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Michelle Bester

Michelle Bester




Breast cancer

What happened

When Michelle came to work as a cleaner at the Big C head office in Norwich, at the age of 42, she told a member of staff, ‘This is great, I always wanted to work for Big C.’ Her story then unfolded.

Michelle, now 44, remembers well the period leading up to her diagnosis.  A lump was discovered in December 2007 and on February 8th she was sent for a mammogram and biopsy.  The diagnosis was formally delivered on Valentines Day in the hospital, with her husband by her side.  It was confirmed that Michelle had Breast Cancer.

‘When they tell you it is like a sudden whoosh – and out-of-body experience. You think, I have always done everything right – never smoked, ate healthily and so why me?’

Michelle quickly recovered and was determined to meet things head-on.

”You’ve picked the wrong person,” (I internally told the cancer).  A lot of the battle is the mental side. This doesn’t mean that occasionally you don’t sit down and cry your eyes out – you do.  But you must have the will power to get through it and belief that there is a way out the other side.’

On the 10th March Michelle had her mastectomy.  This was 5 days before her 40th birthday.  ‘No party for me I thought.’  The chemo began in April and lasted for 4 months until July.  ‘I had not felt ill until then.  My hair fell out and I ended up shaving my head – this felt better’.  In August the radiotherapy started and this lasted until October.  The all-clear was given which then led to reconstructive surgery in April 2009. A muscle was taken from Michelle’s back and implanted in her chest.  ‘It just means that I have to be careful how I sit sometimes, but I would rather that, than to not be here at all.’

‘I found that the Big C Centre helped a lot.  The relaxation classes were great – a group of us would meet up and this support was great.  The ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ day, also took the edge off of things and picked me up.’

Every 6 months Michelle had to go for a review.  At the last one in February, the surgeon told her that they can now be yearly.  And the good news is that 2013 should herald 5 years since the all clear.

Michelle says about the doctors and staff who treated her, ‘The word mastectomy had always scared me since I was younger, but when they told me what needed to be done I  put my faith in them and told them to do what was necessary.  I can not speak more highly of my surgeon.  He has given me my life back.’

How has the experience affected Michelle?  ‘Well,’ Michelle speaks honestly and to the point in her Norwich accent when asked; ‘Now my views on a lot of things have changed.  This experience opens your eyes a lot and makes you feel that material things are no longer so important.  It’s all about friends and family now and the memories that are created when I am with them. This is what is important to me now 

And what advice would Michelle give to others going through the same experience? ‘FIGHT – just fight it up here,’ she points to her head, ‘because you can come out the other side!’  Michelle then adds, ‘if my story helps at least one person to believe this, then telling it has been worthwhile.

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