to strengthen her bones. 

When asked about why she would recommend others go to London Breast Institute for their care, she commented: "It's so important that you are in charge of your own treatment and that you ensure you are involved in the decisions about your body. I couldn't have felt more empowered and in control at the London Breast Institute, where my opinion and my reasonings were not just considered, but I was listened to at every level." 

Do not feel punished being a BRCA1 gene carrier

It's so important to me that other BRCA1 gene carriers don't see it as a punishment or bad luck! Of course, it is absolutely fine to be afraid, however, the decision of taking action and minimising the risk of breast cancer with a double mastectomy and reconstruction is made so much easier being supported by Professor Mokbel and his amazing team, go for it and I promise it just lifts a huge weight off your shoulders!"

Attend your screening appointments – don't let life get in the way

On her advice to women (and men) everywhere, she adds: "You must attend your regular screening appointments, and don't let life get in the way. I spent time focusing on caring for my mother, who was unwell at the time, which meant I missed my mammogram appointment. I will always encourage my two daughters and niece to be mindful of any changes to their body, and to see a doctor immediately if they're concerned, especially as they're at an increased risk because of our family history and the fact that I am a BRCA1 gene carrier. Now, though, I am thrilled that I'm able to look forward and make plans which don't just revolve around when my next operation will be!" 

Learn more about the cancer care services and cancer specialists at HCA UK

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.

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