'˜I'm not waiting to react - I've taken back control'
With a family history and a high risk of getting breast cancer in the future, Diana Hamilton, daughter of popular Lancashire radio personality Sally Naden, made the brave decision to have a double mastectomy as a preventative measure
Gazing down at her mum’s nails, Diana Hamilton was taken aback as the usually glamorous looking talons were broken and didn’t look healthy.
It was the first indication Diana had that something serious was wrong.
Diana, now 39, recalls that moment 12 years ago. “My mum and I had been to the theatre and I remember glancing at her nails which always looked fabulous and they just looked awful. They were all broken and did not look healthy at all.
“I asked her if everything was all right as it was clear it wasn’t.”
Sally Naden, Diana’s mum, who is a presenter on BBC Radio Lancashire, had not wanted to tell her daughter anything at the time as she didn’t want to worry her.
Sally, who lives in Poulton and was 49 at the time, had been to the doctors after noticing a slight puckering of the skin on her left breast and had undergone a mammogram and was waiting for the results
Sally and Diana had both been under the care of the Nightingale Centre at Wythenshawe which focuses on predicting and preventing the disease because of their family history of breast cancer.
Diana’s grandmother Pauline Tinker- Sally’s mum - who is now 90 and lives in Staining, has battled breast cancer, bowel cancer, cervical cancer and is currently living with skin cancer.
Diana says: “I was only about six or seven when my nan had breast cancer and I can remember her being unwell.
“When she had breast cancer, they did not offer reconstruction so she had a mastectomy.
“She is a real survivor.
“However, my nan’s sister Jean had breast cancer and did not survive. She died when I was 10-days-old.
“Although I never met her, I feel like I know her as everyone talks about her and how inspirational she was.
“My mum, me and my daughter have all got the middle name Jean to keep her name alive.”
Diana, who grew up in Blackpool near Stanley Park, with mum Sally and dad Dave, was a pupil at Baines Endowed Primary School followed by Collegiate High School in Blackpool before studying technical illustration at Blackpool and Fylde College.
Diana then went on to De Montfort University in Leicester to study fine art and history of art and she met her husband Mark Hamilton during Freshers’ Week.
Twenty years later, the couple have been married for 10 years and have two children - Harry, eight and Mollie, five.
Diana, who now lives in Macclesfield is her mum’s only child and is very close to her and says when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was devastating.
Diana says: “I was in my twenties at the time and although given our family history it was not unexpected, it was still a real shock.
“The thing I remember most is the waiting. We always seemed to be waiting - waiting for results, waiting to see if the cancer had spread.
“We had that awful feeling all the time of not knowing what was going to happen next.
“I just remember it all being really horrific.
“But my mum was incredibly inspiring in the way she dealt with everything from the surgery to the chemotherapy.
“I remember her going to a ball in a beautiful glamorous ball gown with a bald head.
“She was amazing.”
With her family history of the disease, Sally had always been vigilant about checking her breasts.
After having a mammogram and a fine needle biopsy, Sally felt she was let down by the NHS as she kept having to call to chase the results.
She was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer and told she needed a mastectomy.
Sally wanted a reconstruction mastectomy where the skin of the breast is kept and the breast is replaced with tissue and muscle from the stomach.
However, because of the delay in diagnosis while waiting for her results, Sally was told she couldn’t have the operation on the NHS as she needed the surgery quickly.
She ended up paying £8,000 to have it done privately - and former Bullseye host Jim Bowen who used to be Sally’s co-presenter on Radio Lancashire - lent her the money.
Sally had the surgery followed by chemotherapy at the Rosemere Cancer Centre and is now 12 years on and sometimes even forgets she had cancer.
Given the family history on her mum’s side of breast cancer coupled with the fact that her dad Dave’s sister died of breast cancer at the age of 47, Diana has been looked after by the Nightingale Centre and has had mammograms from the age of 35.
But Diana admits when she had her last mammogram, she was very worried and she felt like she was waiting for something to happen.
