Marathon Runner with Double Mastectomy Races Topless to ‘Normalize Mastectomy’ — and Is Now a Guinness Record Holder (Exclusive)

Louise Butcher is the fastest marathon runner with a double mastectomy, according to the Guinness Book of World Records

Published Time: 05.07.2024 - 00:31:18 Modified Time: 05.07.2024 - 00:31:18

Louise Butcher is the fastest marathon runner with a double mastectomy, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. And it’s a record she can’t wait for someone to beat.

“What I wanted to do is to normalize mastectomy,” the marathon runner from North Devon, England, tells PEOPLE. “The records are there to be broken, so Guinness came up with the record that I would be the fastest woman with a double mastectomy.”

“That's what I wanted — that women might want to beat it,” she tells PEOPLE. “It's just part of the normalizing of the mastectomy and not having breasts.”

The decision to run topless came after Butcher, 51, noticed “negativity” around mastectomy flap closure surgery without reconstruction.

People talked about “the loss of your femininity, the loss of your sense of self, being a woman and it just felt like there was no positive to it.”

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But for Butcher, who ran the London Marathon topless this year, “it felt quite free” to run topless, without breasts “banging around, and I quite liked being flat.”

Plus, she tells PEOPLE, “There were benefits, to be honest: Not wearing bras when it was hot. I wasn't sweating. And I thought, 'I'd really like to show the positive side of it.' "

"Especially the fact that you're living, you know. You’re living. You haven't died.”

In Butcher’s case, she had an aggressive cancer that didn’t even show up on a routine mammogram she had just weeks before she found a “tiny little lumpy piece” during a self-exam two years ago.

Her doctor sent the mom of two to the breast clinic for an ultrasound, and “that's when they found five mysterious areas that looked a bit abnormal,” Butcher, who was 49 at the time, tells PEOPLE. “They did biopsies there and then two weeks later, they told me I had lobular cancer.”

As the Mayo Clinic explains, lobular cancer starts in the milk ducts —and “is less likely than other forms of breast cancer to cause a firm or distinct breast lump.”

“The areas that they found were tiny areas, but -

when I had my breasts removed, it was five centimeters,” Butcher tells PEOPLE of how quickly the cancer was growing.

She went through a grieving process that lasted six months, telling PEOPLE, “I was sad to accept the body I had." But how she overcame it was “because of the running. The running made me accept it more.”

Butcher, who originally began running before her surgeries as a way to deal with anxiety, began running again — tackling marathons for the first time.

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“I had to sort of evolve into something else without them,” she says of life without breasts. “When I started topless running, that made me accept it even more because of the way that I was empowering and accepting myself and showing other people myself.”

“It made me accept it more because I wasn't hiding myself,” she tells PEOPLE.

She said the decision to run the London Marathon topless in April 2024 came after “I thought I'd like to see someone out there living life — being a full woman — without them. Just showing that you're strong. I knew I was doing another marathon and thought, ‘Maybe I should do it topless to be a guinea pig to see why there's so much negativity and where the stigma comes from.’ “

"And that's why I did it."

The reactions, she says, were “more positive than I thought they would be.”

And now Butcher is looking forward to continuing her topless marathon running and helping others with their self-image, sharing that her favorite comments are that “I've changed someone else's mindset or the way they feel about themselves. It's so rewarding.”

Now two years after her surgery, Butcher tells PEOPLE that cancer “really teaches you...that your body will always try and heal, and will always try and keep you alive.”

“You become more aware of what your body does rather than what it looks like,” she says. “I've got a better respect for my body now than I used to.”

Plus, she tells PEOPLE, “I've never been this fit with breasts.”

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