The Exchange

You know the feeling when you plan something months (or years) in advance, and as it starts approaching, and becoming a reality, you become impatient and restless and just want it NOW. The lead up to a holiday or the last week of work (especially if you’ve resigned) always feels drawn-out and painful?

I’m currently overwhelmed by impatience and restlessness, as my exchange surgery is booked and is less than four weeks away. After a few date changes — due to clashes with my surgeon’s schedule and my racing schedule — March 17 was confirmed.

Before I am wheeled into the operating theatre I have one last race to compete in: Mooloolaba Triathlon. I’m very fortunate to have a surgeon who understand what is important to me and has supported my wish to train and race over the past few months.

So what does the last step in this long-winded journey entail? The hard-as-rocks-ain’t-moving-for-nothing temporary tissue expanders are removed and my (hopefully) softer, permanent implants are inserted. I wouldn’t call the surgery ‘major’ but an overnight stay in hospital and six weeks off work (and training) will follow.

And I ask myself (or to be more precise, my other half asks me…) How does someone who trains most days manage with no training for six weeks? Simple: Accept and enjoy it. Will I miss watching the sun rise on my long runs (the most magical time of day) — yes; will I miss my early morning rides with the girls — most definitely; will I miss jumping in the water and staring at a black line in the pool — not so much… This is not because I dislike swim squad, I’m secretly happy to be taking time out now as we bridge between the summer ‘cold-water’ pool training to winter ‘heated pool’ training.  By the time I return to training I’ll be in the steamy-bath water.

There is always a silver lining to be found.

3 weeks + 5 days: I’m ready.

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Milestones

In life, there are a set of predetermined milestones we encounter (some of us more than others). Milestones that are recognised — and celebrated — by society. From your first birthday, through to reaching your teenage and adult years; graduating primary school, high school and university; becoming engaged, married and giving birth to your first child.

Then there are the milestones that you never expect to have paved into your life’s path: the hurdles thrown in life. Cancer treatment creates many milestones to reach, surpass, then celebrate.

I recently celebrated one more milestone in my recovery: I returned to the skies. After 15 months away from the world at 40,000 ft, I put on my wings and revisited my past life. To say I was nervous was an understatement; I felt like it was my first day in the sky, ever. But then I boarded the aircraft and it was as if I had never left (although the olive oil is in a different stowage now…)

The best part about returning to work was running into friends whom have been supportive from afar through my recovery. It was a reminder as to why I love the job — the friends you make flying make up for the jet lagged nights scrolling through 50 channels of infomercials in the US (party animal). As well as the friends who have known about my treatment, there were many familiar faces that were non-the-wiser to my past year, and just thought I was sporting a new hairstyle.

When anticipating my first flight back, I hoped I would have a friend onboard to ‘hold my hand’. And that I did. I was fortunate that the manager was an old friend. I was even luckier that he happened to be checking his bag in at the same time so I basically followed him to where I needed to go. Extreme holding of hand was required.

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With the last milestone for treatment — returning to work — I can put 2014 behind me. I look forward to swapping cancer milestones to life goals next year.

While setting my goals for next year I am affirming my two mantra’s to live by: To stay humble, and hopeful.

I am making these two things my focus for everything I do in 2015.

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Bring on 2015!

something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

Before panic sets in, I should put you at ease by saying this is not a wedding post. REPEAT. This is not a wedding post. I’m just stealing the saying as inspiration for an update of some sort.

Something Old (continuity).

One definition of continuity is: A state of stability and absence of disruption. My life has definitely lacked continuity in the past twelve months. But a change is on the horizon and my previous life is about to merge back with my current life. I am resuming work in the skies.

From November 17, I am officially an active Flight Attendant again! I have been approved for 6 months part-time flying. Let me reiterate PART-TIME flying. I need to ease back into the world of flying and see if I cope after such a long break.

I will resume flying out of my old base – Sydney, which means commuting down from Ipswich. Before they let me take to the skies I need to complete a day’s refresher training… the exits are where? I’m excited to see all my flying friends; I’m not so excited about operating the longest-direct-flight-in-the-world from Dallas to Sydney.

