“OMG. They’re HOW big?”

When I first started having conversations with friends about my decision to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction with implants, the usual reaction was: Are you going to go Dolly Parton on us? Granted, most of these comments came from my male friends.

My answer was always simple: No! Large breasts are not conducive to an active lifestyle. Especially with triathlon. Of course, they may be slightly beneficial in the swim — added buoyancy — but they would definitely become problematic on the bike — surely they would interfere with my aerodynamic abilities? And the run… well implants are just unnecessary additional weight.

A week after surgery, once the drains had been removed, I was finally able to get a feel for the size (not by physically touching them, but by how my clothes fit over them). And I was worried. And there may have even been a few tears… Why? Because I was worried I was too big.

Large Breast..noooo

Am I the first person in the world to cry because my breasts were going to be too big after getting implants?

The sinking feeling of worry in the pit of my stomach was only amplified when I had to return to the specialty bra store for another post-operative bra, and I was measured for a D size. A D!

A little sparkle of hope shone through when the lady fitting the bra mentioned it would take 2-3 weeks for the swelling to completely subside. So fingers crossed this D is really a swollen C.

It’s amazing what can spark different emotions through this journey. For me, it’s usually in reverse of what would be expected. When I had the double mastectomy I was actually calm, happy and relieved; and now that I have had my final reconstruction I have been worried. I think most people would be excited about having their final implants.

With each day, and a little more reduction of swelling, I’m finally joining the “Excited About My Implants” club.

Standby for the next post where I’m worried and panicked that they’re too small…

And according to this assessment, I’m should definitely be a C; you know I don’t like to complain.

Bra Size Chart

The Luck Of The Irish

Today is St Patrick’s Day, and a bunch of four-leaf clovers would have been a welcomed gift for my family. And not because today was my surgery.

The early morning alarm went off and I woke to my usual pre-op thought:  reminding myself not to eat or drink anything! Whilst getting ready Mother received an unfortunate call — my grandma had suffered a second stroke (the first being earlier this week).

We have (or should I say Mother has) a tradition of ensuring I’m highly entertained on the car ride to hospital — musical mash-up singalongs at 5am are her favourite. But this morning there were no singalongs; we had our heads down on our phones researching flight options for her to make her way back to NZ to be with gran. It turned out that the best options was an 11:20 flight that morning, which meant that it would be a drop and run for me at the hospital; they would have to make the hour journey back home to quickly pack before another hour journey to the airport. A bigger and more stressful day for The Olds.

I know it was a hard decision to make, to not be there with me, but it was the right one. The saving grace was that Trevor was already there waiting at the hospital and happy to assume role of carer and entertainer. And he excelled at both roles.

Now this may sound strange, but I love getting changed into hospital robes. It does not bring about feelings of fear, but rather comfort. Because I know what will follow will be a benefit to my health. And  I also love the compression stockings and wrap-around leg massage device that helps with circulation. After Mooloolaba, they were both a welcome treat and I couldn’t get them on quick enough.

Without much waiting around — the joys of the private system — I was on the stretcher and getting my cannula in ready. Dr O’Mahoney was excited to hear reports of my race on the weekend, but also concerned about my readiness to operate due to the news of my grandma. I assured her I was ready.

And then it was time. Time to be put to sleep with classical music filling the operating theatre. My anaesthetist has good taste. I was about to ask him what he was playing but  1…2…3… and I was out.

The worst part of an operation for me is waking up in a groggy state. The nurse caring for me in the recovery ward aptly made a comment that it may have something to do with my ‘need to be in control’ nature. When treating my pain, which was sitting at an 8 out of 10,  I asked if I could have some pain medication that wouldn’t make me sleepy. I had the choice of sleepy meds or nauseating meds. I chose nauseating meds.

As usual, whenever waking up from an anaesthetic I seem to assume the role of a comedian. So when a nurse asked another nurse if she would like a cup of tea, I thought it was my place to butt in and say: “Yes, she’s been working hard.” Oh to be a fly on the wall in the recovery room.

With sheer determination and stubbornness I managed to snap out of my groggy state and was wheeled back to the ward by 12:30, much to the delight of John and Trevor who had been waiting patiently. In my room awaiting me were some beautiful flowers and an abundance of beautiful messages of well wishes – I felt very loved. Although my determination and stubbornness was short-lived and before long I was back dozing off.

The afternoon passed by hourly check-ups and half-finished conversations. Word spread that there was a triathlete in the ward, but only because my blood pressure was consistently low (which is common with fit people) not because I still had my race number on. I’ll take that.

After a few continuous mid-story naps John made his way home, after what had been a long and exhausting day for him. Trevor remained and assumed the role of bed controller/pillow adjuster/un-packer/water-glass filler/chicken cutter/toothpaste squeezer….And much more.

I thought the luck of the Irish had finally arrived when my night nurse came to introduce herself, who, in a strange twist of luck, is Irish. But even after a cocktail of sleep-inducing drugs I’m wide awake at 1am. Not so lucky.

To avoid going stir crazy staring at the ceiling, I decided to pull out my iPad and watch some previously downloaded Ted Talks.

And this is what I stumbled across: Debra Jarvis – Yes, I survived cancer. But that doesn’t define me.

