‘I have now got my self esteem back’

Yvonne Snell completed her road to normality with a 3D nipple tattooing procedure
Yvonne Snell completed her road to normality with a 3D nipple tattooing procedure

Getting treatment for cancer is fraught with uncertainty, indecision and a great deal of pain.

Nobody knows this better than 67-year-old Totternhoe resident Yvonne Snell, whose life was placed into jeopardy not only through breast cancer, but during treatment for the disease.

After moving to South Africa 12 years ago, Yvonne was told she had cancer after a mammogram picked up a 1.2cm by 1.2cm tumour.

Just months previously a similar examination in the UK failed to spot the tumour, though a histology report later revealed that it had been growing for 8-10 years.

In 2003 the 67-year-old underwent a masectomy as well as a “free flap” breast reconstruction– a procedure where tissue is taken from the abdomen and is used to create the shape of a breast.

The “free flap” procedure is the most complex method for breast reconstruction, though it can also give the best aesthetic results.

For Yvonne it almost proved fatal.

After being under anaesthetic for more than 15 hours the 67-year-old had a reaction and had to spend three days in intensive care.

The reconstruction also proved to be a failure.

Yvonne said: “I didn’t have chemotherapy as the tumour was not too severe but it meant that I had to undergo a masectomy.

“Being under anaesthetic for 15 hours meant I had a reaction and they couldn’t get a blood supply to the breast so it went blue and died.”

After making a recovery and returning to the UK, Yvonne decided to take the plunge again with reconstructive surgery at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 2005.

“For me it was not natural after the masectomy, I think you should have two boobs,” Yvonne admits.

“Having a masectomy knocks all of your femininity away from you, which is a tough thing to take.

“It can never be fully natural again as it is prosthetic but reconstruction can get it back to 80% of what it was.

“I wasn’t sure about it but my family doctor said it would be best to have the procedure done as would help with my self-esteem and prevent curvature of my spine.

“The surgery was fantastic, it certainly gave me a lot of my self-esteem back.”

The reconstruction procedure proved second time lucky for Yvonne.

During the operation surgeons also repaired the 67-yearold’s abdominal wall as too much tissue had been taken during the first procedure in South Africa.

This left Yvonne with a double hernia as her abdominal wall was too weak.

Following the operation Yvonne’s consultant recommended a 3D nipple tattooingprocedure, which was carried out by private specialist Caron Vetter.

This gave Yvonne the extra 20% of realism she was looking for.

“The tattoo completes the whole thing, after surgery I was just left with a white nipple and white boob,” the villager said.

“The tattoo has matched up the colours and it looks perfect.

“At the time I had it done it was not covered by the NHS but it was recommended to me and worked out well.”

Though a different type of ink is used the procedure needs to be repeated when pigmentation fades.

A recent “top up” has leftYvonne willing to share the results with cancer sufferers.

She said: “We have a holiday home in Spain and some of the ladies have had masectomys, they say I am brave to have had reconstruction but I think it is brave not to have it.”