I wonder if they will let me work in First Class again with my punk rock haircut.

Something New (optimism for the future)

I may have been quiet on CT, but I have been very vocally (in the written form) elsewhere. I am currently writing two articles a week for Holistchic (www.holistchic.com) and am putting together some articles for a new publication lili Life (love life live it). The content for the websites are polar opposites and they both challenge me in different ways… Long hours are spent on my MacBook.

I’m also still studying Editing and have completed a few other courses in the past few months. Now it’s time to start putting myself out there, pitching story ideas to magazines or publications and turning my ‘hobby’ into an income. Optimism… let’s go…

Something Borrowed (borrowed happiness)

So though I have not borrowed anything lately (apart from the parents’ car), I can write from here to eternity about happiness. Not borrowed happiness, however, created happiness. The best type of happiness.

Life has resumed to normal since surgery and I am back training and racing in my beloved sport: Triathlon. I eased back into things with an Enticer distance Tri and just yesterday competed my first Sprint distance… boy was that a wake-up call! But I loved it. And now I have reset my goals and it’s full steam ahead.

I know I am being hard on myself when I say I wasn’t happy with my time. In truth, it was only 2 mins slower than when I raced the same distance pre cancer. And I have to remind myself that I only had surgery 12 weeks ago, but I don’t like to be always in that mindset, reminding myself of where I have come etc.

Another race awaits next Sunday. Time to crack the whip on myself.

Something Blue

Ok. This one is a bit rogue and doesn’t really fit in with the traditional saying, which is about fidelity. I’m taking a psychological approach instead.

Blue is the colour of the mind and is essentially soothing. From a design perspective (although I am not a designer) light blue is used for heath, depth, stability and faith; dark blue for knowledge, power, trust and integrity.

Right now I looking through light-blue coloured glasses.

Last week, October 16 passed without a second thought, yet it should have been a date clear in my mind. It was the day I started chemotherapy last year. It was the day that so much was unknown for myself. So many questions were running through my mind: How would I feel? Would I be sick? Could I cope?

Last week, a year later, the focus was not on myself and my journey through chemo. The tables have turned and now the focus in on my father’s journey that is about to begin.

I’m taking off my patient hat and putting on my carer hat.

After nearly two weeks in hospital he is rocking the purple hospital gown, and he has worked out the difference between the dodgy plastic water the caterer brings vs the filtered iced water the nurse will bring. He will be fine. I have no doubt he will power on and handle all the challenges that go hand in hand with treatment, he is a Viking, after all.

Pay It Forward

Blessed. Lucky. Spoilt. Just three words to describe how I feel when I think about the support that I received when I voiced that I needed to have my surgery through the private system. I didn’t ask for help (because I had already been helped in so many ways) but friends – old and new – surprised me with secret fundraisers that, in the end, covered the cost of surgery.

Now I want to pay forward the kindness and generosity that I received. I want to share about another fundraiser that is currently taking place that is dear to my heart. I want to help in more ways than just giving a financial amount; I want to spread the word so more people can help.

The Fundraiser: The Baby Smith Dream.

Before I tell you about The Baby Smith Dream, I need to introduce you to the person who is doing the fundraising and tell you what she is doing. My amazing friend, Meg is walking from Brisbane to Ipswich! That’s FOURTY-TWO KILOMETRES! Meg has no experience in this, she isn’t a closet marathon walker, but she had a calling in her heart to do something ‘big’. And I personally think this is BIG.

I have known Meg since I was a child. She’s the unofficial third daughter in my family. She lived down the road from us and we spent our teenage years together – especially summer holidays (we have a pool). We spent hours creating fun for ourselves. My contact with Meg after I moved away was limited to Facebook, but when I return last year, it was as if I had never been gone. She has been there for me throughout my whole treatment with many trips to our favourite coffee spot.

