July 31, 2017
Beauty and the breast
For internationally-acclaimed ballet dancer Lyn Fitzsimons, her body has been her instrument for 40 years. So when a cancerous breast lump was found, she refused to be “butchered” through a mastectomy or lumpectomy. There had to be another way, and there was – oncoplastic breast surgery.
Sweeping her long blonde hair over her shoulder, Lyn Fitzsimons gestures to her right breast.
To cut a long story short and ‘cut’ being the operative word, my choice was simple – mastectomy or lumpectomy. My life had been reduced to these few new medical terms and there I was heading towards a life without a nipple,” she says.
Born into a creative family, where her mum was always belting out Liza Minnelli and her dad singing the tune of Frank Sinatra, dancing has been a cornerstone in Lyn’s life since she was three years old.
Wanting to follow in the footsteps of her older sister, a singer and dancer in the West End of Glasgow, Lyn enrolled in a ballet class at the age of 10, which in dancing terms was quite late. Within a year, Lyn was accepted to The Dance School of Scotland – a full time boarding school for ‘gifted dancers’.
“That was quite intense. My life became eat, sleep and dance 24 hours a day.”
At the end of five years, 16-year-old Lyn was invited to join London’s Royal Ballet.
“That’s when you turn into this ballet machine; it was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life,” she says.
I spent three years in the Royal Ballet bubble and upon graduating I was one of the highest qualified teachers in the UK, which was amazing, but I had just had enough. I had overloaded on ballet. I was nearly 20, and I’d never had a wee beer or a wee Shandy and I missed my teenage years. I wanted a break, to do something fresh and different.”
And so Lyn auditioned for Bluebell Girls in Paris on the Champs-Elysées.
“There are hundreds of girls every year trying to get into the Lido de Paris, but thankfully the director wanted classically-trained dancers. That’s when the fun started,” she says with a smile.
“The nightlife, the VIP treatment, the tours, the people who visited Lido – it’s a world famous cabaret, we had people like Gloria Gaynor, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Kylie Minogue.”
Within a year, Lyn met a French photographer and a few years later they had a daughter together. After seven years in Paris, Lyn returned to Scotland and opened six ballet schools.
“I stayed for 10 years and it was great, but I was cold and it was getting me down. I thought I’ll stay until my daughter goes to uni. Her father was back in France and she went to uni in France, that was my cue.”
In September 2014, Lyn sold her ballet schools and moved to Australia, where she’s always wanted to live.
“Three weeks later I found myself on Duporth Avenue, dragging my 30kg life behind me,” she says.
Lyn taught full time with a dance school in Brisbane, before opening her own business a year later, Adult Dance Circle Sunshine Coast. Then in September last year, Lyn was diagnosed with cancer.
I can’t describe it, it was kind of like when you go underwater and it’s muffled – it’s a bit of a blur.”
Back in 2005, when Lyn was in Scotland, she found a small lump in her breast and was told it was a fatty cyst. So when she detected a lump in the same breast, she thought it was the same lump.
“I left it. I was too busy for a lump, so I put it off,” she says. “But then it was beginning to show in my leotards and there were quite a few ladies in my adult dance class who were recovering from cancer, and I thought one of them is going to see and I didn’t want my health issues to become other people’s worries. I bit the bullet and got a biopsy on it.”
A visit to a surgeon in Nambour detailed the extent of her situation – a 39mm cancerous tumour above the nipple.
“The treatment was lumpectomy or mastectomy. With the lumpectomy I would be left with a scar and then I’d have to have radiation and other treatments.
“They warned if they go in and it’s bigger than they thought they might have to do a mastectomy and take the whole breast off. And they were wanting me to sign on the line, saying it’s okay to that, so they could book me into the operating theatre.
“I didn’t know enough about it. I said, ‘Are these all my options?’ and he said they were – it was quite cut and dry. So I said, ‘No’. It was my first contact and it was too much.”
Lyn began educating herself on breast cancer and the options for surgeries.
They can’t just chop me and I know my mental stability and maybe due to being a dancer, I wouldn’t have been able to look at my scar every day in my leotards. It’s about my confidence – my sanity is my vanity. It is for so many woman and how many women have signed on the line and now every time they hop in the shower they have a massive dent, or a scar or only one breast?”
Three days later Lyn found Doctor Mara Clarson on the Sunshine Coast, who first learnt oncoplastic techniques in 2011.
“Surgery doesn’t have to be disfiguring,” Mara says. “Women going through breast cancer have enough to worry about already, so I aim to give them a result that is good from an oncologic point of view, as well as an aesthetic point of view. Psychological health has such a huge impact on physical health and healing and achieving a good cosmetic result from surgery can boost a patient’s self esteem and psychological health.”
The word oncoplastic is derived from the Greek words ‘onco’ (tumour) and ‘plastic’ (to mould), and the procedure uses plastic surgical techniques to improve cosmetic outcomes in breast conservation surgery.
“This allows a breast cancer to be removed safely, while preventing some of the cosmetic deformities,” Mara says.
Oncoplastic surgery achieves a better cosmetic outcome when compared to a traditional lumpectomy, where the tumour is removed but the defect is not closed or is closed with significant deformity. And a mastectomy is disfiguring and confronting for many women.”
This was why Lyn opted to have the cancerous tumour removed using oncoplastic techniques and says her tumour was removed through an incision in her nipple.
“There are amazing health professionals out there, you just can’t take the first opinion or the second opinion. Go for three – I had four surgeons’ opinions,” she says.
“People say you battle cancer, but the battle stopped for me, there’s a calmness over my life now. I was taking a lot for granted, I was a dance powerhouse – work and dance was my life, and I was missing these amazing things around me.
“Life is different and it’s lovely.”