Delilah was diagnosed with a type of breast cancer - invasive lobular carcinoma – in November 2017, after finding a mass in her right breast. She saw her GP and was referred to her local hospital where a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.
“You just don’t think it’s going to be you,” she says. “I was 41, I thought I was going to be fine. It was a very upsetting moment, although luckily for me they said it was really treatable.
“The surgical treatment option I was offered at my local hospital wasn’t quite right for me. I spoke to friends and family and quite a few people suggested that I went to The Royal Marsden, in particular to see Mr Gerald Gui – a Consultant Breast Surgeon.”
Covered by health insurance through her work, Delilah contacted The Royal Marsden in January 2018 for an appointment.
She explains: “I dealt with the secretaries, who were so kind and helpful. I felt like I was going to see the very best in London, and they made it so easy with all my documents and results transferred from my local hospital to Mr Gui. I also met my Clinical Nurse Specialist, Sarah, who was lovely. She really put me at ease.”
"One of the other positive things was that I was able to schedule my appointments around mine and my husband’s work commitments. When your health comes first, one of the stressful parts is trying to juggle everything else like work. The ability to have more flexible appointments really took the pressure off, and also mean my husband could be with me - this was hugely comforting."
Delilah had a consultation with Mr Gui, who carried out an examination and looked through all of the results from her local hospital. He suggested that she would be eligible for a DIEP Flap reconstruction after her mastectomy. A DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) flap operation is where skin, fat, muscle and blood vessels from the patient’s abdomen are used to reconstruct the breast after cancerous tissue is removed.
“For me it was important to still feel like myself after the operation. It’s pretty daunting to know you’ll have a mastectomy, and difficult to predict what you’re going to see when you look in the mirror. They explained that the advantage of a DIEP flap is that it’s your own body and could last much longer than an implant – possibly even forever,” Delilah says.
When your health comes first, one of the stressful parts is trying to juggle everything else like work. The ability to have more flexible appointments really took the pressure off, and also mean my husband could be with me - this was hugely comforting.
Mr Gui explained that he would be working with Mr Kelvin Ramsey, Consultant Plastic Surgeon, for the procedure. The oncoplastic team at The Royal Marsden works closely with the oncological surgical team. This multidisciplinary approach is hugely beneficial to patients, allowing them to have complex surgeries in one operation without the need for follow-up procedures.
In late February Delilah was admitted for her operation, which took eight hours in total.
“I was really impressed with the staff and procedures. From the pre-operative process, where I was informed fully about infection control and protocol, to the recovery period.
“I woke up in intensive care and was really worried that – as they had told me a lymph node was removed – my cancer had spread. But later that evening one of the Doctors came up especially to reassure me that it was only a precautionary measure and that they were confident the remaining lymph nodes were clear.”
Delilah recovered in hospital for five days. She had her own room, which allowed her husband to stay in the hospital as much as possible - and was even able to stay the night. After five weeks she was back at work.
“I decided not to have chemotherapy after my surgery – I had a genomic test to see whether it would make a difference. The results suggested that I had an 18 per cent chance of the cancer coming back. With chemotherapy it might go down to 13 per cent. So after discussing with the oncologists, we felt like it wasn’t big enough a benefit to justify me going through additional treatment.”
She has yearly mammograms and is still in the process of having a nipple reconstruction.
“I’m still conscious it could come back,” Delilah adds. Of course every time you get a twinge or a pain – it’s not easy to ignore that. I call it ‘cancer-noia’ – your body has lost its innocence. But I know that I can speak to anyone from The Royal Marsden if I need to.
“When I was there you just feel like the staff are at the top of their game. There’s something incredibly comforting about being in a place where you know you’re surrounded by world leading experts.
“I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve gone through this process, healed quickly and had no complications. Really it’s just amazing to get back to my family and my life.”