After discovering that she had breast cancer at the height of her career as the ‘green goddess’ on breakfast TV, Diana underwent a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and is today fighting fit
Diana Moran, otherwise known as the ‘green goddess’ due to her reputation for donning on a green leotard for the fitness segment of the show BBC Breakfast Time in the 80s, discovered at the height of her career that she had breast cancer.
“I discovered I had breast cancer in 1988 at the age of 47, and it was found quite by chance. I’d put myself forward as a guinea pig on trials for HRT. They said to me, ‘you’ll be an ideal candidate,’ but that I’d need a bit of a medical check-up. They said you need heart and lungs x-rays, a cervical smear and a mammogram. They called me a few days later and said I must have moved on the mammogram, could I come back again? But actually they sent me somewhere else, to a well woman clinic, and of course, they were to tell me I had breast cancer.”
Following the diagnosis, Diana underwent a bilateral mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction.
Each year, 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer and 400 of these are men. After gender, age is the strongest risk factor for developing breast cancer with 81% of breast cancers occurring in women over 50.
Like many women when they first find out they have breast cancer, Diana found it very difficult to come to terms with the news.
“I had no idea. Cancer had never entered my head. When they told me, I was alone, I was frightened, I thought there had been a mistake, and I believed for a week that there had been a mistake. I was in total denial about it.”
Having had a healthy and active lifestyle, and being a national symbol of fitness, the news came as a complete shock to Diana, leaving her confused, angry and frightened.
In her words, Diana said that she went into ‘secret mode’ only telling her partner at the time, her two sons who were in their twenties, her agent and two of her closest friends.
With very few public support networks for breast cancer available and very little done to promote public awareness in the 80s, there had been a lot of stigma associated with cancer, and according to Diana, it was hardly ever talked about:
“People talked about it behind their hands; people referred to it as the big C—everyone just assumed that everybody died.”
“There was nothing you could read about it 25 years ago. When you look at what’s gone on since then, but at the time there was nothing. Breast Cancer Care, of which I am a patron, was just starting up, but it wasn’t known about… but what a difference nowadays… whenever I’m talking to anybody, I tell them to go [to the charity] immediately because they have the answer to everything. And of course you don’t feel alone as I had felt alone, because you then realise there are other women with it, and at the time, I didn’t know that there were other women with it.”
One of the main sources of strength during this period was a woman called Betty who one of her closest friends had recommended she should speak to as she had gone through the same thing:
“When my friend came to me and said, ‘Di, you know Betty, she’s had what you’re going through, I said, ‘don’t be silly, she’s normal, she’s fun.’ So this woman was wonderful because this was somebody who’d gone through it. She was a fun and lively person, and I thought if she can be like that, I can be like that as well. And then she showed me her scars, and that was incredibly important to me.”
Betty remained a great friend of Diana’s for a very many
years after, but sadly later passed away due to a reoccurrence of breast cancer.
As well as facing the physical battle with breast cancer, many women also have a tough time battling body image issues. A poll by Breast Cancer Care has found that 88% of people who have had breast cancer say the disease and its treatment have had a negative impact on the way they feel about their bodies and 68% say that it has affected their sexual and intimate relationships.
Though Diana made a remarkable physical recovery and was back on television within three months of finding out she had breast cancer, before the media even knew anything about it, the emotional journey was to be an ongoing one.
“Body image is not good—if one is honest, and I haven’t been honest before, I’ve always sort of put this happy face on. The partner I had, I married him and he rather famously betrayed me, and I didn’t know.”
Her separation from her husband, Peter Cranham coincided with the time her implants were taken out due to suffering complications, and Diana hit rock bottom, and sought help through counselling:
“I had bottled it for so long and had put up a happy happy face, but I had a private period of really facing my demons.”
Breast Cancer Care is currently running a body image campaign, which includes getting people to talk about the often hidden issue as well as writing a policy report about improving the information and support available on altered body image.
“I am right behind them on that one. It’s important that people can talk about it. Because I didn’t talk about it, I kept it to myself and it appeared years later. The thing is talk to other women, once you talk to other women, a problem shared is a problem halved.”
One of the initiatives that Breast Cancer Care has had over the years to help women overcome body image issues after surgery for breast cancer is for women who’ve undergone surgery to share their experiences with those more recently diagnosed, and show them that they can retain a degree of normality in their lives.
