“Now instead of seeing ugly scars I see this beautiful pattern.”
Courageous Sue Cook was determined to take back control of her body after a gruelling battle with breast cancer.
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The mum-of-four was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease in 2008 and decided to have a mastectomy.
But she decided to turn her scars into “something beautiful” by having a large tattoo on her chest.
Now the 64-year-old has spoken about her experience - and shared her tattoo - in an inspiring short film encouraging people to Stand Up To Cancer.
It shows Sue at her home in Wrighington and returning to Holy Trinity Tattoo Studio in Standish, where she had her tattoo. As part of the joint campaign by Cancer Research UK and Channel 4, the video will be shared online to support fund-raising efforts.
Sue said: “Cancer has had a huge impact on my life but I was determined to stand up to it in my own way. I’m so grateful for the treatment I’ve received.
“It’s thanks to research I’m still standing, so I want to do everything I can to ensure no-one’s life is cut short by this devastating disease.
“That’s why I’m calling on everyone in Wigan to join me and Stand Up To Cancer.
“Research is cancer’s number one enemy.
“Raising vital funds for life-saving treatments is a great way to get payback on the disease for people like me and all our loved ones who have been affected.”
The former art teacher was diagnosed in December 2008 and was told she would need to start treatment straight away.
Sue said: “She didn’t give me any options and I was grateful that I didn’t have to make any decisions for myself.
“I had immediate chemotherapy to shrink the tumours as they were too big to remove surgically at first.
“The chemo was gruelling and made me very sick. Despite anti-sickness injections, there were only three days out of every three weeks when I could face eating anything at all and, even then, all I fancied were cream crackers, beetroot and tomatoes – the rest of the time I just had water.
“Basically I spent six months either in bed or on the bathroom floor.
“I hadn’t been overweight before, but I lost about two-and-a-half stones and was very feeble and weak.
“However tough the chemo was, I was glad I went through it as it worked and once I’d recovered I was ready for surgery.
“I had a radical mastectomy during which the whole of my right breast was removed and I had a full clearance of my lymph nodes.
“After surgery I had daily radiotherapy followed by six months of Herceptin.
“Because I’m adopted I don’t have any family medical history.
“I just wanted to get rid of cancer completely and my medical team and I discussed the prospect of having a prophylactic mastectomy of my other breast once my body was fully recovered.
“I wasn’t bothered by the idea of not having any breasts but I did worry about my husband and how he would feel.
“Of course his response, as always, was totally supportive and he told me he’d love me whatever I was like and so 12 months after my first operation I had my left breast removed.
“I was told I could consider reconstructive surgery about a year later but I decided I didn’t want to put my body through what would be a long, gruelling process.
“When I had my first breast removed I wore a prosthetic as I didn’t like being so uneven.
“But once both breasts were gone I found two fake boobs were a real pain.
“I had to wear my bra really tight to keep them in place and joked that every time I lifted up my arms, they’d whack me in the chin, so I decided not to wear them anymore.”
It was then that Sue decided to have a tattoo to cover the scars from the surgery.
She said: “I’m very happy and comfortable to be like I am now.
“As a former art teacher, I wanted to celebrate my scars and transform them into something beautiful.
“I’d loved the mandala patterns I’d seen when I travelled to India and thought a mandala would be the perfect way of turning my scars into art.
“It would be my way of reclaiming control of my body – I’d be making a statement that cancer doesn’t always have to leave the last mark.
“So I researched the idea of having a tattoo and found a local studio I was happy to work with.
“I started with a small tattoo on my wrist to see if I could cope, but it turns out I have a high pain threshold so I started the process of my body becoming my canvas.
“Every morning when I get into the shower I see myself in the bathroom mirror.
“Now instead of seeing ugly scars I see this beautiful pattern.
“Cancer has changed my outlook on life. I loved my job as an art teacher, especially spending time with the students, but I found it very stressful.
“Before my illness I would have just put up with the stress, but it’s definitely made me more assertive and I am now the chief examiner for the foundation art and design course at the University of the Arts, London.
“My life is very positive now and I’m looking forward to the future.”
Since its launch in 2012, Stand Up To Cancer has raised more than £38m to help speed up research and save more lives.
The campaign has been supported by a host of celebrities and culminated with a night of live television on Channel 4 onFriday.
People across Wigan are being urged to back the appeal by raising money at work, school or home, with free fund-raising packs available to help.
To get involved visit the Stand Up To Cancer website.