Coming back from cancer

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Recovering from cancer is a big challenge but one Wakefield woman used it as motivation to lose six stone. Sophie McCandlish reports.

Eight years ago Clare Dransfield discovered she had a malignant melanoma on her lower leg.

“I had a bit of dry skin around a mole on my leg. I thought it was just a bit of eczema, which I’d had as a baby, and used moisturiser on it but it wouldn’t clear up,” says Clare from Wakefield.

“I was at a toddler group one day and was sitting next to an A&E nurse so I asked her about it. She told me to give her the baby and book a doctor’s appointment.

“I went and the doctor gave me some steroid cream and told me to go back in a week if it hadn’t cleared up.

“It didn’t so I went back and he referred me to the dermatology department at Dewsbury Hospital.

“I then got a call from the hospital’s skin cancer department. It was a Friday and they wanted to see me Monday. I remember I was surrounded by eight kids and 
no-one had mentioned cancer before, it was quite a shock.”

Clare, who runs her own childcare business, had a biopsy and was then called in to see a consultant.

“I remember being introduced to a lady who was sitting in and I thought ‘she is here for support’ and she was. I was told they wanted to remove the mole and about a centimetre all the way round.

“As it was on my calf and they couldn’t pull the skin back together, they would need to do a skin graft from the opposite thigh to cover the wound.”

Clare chose to stay awake during the operation and, although she couldn’t feel any pain, said she had to ask the surgeon to stop as he was taking the skin graft.

“I could feel what he was doing and said he would have to stop. He said he hadn’t taken quite enough but it should cover the wound. I saw it before it was bandaged up and it was very neat.”

Prescribed two weeks rest, Clare said she struggled to stay off her feet.

“There was no pain as the nerve endings had been taken out during the operation, so I felt fine and thought doing a bit of ironing would be ok but when I went back two weeks later I had developed a blood clot.”

Clare then had to go to the hospital every Saturday morning for treatment.

“My leg was was dressed in honey and seaweed, all sorts of things to try and get it to heal,” she said.

Eventually it did but Clare was delivered a blow when her consultant said the cancer was deeper than they thought and he wanted to take another centimetre from the wound.

This time Clare was fully anaesthetised and rested her leg completely afterwards which meant it healed smoothly.

During her treatment Claire had to have other moles on her body photographed and checked.

The 42-year-old said during the stress of coping with a cancer diagnosis, undergoing surgery and trying to juggle a busy home life and career, she had been comfort eating and her weight had escalated to 16 stone.

“Every two weeks I had to go for a check-up, which meant stripping to my underwear while someone with a magnifying glass looked at all the moles on my body and compared them to the photographs. I decided I would enjoy Christmas and then get my weight under control.”

Clare joined Slimming World and shed six stone over the following 14 months.

“It was such a boost the nurses noticing my weight loss when I was having to strip off for my check-ups and I felt so much better about myself.”

Clare was signed off from treatment 18 months ago and has kept on maintaining her weight, but did find one area of her body impossible to tone.

“I felt very self-conscious about my sagging bustline. My breasts had dropped in position and I wanted them back to how they were before.”

Supported by her husband, Martin, who had also lost three stone, Clare decided to look into having a breast lift.

She decided to have her operation performed by Chris Fenn, consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Spire Leeds Hospital and, following her surgery in December last year, she said she is delighted with the results.

There was just one more thing that Clare was concious about and that was the scar left by her two skin grafts.

“The skin was pearly white and there was nothing I could do to make it less conspicious,” says Clare. “If I went on holiday people always asked about it, so I had a tattoo which covers it up and now people can’t see the scar.”