“We had a teatime session where we’d have a little sort of fashion show, and we’d walk around the table. I was one of the girls, and we’d walk around - say the Ritz where we had our first one - and the surgeons would be there as well, and they’d say, ‘This is Diana. She had a bilateral mastectomy and she had immediate reconstructive surgery.’ And you physically had this person in front of you, and you thought they’re normal. It was a way of normalising us.”
Today, these sessions have grown to be an annual show with both men and women modelling the latest fashions, who may or may not have had reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy or lumpectomy, showing that it is possible to look and feel great after a breast cancer diagnosis. This is now a major fundraiser with 1,500 guests attending the event.
Although reconstructive surgery is a very important part of addressing body image issues, personal experiences with it can vary to a great extent, making it a decision that needs to be very carefully made, especially given the amount of information that has to be taken in at this very stressful time.
The University of Ulster in Northern Ireland has gone someway to addressing that by producing a DVD called Inform, funded by a local charity, Friends of the Cancer Centre.
It features eight women’s personal stories concerning the decisions they made about whether to have breast reconstruction or not, and how these decisions have impacted on their everyday living
The DVD can be viewed on the Friends of the Cancer Centre website www.friendsofthecancercentre.com and hard copies can also be obtained free of charge.
Since being diagnosed, Diana has undergone three reconstructive surgeries due to problems she experienced with wear and tear as a result of her very active lifestyle.
Sharing her experiences of reconstructive surgery Diana says: “After the bilateral mastectomy, I lost a nipple, and then I had stick-on nipples. I felt reasonably good about it, but after two and a half years, the reconstruction started going wrong. So after four and a half years, I couldn’t stand the discomfort any longer and the implants were removed with another set put in. Previously, the implants had been put under the skin, this time they were put under the muscle so that they wouldn’t move around so much. Then I had a nipple cut in half and grafted onto the other side, and it was a question of will it take or won’t it take - and it did, it grew. That lasted until last year, and then the reconstruction started breaking down and had to be removed. I have been reconstructed again.”
Asked about how she feels about those who opt not to have reconstruction, Diana says: “There are very many people who opt not to be reconstructed, and I understand that, and that’s not a problem. If you’ve opted not to be reconstructed, the chances are all your scars and things will settle down. Again, go back to Breast Cancer Care. They’ve got all types of prosthesis these days, whether you’re black skinned, fair skinned or olive skinned…”
At the time, Diana also played a very important part in increasing public awareness about breast cancer through the publication of a diary of her thoughts and feelings called, A More Difficult Exercise, following her diagnosis of breast cancer, up to when she came back on television, less than three months later.
“The surgeons at the royal Marsden told me ‘you’re lifting the
lid of a can of worms and nothing but good can come of this,’”
Since then, efforts to improve public awareness have come a long way. Women are encouraged and shown how to do self-checks while women over 50 are invited for screening at regular intervals.
Recent National Institute for Care and Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommends drug treatment with tamoxifen or raloxifene to reduce risk of breast cancer in a specific group of women who are at high risk of breast cancer and have not had the disease as well as specifying the thresholds for genetic testing of breast cancer.
Furthermore, the preventative mastectomies of a number of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Sharon Osbourne after finding out they had inherited a mutated form of the BRCA1 gene, has helped to remove any stigma associated with breast cancer, putting breast cancer awareness directly in the spotlight.
Despite difficulties she’s had with her health including a diagnosis of skin cancer 12 years ago, today, she is fighting fit. Never wasting a moment, as well as undertaking charity work with Breast Cancer Care amongst other organisations, Diana also does motivational speaking, and continues to inspire people to keep fit.
“Our health is a God given gift and yet we take it for granted. When you buy a car, you polish it, you give it the right fuel, feed it and everything—it’s ridiculous. We’re given something for free and a lot of people don’t look after it and complain when it goes wrong. I do a lot of motivational speaking, and what I say is that health is like an insurance policy, the more you put in over the years, the more there is to draw upon when things get tough.”
Jenny Chou is the Research and Features Editor for primary care at Campden Health media, working on Nursing in Practice, Management in Practice and The Commissioning Review
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