thirty-three

A year ago today (yes it’s another one of those blogs), I put the olds on a tube and sent them back to Heathrow airport. They had taken a very large detour on their way to Canada, to be with me while I awaited my final diagnosis and proposed treatment plan. It was time for them to finally enjoy their holiday. And after being told that chemotherapy was ‘advisable’, it was time for me to start planning my return to Australia.

After a week of testing and doctors’ appointments, you could have assumed that hibernating was on the top of my to-do list. You would have assumed wrong. It was my birthday and there was no way cancer was going to stop me from celebrating.

The whole day was bittersweet. I received the usual onslaught of birthday love from around the world, but at that stage my diagnosis was still a secret. My stomach turned, just slightly, with every message of love and kind wishes; I would soon have to soon break the news to these special people.

I remember getting ready for my birthday dinner, curling my long, blonde locks. I stood in the mirror trying to picture myself bald. The idea still seemed so foreign, yet only eight weeks later I was. I then decided to wear an extremely revealing top, which for me, was very out of character. I joked that it may be the ‘girls’ last birthday, so why not show them off.

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Dinner was booked at Casa Negra, the sister restaurant to one of the best Mexican restaurants in London, and conveniently located walking distance from our house. There was no hesitation with ordering cocktails on arrival – it had been a big week, after all. I can neither confirm nor deny if more glasses of margaritas were consumed than plates of Mexican food. Was I drinking to forget about the cancer, or was I just celebrating my birthday? I personally thought it was the latter, my London family may have thought otherwise. The festivities continued from Casa Rosa to my favorite prohibition-style cocktail bar, also conveniently located walking distance from our house. More friends arrived and more cocktails were consumed. And although the cancer cloud loomed above my head, for that one night, life was still normal. Birthday – tick. Happy thirty-two!

Hello 2014. Hello 33.

Today I am not saying goodbye the olds; I am spending the whole day with them. I also have a date this afternoon with my plastic surgeon. It’s my first appointment to ‘pump-up-the-puppies’, or you could say, commence the expansion process… if you wish to be politically correct. The process of expansion is not a difficult one, but I’m suddenly entering the ‘unknown’ again. Some people find it extremely painful and uncomfortable, others have said a few Panadol is enough to keep the pain away. I’m hoping for the latter.

After my appointment with Dr O, the olds and I are heading out for dinner and drinks. There are no long, blonde locks to curl, and nothing to show in a revealing top. However, there will be good food, good company, and a glass of bubbles (or two). I will be a very satisfied birthday girl just the same.

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OK. Enough about my birthday! I want to briefly touch *chuckle* on something else. I want to quickly talk about how I’ve felt since surgery, about my new body. A few people have asked and are concerned about my mental wellbeing. How do I feel when I look in the mirror?  Well, I can assure you I have never been happier! Yes, happier! It may be hard to comprehend, how can a woman, who was a D/DD be happy about losing both breasts? I can appreciate that most women would’t be, but I really am enjoying being flat chested! And I’m not just saying that to ‘remain positive’.

My life with breasts consisted of ill-fitting clothes and painful shopping trips to the lingerie department. Now, I feel like I have a whole new wardrobe – I can wear things that I never felt comfortable wearing before. And I’m clearly not alone. I stumbled upon this blog in which the writer compiles a list of 12 reasons why she hates boobs. I agree with them all! It’s worth a read.

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http://imagininghappenings.wordpress.com/tag/ta-tas/

I feel more body confident than ever before. I think this stems from a sense of achievement I feel when I look in the mirror. With everything I have gone through, I am happy with the person I have become and that is all I see when I look at my scars and lack of nipples.

Looks like I’ll be changing my Bio on RSVP: Now searching for a non-boob man.

Just joking… I’m not on RSVP.

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day seven: drain away

Warning: For those with a weak stomach, or are yet to eat breakfast, you might want to skim read the next four paragraphs.