So why is Meg walking? (I should add here that Meg has a walking partner, her cousin Maddy)

Friends of Meg – Kylie and Jo – are hoping to have one last chance of growing their family through IVF. They are already loving parents to a little girl and hope to provide Olivia with a brother or sister. After many failed attempts with IVF, and many thousands spent, time and finances are getting in the way of fulfilling their dream. There is no more time to be wasted; it’s time to take action now.

I know first-hand how hard the IVF journey is, and I only did part of the process, and without any additional emotional pressure. With every injection I thought of all the women out there that have much more on the line. It has stayed with me always and left a mark on my heart. My heart sinks each time I hear of someone going through this journey.

The Baby Smith Dream has created a blog where you can read about their story and updates on Meg and Maddy’s training. The big day is approaching, November 2.

If you want to help and read more about Kylie and Jo, and their journey, go to http://thebabysmithdream.wordpress.com

When I was supported with the cost of surgery, I was supported without having to ask.

It takes a whole lot of bravery to ask for help. I am proud of Kylie, Jo and Meg for all asking for help. Our giving nature, as a society, has been put to the test recently with the viral campaigns such as the Ice Bucket Challenge. Let’s continue to stretch ourselves to help those that are real in our lives.

Please share this on your social media and help me, help them.

 

 

A little word beginning with: R

Re… Re… Remission.

There has always been one question that causes me to pause. Not because the question upsets or concerns me, but because I have never known the answer. (Google hasn’t been much help for this one.) The question is:”Are you cancer free?”

It’s a hard one to answer because every cancer patient’s situation is different. Some patients say they are cancer free from their first check-up post treatment. Others mark it from their final round of chemo; radiation; or surgery.

So when am I worthy of the nickname: NED (No Evidence of Disease)?

My theory is this: If I had chemo and double mastectomy for ‘preventative’ purposes, haven’t I been cancer free from when the lump was removed last year? My medical team are yet to mentioned the word ‘remission’, so I’ve always assumed it hasn’t applied to me yet.

To understand my mindset, here’s a recap of the past year (for those who missed the start of the journey).

September 2, 2013. Surgery #1: Lumpectomy and Sentinel Node Biopsy. The cancerous lump was removed, along with three lymph nodes to test and determine if any cells had escaped. (They hadn’t! Phew.)

September 6, 2013. Surgery #2: Re-excision. When they remove a mass there needs to be a clear margin of healthy, cancer-free tissue surrounding the cancerous mass. The pathology report showed the lump was bigger than they thought and they didn’t have a clear margin, so they needed to take out more tissue. The clear margin was achieved after the second surgery.

October 11, 2013. IVF: Extraction of eggs. Sort of a surgery but not. Let’s not count it as an official surgery.

October 16, 2013, First round of chemo: The moment we realised I was allergic to chemotherapy drugs. Oh joy.

January 31, 2014, Last round of chemo: Finally…

July 31, 2014, Surgery #3: Double mastectomy with reconstruction. All tissue removed was clear; no cancer cells identified.

And we’re not at the end yet! In the future I will need a fourth surgery to insert the implants; a fifth surgery to re-create nipples, and tattooing to make them look real.

The next stages of the reconstruction process may not be completed until 2015 or 2016!

So, do I really have to wait another year, or more, to celebrate being in remission, or NED?

Knowing my treatment is still ongoing, all preventative, when would be my “end of treatment, I am now cancer-free date be?”

It shouldn’t be after my double mastectomy – that was preventative, nor should it be after I finished chemo – that was preventative too. When was I truly cancer free? When was there no evidence of any cancer cells in my body.

That, my friends, was after my re-excision. That was September 6, 2013. That was a year ago today.

Without wanting to get too carried away and excited about this, I thought I would put the question to my oncologist, Dr Oliveira (I had a follow-up appointment with her last week). After a long-winded explanation about not being labelled ‘cured’ for another 15 years, so said she was happy to say I’m in ‘remission’. I then asked when my remission technically started. I told her my theory, and she agreed with it. I have been in remission for a year!

