I always like to try to find the best word to describe my thoughts or views. Sometimes I will pause mid-sentence trying to find the right word, often failing. But sometimes it is not user error that results in a failure to describe something but only the inadequacy of words themselves.
Let me say then say that words cannot describe the depth of gratitude I feel towards the team at ARI who planned and performed my surgery 10 days ago.
At every other step in this process I have felt the need to express myself through writing and have found it cathartic to do that. This time I waited much longer and there are 2 reasons for that. The first is practical. I have not been in any physical state to use a keyboard or write. My right arm is aching as I write this. The second reason is that I found the surgery phase so surreal at times that I am at a bit of a loss as how to describe it.
To begin, I was scheduled for a lumpectomy and went into hospital on the Thursday to have tests done and meet the surgeon. During that meeting which was conducted naked from the waist up he explained that the lumpectomy was a fairly simple procedure but that it would leave my breast disfigured and he indicated that I would be a perfect candidate for mammoplasty (breast reduction). He demonstrated with a marker pen where my nipple would migrate to and where the breast would be reconstructed. This would result in smaller, symmetrical breasts. He asked if I would be interested in this option and I said that would be amazing. Then he said but… you would have to wait.
I will need to rely on cliché here. My heart sank. I explained that I had been so elated to get such a quick date for the lumpectomy and getting the cancer cut out was so important that I didn’t feel that I could wait after being so geared up for the surgery. I said I wouldn’t change my mind. He said ok but to think about it because it would not affect the outcome of the cancer, that I would probably only have to wait a couple of weeks and that once I had radiotherapy on my breast I would not be able to fix it as radiotherapy changes the tissue of the breast. He said it was my decision but that I was still a young woman and that in a few years the appearance of my breast might start to bother me.
I did think about all of those things and after my immediate emotional response I realised that he was right. I spoke to my family and they all responded the same way I did then came round to the idea the same way I had. I signed the consent forms the next day as there was an outside chance that they would be able to do the surgery. I fasted from 6am but prepared myself for going home to wait. Then at 1pm they told me that they would be able to proceed that day. I called people quickly. I was beyond excited.
So the next day I had surgery that lasted 5 hours. Before going under I had a radioactive injection to my nipple that would allow them to track my lymph nodes. I also had the most surreal topless (and headless to protect my identity!) photo shoot done complete with marker pen nip and tuck lines.
The recovery has not been easy or quick. There were some trivial things I was not prepared for. My bottom lip is still very numb 10 days on and my lips and throat were sore and dry for the first few days. I fainted every time they tried to get me out of bed on the first day after surgery. It was horrible. I was mainly due to the lack of food in my system. But by Sunday I was able to go home.
I am recovering slowly but have been surprised by completely incapacitated I felt and how utterly exhausted I was. Over the last 2 days I have been able to go for a short walk outside and I sleep like the dead as I am so tired by the end of the day. I have not even been able to make cups of tea or toast. My right side is so weak that pushing down on a toaster is too hard.
However, it was worth it. The surgeon gave me something amazing when he gave me my new breasts. Something I didn’t even know I wanted. The staff stayed behind longer that day to enable the surgery to go ahead and my surgeon went out of his way to make it happen.
I was not thinking about being a woman when I was making decisions about my breasts, I was thinking about surviving, being alive. But my surgeon saw a woman who might care in the future. He saw a woman who had a future and that simple message has moved me beyond words.
I know that the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes, but that is still treatable. I don’t yet know where else it might have gone but my new breasts are a positive thing that has happened in a negative situation and I owe that to the staff at ARI and the insight and expertise of my surgeon.
The kindness and compassion shown by him has allowed me to look towards my future with hope in my heart. Cliché again, but honestly I can’t find the words.
I feel hopeful again but I am not ready for what happens next. I have got 8 weeks to recover from my surgery. I will get various scans before then to see if the cancer has spread to my bones, liver or lungs. I will get the biopsy results back on the tumour in 2 weeks and that will inform my treatment schedule. I expect to get chemo in January.
Having the surgery done is a massive step forward and I need to remember that but I have been inpatient in my desire to be busy and take charge of my household. My husband has been doing everything and I think this has given us both a change in perspective. I was busy all the time at home and working part time too. I would never have known of cancer was making me tired or just my actual life. I’m not sure what that says about modern life or working mothers.
My husband works very hard but was not giving exercise a priority in his life. So if we make it out of here there will be changes, positive changes informed by our experiences. What I do know is that I love my husband very much. I would not describe him as a patient man but he has demonstrated bucket loads of that quality over the last few weeks.
But perhaps these situations draw these well hidden qualities to the fore. I know I am not a brave person but I am facing one of my worst fears and for the most part I am doing OK.
In conclusion, I have many things to worry about but I am managing not to worry too much. I can’t handle physical distress in addition to emotional and mental suffering. I had one very difficult day after coming home where I had hoped to be better and I wasn’t and didn’t know how I could cope with very basic things. I ended up at A&E with an infection to my wound. Two days later I feel a lot better. There will be difficult days and I will have to learn to handle them. I will have to find something good in those days because they are mine. I need to be grateful for these days even if they are not what I was hoping for or expecting.
This is going to be hard.