Ex-Corrie actress Victoria Ekanoye shares breast cancer diagnosis ahead of double mastectomy
Back in March, former Coronation Street and The Royals star Victoria Ekanoye and her partner Jonny Lomas opened up to OK! about the traumatic birth of their son Théodore in January this year, and how delighted they were to be enjoying their first few months as parents to their “miracle” baby.
It had taken Victoria, who has sickle cell disease, a while to recover from the labour, both physically and emotionally, and they were overjoyed with their baby boy. Fast forward a few months, however, and Victoria found herself back in hospital after finding a lump in her left breast.
The star, who played Angie Appleton during her 18-month stint on the cobbles and Rachel in hit US drama The Royals, opposite Elizabeth Hurley, was given the all clear by two doctors, but feeling that something wasn’t quite right, she sought a third opinion.
Following her gut instinct turned out to be the right decision and the 39-year-old was subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer. However, this is not a tragic tale, for the determined star was diagnosed so early that her doctors believe a double mastectomy will cure her.
When we meet Victoria and Jonny, 33, on our exclusive shoot, they have clearly been rocked by her shock diagnosis, but are also feeling very positive about the future.
“This is going to sound so cheesy, but I almost feel like having Théo and breastfeeding him has saved me,” she tells us. “Had I never been fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed, those lumps would never have come up the way they did.” The pair, who live between Lancashire and Nice, France, where Jonny has a construction firm, are clearly totally devoted to each other and utterly besotted by the apple of their eye, nine-month-old Théo.
Here, an emotional, but stoic Victoria opens up about how hard it is dealing with breast cancer so soon after having a baby, and why the late Sarah Harding pushed her to get that important third opinion.
We’re very sorry to hear your news, Victoria. Talk us through your diagnosis…
Victoria: Back in July I was breastfeeding Théo and I noticed there was a small lump protruding at the top of my left breast. My mum had breast cancer at 41, and her sister at 39 – so many people in my family in fact. So I don’t really leave any time before I check these things. I went for an ultrasound in France and they said that they thought it was a fibroadenoma (a benign lump). But it didn’t sit well with me. I’ve had benign lumps in the past but this just felt different. So I went for a second opinion.
What did they say?
Victoria: I had another ultrasound and they said the same thing but they thought they could see small calcifications and that they might be more to do with problems within the milk ducts due to breastfeeding. They suggested that I continue to breastfeed up until my son was a year old and then come back. But I just didn’t feel comfortable with waiting another six months, to confirm that they weren’t wrong. My gut was telling me not to just let it be. So we came back to the UK and I got referred to the One Stop Breast Clinic by my GP.
What happened at your appointment?
Victoria: If I’m honest, it was really overwhelming. I was there for four and a half hours, and during that time had a physical examination, an ultrasound, a mammogram and a needle test in an inflamed lymph node under my left armpit and two biopsies on my left breast because a second lump had developed. I was crying when they did the biopsies because I wasn’t expecting so much to happen and I was scared.
I was bleeding a fair amount because of my sickle cell – they had to stop at one point to clean the blood away. It was all over my jeans. I was a little bit like, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe all of this is happening, after the first two hospitals were so convinced I was ok.” It makes me emotional now just thinking about it because I was on my own. To have to deal with that and then make the drive home. It was a lot.
What happened when you went back the following week?
Victoria: The consultant was so sweet but I knew what was coming. I felt so bad for Jonny as I’d prepared myself and felt that I knew the outcome. We were sat there holding hands and I squeezed Jonny’s hand to give him reassurance and he looked at me funny, and in hindsight I wish I hadn’t done that as that was me telling him it was going to be bad news. And it was. She told me they’d found cancerous cells, over a 4cm mass, and that I’d have to have a mastectomy. The lumps themselves didn’t have cancerous cells, but they found DCIS, which is ductal carcinoma in situ, which is smaller cancerous cells within the milk ducts.
You had a really difficult birth that you’d just recovered from. Does it feel a bit relentless?
Victoria: It’s almost inconceivable that you have to go through something else so soon. It feels unfair. It’s already so hard being a parent. When this happened I just thought, “Can we get a bit of a break please!” I feel a bit overwhelmed and I’m scared because, as optimistic as the outlook is, you can’t predict the future. I just want to be here. I’ve got a life to live and a family to love and look after.
How do you deal with the stress?
Jonny: I would say my stress levels are probably as high as they could be. Vic’s been great though. We know now what’s going to happen, the waiting is the hardest part. But we’re managing, we have to really. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand.
Victoria: It has knocked him, as it has all of us.
Apart from the mastectomy, will there be any other treatment?
Victoria: This could be a curative. Naturally they will test the mass that they remove, to ensure the cancer isn’t invasive, if it isn’t then surgery might be enough to save me and I won’t have to go through the even tougher journey of chemotherapy.
When is your operation?
Victoria: Because we’ve had to have a few appointments before a date can be locked in as the decision of a preventative double mastectomy had to be made. Also, because I have sickle cell anaemia, I have to have a full body blood exchange a week before the surgery. So they’ll take all my blood out and replace it with fresh, non-sickle-cell blood. It was a bit alarming when I was told as that in itself can have complications. And women who have mastectomies have to have a psychological assessment to make sure you’re prepared for it – which I actually think is a very good thing. It’s a huge decision to make and it’s important that you also make time to ensure your mental health is in good shape too. The surgery will hopefully be happening in the first or second week of December. The worst thing would be for me to be in surgery for Christmas.
Will you have reconstructive surgery at the same time?
Victoria: They don’t want to put me through surgery twice as it’s too risky with my sickle cell, so they’re doing it all at once. I just want them to retain as much of me as possible, so I’d like my boobs to be the same shape and size as they are now.
Jonny: You’ve got to reduce the risks and I’m very proud of Vic for making that decision to have the mastectomy because it must be so difficult for a woman to do that.
Are you scared about the op?
Victoria: I just want to get it done and get up off the floor and start living my life. But it’s scary as I know there are risks with surgery and I’ve got my little boy. I want to make sure I’m here for him [cries].
Jonny: I’m confident with the team she’s got around her. I’m going to focus on it going well.
In your darkest moments, does Théo get you through?
Victoria: Ha! He is the cutest, sweetest little thing. He’s growing so quickly and he’s so advanced and it’s blowing our minds. Those little moments with him… it’s bittersweet as I think, “I want to be around forever for him” but he also gets me through. I’m so grateful. Not everyone has something so positive to anchor onto. He’s like my little guardian angel, keeping my head above water.
Jonny: Just looking at him, all your anxieties disappear in that moment.
Have you told any of your former Corrie co-stars about your diagnosis, Victoria?
Victoria: Yeah. We stay in touch. I’ve spoken to Nicola Thorp, Faye Brookes, Sair Khan, Bhavna Limbachia, Patti Clare and Paddy Wallace. They’re all amazing and supportive.
Did Sarah Harding’s death from breast cancer affect you?
Victoria: Absolutely. We’re the same age. It was really alarming for me, as it was for everyone. And so sad. Really sad. If anything it made me determined to get to the bottom of things with my health.
You’re having a “bye bye boobies” party. Tell us about that?
Victoria: It’s a fundraiser for Prevent Breast Cancer and Sickle Cell Care Manchester on 18 November. I’m a patron of both. It’s my 40th this year but this isn’t a birthday party. I want to celebrate medical progress with both breast cancer and sickle cell disease instead, while also giving my boobies the send off they deserve.
Finally, Jonny, when all this is over next year, will you propose?
Jonny: We’ll have to wait and see! There’s no element of surprise if I say anything else.
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