Pauline Giles shares her incredible journey, from being diagnosed with breast cancer to setting up a charity to raise breast cancer awareness for young women. An inspirational story of courage, laughter and determination!
May 2010 My mother and I attend an appointment with a Genetic Clinic my gran and mother had both had breast cancer and we wanted to know if we were carrying the BRCA gene which could mean my daughter and myself could be carriers. The lovely lady doctor explained in order to be checked we needed two surviving generations so they could check tissue. The doctor looked up and said ‘so Ms Giles, for you to save your daughter you would, in essence have to have the disease.’ 10 July 2010 My “I’m over it’ Party, 12 month previous I found out my husband who I had been with since I was 14 had been having an affair with one of my friends. It had been a hideous time, but as I announced to all my friends, some of whom had travelled from London, I’m over it, I am happy again, time to move on and make a new future, the party wound up at 5am!
11 July The next morning somewhat jaded some of us went out to dinner, the talk was of my future and how they were so pleased to see that I had come out the other end. I waved them off promising myself an early night!
The next morning I had a routine mammogram appointment, I was up early, the sun was shining and Lauren my daughter was coming to the hospital with me, she had just got home from Uni, we were going to go shoe shopping The sun was out the music was blasting from the car stereo, the roof was down, and I remember smiling, thinking life was good. I left Lauren sitting in the waiting room reading a magazine when they shouted my name. Chatting to the radiographer as we walked in step into the treatment room, remarking about the weather and other casual stuff. ‘Whip behind the screen and take your top of for me’, she said, we were still chatting as I reappeared back around the curtain, ‘Hmm Ms Giles what’s that puckering on you left breast?’ ‘Oh that, that’s nothing I have lost 4 ½ stone in the last 12 months, I’ve got it on my stomach too, it doesn’t mean I have cancer’ smiling all the time. ‘So how come you haven’t got it on the other one then?’ It stopped me in my tracks, I swallowed hard, I knew from her tone she was concerned.
The mammography was done, then an ultrasound, ‘we want to do a core biopsy,’ ‘what does that entail?’ I asked, ‘we will shoot a fine needle through your breast which will give us a tissue sample from left to right of your breast tissue,’ a bit like when you put a core through cheese to check the veins. They did three…….
There was a long wait, I was conscious that Lauren had been sitting outside for nearly 3 hours. The door opened and there stood the Genetic doctor, I could see by her face that it wasn’t good news, she sat down beside me and said ‘Pauline I have been doing this job for 23 years, we will send your samples away, but I know you have breast cancer’ I smiled meekly and said ‘Well you told me I had to get it to save my daughter’
They wheeled Lauren into the stark little room, a couch, a coffee table, a box of tissues, Lauren could see by my face it wasn’t good news, she said ‘I knew something was wrong, people came and went and I was still sitting there!’ I thought back some 10 years, I was that daughter sitting in the waiting room for my mother, I knew exactly what was going through her mind.
We left the hospital, I was in shock, I drove home too fast, I was on autopilot, at one point Lauren yelled at me ‘Mum!,slow down you’ll kill us both’ All I wanted to do was get home and see my son, I rang from the car, ‘Phil are you home?’ ‘Yes mother, is everything alright?’ ‘Yes sweetheart I just want to talk to you’
When I got home I looked out the kitchen window to see Phil lying on a rug in the sun with our dogs, headphones on, not a care in the world, for the second time in 12 months I was going to rip his world apart.
That evening I posted on Facebook ……………… Well here’s the deal, there will be rumours aplenty about me in the next few days! ~Nothing new there then, but as my friends, you can tell anyone that wants to know the truth…… I have Cancer, bit upset at the moment, will know more Wednesday afternoon when I meet my nurse and surgeon. Life’s a bitch, but I don’t do second best, so it can jolly well bugger off cos I aint ready to push up no daisies! That same evening I wrote a piece and posted in all my girlfriends mailboxes on Facebook, it is startling to see that even from the very start I was on a mission!
I think for every woman given the news that they must have a mastectomy its a bitter blow. For me, I am sad, but happy, why happy? because deep down i knew this day would come. So……. all my life I have had my assets on display always wore low cut tops and enjoyed the attention it has brought. I remember one of my friends saying to me about 10 years ago, you’ve always wore risque tops, and I said honey, I don’t know how long I shall have them, so whilst I do, I shall jolly well make the most of them, and I have…… no regrets
Now I’m going through the wringer at the moment, but I can’t be a spectator in all this, can’t bury my head in the sand, cos it’s gonna happen and there aint a thing I can do about it!
Everything happens for a reason…………………….
