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24 September 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > People > Stories > Wearing someone else's nipples

Wearing someone else's nipples

Sarah-Jane Howe, the former beauty queen, tells her inspiring story...

Sarah-Jane Howe

Sarah-Jane Howe

Sarah-Jane Howe, a former beauty queen from Swindon, lost her Mother, Aunt and Grandmother to breast cancer.  So, to save her life, she made the decision to have her healthy breasts removed and then faced the cameras for a post op photoshoot...

Quote Mark

It all started with the Daily Mail wanting one little comment on preventative mastectomies.  I told them that I was quite happy to expose all and that I'd really like to show people what it looked like after you've had a double mastectomy because it hadn't been available for me and they jumped at it.

I knew the reason why I wanted to do it.  It wasn't about getting my top off… it was about the effect it would have on everybody else.

"...this unconscious look of horror on their faces when their partners took their tops off for the first time."

Sarah-Jane

It was for the men that had never seen it before to get a glimpse of what it looked like so that if their partners ever had to go through it, they'd have a rough idea of what to expect and so that they wouldn't have this unconscious look of horror on their faces when their partners took their tops off for the first time.

It was also for the women who didn't have a clue what it was going to look like after reconstruction and to show them that you can actually still look pretty amazing afterwards. 

A News Agency in Bristol looked after me and it was easy.  I was quite surprised how easy I found it.  I think I'm just so comfortable with them and I just love them so much.  It was probably harder to have the medical shots in the hospital of them before then it is now.

Anyway the photographer said to me 'Do you want to do the topless ones first or leave it till last so that you've done all the others first?' but I was quite happy just to do it first.

'What are you going to do, have your breasts removed?'

I was just nine when my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and she lived with cancer for about 20 years of her life.  It kind of loomed over me the whole time…

The first conversation I had about a mastectomy was with an oncologist, my mum's oncologist. I used to go in and have an appointment with him, after my Mum, just to find out what was going on with her.  We talked about genetic screening and he really dismissed it and said 'What are you going to do, have your breasts removed?'. 

That was in 1996… and that was kind of always there as the only option for me.

Sarah-Jane as Miss Thamesdown

Sarah-Jane as Miss Thamesdown

So when my Mum did die, it made a light go on in my head that actually I didn't have to stand with my back against the wall waiting for it to catch on fire before I did something. That actually I could do something to prevent it.

I went to see a local breast specialist, who deals with all the women who have breast cancer, but I think it was such a new thing for him. He said to me, at the time, that it was not the norm for him to operate on healthy tissue.  But I knew what I wanted.

I'd changed my lifestyle, changed my diet, changed all the thought patterns I had going on in my head.  I'd got rid of all the stress and, you know, was living a much better lifestyle then I'd ever lived in my life and now I just needed more certainty.

I'd been told that I'd got a 90% chance of getting it and you live with it for so long…. so I was so determined, when I went in there. I knew exactly what I wanted.

"I'd been told that I'd got a 90% chance of getting it and you live with it for so long…. "

Sarah-Jane

I talked to him for an hour.  He questioned my reasoning behind why I wanted it done. But I think he could see that I was passionate about getting it done that when he said to me: 'Lets go through and see how we can reconstruct' it was like 'Wow he's going to do this for me…'.  It was just an amazing gift he was giving me.

I'd love to say that when I decided to have the op that everyone was behind me.  But no they weren't.  Maybe it was because I was still quite closed and kept a lot of how I really felt inside.  I think, at the time, people didn't really understand me or where I was at and how much it meant to me and how much it was hurting inside to be carrying this around with me.

And, you know, there wasn't a huge amount of my family left to support me.  But my brother was there.  He was great and my friends knew full well why I was doing it and were so pleased I was being given the opportunity to do it.

But there have been a few weird surprises...

I didn't know that they were going to reconstruct until they said.  I was quite happy to just get rid of them and not do it.  But then when you've been given that opportunity to reconstruct, I thought: 'OK this is great, this will really help me to feel even more feminine then I already do.'

