Recent Posts

Guest blog: Jennifer Young Beauty

Guest blog: Jennifer Young Beauty

Women don’t stop being women when they are diagnosed with cancer by Jennifer Young, Founder of Beauty Despite Cancer Coming from a scientific background, Jennifer Young is an experienced microbiologist and associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, who decided to combine her knowledge 

Guest blog: How to date after cancer

Guest blog: How to date after cancer

This is another brilliant blog in the series from Confidence Coach, Allie Morgan (links to previous blogs are at the foot of this post). Allie is a Confidence Coach, working with cancer survivors and those with chronic illnesses. After overcoming bone cancer at the age 

Q&A: Leanne Pero, Black Women Rising founder

Q&A: Leanne Pero, Black Women Rising founder

This week I’m introducing you to the amazing Leanne Pero, founder of Black Women Rising. I met Leanne in 2019 and we’ve since become friends. It’s safe to say that she’s one of the nicest people you’ll come across in this community.

Leanne was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and has subsequently spent a large proportion of her time involved in breast cancer awareness campaigns and helping others who are going through breast cancer. You’ll probably have come across Leanne via one of her brilliant cancer projects – whether Black Women Rising (including the brilliant magazine), the Positive Day Planner, – or one of her interviews. Leanne was deservedly nominated and subsequently in the final of the Lorraine Woman of the Year for 2019 and she has won a number of awards for both her breast cancer work and other community/dance work. I want you to get to know the person behind these accolades and understand what is was that led her to focus a lot of her time in helping others facing breast cancer…

Can you start by telling us a bit about your diagnosis?

After finding a lump in my right breast, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer, aged 30 in October 2016, just 6 months after my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. I underwent 8 gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and immediate reconstructive surgery. 

You were young when you were diagnosed with breast cancer, how did the diagnosis impact your life at that young age?

I had convinced myself it was nothing so when I heard the words “I am not going to beat around the bush, we’ve found cancer” I went into a state of panic and anxiety. I couldn’t shake the sense of shame around my diagnosis so only very close family and friends knew but no matter how many wonderful people you have around you, cancer is a lonely journey.

You were running your own business when diagnosed, how did you juggle everything during your treatment? Were you able to carry on working during treatment, or did you take some time off work?

At the time of my diagnosis I was fit and healthy, I was a successful business owner and I had a dream job at the world-renowned Pineapple dance studios. I was also at university finally getting my business management degree. Due to the intense nature of my treatment and subsequent surgery I was not able to carry on working. I had a few days to hand over the business, defer uni and cancel all commitments. 

Being diagnosed with breast cancer as a young black woman had a huge impact on your life – can you tell us a bit about this.

A week after my diagnosis, during an appointment with my oncologist, I was told that many people within the BAME community refuse the drugs. She told me “I know you will beat this, and I am going to need you to go out and educate everyone that chemo is not that bad so that they stop refusing the drugs”. Whilst I appreciated her vote of confidence, at the time I forgot her plea. Little did I know that the future would see me setting up a charity to help others in the same situation as me.

Lots of people find that cancer impacts their mental health. You’ve been vocal about the impact of cancer on your mental health – can you tell us a little bit about how it affected you and what you did to deal with this?

I definitely struggled with my mental health both during treatment and after it. Everything in your life changes in an instant. Your body changes. You lose so much both physically and mentally.

I began to see a therapist which has helped me immensely. In addition to that I starting a gratitude journal. I found this incredibly useful. Even on the days I had chemo, I made sure to write down things I was grateful for. It was such an important tool for me that last year I launched a new company called The Positive Day Planner and created 21-day gratitude planners. You can see more about them here.

I’ve been following your fantastic Black Women Rising campaign since it’s launch. Can you tell us a bit about the campaign?

Black Women Rising started as monthly peer to peer support groups – these are the heart of the project. From there we ran pamper events for women of colour. The next big step was the UK first’s all-Black cancer portrait exhibition which launched at The Oxo Tower and then toured London. In 2020 we launched our weekly podcast as well as publishing our inaugural magazine.

