Avid golfer Lydia Brennan talks through her breast cancer story to share with us the role golf played in her recovery.

My cancer story began while watching an episode of Coronation Street in February 2010, where Sally Webster finds a lump in her breast. It was also just after I had completed my Captaincy at Allerton Ladies Golf Club, now known as 'Allerton Manor'.  

Although I had attended the 'Breast Screening Unit' at the Liverpool Women's Hospital the previous year in March 2009, with the result being 'no signs of cancer', I decided the following morning to check my breasts, while having a shower.  Straightaway, I felt a lump in the right breast that didn't appear to be in the left, so I decided to have it checked out. 

Within a week of seeing the doctor, I was referred to the Linda McCartney Centre at the Royal Hospital, Liverpool. With no family history of breast cancer, I felt quietly confident that it would turn out to be nothing serious.  Therefore, it came as quite a shock when my daughter and I were taken into a private room at the hospital and told the news.  My daughter burst out crying and I just sat there feeling nothing, just disbelief I suppose!

I am lucky that I am a very positive person and looking back I can't remember ever being frightened or worried, I don't know why to this day. Maybe, it was because things happened so quickly.  

Deciding to have a mastectomy

After the diagnosis, my Consultant, Chris Holcombe and the allocated nursing specialists were brilliant. Everything that was going to happen was explained clearly.  I was given a few options, to have the tumour cut out, the breast removed or to have the breast removed and reconstructed at the same time with a breast implant.  This was after I was told that the cancer had not reached the chest wall and the few lymph nodes I had removed, were clear.   

I decided on the latter as my breast size was small and because it was a grade 3 cancer and the tumour quite large, 37mm, it meant that the cells would tend to grow and spread more quickly. I also asked if they could remove the left breast at the same time as I did not want the worry of it re-appearing there.  This was not possible, as they felt I may not be thinking rationally with everything that was happening and to reconsider after my treatment.

I did eventually have my left breast removed and reconstructed twelve months later, but this was after they made an appointment for me to see a psychologist to ensure I still wanted the procedure to go ahead.

How golf helped me to recover

After my cancer diagnosis, golf played a huge part in my recovery.  Only a few days after my operation I was asking my consultant, 'when can I play golf again?' His reply, 'in about 4-6 weeks'.  When I told the nurses, they said it wasn't possible and it would be more like 6 months. 

A month after my operation I was back on the golf course, much to everyone's amazement.  The newspaper cutting below is proof. My operation was in March, April I was playing back at my home course and in May I was hitting the fairways at Royal Birkdale.

Lydia brennan Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echol - May 10, 2010

This all came about, due to a very good friend Judith Parr, who sadly passed away suddenly a few years ago, winning a competition in the Liverpool Echo and inviting me to join her to play at Royal Birkdale and meet the legend Catriona Matthew ahead of the Ricoh Women's British Open.

The picture shows me in my sporty wig (yes, I had two, one for golf and one for partying), together with Judith and two gentlemen, who I did not know until we met at Royal Birkdale. 

That day for me was magical, playing Royal Birkdale, having a lesson from Catriona Matthew, a meal afterwards in the clubhouse and coming away with a bag full of goodies, which included a Ricoh Camera and thankfully, managing to play golf without my wig flying off, mind you the hat did help!

Using my extended support network

I continued to play twice a week, Monday was a round of social golf and Thursday was our competition day. 

The endless appointments for chemotherapy, nipple reconstruction, daily arm exercises etcetera did tire me some days, but the thought of playing golf made me determined that by Monday or Thursday I would be feeling great. 

How did I do it, I had great support from the team at Linda McCartney, my family, friends, work colleagues and my golfing buddies all played a massive part.  I completed a daily diary, which I sent by email on a weekly basis, to one of my friends in work and she would send it out to the whole office staff. 

This probably helped me to remove how I felt inside, I just don't know! I wish I'd kept them but sadly I never did apart from a poem a work colleague sent (see below). Maybe, it was meant to be, so that I couldn't re-live those days.

A mastectomy didn't change the way I played golf

My mastectomy did not make me think or change the way I play golf and I don't wear a sports bra. 

I am very lucky, as at 69 my breasts are still sitting up nicely and still firm thanks to the implants. I can't say that about the rest of my body ha!!

Writing this now is feeling strange, as it's bringing back lots of memories.  My eyes are filling up now with tears, but this happens whenever, I see or read about someone's cancer diagnosis, it doesn't have to be breast cancer, any cancer that someone is diagnosed with, makes me upset. It's probably because it makes me realise how lucky I am to still be here.

Thank you to Lydia for sharing her story.

For more information on Breast Cancer, please visit the Macmillan Cancer Support website here.

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