As a month of awareness-boosting activity surrounding breast cancer begins, Standard Issue hears from a woman whose diagnosis taught her to get off the everyday treadmill and get on the catwalk.
Christina Bray was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2014 and finished chemotherapy treatment two months ago. Upon hearing the words ‘breast cancer’ she recalls feeling like the bottom had fallen out of her world.
When I got the results it was a huge shock. I could not believe it, the doctors had said it was probably just a cyst. It was nearly Christmas and a few weeks before my 40th birthday; I just thought, ‘how could this be happening?’
I’d always thought only much older women got breast cancer. How would I cope? What would my son think? What would my family think? Was I going to die?
But after the initial shock, I decided I was not going to let cancer rule my life. I had big plans and nothing was going to ruin them.
The first example of this was finding out my first operation, which was a sentinel node biopsy, was planned for the same day as my birthday party. There was no way I was cancelling, so I asked the doctors to move the operation to after the party and they did. I had such a wonderful time. I think knowing I had to deal with breast cancer after my birthday made me even more determined to have fun.
My treatment plan included having a mastectomy and reconstruction and then chemotherapy. At first I was very nervous about losing my breast. Once again thoughts like ‘how will I feel with only one breast?’ and ‘what will I look like?’ kept going round my head. I am sure anyone who faces a mastectomy feels the same. But I decided to be pragmatic. My right breast contained the cancer, so having it removed would mean taking away the cancer and saving my life; surely that could only be a good thing.
After the mastectomy I had chemotherapy. I remember the day I went to see the specialist I had a new wig on. As she was explaining what to expect, and mentioned hair loss, I remember saying, “This is a wig, I’m more concerned about losing my eyelashes!”
“I don’t want to say that having breast cancer has been a good thing. It was hard and I would certainly never ever wish it on anyone, but it has completely shifted my priorities and how I live my life.”
I think that made that part of the chemo easier for me as I am so used to having very short hair and wearing wigs. I love changing my hair.
Although I was prepared for hair loss, the chemo was still a big challenge. It was bewildering. After every session I had a different side effect and it left me drained physically and mentally.
Despite the issues I did once again try to stay positive. I made all sorts of plans and kept a really busy social calendar. I spent as much time as I could with my family. We have always been really close and they were amazing, but having cancer helped us develop an even deeper bond, especially between me and my son. He has been brilliant throughout my treatment.
I don’t want to say that having breast cancer has been a good thing. It was hard and I would certainly never ever wish it on anyone, but it has completely shifted my priorities and how I live my life.
I think before diagnosis I was on a treadmill of life but that’s all changed and now I’m the first one to say yes to a new experience. One of these is taking part in the Breast Cancer Care Fashion Show.
I had my mastectomy in January and at the same time I contacted Breast Cancer Care; they were amazing. The website was full of clear and understandable information.
I joined a forum for younger women with breast cancer, where I met others going through the same thing. I also learned about the fashion show. I love clothes, makeup and beauty so it seemed like the perfect thing to apply to do. At the time I remember thinking the show would be happening after I finished my treatment and it would be an amazing opportunity to demonstrate to my friends and family how well I was doing. I could not believe it when I was accepted as a model; I am so, so excited!
The show is not the only thing; I have done marathons and fundraisers and later this month I am volunteering at an event where 20 women, going through chemotherapy, will have a fabulous makeover and photo shoot. I will be on hand to give advice and support.
Having breast cancer is scary and at first I was terrified it meant a death sentence, but throughout the last year I have definitely learnt that it doesn’t have to be, and I hope by sharing my story I can show others that is the case.
Christina Bray will be modelling in the Breast Cancer Care Fashion Show on Wednesday 7 October at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. You can still buy tickets to see her on the catwalk from www.breastcancercare.org.uk/theshowlondon2613 Views