What led you to set up Black Women Rising?

In my quest to find the right services to help me, I realised that the NHS lacked cancer support packages for Black and BAME cancer patients. From there I saw that stories from my community were being excluded from the UK’s mainstream media outlets, magazines and perhaps most importantly – from reputable annual cancer campaigns by brands and charities failing miserably at diversifying their campaigns. All this did was further fuel the false narrative that cancer is “not a black disease”.

I began meeting women and men who were either mis-diagnosed, not offered mental health support and generally left feeling excluded from communication with their consultants which echoed the man other health inequalities in the BAME community.

You’ve been very active in the cancer community raising awareness of breast cancer issues over and above your Black Women Rising campaign, what sorts of things have you been involved in?

I am always ready to get involved with other charity campaigns as well as those of major brands. Some of these include Pretty Little Thing, Stella McCartney, Estee Lauder, GHD, Zalando, Breast Cancer Now, CoppaFeel!, Future Dreams.

What would you say are the key messages that you’d like to pass onto young women (or any race, nationality, sexuality) who are diagnosed with cancer?

My biggest message is to take every day as it comes.

And the other is to seek external support. Find organisations like ours where you can meet likeminded women to help you through everything.

What’s next? What plans do you have going forward and what should we look out for?

We have big and exciting plans for 2021 – some of which we cannot share with you quite yet (sorry!) and some of these are going to have to be adapted to make them Covid friendly. We have plans to increase our support groups, launch series 2 of our podcasts and work has already begun on our 2021/2022 magazine.

To find out more about Leanne and Black Women Rising, you can follow them on:

Instagram: Leanne Pero and Black Women Rising

Twitter: Leanne Pero

Facebook: Leanne Pero

Black Women Rising website

And you can order a free copy of the magazine here.

Guest blog on hair loss: Cancer Hair Care

Guest blog on hair loss: Cancer Hair Care

Offering hope through hair loss By Jasmin Julia Gupta – The UK’s leading oncology hair loss expert, NHS clinical advisor and founder of the charity Cancer Hair Care At Cancer Hair Care, we offer so much more than just a wig. As the UK’s leading 

Guest blog: When Natasha lost her hair

Guest blog: When Natasha lost her hair

In this guest blog, Natasha describes how she felt when she experienced hair loss through chemotherapy. It’s just hair. It’ll grow back. It’s no big deal. I’d rather be bald than have cancer’ These are some of the things people said and, indeed, I told 

Guest blog: How to lose your fear of food

Guest blog: How to lose your fear of food

This is a guest blog from Cathy Leman who is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, nutrition therapist, speaker, writer and survivor of ER/PR+ breast cancer.

A common belief in the breast cancer community, especially for women diagnosed with hormonally-driven cancer, is that certain foods will make their cancer return.

Well-intentioned friends and family perpetuate that belief with (un)helpful comments like, “Why would you eat THAT? You had breast cancer!”

Cue the guilt.

The fact is, the synergy of any single food is the “coordination” of all the biological compounds that particular food contains. That’s why it’s difficult to tease out the impact on cancer risk of a single food.

That said, it’s true we “consist of what we consume”; and since what we consume likely influences our health, it’s smart to focus on quality, variety and balance for a healthy eating pattern.

But if you have/had breast cancer, you’re likely familiar with this rule: you must eat only certain foods and avoid others. And so, that fact doesn’t apply.

On the contrary it does, very much.

Your dietary pattern over time, in other words, ALL THE FOODS YOU PUT INTO YOUR BODY, has the most significant impact on your breast and overall health. 

Upon hearing that information, what do you do?

Aim to eat 100% perfectly, 100% of the time. Because obviously, a perfect dietary pattern equals perfect health.

And then, you fail miserably and abandon it all.

Cue the guilt.

Why do you insist that “eating healthy” means bad tasting, boring, breast cancer penance food that doesn’t make you happy and leaves you dreaming of pasta and pastries?

