Christine Cole shares her inspiring story of overcoming breast cancer and the surprising impact it had on her game.
Because my mother had previously undergone a mastectomy, I was able to have breast screening from the age of 40.
I’d had many false alarms after my three-yearly check-ups, so when I arranged to go in for what I thought was just another false alarm, I was alone.
It was our 30th wedding anniversary, 29 March 2016. I’d taken a day off work so my husband and I could do something special in the afternoon. I was picking him up after the appointment to go for lunch.
I walked into the appointment and was introduced to my Macmillan nurse, consultant and surgeon – so it was immediately a shock! They were also a little surprised I’d come alone, but I’m a strong, independent, working woman, so think “I’ll just get on with it”.
Most of that appointment is a haze to this day.
Deciding to have a mastectomy
My cancer was in my right breast, which they were hopeful could just be cut away. If it was in my lymph nodes, then further treatment and a different course of action would be planned.
I had my first op six weeks later where a 7cm long tube was removed. But as there were no clear margins free from cancer along that area, it was decided a full mastectomy was needed.
My lymph nodes were clear, and it was still contained! Some good news.
Lengthy discussions ensued with my consultant who appreciated how important golf was in my life and that I played several times a week. I was at the time of my news Derbyshire Seniors County Captain, a two-year tenure and was in my second year. I handed over to my Vice for the remainder of the year!
I was a very active member of my home club and played lots of ladies' and mixed opens.
Basically, my life revolved around my golf diary!
I worked full time for the British Geological Survey who were absolutely brilliant in every aspect as they always were as I worked flexible hours to ensure my golfing days could always be fitted in!
Getting back to golf – without starting from scratch
After my first op, I had to wait six weeks before I could play again. But as my mastectomy was scheduled for eight weeks after I literally managed a couple of short games before that occurred.
My consultant discussed options for my reconstruction to ensure I could return to golf without having to start from scratch and rebuild my swing. I had also discussed my swing options with my pro, Simon Jackson. (Although I’m right-handed, I play lefty golf. Hubby gave me his old left-handed clubs to crack on with all those years ago when I complained he was never free for squash any longer due to this stupid game!).
After my mastectomy, I had to wait eight weeks before getting back out on the course; small steps and lots of muscle buildup. But eight weeks to the day I was back out on the course, taking it very easy but building up to being able to take my clubs with us on a long-planned trip to New Zealand to see our daughter. We played some amazing courses! We were away for six weeks from the beginning of November.
Winning Player of the Year
My final operation fitting my prosthesis was on Christmas Eve 2016. I wanted the new year to come in with everything behind me! I went back to playing golf within three weeks of that final insert of the ‘new boob’.
That first full season of playing in 2017 saw me more than ever determined not to let this event change my life! My handicap went up to 12 at the end of the previous year due to the few games I had played, but I went on to have an amazing season in 2017 and won Player of the Year based on my results – I went back down to 10 during the year!
I also took up my 2nd year of Seniors captaincy and the whole year went like a flash.
My outlook on golf changed. I did have a more relaxed attitude to it and found that that also helped my game. Who knew?!
I had to change my bra type to begin with and used sport bras from M&S as underwire bras are not recommended with reconstruction. But after a couple of years, I went back to my usual bras.
As time has gone on the muscle over my prosthesis has tightened, and therefore my reconstruction looks smaller. So, I now also have an extra prosthesis I wear inside my bra. I changed to a new style non-wired bra from M&S which I sew a veil over inside for the insert to sit within. I’ve taken the step to do this mainly as I felt embarrassed when playing with men and my bra had an indent which I felt was very visible, especially when putting!
Having this insert was an extra challenge when I first got it as I had to get used to an extra 4cm. It’s amazing how much difference it made getting in the way of my swing!
Thank you to Christine for sharing her story.
For support and information about breast cancer, please visit the Macmillan Cancer Support website.
Read Corrine Binks' story: How golf helped me through a Mastectomy – twice