Testing to find out if she had the gene that can lead to breast cancer didn’t give her any answers.
Diana explains: “There are a number of genes that carry the mutation for breast cancer.
“We don’t carry it but because of the age, but because of the age my family members were diagnosed - they were all in their 40s - and because it was a hormone cancer, there was a high probability that it was genetic but the gene had not been identified yet.
“You are put in a position of not having a definitive answer but knowing you are at high risk of getting breast cancer.”
Diana knew she had three options; to carry on as she was being closely monitored, to take the drug tamoxifen as a preventative measure or to have preventative surgery.
She says: “Tamoxifen can mimic the menopause and I wasn’t quite ready for that.
“I then began talking to the clinic about having preventative surgery.”
Diana, who is a self employed project manager managing cultural projects and events, says making the decision to have the surgery was not a difficult one.
She says: “I was told I had a 47 to 50 per cent risk of getting breast cancer.
“Knowing my family history made the decision easy.
“I wanted to be able to be in control and manage the surgery around my children.
“Choosing to have the surgery as a preventative measure meant I could plan for it rather than dealing with it when it was thrown at me.
“My children know exactly what I have had done.
“It is not as scary to tell your children you have had something done to prevent you getting ill in the future rather than telling them you’ve had it done because you are ill.
“It is a completely different mindset.”
Having the mastectomy as a preventative measure meant Diana could have the reconstruction she wanted as you can be limited depending on the treatment you need when you have cancer.
Diana has had expanders put in and in about eight weeks time, she will have exchange surgery where surgeons will put silicon implants in. She has chosen to go back to the size she was.
Diana had the mastectomy done about six weeks ago at Manchester’s Christie Hospital and confesses as the surgery drew closer, the reality started hitting home.
She recalls: “As it got closer to the surgery, I started worrying about the practical things such as how my family would cope while I wasn’t there.
“The prospect of going under general anaesthetic also worried me. I thought: ‘Am I going to wake up?’
“It is the thought of putting yourself at risk when you know you are 100 per cent healthy at that moment.
“It goes against every grain of your body. But everyone at the Christie were amazing and as soon as I woke up, I felt an immediate sense of relief to be on the other side. I feel amazing now and am buzzing on the adrenaline. The surgeon has done an amazing job.
“It feels fantastic to know I no longer have that worry hanging over me. I feel like I have completely taken control and am not waiting to react to what happens to me.
“I hope my daughter does not have to go through this. She is five and has plenty of time on her side and hopefully she will be able to make an easier decision.
“There is talk about a vaccine to prevent breast cancer and that would be wonderful.”
Diana says being able to talk to her mum throughout her experience was a great help.
She says: “Me and my mum are very close and it has been amazing to be able to talk to her about it all. My experience was very different as my mum’s case was about her treatment while mine was preventative surgery.
“I am happy to share my story and tell why I made my decision. But is an individual choice and it is not for everyone. People will deal with things differently.
“I woke up and felt like a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders. But some people want to be monitored and that works out fine. My experience was very positive. When my aunty Jean died, there was some insurance money and her mum used it to buy a diamond ring and it has been passed down to me and my mum.
“We are now talking about having it re-designed and re-set to symbolise how we have re-shaped our lives.”
Angelina Jolie gave out a positive message
Hollywood star Angelina Jolie revealed in May 2013 that she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy after tests showed she carries the BRCA1 cancer gene leaving her with an 87 per cent chance of contracting breast cancer.
The actress’s decision led to increased awareness of breast cancer treatment and surgery.
Diana says: “What someone like Angelina Jolie showed me was that people go through the surgery and come through the other side. Stories like hers give a very positive message.
“There are a lot of women out there making these sorts of positive choices and I think it is really good that they are empowering each other to make these sorts of decisions.
“To be able to hear about other women’s stories and talk to other people who have been through the same thing is really inspiring.
“That network of support from other women is so important.
“These are women making a positive choice before breast cancer happens to them.
“We are called ‘pre-vivors’ instead of survivors.”