Because you’ve been brain-washed to believe there’s no other way.

I’m here to un-wash your brain. It’s possible to shift your eating pattern to be (mostly) nutritious, healthy AND delicious, feel good about the impact your choices have on your health, AND keep the treats. 

The greatest gift you can give yourself is to enjoy your food, and eat without stress and guilt.

Here are 4 tips to help you get started:

Progress Not Perfection

I’ve shared this concept with clients for years, long before it became a common phrase.

Of course it’s important to improve your diet; quality nutrition is crucial to rebuilding your health after treatment. But you can’t do it in a single day.

Changing deeply ingrained habits requires small, consistent steps forward, the only way to make lasting change.

Remember that the smallest amount of progress is still progress. And by the way, forget about a “perfect” diet or way of eating. That’s a myth perpetuated by the diet industry.

Uplevel Your Nutrition

Life without treats would be a very boring life, indeed.

Maybe you’re a chocolate chip cookie lover. Can you imagine never eating another chocolate chip cookie? Of course not! But that’s exactly what you think you’ll do once you “perfect” your diet.

You’ll eat only apples, and skip the cookies.

Who says you can’t have both? Literally. When you eat a cookie (or other treat), uplevel your choice by pairing it with an apple, grapes or an orange. And if you bake those cookies, choose whole wheat pastry flour, healthy fats/oils and decrease the sugar.

Avoid Good Food/Bad Food Labels

Murder, cheating and lying are bad; cake is not. Neither are you for eating it.

When you label food good or bad, you subconsciously label yourself. When you feel bad about what you eat, guilt and stress take over and make it impossible to enjoy your food.

Habits can be good or bad. Your mindset can be good or bad. Behaviors can be good or bad.

Are your habits, mindset and behaviors health-supportive or health-destructive?

When you think about it that way, you leave the food (and your character!) out of the equation. You’re empowered to make choices based on whether or not they support your health goals, rather than beating yourself up for being “bad”.

Identify & Challenge Your Food Fears

Discover what makes food scary for you. On a sheet of paper, list every fear you have about every food. Maybe it’s a food “act” that scares you, such as eating at a restaurant.

When you name the fear, you can begin to tame the fear.

Consider this: food takes away our hunger, gives our body nourishment and energy, helps us heal. Food is culture, celebration, tradition and ritual.

Embrace all the positive things food does for you, and use that discovery to challenge yourself to leave your food fears behind.

Instead of Food Rules, Create a Nutrition Philosophy

Do you have breast cancer food rules? Rules you wouldn’t dare break?

Food rules take the pleasure and joy out of eating by dictating a strict approach to food with no room for spontaneity.

Instead, try creating a nutrition philosophy that honors your body, your health and your love of food.

For example, maybe your nutrition philosophy is that you choose to eat mainly whole foods, yet you’re flexible when travelling.

A fluid nutrition philosophy versus iron-clad food rules is like permission to be human, and you deserve that.

Cathy’s bio

Cathy Leman helps survivors of ER/PR+ breast cancer conquer their phytoestrogen food fear, eat without stress and guilt, and confidently rebuild their health after treatment. Cathy is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, nutrition therapist, speaker, writer and survivor of ER/PR+ breast cancer. Cathy is also the founder of HIGHER GROUND HEALTH REBUILD REVOLUTION, an online membership for survivors of ER/PR+ breast cancer, and REBUILD, her 8-week private coaching program. Learn more about her programs here: and follow her on Instagram @hormone.breastcancer.dietitian and Facebook

Please note that I, as Ticking Off Breast Cancer, do not accept responsibility for the content of the guest blogs. The information and content provided in all guest blogs is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek professional advice or speak to your medical team if you have any questions about the issues raised in this guest blog.

Guest blog: What to do when the trust is gone?

Guest blog: What to do when the trust is gone?