They put temporary implants in initially so they could inflate them, as and when you needed it, to stretch the muscles and stretch the skin but they had to do it really gradually.  So they did that over a period of about six weeks.  But the valve on the right breast had flipped over so they couldn't actually inject any fluid into it.  I laugh about it now because actually when you look at it I had one breast massive and one breast tiny because they couldn't inflate one.

Sarah-Jane's Mum was diagonised with breast cancer

Sarah-Jane's Mum, Aunt and Grandmother

Anyway I was going back every week to have saline injections pumped into each one.  It hurt every time they put more in but then I got addicted to the fact that actually these breasts were getting bigger and bigger and they looked nicer and nicer every time I went in.

So it was kind of like: It’s going to hurt a lot but my breasts will be bigger.  And I was thinking at what point do I stop inflating these? It's kind of comical, when you think about it now, that they were inflating these breasts until you're happy with them.  But I think I was over compensating in some way.  It was like when do you stop?  I've gone from a 34B and I'm now a 32E.

The Nipple Effect

My surgeon talked to me about the nipples before I went in and asked me if I wanted to keep them. I asked him why he would want to remove them and he said: 'Because they're breast tissue and they'll increase my risk.'

Well, you know, for me the reason behind me doing this was because I wanted to lower my risk as much as possible and so I said there would be no reason why I would want to keep them and so that's why the nipples were removed.

I've got a few scars there at the moment so to take your eyes away from that, I suppose, anything there would be better then looking at the scars.

But it's funny.  Somebody's just contacted me and offered me a free tattoo, to have tattooed nipples on.  But I'm really not sure about the tattoo thing.  I did have a joke with my surgeon that I was going to get tattooed but it wouldn't be nipples but two eyes with one winking at me.

"I've got nothing there at the moment but I've got prosthetic nipples I carry around in my handbag. "

Sarah-Jane

I've got nothing there at the moment but I've got prosthetic ones I carry around in my handbag.

They look like real nipples.  They've got cosmetic glue and you stick them on and they'll stay on and they look amazing.  When I saw them I was like 'My goodness they're like real nipples'.

This is another bit of information I'd like to give to women: If you are having your nipples removed before you do that go and get a mould of your own nipples so that you can get your own nipples as prosthetics.

But they didn't tell me that and so I've got somebody else's nipples.  We had to spray mine with fake tan the other day for the paper because they're a little bit pink compared to the rest of my body.  It is amazing though and they do look so real but now when I put them on, because I've had 18 months without nipples, it just looks so weird.

In the end though, I didn't want to be living thinking that cancer's made me have to do this, you know.  In some ways I guess it has but I still had the choice and I chose to do it when I was ready to do it. 

It's a tough time for women when they have to have that done.  I've had the choice to do it when I'm ready to do it, mentally, where as most women aren't prepared for it when they have to have it done.

And, since having the operation, my personality, my lifestyle, everything… my whole life has changed completely.  You know you go from having a 90% risk to a 2% risk, which is what I've got now, so all I can see from it is the positive. 

Quote Mark

I've had the operation and I've gone down to a 2% risk of cancer and my breasts are a lot further north then they used to be.

To find out more about Sarah-Jane's work as a life coach and Blood Microscopist click on the link below or in the right hand column:

last updated: 30/04/2008 at 14:02
created: 29/04/2008

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

PATTY
HI. YOU LOOK AMAZING. I HAD BOTH BREASTS REMOVED AND THE RIGHT ONE THAT WAS RADIATED LOOKS AWFUL. I AM IN A PICKLE BECAUSE I WANT NIPPLES, BUT I DON'T WANT TO GO THRU ANOTHER SURGERY AND SOMEONE TOLD ME THE TATOOED NIPPLES LOOK REALLY BAD. I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO.

Helen
Just read the story. Brave Sarah :)

debbi
I had breast cancer on the left and preventitive on the right(mastectomy)I too had recon via tram flap(tummy) and am so pleased with results ,sarah,your recon looks fab,your so brave.

sara
i think you made a very big desition but if you dident have your breasts removed what would of happen

Stanley Fletcher
What a brave and inspiring story.

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