I think something positive will come out of this, possibly i will become a counsellor or mentor to others, I want to tell every woman thats sitting there staring down the barrel of the gun, it’s okay, you can look good after surgery ‘Look at me’ Lol
Thats why after all the surgery is over I have a friend who is a professional photographer, he is going to take some ‘glamourous’ photos so that I can show others in my position its not all bad…………
I have spoken to a lady who has had the procedure I am about to have, major stuff, but she’s out the other side and she says it has made her a stronger person! God knows what that’ll mean for me, maybe the next Prime Minister, Mmmmm… there’s a thought!
Always look at the positives
From now on, my saying will be ‘ ALWAYS look at the POSITIVES and the negatives will fade away……… want you all to write this somewhere so that when something crops up in your life that is out of your control, you can take the positives out of it and feel happy again. Glass half full girls……. always x x x x Pauline
6 days later I went into hospital and had lymph nodes removed, the good news was they contained no cancer so a mastectomy would be required. My surgeon was lovely, he explained he was going to detach my back muscle from my waist, haul it under my armpit and attach it to my chest. I remember for a minute the room span, he could see I was horrified, he took my hand, ‘Pauline I am an oncoplastic surgeon, I am not going to let you leave my care any less a woman than when you entered it’ ‘Now we’re going to give you a reduction on the right breast, an uplift, do liposuction on your stomach once everything has settled, you will have the chest of a 20 year old.’ I smiled and said ‘Hell that’s not bad’ the surgeon looked at me and said ‘Pauline, I have just told you you have Breast Cancer, how can that not be bad?’ ‘Because you’ve just said I’m gonna have the chest of a 20 year old and lipo on my stomach, I’d say that was a bit of a win win myself’ And there started the wonderful relationship that I have with my surgeon! He said ‘I’d like to try something different if its okay with you’ ‘Anything that you think will improve things, go right ahead’
The surgery was 7 hours, I came round from the anaethestic quickly and was starving! Once back on the ward I was on the phone telling everyone I was okay. The anaesthetist appeared and stood at the end of my bed frowning! ‘what the hell are you doing?’ I said ‘I’ll call you back’ and cut off the phone, ‘what’s the problem?’ He pointed at my head to where my oxygen mask was propped, and said ‘That is NOT a party hat’ ‘Ah but the thing is I can’t talk on the phone with that on’ He was none too chuffed and asked if I was using the morphine, I rummaged under the covers for the control, again he frowned and said ‘You aren’t getting out that bed until that bag is empty!’
That night every time it let me have another dose I pressed the button!, I was still texting at 2am! I text HIGH AS A KITE ON MORPHINE a text came back, LET ME HAVE SOME! NO BUGGER OFF GET YOUR OWN was my reply.
Even though I was in hospital getting over something serious, I was upbeat and happy and would bomb around the wards with my drain bags each side and dragging along my drip stand. One thing that did worry we was the age of some of the girls I was in hospital with, some in their early 30s, which concerned me somewhat. 3 days after my op I was allowed home to celebrate my daughters 21st birthday.
21 September Chemo started, I rocked up with a mahoosive chocolate cake I had made that morning and got one of my friends to write a quiz. A good friend came with me, I was connected up and looked around the room, there was no eye contact going on, no banter, just abject misery. ‘Ok you lot, why you looking so sad?’ I pointed up at the clear bag containing the first of the chemo drugs, ‘See that bag? That’s what’s gonna keep me alive, so I might be sick and I might lose my hair, but if it means I will be here with my kids in 10 years time, then bring it on, now gather round, I’ve made a cake we’ve got a quiz, we just as well enjoy this!’
By the end of the morning, everyone was laughing, one of the women’s husbands said ‘Shall I do the quiz next time?’ ‘Deal, and I’ll make another cake’ As I left, the chemo nurse hugged me and said ‘you are the first person to ever turn chemo on its head and see it’s positives, thank you’
3 weeks later I sat in the waiting room with the others who I had had chemo with, I came out from my blood test and went to the desk, ‘9.20 Monday’ one by one the others came out and went to the desk, ‘11.30’ ‘Uh no, I don’t want 11.30’ ‘what do you mean?’ said the receptionist. I got up from my seat walked to the desk ‘I pointed to the others, ‘we are the 9.20 club, we started chemo together, and we will finish chemo together’ and there the pact was made. We talked on facebook, ‘how ya feeling today?’ ‘crap’ ‘yep me too’ there was something nice about knowing someone else was feeling the same as you, you weren’t alone.
Just before my second chemo I held a coffee morning at my house, in 2 hours I made £600.
I always tried to be upbeat, this was a journey I had to take to be well, so I just as well make the most of it, I had researched chemo and found that you could elect for four stronger doses rather than spread it over six, I decided I didn’t have time to be sick for six months so told my chemo doctor this was what I wanted. He said ‘You’ll be terribly sick’ I looked him right in the eye and said ‘Oh no I’m not’ I had read that the chemo did its harm within hours of it being in your body and the best way to get over it quickly was to drink as much water as you possibly could, and that the steroids you were given, made you hungry which a lot of people misconstrued as nausea, in order to keep it at bay I would carry a packet of ginger biscuits with me all the time, it worked and true to my word, I wasn’t sick once!