When the trust is gone… Anyone will tell you that once the trust is gone in a relationship, you’re in trouble. It can be very hard to build that trust back up again, a trust that probably took years to grow and nurture. Can a 

Guest blog: creating Simply Zoe out of my cancer diagnosis

Guest blog: creating Simply Zoe out of my cancer diagnosis

I was so excited when Sara asked me if I would like to guest blog. I find, and I know it is the same for others, that it is really helpful to read other people’s stories. I thought long and hard about what to focus 

Guest blog: Surgical lymphedema options

Guest blog: Surgical lymphedema options

A guest blog by Dr. Ramon Garza III of PRMA Plastic Surgery, Texas

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema of the arm is a complication that can occur after undergoing breast cancer treatment.  Patients most at risk for lymphedema are those who have had lymph nodes removed from the arm pit (axilla), have undergone radiation/chemotherapy, and those who have a BMI greater than 30.  The likelihood of lymphedema after breast cancer treatment is between 7-35% depending on risk factors above. 

Lymphedema is the result of mismanagement of lymphatic fluid within our bodies.  Lymphatic fluid is transported by little vessels, similar to veins, back to the circulation. When the lymphatic system is disrupted, the fluid can leak out of the lymphatic vessels and become trapped in the affected limb. The result is lymphedema.

Symptoms of lymphedema

Symptoms of lymphedema are variable.  They can also range in intensity. The most common symptoms include:

  • Expanding and/or swelling of arms, hands, fingers, shoulders or chest
  • A feeling of skin tightness
  • Feelings of heaviness in the arm
  • Limited range of movement
  • Constant or periodic moments of throbbing or pain
  • Diminished range of motion in the fingers, hand, or wrist
  • Thickening and hardening of the skin

Treatments for lymphedema

Although there is no cure for lymphedema, treatment can greatly improve symptoms and improve quality of life! There are many available treatment options for lymphedema, including new advanced surgical techniques.

Before considering any surgical treatment option, it is recommended to be evaluated by a certified lymphedema therapist. They may recommend range of motion exercises, lymphatic massage techniques, and wearing compression garments.  These non-surgical options are important in the treatment of lymphedema. 

After evaluation by a lymphedema therapist, a consultation with a microsurgeon who performs lymphatic surgery is recommended.  Early surgical intervention is important to maximize benefit and prevent worsening of lymphedema.  Surgical interventions are less likely to have a favorable result, once lymphedema has been longstanding and progressed to the later stages of lymphedema.

Surgical options

Surgical treatment options include lymphaticovenous anastomosis (“LVA” hook-up) and vascularized lymph node transfer.

Vascularized lymph node transfer entails replacing missing lymph nodes with healthy lymph nodes from another part of the body. This can help restore the lymphatic drainage of the arm and can improve arm lymphedema.  Typically, this procedure is performed in conjunction with an autologous flap breast reconstruction procedure like the DIEP flap. However, the procedure can also be performed as a stand-alone surgery.

Lymphaticovenous Anastomosis is one of the newest surgical techniques used to treat lymphedema.  Prior to the procedure, the patient is evaluated in an office setting to determine if they have functioning lymphatic channels amenable to surgery.  A special luminescent dye is injected into the hand and wrist and the lymphatic system will light up on video using a special camera.  Together, the patient and surgeon will see how the lymphatic system is working and determine if the patient is a candidate for surgery. During the surgery, lymphatic channels are rerouted to nearby veins under a microscope. By altering the route for lymphatic fluid to return to the heart, lymphedema can be improved.

Regardless of the surgical treatment option, patients must also return to their regular lymphedema therapy after surgery to ensure the best results.

A common question many patients ask when considering surgical lymphedema treatment options is if the surgery will be covered by insurance.  The answer is not black and white.  Unlike breast reconstruction which is mandated to be covered if the mastectomy was covered, lymphedema surgery is not always a covered benefit for some insurance plans.  In some circumstances the surgical options are still considered to be “experimental.”  This is because the surgical procedure options are still very new and very few surgeons in the country perform this advanced microsurgery technique.  As more long-term research is published proving the success of these options and the vast patient benefit, we hope to see more insurance plans covering these advanced lymphedema treatment procedures. 

