Janis knows all too well the devastating impact of breast cancer… It took her sister Sue at 58. Her other sister Jenette had a preventative mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA2 gene and Janis herself was diagnosed in 2001. Her brother Alan developed prostate cancer at 56 (related to the BRCA2 gene) and her nephew Morgan was diagnosed with Stage III male breast cancer in 2018. Her daughter Amy, 35, has tested positive for the BRCA2 gene and faces the heart wrenching decision to have her breasts and ovaries removed. And her eldest daughter Sarah, was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in 2015.
"My first reaction after being diagnosed with breast cancer was one of pure, raw, abject fear 'Am I going to die?'
Thankfully I have a good friend who is an orthopaedic surgeon and he sat me down and took all the fear away by rationally discussing all the facts. I think expressing my fears verbally helped me to allay them.
When I was diagnosed, I decided to have bilateral mastectomy and later my ovaries removed. It was a challenging decision for me, but given my strong family history - the right one for me.
As a theatre nurse and surgical assistant, I was very lucky I had access to information through the medical network and that greatly influenced my decisions about reconstruction. Over the decades, breast cancer surgery has really changed. And I mean really changed. In the old days, I remember asking male surgeons why women needed to have such big, disfiguring slashes across their chest. 'Because we have to get it all out,' they would reply firmly, with little thought of just how devastating a big scar could make a woman feel.
Now thankfully we have many more surgical options. I opted for a TRAM flap, which uses tissue taken from the tummy to rebuild the breast shape. The downside of this was feeling somewhat disassociated from my sexuality as I no longer had nipples. However, having my areola tattooed definitely made me feel more womanly again.
Now I regularly perform cosmetic tattooing for patients on the Coast (Janis Livingstone Permanent Makeup). A small thing, but in so many ways a big thing, because it allows so many women to walk past a mirror and look and feel like a woman again. I guess this is my way of giving back."
Janis' Motto – "The courage that matters in breast cancer is the kind that gets you from one minute to the next. This often means baby steps, one stroke at a time, one lap at a time - and always one day at a time."
Janis' story was published in The Central Coast Breast Cancer Compendium