Losing my hair was the worst part of having cancer
I thought I was invincible, kidded myself that I wasn’t going to lose my hair, I climbed out the shower one morning, went into my dressing room and proceeded to dry my hair, the whole of the purple shock of hair came out in my hand, I crumpled to my knees sobbing, my son heard me and came running in, ‘Mum what’s wrong’ I held out my hand my hair lay in my hand, out came my wig which I had bought and had styled and coloured to look just like my hair, I swallowed hard and walked out into the world feeling very different. After all this was over, my surgeon looked at me in shock when I said that losing my hair was the worst part of having cancer.
Whilst going through the chemo I had time on my hands, started researching. There were more incidents of younger women getting Breast Cancer, on talking to some girls in their early 20s, they said they didn’t think they could get breast cancer, didn’t know how to check themselves or know what they were looking for.
I got regular calls from my daughter, concerned about how I was, she was miles away in Birmingham at Aston University, I was in Cornwall, she would ring and say ‘How are you mum?’ my reply was always ‘I’m fine” I knew she wasn’t convinced! I was too proud to be poorly or even to look it, by now I had lost my eyelashes the lot, I got up early every morning and the saga would begin! I had false eyelashes, now anyone who has used them will know, you put glue on them and butt them up against your existing lashes, I didn’t have any! So I would daub a little bit of glue on, hold the eyelash in place until it dried, then daub on another! Took me a good hour, but I had to look normal, healthy, like nothing was wrong.
I remember sitting in the waiting room to see my chemo doctor, the one who said I was going to be very sick, I was dressed to kill, makeup, killer heels the works! I had to look down at the floor as I was grinning so much. He looked at me and said ‘So Pauline, how have you been?’ He started to rattle off a list of symptoms, please tell me which ones you have had’ I said ‘wow, wow, wow, it would be quicker for you to ask me which ones I’ve had’ He said okay, ‘Well on day 5 and sick, I feel like crap’ and waving my hand from head to feet I said ‘But apart from that honey, what you see is what you get’ He laughed and said ‘Okay Pauline, you just as well go’ I walked away, with a broad smile on my face and never looked back.
The end of chemo and a new idea for charity, Bosom Buddies emerges
By the end of the chemo, a germ of an idea was forming, going on a business course cemented, it, the woman taking the course asked me to stand up and tell everyone what I had been through, it came out so easily, everyone was so impressed, when I had finished the Tutor came up and said ‘Pauline, this is what you are meant to do!’
Through the weeks on the course a plan was forged, I needed £5,000 in order to become a registered charity, I organized an event at the Eden Project, got several local bands to donate their time for free, the event was a huge success, I took £7,000 on the door, in one fowl swoop Bosombuddiesuk became a charity in June 2011, the work began.
The mission of Bosombuddiesuk is to go into comprehensive schools and educate the year 11 girls, (16+) on signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and how to check themselves. This is the last time you can get 90% of the female population in one place to teach them anything, it made sense. If we could teach 90% year on year it ws bound to make a huge difference to how the disease was perceived. Too many women still think that to have breast cancer means the removal of the breast and what looks like a beanbag to stuff down your bra, things have changed, women needed to know this.
I want two ladies in every county of the UK who have had breast cancer in the last 5 years, they will be my ‘Buddies’ they will go into schools, show the girls a video on how to check themselves and give a talk about their journey. I think this is our USP, how can I send women into schools to talk to girls, if they haven’t been on that journey? How could they give comfort and advice to girls, say I know, if they didn’t? My search was on…………..
People say how do I do it? I work 60+ hours a week, am permanently wired, my head never stops, I say it passion, I am driven, it gets results.
Monte Carlo or Bust
In September 2011 a friend and myself went on a Monte Carlo or Bust car rally in BB the charities ex London Taxi, she is sprayed pink, has zebra print seats, pink carpet and a glitter ball. We had a ball and helped raise over £50,000 for cancer in Cornwall, Bosombuddiesuk was one of the beneficiaries.
BB is a great PR tool, everyone knows me and regularly see me bombing around Cornwall and beyond, her long eyelashes flapping in the breeze!
I designed t shirts to raise money and spread awareness, they are a big hit and continue to generate an income, to my knowledge they were the first item of clothing in the UK to have a QR code printed on them, ideal when we are out at night collecting! Drunken girls come up and ask us where they can buy a shirt, I say ‘Right here’ and if they have a smart phone, its bought within minutes! It still makes me smile, I wonder how many get a parcel 3 or 4 days later and think ‘when on earth did I order that!’
