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Celebrity Health - Claire Rayner

16 January 06 00:17 GMT

In a series on celebrities and their health the BBC News website talks to agony aunt Claire Rayner about her own experience of suffering breast cancer.

Mrs Rayner, aged 74, is the president of the Patients Association and a former nurse and midwife.

She worked for the Sunday Mirror during the 1980s and was named medical journalist of the year in 1987. She has also written a string of novels and appeared on countless TV shows.

She talks about her illness to promote the work of the charity Cancer Research UK.


I was on holiday at the time and when you are on holiday you do start to get in touch with your body.

I lay around a lot in a swimsuit and I sleep starkers.

I noticed that there was a thickness around my breast.


When I saw my doctor she said that I should see someone, so I asked if I could be sent to Barts, where the chief oncologist is a close friend.

I was referred there to a wonderful unit, where you are seen and get your diagnosis before the end of the day.

I knew I had cancer when two doctors came in to see me. They said I had an invasive cancer.


I said "Oh bother." It was not the fact that I had cancer or that I was going to have to lose the breast, but it was the fact that I might be facing chemotherapy.

I was not surprised I had it, because I was 70 when I got it - and that is the age when your chances of getting breast cancer start to go up.

I always preached to other women to check themselves. I had been a health visitor and wrote for about 36-40 years about health, so how could I not know what it was.

But I knew that I had found it early, there was not a lump, just a thickening. I was very breast aware.


The doctor said he could not offer me a lumpectomy, and that it would have to be a radical mastectomy, taking out the lymph nodes as well.

He said he would do it very carefully so that I did not get lymphoedema (a swelling of the arm), by only taking out the central node if possible.

I had a simple radical mastectomy. I had thought I would be lopsided if they took just the one breast off and had heard of people who were caused a lot of back pain because of this, so I asked if he would take the other one off as well.

I would only have worried that I would get cancer in that as well. And he said afterwards that I was right because the other breast was showing early signs.

I did not require any chemotherapy or radiotherapy as it had not spread to the lymph nodes. They did a whole body scan and it had not spread.

I was offered reconstruction and I said it would be a waste of time on a woman my age, because I am more than just a boob on legs.

I did take tamoxifen, but stopped it because I felt dreadful. When I found I had breast cancer I had to come off my hormone replacement (HRT) and was getting terrible sweats. Going onto the tamoxifen straightaway knocked me sideways.


The morning of the operation, the doctor came to me with his thick black pen to mark up where he needed to cut.

When he had gone he left his pen and I looked at my boobs and I wrote 'Bye bye boobies' on them. I am told this caused much hilarity in theatre.

After the operation I had some fluid removed, but gradually it healed well.

It has all been plain sailing, although I did have a phantom nipple, on the breast where I had the cancer.

It used to itch. I used to scratch away to try and stop it, but a couple of paracetamol cleared it.


I am fine now. A while later though I hurt my Achilles tendon and needed an anaesthetic.

I had a catastrophic reaction and suffered multi-organ failure plus pneumonia and septicaemia.

I went in one day and four-and-a-half weeks later I opened my eyes and my mouth was covered with tubes and I could only speak to my husband with my eyes.

He told me what had been going on and I was amazed when he said what had happened.

I lost about 100lbs and I still walk with sticks because my muscles never got their strength back.

But as far as the breast cancer is concerned I am fine. I had cancer and now it has gone.

My cancer experience was a very good one.


Get yourselves the best doctors you can and trust them.

If you are into complimentary medicine then use it, but never let go of the message that orthodox medicine can provide for you.

The proof is that there are lots of women like me walking round today who have had breast cancer.

The breast nurses are wonderful. They really know their stuff. Trust them and listen to them.

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