Portsmouth three-time cancer survivor raises awareness through liberating photoshoots
An incredible woman who overcame cancer three times has bared all to raise awareness of breast cancer and encourage others to look out for warning signs.
Kara McLarty, from Portsmouth, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 after feeling a recurring sharp pain across her right breast.
She went to her GP and after a mammogram confirmed her diagnosis, Kara had to undergo a single mastectomy and was given an implant in the same operation.
She said: ‘I did my usual checks quite regularly and would always look out for the typical warning signs like lumps, inverted nipples and orange peel-like skin, but never had any.
When I went to my GP I never expected that the pain would be connected to cancer because it isn’t a symptom that I’d heard of.’
When Kara was first diagnosed the shock was so colossal that she described it as feeling like ‘an out-of-body experience’.
It was only after realising a a small twinging pain in her breast while taking part in her usual exercise classes that she thought she ought to get herself checked.
Kara recalls the agonising wait in the waiting room before she got the results.
‘I'm sitting there trying not to panic. I then got asked back in to see the lady consultant that I first saw and she said there and then, "I'm sorry to tell you that we have seen some signs of breast cancer".
‘It just floors you because you go in thinking you've just got a little pain and that they will tell you everything's fine.
‘But within a couple of hours my whole world was turned upside down.
‘I was totally in shock. You don't really believe it. It's just one of those moments in time where you just don't believe it's happening to you, it's almost like a bit of an out-of-body experience.’
Kara’s mind was flooded with questions. Every build-up to another hospital appointment was just another battle. She was in a constant state of fear for what was to come.
The 53-year-old opted for a mastectomy. There was no doubt in her mind this was the course she wanted to take.
Kara was so desperate to come away from a life burdened by worry that for her it was a no-brainer.
‘After I had my mastectomy, I felt anxious about the cancer coming back in my left breast and for some reason I just had a strange feeling in my gut. I wanted to have the other breast removed but the consultants, understandably, refused to remove a seemingly healthy breast.
‘It wasn't about anything to do with cosmetics really.
‘It was purely to do with the worry in my head about it coming back.’
But Kara’s next yearly mammogram revealed abnormal cells, which her consultant thought were benign, but because of her heightened risk of cancer, she was given a second mastectomy with another implant.
After the cells were given a closer examination post-operation, she was told that there were, in fact, cancerous cells in the second breast.
Kara said: ‘I felt relieved after I had my second mastectomy. It was never about cosmetics, I just had that gut feeling that something wasn’t right, which turned out to be true.
‘In my mind I didn't believe my breast to be healthy. I had a gut instinct all along and it was right.’
But another awful health concern was about to come to a head, despite the traumatic ordeal Kara had already endured in the previous few years.
It was only during a routine check-up following both procedures, that Kara’s consultant expressed his concern yet again about cancer. But this time it was about a freckle on her stomach.
After several tests, Kara was diagnosed with melanoma and had to undergo surgery to remove the cancer and ensure it hadn’t spread. It had not.
Throughout her whole journey, she was lucky enough not to need chemotherapy but still took a huge hit to her physical and mental wellbeing.
She now has a new outlook on life, with an even stronger love for her body.
Kara has joined Liberty Photography as an ambassador and takes part in monthly photoshoots to help her regain her self-confidence.
Each month she has an option to choose a location for a shoot which allows her to get her inner mojo back, where she’s free from any negative thoughts about her body and can finally feel her old self again.
Some photoshoot destinations include regular favourites like fields of lavender, corn, daisies and those of sunflowers at Hayling Island.
But her most recent shoot saw her swap her bra for multi-coloured glitter in a bid to raise awareness of breast cancer.
Kara sayss: ‘My main priority has, of course, been my physical health, but it’s also important to feel confident in my own skin. This is why I became an ambassador for Liberty.
‘They truly make me feel my best and looking back at the pictures they take gives me a deeper appreciation for my body, not just for how it looks but for what it has been through.’
The monthly photoshoot means women like Kara can feel empowered and comfortable in their own skin again.
But the group isn’t just about helping women like Kara who have undergone a traumatic experience because of breast cancer, it’s about people coming together to rebuild their lives.
Some of the women who attend have lost babies or children. Every single person has their own story.
According to Kara ‘everybody’s a little bit broken’.
She says: ‘You see them almost getting rebuilt. They’ve been such a huge support network for me.
The people I’ve met along the way have helped me so much. I’ve made so many friends through them.
‘I’m like one of their biggest cheerleaders.
‘I find the shoots liberating. You get your makeup done and you just feel a million dollars. It just takes you out of yourself and makes you think yeah I’m OK, I’ve done this, I’m alive. It was incredible.’
‘This year is the first year I’ve been cancer-free. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the whole journey it is to live life to the absolute fullest. I now say yes to everything I can.
‘If anyone takes anything from my story I’d like it to be that you should always trust your gut instinct. Get things checked as early as you can. The signs aren’t always obvious but if you get to know your body you can notice changes sooner – which could save your life.’
To find out more about breast cancer symptoms visit nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer/symptoms/
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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