Going to the House of Commons
10 November 2011 I went to the House of Commons for the second time, this caused quite a furore in the county, this little Cornish Maid going to speak to the MPs. It went rather well, they got what I had to say, I was clever, talked money! ‘If detected early, when a lump is the size of a pea, it is a small innovasive operation, six weeks off work and then return to normal family life, the cost? Approximately £2,000. See me? I cost £20,000 because I wasn’t detected early, major operation, chemo, drugs, check up, follow up treatment, so early detection is the key! I could save you millions! Some MPs took the bait, they went off out into their constituencies in pink wigs, pink Stetsons all sorts looking for the ladies for their counties!
I have since been to the House of Commons again for a progress report, I look forward to the next one as I have so much to tell them.
Later that month I was talking to my girlfriends, I said ‘short of me going on Page 3 of the Sun, how am I gonna let women see what a great job the surgeons do with reconstruction?’ A few days later I met a lovely lady called Jenny Marquis, she was a professional body artist, she said let me paint you naked, it will look like your wearing clothes but everyone will be able to see what you have had done! A week later we were holed up in a hotel room for 7 hours, while she painted me in a basque complete with suspenders and stockings! It did the trick……………
In January of 2012 at my Board meeting, one of which is my surgeon, I announced that I was going to meet Donald Trump this year, and talk him into funding the education programme in the US. They all laughed and said, we have no doubt you will. I like to set myself what others consider to be unachievable goals, its what gives me the buzz.
I have since been to the House of Commons again for a progress report, I look forward to the next one as I have so much to tell them.
We are living in a recession, money is tight, I think it is unacceptable to stand on a street corner shaking a tin and expecting people to give generously. Charities need to be run as a business. I also want people to know what Bosombuddiesuk does as a charity, why we are different to all the rest, and what happens to the money.
I wanted Bosom Buddies to be different
I sat down and thought about our need for innovative merchandise, with the majority of charities, they sell the same products but with their logo on, expecting people to buy, I want us to be different
How many women run Race for Life every year, what trainer company has maximized their potential customer base by producing trainers which gave money to Breast Cancer, and so the idea developed! As we speak, my bespoke ‘branded’ trainers are being made, they should be ready for sale at the first weekend of December, just in time for the Christmas rush! From there product ideas have just flowed from me! We have some great merchandise to put us on the map, all fully branded and quality to ensure we get repeat sales.
My latest achievement was talking our local brewery Skinners of Truro into brewing me a real ale! They already make Betty Stogs and Cornish Knocker, so it made perfect sense to me that to blend the two together and call it Betty Knockers and give me a percentage of profit from every bottle sold would help elevate their brand and make me some much needed funds. The first batch was brewed last week, 2000 limited edition bottles, from which I get £1 from each bottle, in March it goes into production in earnest going into supermarkets nationally from then on I get 5p a bottle. To my knowledge it is a first, each bottle carries bosombuddiesuk’s message, I predict it will be a big hit.
So as the year draws to a close, I look back at what has been achieved since the charities set up some 18 months ago, where I have come, how I have grown as a person. In September, I achieved my goal and met Donald Trump! He went away with one of my t shirts, he has yet to tweet me a picture of himself in it, I wait with baited breathe, he has not heard the last from me, soon he will have a proposal winging its way to him, one I hope he can not turn down.
12 November 2012 A truly exciting day! I pitch for a £15,000 grant which will give me enough money to employ me a VA part-time to do all the admin and allow me to get out there and ‘be fabulous!’ More importantly the first day that one of my buddies went into a school to share the knowledge!
That evening, I knew that our work had started, I received an email from one of the girls in the school, she had a problem and didn’t know who to tell, she has a ‘buddie’ now, she is not alone, this is what we are all about.
‘How to Check’ video
What comes next? Well at the end of this month I will release an app with a ‘how to check’ video in 7 different languages! How amazing is that? We are so lucky to have a great health service, in many countries they do not have easy access to information, or indeed health insurance, although sadly they can all afford a smart phone! This will see bosombuddiesuk become bosombuddies worldwide, the charity will grow in many countries, it’s the same check all over the world, so why wouldn’t we want to share it with womankind globally?
I look back now at the words I wrote the day I found out I had breast cancer, indeed every cloud does have a silver lining. On that very first day I knew that this was taking me somewhere big………………..
Today I wrote on Facebook Hard to understand how such complete and utter joy can come from something like Breast Cancer, we are all put on this earth with a purpose, the majority never work out what theirs is, I am left in no doubt whatsoever that I am living mine now, and it is a wonderful feeling 🙂
If you know someone who would make a great Buddie, it might be you! then get in touch, the more we have out there, the more girls we can empower! Would like to speak to men who have had the disease too x
Anyone wishing to donate can text Baps33 followed by the amount in pounds to 70070