I’m yet to meet with my surgeon and ask if he agrees with my theory – he probably won’t. I’m sure he’ll have his own theory about my remission date.

So I’m throwing caution to the wind and marking today as my one-year remission anniversary. (Maybe NED should be my nickname instead of Rocky… not sure it has the same ring to it). Only 14 more years until I’m cured (apparently).

So pop some bubbles, grab a beer or go hard with a Whiskey. I’ve got a hot brunch date and a glass of bubbles with my name on it.

Bottoms up. Salud. Prost. Kippis. לחיים. Gesondheid. Salute. Na zdravi. Şerefe. Terviseks.

 

 

 

What goes up, well, may stay up.

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When Isaac Newton said: “What goes up must come down” he definitely didn’t have any knowledge on breast reconstruction. Especially reconstruction using tissue expanders. They’re up and they are staying up.

The word ‘bolt-ons’ is often used to describe implants. I’m not sure what a normal breast enlargement is like, as it’s slightly different, but the nickname definitely applies to expanders. They feel like they are, quite literally, bolted on. No movement. Hard as metal. I need to start handing out waivers before people hug me: Hugging may result in bruised or broken ribs. The owner takes no responsibility for such outcomes. The owner being me. The bruised or broken ribs, you.

Each week I have been visiting my plastic surgeon to have a ‘fill’. The expander is a large, deflated implant with a one-way valve. They stick a needle into the valve to inject the saline. Obviously they have to be very careful with this step, if they miss the valve there is the possibility of piercing the expander. The valve is magnetic, so to find where it is she hovers another magnet over my skin. (I must remember not to get too close to anything magnetic…) I tend to look away as the needle goes in. Even though I can’t feel it – there are limited, if any, nerves in this area – having a large needle coming towards you is never pleasant.

Here’s some pictures that may help explain it better.

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This is an expander.

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This is a smaller version of the needle she uses. Yes, it’s bigger!

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Expander. Skin. Needle. Job done.

It has been a slow and gradual increase, thank goodness! I’ve heard many stories of women getting 100+ mls added with each expansion. No wonder they are in pain! I’ve been getting 60 mls and have been comfortable and pain free. Thanks Dr O!

It’s hard to get a clear picture of what the foobs will eventually look like. The expanders need to make room for the implants so they are slightly larger and wider, which results in them looking ‘square’. At the moment mine are flat on top and they creep around under my armpit. That’s just how mine have been filling, and it’s very normal. It was a little strange at first as my arms would rub against the sides when I walked. To avoid my arms coming into contact with my side-boob resulted in me walking like a cowboy, arms out wide, ready to draw my pistol.

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At today’s appointment I asked Dr O what she thought, about my size. I’ve made it very clear, I don’t want to be as big as I was. Big boobs and triathlons just don’t mix! She said “we’re close” and next week may be my last expansion. We just need a little more room at the front.

I should have been happy hearing the expansion process is nearly over, but I wasn’t. Thursday has become my favourite day of the week. Not because I gain a little more cleavage – I’m not too bothered about the foobs – but it has become a social day for me. I catch the train to the ‘big smoke’ and squeeze in a breakfast or lunch date around my appointment. Little-Miss-Independent-Rochelle, roaming the city, eating and drinking. Today Dr O apologised for the appointment, thinking it was an inconvenience for me. I explained it was the complete opposite, as I had lunch plans and a date with two hot chicks and a Lobster roll. No apology necessary!

Since the expansion is nearly over, I thought I might be able to squeeze in the next surgery before triathlon season starts. She explained that she likes to wait at least six weeks after the last expansion before going ahead with the exchange operation. Well, that rules it out. I’ll be keeping these expanders in until March next year.

Before leaving I cheekily mentioned to Dr O that next week is my six-week mark. Soooooooo can I swim, run and cycle? Can I? Can I? Expecting to get her blessing I was sorely disappointed. As next week is my last expansion, she’s asked if I can wait another two weeks. TWO WEEKS. Patience, Rochelle… Patience *sigh*. She knows best…

Sorry runners, and googles, and bike.

 

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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