A 16-minute brilliant speech. A speech that anyone that has experience any type of trauma in life — not just cancer — should listen to.

And here are two brilliant lines from her 16-minute speech…

“Only a small part of the cancer experience is about medicine. Most of it is about feelings and faith, and losing and finding your identity, and discovering strength and flexibility you didn’t even know you had. It’s about realising the most important things in life are not things at all, but relationships. And it’s about laughing in the face of uncertainty …”

Thank you Ted Talk.

Goodnight (hopefully).

A little bit about Triathlon. A little bit about Cancer.

Yesterday was Mooloolaba Triathlon, my first Olympic Distance triathlon (1500 swim/40km bike/10km run). I had always planned for it to be my last race of the season before I went under the knife for my final surgery. And as the timing turns out, that final surgery is tomorrow  — the last surgery in my cancer journey *jumps with joy*.

First things first: Mooloolaba.

Now you would think that someone who trains most days, every week, sometimes twice a day, would feel prepared. But for some reason, the past few weeks I have been filled with doubt. Had I done enough? Of course I’d done enough to finish the race…but I’m competitive (with myself), so ‘just’ finishing was never going to be enough. I want to finish with a good time. Had I dreamt all those 5am alarms for training… was I just delirious and sleep deprived, or was I fit and ready?

My main concern was my preparation for my bike leg. I hadn’t had much training on my new fancy-pants TT bike, would I even be able to ride it? Last week, leading up to Mooloolaba, my concerns were only amplified as news of a cyclone forming off the coast surfaced. I was already nervous about my biking abilities on the exposed highway as it was, so how would I manage with the additional extreme weather conditions. News didn’t improve and reports of rain and strong winds Friday night only fuelled my fears. All I could do was eat my bowl of pasta and try not to worry – surely it would pass by Sunday.

Saturday was compulsory bike check-in day. Trevor (MOH) and I made the one-hour drive from Brisbane, and as we approached the coast the trees told me what I already knew: it was windy. And the sea looked angry with waves crashing in all directions. My nerves were not being calmed. It was to be my first race using my fancy-pants TT bike, but with added gusts of wind, all I could picture was me being blown off the bike. Trevor assured me this would not happen…

After a good nights sleep and many carb-loaded meals, I woke up excited. Tri suit on, race number tattoos on…it was time to trek back to Mooloolaba. It wasn’t long until excitement turned to nerves and the conversation in the car started to drop off.

After a few detours due to road closures, we were parked and on our way to transition to get organised for the race.

Trevor, doing such a great job as support crew, found out some vital information for the race: the swim course had been changed due to the conditions! Although the water looked calm and flat (phew), there were strong currents further along the beach. So, to make it safe for the competitors, the 1500-meter swim was now a loop finishing near the start line, with an 800-meter beach run back to transition (instead of a 1500-meter swim along the beach).

I still struggle swimming; I’ve lost a lot of power due to my pectoral muscle being cut to house the expander. And unfortunately things may always be this way, as my implant will also take residence underneath my pectoral muscle. I’m confident, and hopeful that in time, I’ll regain the power required to be a front-of-the-pack swimmer, instead of a mid-pack-please-don’t-be-last swimmer…

 

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I made it out of the water in a surprising time of 28 minutes and jolted along the beach. Just as I approached the stairs to reach transition and to face the music of the bike leg, I heard the commentator over the loud-speaker say, “The winds are starting to pick up for those heading out on the bike.” Are you serious! Did he really have to say that!

Once on the bike all my concerns diminished. I felt like a pro powering along on my aero bars (although I’m nowhere near as fast as pro!). Forty kilometres of straight, flat, fast, smooth highway… and not much wind! Hallelujah. The course was a good test for my fancy-pants bike and the person atop of said bike. Although I may look at investing in a seat that is a bit more forgiving…

 

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Back of the bike and only a 10km run to finish off the day…only… Running, no worries…I got this. I soon found out that too much confidence is never a good thing. One kilometre into the run I was struck with stomach cramps — maybe I took carbo loading too far? Or maybe it was the hot, melted gel that was sitting in the sun during my bike leg that I consumed as I ran out of transition? Who knows. But it was not enjoyable. And the “why am I doing this” thought quickly entered my head.

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I had given myself a “comfortable” goal finish time of 3 hours, and with three kilometres left in the run I knew it was definitely within reach. So I reassessed my goal time. By how much could I get under 3 hours? I crossed the line after 2:53 of racing.

As I crossed the finish line, and finally made my way out of the recovery zone, I was greeted by Trevor, my number #1 support for the day, with additional recovery supplies of water, Gatorade and engery bars. He did well too.

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With my last race for the season over, and the number tattoo scrubbed off my arms and legs (they don’t come off easily!) I am now faced with the task of packing a bag for hospital tomorrow. I am by no means nervous or worried; I know I’m in good hands. Also, why do I need to worry when so many others are taking on that emotion for me.

I’ll be in hospital for up to a week, a little longer than I first thought. So it’s turned into a mini holiday at St Andrew’s. The best thing (for me) is one of my favourite Japanese restaurants is conveniently located around the corner from the hospital. I have already warned The Old’s and Trevor that there may be a few detours required prior to visiting. Seems reasonable?

Time to pack.

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.

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.