Cancer survivor who had double mastectomy scared of public toilets after being mistaken for a man
A cancer survivor who underwent chemotherapy and a double mastectomy has revealed she is scared of public toilets - after repeatedly being mistaken for a man.
Tiffany Liles-Taylor, from Enderby, Leicestershire, was diagnosed with the disease during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
The 43-year-old, who had both of her breasts removed, is now often misgendered, being referred to as "sir" or "he".
She says she just wants to be herself rather than put on an inauthentic front just to avoid confrontation.
Before her diagnosis Tiffany, who works as a ward clerk for University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, was already facing tough times.
She was made redundant at work, and had sadly lost a child at nine weeks with her wife Kathryn, who was undergoing intrauterine insemination (IUI) fertility treatment.
Then in June 2020, she noticed something unusual. Tiffany said: “I was in bed one day just playing around with my breast kind of like a stress ball.
"I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but it was just a comfort thing. During my time of the month, my breasts would get lumpy and then it would pass, but this time around I noticed that a lump was still there on the right hand side."
In the first week of July, she had an appointment with the doctor, but it was during a time when appointments were more or less ‘non-existent’ because of coronavirus.
She had other strange symptoms such as wheezing and shoulder pain, but those were initially put down to asthma and working out in the gym.
"When I went for my first appointment, due to the size of my breasts, the GP couldn’t determine whether I had a cyst or something cancerous, so I was referred to Glenfield Hospital two weeks later," she said.
Tiffany had a mammogram and said that she knew she was in trouble when the doctor asked: "How many lumps did you come in with?"
Tiffany said: “I replied with ‘one lump', and she then proceeded to tell me that I had a sizable lump in my right breast, but I also had one in my left."
The doctor did an ultrasound which revealed that the cancer had also spread to her lymph nodes. Further tests revealed that she had three tumours and 13 out of 23 of her lymph nodes were compromised.
She said: “I asked the doctor if It was treatable, or if I was terminal, and she said I had curative-intent, which meant that if I reacted well to the treatment, I had high odds of surviving.
"Once I'd processed the news I realised that I could get both breasts removed. I’ve had to carry around these really heavy things my whole life, but I was in my forties and they were starting to get droopy anyway - so I thought 'these can go'."
Tiffany had both breasts removed, several rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Tiffany said: “I spent 18 months of my life being terrified, not just because I had cancer, but because of the pandemic as well.
"I didn’t leave the house just because I was afraid. My immune system was already weak because of my treatment, so even simple tasks like pressing the button on a traffic light gave me anxiety because I was so afraid of the germs."
Kathryn was not allowed to attend appointments with her, meaning Tiffany often felt isolated a lot of the time. Tiffany recalled: "My mental health suffered more than my physical health."
Despite her adversity, Tiffany went on to make a full recovery and even went back to work in the summer of 2021. But what was initially a joyous time for her became clouded with people assuming that she was a man, just because she no longer had breasts.
She said: “I get called Timothy more than Tiffany. I now have high social anxiety because my hair's still growing back and I'm quite a masculine female who is in a same-sex relationship - so when people see me and my wife, they automatically assume that I’m a guy.
"Public toilets are very stressful because people will always challenge me whenever I go in. They will ask me if I'm in the right toilet, or get members of staff to question why I'm there - to which I have to constantly explain that I had cancer, not a sex change.
"It's that confrontation that I hate. I want people to understand that I am a woman, and I am in the right place.
"I got challenged less when I had no hair and looked like a cancer patient, than now that my hair has grown back, I get challenged a lot."
Tiffany even said that she has attempted to dress differently, wearing makeup and a wig, but said that doing so has made her feel inauthentic and ridiculous.
Tiffany said: "I think that people picked up on the fact that I wasn't being myself, and they’d still automatically treat me different."
Although she still deals with being misgendered, she has praised the help of Macmillan Cancer Support.
Tiffany said: "I went into the Macmillan Cancer Support centre one day after chemo and met Karen, who runs the Macmillan hair loss clinic and we hit it off straight away."
Karen helped Tiffany find a wig that she likes although she describes it as a 'blonde 90s Westlife style curtain' and the cancer charity also pointed her towards a woman's support group.
Macmillan also signposted Tiffany to get a Radar disabled toilet key so that she can access any disabled facilities in the country - helping to ease her anxiety.
Tiffany said: “I grew up in a single parent household and my dad was an alcoholic. Times were always tough but I’ve always been taught, that you are never given more than you can handle and whatever life throws at you, you are strong enough to handle it.
"Storms never last forever, and even in my darkest hour, the sun will always come out.”