I haven’t gone into too much detail about the aftermath of surgery, by that I mean my physical appearance. Some people take photos of themselves post surgery, not me. I know it makes some people feel uncomfortable. So unless you’ve come to visit, you wouldn’t have known that I’ve had four drains coming out of me. – two on each side. I thought it would be confronting seeing tubes coming out of my skin, more confronting than seeing my breasts removed (you know I’m a little strange…) but it hasn’t been. It can, on the other hand, be a little off-putting for others – some friends had no problem telling me this (I’m looking at you, Michael… ) other friends may have though it, but didn’t say anything.

If you’re on my Facebook you would have known that two drains were removed on Tuesday, and the other two were due to be removed today, signalling home time. Dr O has always been adamant that she doesn’t like to leave the drains in longer than a week. The risk of infection from having open wounds outweighs the benefit of draining away a extra few mls. So I’ve always felt quite certain that I would be going home after a week. Which is today.

When Dr O visited yesterday she hinted that if the rate of drainage continued at a high rate – my left was 180 mls Tuesday and then 100 mls yesterday, she may push things one more day. As of yesterday there was 50/50 chance things could go either way. The alternative would be to have a small drain inserted under ultrasound (to avoid piercing the expander) and monitor at home.

I woke up this morning as they were changing the bags from the remaining two drains. The nurse saw me looking closely at the number line, trying to work out how much was in each bag. 50 mls on the left, 40 mls on the right – still decreasing significantly during the 24-hour period. I’ve heard from other friends, who have been through this, and 30 mls is usually the magic number. My gut was telling me I was going to be here one more day. I hope I haven’t confused you all…

My surgeon, Dr P was the first one to stop by this morning. He walked in as I was discussing the chance of going home with the nurse. He asked the numbers, she told him, he then looked at me and make a big ‘zero’ with his thumb and forefinger. He’s not one for subtlety.

Then Dr O arrived, in all her glamour – she is one of the best dressed women I know. She mentioned the numbers from each side (I pretended to not know) and said, ‘Let’s get you out of here!’ WHAT! I was shocked. I was convinced she would stretch it out one more day. She is happy with the progress and not concerned of any complications that may arise. She briefed me on how to manage the dressings until I see her next week, and what to look out for. She’s even given me clearance to go for a walk around the block (she obviously hasn’t known about my double laps).

So now I sit here (YES I’m sitting at the desk – it’s the most civilised I’ve felt all week!) writing my last blog from hospital. All drains have been removed, I am free from my cannula, and I am showered and wearing normal clothes again. This morning was the first time the mirror in the bathroom steamed up, I didn’t want to get out. That one shower washed away all the frustrations and challenges from the past week – my world is now right again.

I’ve been down for a coffee and I’ve purchased a thank you card for the girls who have looked after me – signed off ‘Your Speedy Walker’. Bags are packed and Mother is on her way to collect me.

It’s time to check out.

Surgery number one. Tick.

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day six: part two

Before I call it quits on day six and zone out to some TV that is sure to lower my intelligence – The Bachelor – I want to share a little story from today.

After my last blog, when I said I was going to tackle the day with an accepting mind, well, it didn’t last long. I was still feeling a little sorry for myself and my one-arm-bandit state.

I ordered my breakfast, did my double lap around the ward and waited patiently for my cereal and poached eggs, bacon and toast. I love breakfast – it’s my favourite meal of the day, so I was excited when my tray arrived. Excitement quickly diminished when I realised the additional challenges I was about to face to be able to enjoy this meal. Have you ever tried to open the plastic from a cereal packet with one hand? It’s not an easy task! But I soldiered on (complaining internally).

A few friends messaged to check I was OK after my last blog post – I was – and I replied saying, “This is only temporary, there are people who lose an arm permanently.” I wasn’t just saying that; the thought had been on my mind. There is no need for me to complain about being challenged for the next 24-48 hours. I had to keep reminding myself of this, and as I did my mood started to improve.