Dr. Ramon Garza III is a board-certified plastic surgeon and microsurgeon specializing in advanced breast reconstruction and lymphedema surgery at PRMA Plastic Surgery in San Antonio, Texas.  PRMA is the only center in San Antonio, Texas and one of only a handful of centers worldwide to provide breast reconstruction on such a large scale. Our surgeons treat patients from across Texas and the US, as well as international patients.  We are proud to have a tremendous global reputation for breast reconstruction excellence.

There are many reconstructive breast surgeons in the United States. However, very few perform DIEP flap routinely due to the technical difficulty of the surgery. To date, our surgeons have performed thousands of microsurgical breast procedures. We are proud to perform over 700 DIEP surgeries every year. Patients are routinely welcomed from Texas, throughout the US, and across the World.

Please note that I, as Ticking Off Breast Cancer, do not accept responsibility for the content of the guest blogs. The information and content provided in all guest blogs is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek professional advice or speak to your medical team if you have any questions about the issues raised in this guest blog.

Guest blog: Flat Friends UK

Guest blog: Flat Friends UK

What is Living Flat? Flat Friends use the term ‘flat’ to describe ourselves whether we: are living with one breast are living with no breasts wear prostheses don’t wear prostheses don’t want reconstruction can’t have reconstruction are waiting for reconstruction had failed reconstruction haven’t decided 

Breast reconstruction: a guest blog from a breast cancer surgeon

Breast reconstruction: a guest blog from a breast cancer surgeon

What are my breast reconstruction options? If you have been recommended to have a mastectomy, you can also choose to have a reconstruction. You don’t have to go down this path if you don’t want to, but if you do, then there are a few 

Breast cancer surgery: a guest blog from a breast cancer surgeon

Breast cancer surgery: a guest blog from a breast cancer surgeon

I need breast cancer surgery, but what are my options?

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, no doubt you would have been presented with a huge amount of information, leaflets to read and decisions to make. It can be overwhelming and at times perhaps even confusing.

You probably know that breast cancer treatment involves many modalities; surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy and endocrine treatment.

Below I will give an overview of the types of surgeries available, the reasons behind their recommendations and the different factors you may need to consider before going ahead with your surgery.

So broadly speaking, there are two types of breast cancer surgery. The first type is breast conservation surgery (also known as lumpectomy / wide local excision) where only the area of cancer is removed and the rest of the breast is preserved. The second is a mastectomy where the entire breast is removed.

There are certain indications and considerations as to why one type of surgery is recommended over another.

Why have I been recommended to have a lumpectomy / wide local excision?

If the size of your cancer is relatively small, it is likely you will be offered a lumpectomy / wide local excision. If the cancer was detected on a mammogram and is not palpable, then we will localise the cancer using either a wire or magnetic seed to help the surgeon find it at the time of the operation.

If you are generously breasted and have a small cancer, you may be offered what is called a therapeutic mammaplasty. This is still a lumpectomy, but it is done as a breast reduction operation. This operation will result in a smaller and uplifted breast.

The other breast may also have the same reduction surgery to achieve symmetry. This can either be done at the same time as the cancer operation or further down the line once you have completed your cancer treatment. This type of surgery is more invasive compared to a traditional lumpectomy and results in longer and more extensive scars.

The aim of breast conservation surgery is to remove the cancer with a good margin of normal breast tissue surrounding it. Should the cancer be close to the edge of the specimen, then a second operation is needed to remove more breast tissue. This decision however can only be made after the first specimen has been analysed by the pathologist. If you need further surgery, this will be done normally a few weeks after the first one.

As the rest of the breast is preserved, radiotherapy is likely to be recommended to protect the breast from cancer recurrence in the future.

The advantages of having a lumpectomy is of course you keep your breast with intact sensation. The surgery is well tolerated and recovery time is quick.

