At 52, Hilary Crossing discovered she had breast cancer. Less than a year later, following a mastectomy and cutting-edge reconstruction, she’s come through it a stronger, more confident woman. Here’s her story…

“I went for a routine mammogram at the end of July 2015, and as soon as I was called back into the room for the results, I knew it was serious. I had two biopsies that day and while the scan of a healthy breast would be solid black, mine was like a starry sky – every tiny fragment was cancer. I was told I would lose my right breast, but that the cancer was definitely treatable. Although my whole world turned upside down that day, I kept holding onto that last word. Treatable.

Me before the diagnosis

“Within a week I contacted Vitality and spoke with my case worker Phil for the first of many, many times. Over the course of the following year, he became a constant reassuring presence at the end of the phone.

“Something I discovered early on is that you deal with the same people the whole way through the process. My breast surgeon Nicola Roche, oncologist Maurice Slevin, and plastic surgeon Stuart James were all wonderful, and as well as having that emotional stability, I felt that having the same team reduced the chance of error. One of the hardest things to accept is that you have to trust in the people supporting you, and having this incredible team made that easier.

“When it came to administering the chemo, the nurses found it very difficult, so I needed to have a portacath fitted. This is a device that’s implanted just below the skin, so that the drugs can be administered through it. This was a significant operation and at additional cost, but Vitality had no problem with that. I felt then these are ‘yes’ people. You’re ill and you need them, and that is what you bought the insurance for in the first place.

“My first cycle of chemo hit me hard. The key things were sickness, constipation and insomnia. My husband and I have a house in France, and just after cycle 7 we went there to rest.

Me post-treatment (and the dog!)

“I already had mouth ulcers, but while we were away they got infected. I was in agony and it was the only time when I’ve sat down and said, ‘I can’t do this any more.’ I ended up in A&E, where they treated me with Lidocaine, and the relief I felt was incredible. It was all covered by Vitality.

“When I had my mastectomy and reconstruction in January 2016, I was able to go for a DIEP, where instead of the new breast being constructed from silicone – which needs a replacement operation every 6-7 years – mine was created from my own stomach tissue. It meant that both my breasts were still all me. Plus, the Lister Hospital was brilliant, it had everything I needed from a clinical care point of view, but I remember it also didn’t smell like a hospital.

“Now I look down and I have two breasts and two nipples again. I went to a wedding recently where I wore a floaty v-neck dress, and no-one would have known what my body has been through in the past year.”

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