Then, by some divine intervention, I was flicking through the movie selection and listed was Soul Surfer – a true story about a young surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who loses her arm to a shark bite. Of course that movie happened to be in the random mix of films available, thanks Mater. It’s not a movie I would normally choose, but today it seemed appropriate. And it was exactly what I needed. Without too much of the ‘cheese’ factor, it serves up a big cup of faith, perseverance and belief for a total of 106 minutes.

You can rest assured I didn’t have an ill thought about my silly little cannula, in my silly little elbow, for the rest of the day.

It could always be worse…

 

day six: two steps forward, one step back

I’m starting to think I need to do my daily blog at the end of the day, not at the beginning… but hey, since when have I ever done things the easy way..

Before I can even think about today, I need to talk about yesterday. Because yesterday was a big day!

It was a crackin’ start to the day. As you know, my pathology results came back clear. I successfully dried my own back after showering – baby steps towards independence. I had two drains removed – I didn’t feel a thing, phew. I had a few hours’ freedom from my IV pole – oh the freedom! I was put in a neck to hip compression stocking – instant six-pack! I had some very special visitors. And, it was Mother’s birthday. *Takes a breath*

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, let me tell you…

It was lunchtime, which meant I was due for my next round of antibiotics, which in-turn meant it was time for a new cannula. I knew my freedom from the IV pole had a limited timeframe, but I was a little sad for it to be ending. Was it too late to run and hide from the nurses? For me, having a cannula put in is the most unpleasant thing, ever. Six-months-on from chemo and it still causes me grief. The psychological damage caused by too many failed attempts, and the sensation of the drug entering the bloodstream, is something that is yet to be forgotten. A visitor had just arrived prior to the nurse wheeling in her big metal trolley full of paraphernalia. I had no choice but to suck it up and put on my invisible big-girl-panties.

The second cannula went in with ease, the antibiotics infused, but shortly after trouble started to brew. It started to feel ‘uncomfortable’. Then it became difficult to do anything with that arm – pushing my IV pole caused instant pain. There’s a difference between ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘painful’, and I knew I was surpassing the latter. I called the nurse and she confirmed what deep down I already know. The cannula had ‘blown’ and would have to come out.

Since I’m only expected to be in hospital until tomorrow, the nurse rang Dr O, explained the failed second cannula and asked if I could be switched to oral antibiotics. I crossed everything in hope for her to say the magic word – Yes. It wasn’t to be. *Sigh*. I understood her reasons, if I get an infection the expanders will have to come out and months will be added to this process. And we don’t want that! But it meant another cannula. *Deeper sigh*

I should have been relieved, the third cannula went in with ease, but I wasn’t. To ensure they didn’t miss again, Dr O ordered them to put it in my elbow – possibly the most uncomfortable and awkward position possible. Everything suddenly became difficult again. Now, I know you all think I’m eternally positive, but I had a moment. A BIG MOMENT. A moment where I may have shed a tear (read: I cried)… because of a silly needle in my arm. I nearly gave up doing my double laps around the ward because it was too difficult to push the IV pole. But then I reminded myself that giving up is not an option! So I forced myself around for a second lap (with a ‘my world is ending’ look on my face). The mood quickly passed when another friend arrived for a visit and the olds arrived with dinner and cake for Mother’s birthday.

That was yesterday. Today is a new day.

This morning I am starting my day with an accepting mind. I am accepting that my independence is going to be challenged, again. I am accepting that the nurse will have to shower me, again… and dry my back, again. I’m even taking deep breaths with every letter I punch on my keyboard with my right hand, because I am unable to type with my left.

On a brighter note, I’m excited (and hopeful) to be going home tomorrow. I have been completely spoilt with visitors, gifts, and flowers, but there are two others in my life that haven’t been able to visit. These two have been by my side since I moved home, and by my side with each phase of treatment. To mark day six in hospital, I am dedicating my blog to my two furry friends. To Jack and Lulu. I’m not sure how I’ll stop them from jumping all over me when I get home, but I can’t wait to see them.

 

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Don’t come any closer, she’s resting.

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You rest. I’ll keep watch.

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Whatchareadin’

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You need me to get anything?