The possible disadvantages include:

1. The need for further surgery should margins be close

2. Radiotherapy will be recommended which involves coming to the hospital every day for a period of time

3. Possible change in breast shape, although with modern surgical techniques this is minimised

Why have I been recommended to have a mastectomy?

The indications for a mastectomy include:

1) Large cancer in comparison to breast size.

2) Multifocal breast cancer (i.e. more than one cancer located in different areas of the breast)

3) Inflammatory breast cancer

4) Increased risk e.g. BRCA1 / BRCA2 mutation gene carrier

5) Recurrent cancer

6) Patient choice

When you have a mastectomy (simple mastectomy), the entire breast is removed including the overlying skin of the breast and the nipple areolar complex. This will result in a flat chest and a scar that will extend across the chest wall. You will lose sensation and the chest wall will be numb.

Although the surgery may sound very extensive, the recovery time following a mastectomy is usually relatively quick and the surgery is well tolerated.

The need for radiotherapy is greatly reduced if you have a mastectomy, unlike with breast conservation surgery where radiotherapy will be required.

To achieve symmetry, you can have a prosthesis that you can place in your bra so you can have a shape of a breast when fully clothed.

Some may think that having a mastectomy means that the chances of getting a recurrence is completely removed. Whilst the risk is lower compared to if you had a lumpectomy, a mastectomy does not completely remove that risk, and you can still get a recurrence along the chest wall.

The disadvantages of a simple mastectomy over a lumpectomy:

1. You lose your breast along with the sensation

2. Recovery time may be slightly longer

3. Some women may develop chronic pain following a mastectomy

4. Asymmetry

If you have been recommended to have a mastectomy, you can also choose to have a reconstruction. You don’t have to go down this path if you don’t want to, but if you do, then there are a few options.

Isn’t a mastectomy better for long term survival?

We know that there is no significant survival difference between patients who have a lumpectomy and radiotherapy versus those who have a mastectomy.

There is however a slightly increased risk of local recurrence in those who have a lumpectomy.

What about lymph node surgery?

If your axilla / armpit scan was normal, then at the time of your breast surgery, you will have a few of your lymph nodes removed at the same time. This is called a sentinel lymph node biopsy and it is to make sure that the cancer has not started to spread to your glands, despite the normal scan.

If at the time of your diagnosis, you have a gland that was biopsied and tested positive for cancer cells, then it is likely you will have all of your axillary lymph glands removed at the time of your surgery. This is called an axillary nodal clearance.

Final thoughts…

Being told you have breast cancer is life changing. The moment you get that diagnosis, your thoughts are racing, you will experience a wide ranging of emotions and you may feel lost and confused.

It is important to take your time in making any decision regarding your treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask your surgeon any questions you may have. Voice your concerns and worries and do involve your breast care nurse as well.

If you are unsure about what decision to take, try to speak to others who have gone through the same surgical path.

We are here to help you through your cancer treatment. It is important for you to be fully informed so that you are completely satisfied and happy with the decision you make.

Tasha Gandamihardja is an oncoplastic breast surgeon and podcaster. You can check her out at You can also connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @DrTashaG.

Please note that I, Sara Liyanage posting this as Ticking Off Breast Cancer, do not accept responsibility for the content of the guest blogs. The information and content provided in all guest blogs is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek professional advice or speak to your medical team if you have any questions about the issues raised in this guest blog.

Guest blog: 4 Writing Tips to Help You Through Cancer

Guest blog: 4 Writing Tips to Help You Through Cancer

This is another brilliant blog in the series from Confidence Coach, Allie Morgan (see here for her other guest blogs: How to Rebuild Your Confidence After Cancer and How to Talk to Others About Your Cancer). Allie is a Confidence Coach, working with cancer survivors and 

Guest blog: Why I write

Guest blog: Why I write

This guest blog post is from Juliet about how she regularly journals. She talks about how it helped her to deal with having gone through cancer treatment, and how it has more recently helped her during the coronavirus pandemic. I was diagnosed with breast cancer