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We’ll make sure you don’t fall off the couch.

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I’ll just stay here incase you need something.

day five

This morning I woke to raindrops on the glass windows.

In hospital, it’s easy to forget what day, month or even season it is. I see blue skies but I forget it’s winter. Is there warmth in the midday sun? Probably, it is Queensland. If I were in London it would be a different story. Does the breeze, that stirs the leaves outside, chill the bones? These are my quiet thoughts for the day. Maybe I should venture down to the eighth-floor outdoor area.

While eating breakfast – poached eggs with bacon, and fruit & yogurt – my surgeon, Dr P, walked in. He had in his hands a very important piece of paper – the pathology results from my breast tissue. He was only a day late, but hey, you can’t rush these things. I wasn’t really worried about the results, more curious. If things were black and white there wouldn’t have been an inch of doubt about the results. But I have learnt that things are never black and white… there is always a 1% chance… and 1% is still a number that can change your life.

So, the results, I hear you ask? All clear! What a relief. (A great birthday present for Mother, it’s her birthday today.) In his eyes, he thinks going through all of this is / was a pointless exercise. But I don’t for a second doubt my decision. This news paves a new step in front of me, further away from cancer. It’s a step in the right direction. They did, however, find something that wouldn’t have been discovered if it wasn’t for the surgery. (I hope I get this right for all my medical friends.) In the initial scar, from my lumpectomy, there was a trapped nerve – a traumatic neuroma. He asked if my scar was sometimes painful – well yes, but I thought that was normal. Now I don’t have to worry, my traumatic neuroma is gone. (I wish I had known about it earlier, I could have dropped it into a conversation here or there… my traumatic neuroma is painful today – how smart do I sound!)

Now that the big news of the day is over, the bump and grind of ward life continues. The nurse has arrived with my next dose of injections and tablets. The only pain medicine I am on now is Panadol. Who would have thought, five days post major surgery and ol’ Panadol is keeping me in check. I’m still having an injection twice a day, which helps thin my blood and avoid any blood clots. It takes me back to when I was self-injecting during the IVF process. I don’t know how, but I only ended up with one bruise after ten days of injections – I wish I could say the same now. Lucky I’m not planning on getting into a bikini in the next week or so.

Next on the agenda is to wait for my plastic surgeon, Dr O. If I’m lucky *crosses fingers* they may remove one or two drains today. In the meantime, I’ll start the showering process – oh how I long for the day where I can shower with ease, without drains or drips attached *dreams* (But doesn’t complain, I’m thankful I have the luxury of a shower!)

The exercise regime is going to be taken up a notch today – today I start double laps around the ward. I’ll be back to my half marathon speed in no time (shhh, don’t tell the doctors…)

 

It’s all in a date.

Being diagnosed with cancer is similar to starting a new relationship. From your first kiss, to your wedding anniversary, cancer treatment has its own special dates and milestones. And today, August 4, is a very significant one for me.

Twelve months ago, at 2pm, I strolled into the McMillian Cancer Centre, London. I entered my name and date-of-birth into a touch screen terminal next to the reception desk, and was directed to the second floor. I took a seat in the waiting room, pulled out my phone, and started to play backgammon – my standard ‘time-killer’. I had landed that morning from Dubai, and only managed a few hours’ sleep. In my bag were a book and some magazines, also to help pass time. But I was too tired to concentrate; I was struggling to stay awake!

After a short time, my name was called and I was ushered into a room for a consultation. Name? Age? Family history? … This was the start of the three questions I was to be asked many more times in the next 12 months. The doctor explained that the McMillian Cancer Centre is a one-stop-shop – you don’t leave until they have are able to give you a definite answer. You’ll either be told you have cancer, or you don’t. After a brief chat – and touch up of the lump in question – the nurse transferred me to an adjoining room.

The next step in this process was to perform an ultrasound. And again… name, age, and family history… My breast was prodded and poked by the magic wand. There was no question about a lump being present, especially once it flashed up on the black and white screen; there was a big round ball of white. ‘Let’s take a biopsy,’ the Sonographer said.

A fine needle aspiration was done to extract cells from the lump for testing. Having a long needle jabbed into your breast is not a pleasant thing; however, in hindsight, 12 months on, it was no big deal.

After the biopsy I was sent back to the waiting room. Two hours gone. Now I was really getting tired. I remember sitting in the waiting room, looking around at the other patients. I was wondering who there had cancer; who had been given the bad news. I wondered who was like me – just there to have a lump checked, that would surely be nothing. I felt sorry and was sad for those who were clearly distressed or upset. Poor them, I thought. They must have cancer.

The clock ticked over another 30 minutes before I was called back in to see the doctor. As I walked in I saw another nurse sitting to the side of the room. I instantly knew that there was something wrong. I sat down. To this day, I don’t remember what was said. Something like, ‘The biopsy showed abnormal cells… more testing….’ I burst into tears. I don’t know if it was because I was jet lagged, tired, or because I was in shock about the information I was being told. After some counseling from the breast care nurse, I was finally set free – so to say.

I was in a taxi on my way home and I was texting Thea, she and Nash had left that morning for a week in France. …Something about abnormal cells… I told her ‘So what does that mean?’ … I’m not really sure…

Did I have cancer? I didn’t know. Maybe I imagined it. I knew I was being booked in for more testing, so maybe abnormal doesn’t mean cancer, maybe it just meant they wanted to check again. I only told a handful of people about the testing and results. How could I tell people if I wasn’t sure myself? What if it wasn’t cancer, what if I misheard…

It was Friday afternoon and the breast care nurse wouldn’t be available until Monday, so I wouldn’t be able to ask any further questions until then. I arrived home, cried in the shower, put on my comfy clothes and poured myself a glass of red wine… and then another… and then another.

I went to bed with so many unanswered questions. I couldn’t imagine how my life was about to change, for better and for worse. Just like any relationship, after a year together, you grow and you learn. Not just about the other person, but yourself. By the 12 month mark, you should have worked out if you want to stay together or not. After a year with cancer, I have grown to be a better person. Cancer has taught me many things about myself, and life in general. But this is one relationship I do not wish to continue. Sorry Cancer, but I think it’s time for us to go our separate ways (soon).

 

 

 

day three

This morning I didn’t get to see the sunrise. Why? Because I was sleeping – hooray! Apart from a being woken by my beeping IV machine, and by the nurses feeding me more drugs, I slept all the way through. Last night I was watching Mandela, it was only 8pm but I was feeling sleepy. The nurse had given me a selection of drugs with strict instructions to take them at 10pm, so I set my alarm on my phone. Lucky I did, I was fast asleep.

It was just past 7am before I decided to get up this morning. Now that it is my third morning in hospital, I have worked out a morning routine. I order breakfast then get in a lap around the ward. I have been given orders to do at least four laps per day, so I like to do one first thing before breakfast – work up an appetite (ha). Today I was feeling good so I decided to take in the North wing as well as my East wing. I was feeling comfortable and noticed my speed increasing… by the end of the week I might have to start wearing my Garmin to keep an eye on my pace. The hallways are usually empty but last night, on my walk, I saw another young woman.I might have to go on a stealth mission to find her room and see if she wants to start a walking club. We could be called, The Tenth Floor Wanderers. Anyway…

My nurse for the day has just arrived to hand me my next lot of pills. I think I’m going to like this one… she seems to know what she is doing. I know that sounds a little harsh but yesterday the nurse was asking ME what she needed to do. My nurse today complimented me on how well I look! She is also impressed with how my chest looks and how little pain I am in. See, nothing to worry about. She was a little concerned I was doing work on my computer, but I assured her I was just writing.

Now that I have done my first workout for the day, I am looking forward to my breakfast. I have chosen the healthy option today, egg white omelette and natural yogurt. I’m saving the pancakes for tomorrow.

The Sunday Mail has arrived, room service should arrive shortly. Remind me, where am I again? Oh yeah, hospital.