Never be afraid to fall apart because it is an opportunity to rebuild yourself. Today is the day. Today I will say goodbye to my bung boob. I’ve loved my boobs, my Mister has loved them, but when they try to kill you well, there’s just no choice…off with the boob.
*Please note this post is about medical procedures and may contain emotional triggers
Admission time has been moved from 7 am to 8 am and I’m grateful we don’t have to rise too early; 6:30 is still early enough though. I shower, dress and blow-dry my hair and yes I even put on a faint lick of makeup because a girls gotta look her best. There’s no breakfast for me as I’ve been fasting since the night before; my stomach is already growling.
On the way to the hospital I wonder if I’ll wake up from surgery and I want to tell my mister how special the past 20 years has been. I want to tell him where the life insurance papers are and I want to tell him to give my rings to the boys…instead we drive in complete silence to the hospital because if we speak the tears might flow and then my mascara will run.
We ‘check in’ and head to the surgical waiting room and after obs are taken I get changed into a surgical gown, a robe and some pretty unflattering white compression stockings. A little after nine am we head up to ‘radiology’ to have my breast injected with some radioactive dye, this is to help light up the sentinel node ready for the surgical team.
The sentinel node is the first draining node and is where cancer will go to first if it’s in the nodes, sometimes more than one node lights up which isn’t good. Thankfully the doctor has a good bedside manner and he’s gentle. We then head upstairs to ‘nuclear medicine’ where I have a series of CT scans, technicians follow the tracer and mark me up so the surgeons can remove the sentinel node. This procedure takes around 40 minutes and my mister is allowed to hang out with me. To pass the time we chat and giggle about the eclectic mix of music being played. Finally we’re done and head back down to the surgical waiting room to wait….and wait.
The wait is excruciatingly long and I’m so freakin grateful that my Mister remembered his IPOD, the music helps me drown out my dark thoughts and blocks out the very loud television in the waiting room that’s screening live coverage of the ‘Bali Bombings’ ten year memorial. I feel sorry for my Mister who has to endure hours of that coverage because he had given me his IPOD. Fast forward to 2:50 pm and my name is finally called. Finally! I hug my Mister tight, kiss him and then it starts…he emotion rising in me, threatening to bubble over so I flash him a smile and turn away so he doesn’t notice. Oh crap, what if this is goodbye forever. What if right?!
I’m led into a curtained holding area where the nurse tucks me into bed with layers of toasty warm blankets, then there’s a stream of doctors, nurses and anaesthetists. They introduce themselves and explain their role in the surgery, then they get busy prepping me for my anaesthetic. My surgeon arrives and draws the curtains around me and in low tones guides me through everything he’ll be doing during surgery. He practices his craft skills and marks up my chest with a felt tip pen making sure to add his signature to the left side of my chest to make sure they take off the correct breast. I had wanted to draw a smiley face on my breast but thought better of it in case the doctors didn’t get my humour.
The head of breast surgery enters and I see he’s holding my file; he takes some time to read it then pulls up a chair beside my bed. We chat about ridding my body of cancer and how far I’m prepared to go. He talks to me about surgery and chemotherapy. Fuck, I still can’t believe chemo is on the cards. We chat about my children and my fears; I will always be grateful to him that he dropped his serious professional demeanour and spent time with me making me feel safe. After he leaves it’s time to be wheeled down the maze of corridors and into a small room where a team of Anaesthetists await; they transfer me to another bed and wrap massage cuffs around my calves to keep my blood from clotting. An injection flows through the back of my hand and then I’m wheeled next door into the surgery where the surgeon and his team await. The world quickly goes black and I sleep the blackest sleep I have ever had, unaware of what is going on as the team remove my bung boob forever.
A little over two hours later and I’m awake in recovery and immediately lift my hand to touch my chest. I’m drowsy and clumsily feel for my flat chest, I know my breast is gone but continue several times to feel for it. The nurses have to tell me to stop and they busy themselves fussing over me. I spend an hour in recovery undergoing routine checks, the usual post op observation and then I’m moved onto the ward to my room where my mister and youngest son are waiting. Seeing their faces is like winning the freakin lottery.
I feel surprisingly good as the pain relief does its job so I eat my evening meal and chat with my boys, god it feels good to have them there. Eventually my eyelids start to get heavy and I’m feeling sleepy again; my words start to get jumbled as the painkillers do their thing so my mister and son decide to head home. Its 9pm, my poor mister must have been exhausted from the stress and waiting. Through the night I check my Facebook and take selfies on my phone, sleep is evading me, because what else is there to do?! The nurses come in for hourly obs and to top up my pain relief, I find the hospital bright and noisy and can’t wait until a respectable hour rolls around so I can turn on the telly.
The next day the pain relief levels are lowered and it seems an elephant has taken up residence on my chest. I don’t feel pain like I expected to only a heavy weight holding down my chest and shoulders. I spend the day getting to know how to sit up in bed and juggle the drains that are hanging from my chest. Getting in and out of bed is a lengthy process as I manoeuvre myself into position, then gather my drains and try to lift myself off the bed; all while trying to protect my dignity as my hospital gown gapes open. Take ‘nanna knickers’ to hospital they said…not so glam when on show.
My eldest son visits before he heads off for his first game of A-grade cricket. It couldn’t have been easy for a 17 year old boy to visit on his own and I was filled with love and pride that he’d made the effort. My mister and youngest son arrive soon after with flowers and chocolates and we get ready to go for a walk around the corridors which makes the nurses happy as they’ve spent the morning telling me how important it is to get up and moving. No one wants blood clots so a stroll it is.
I spend Saturday night feeling a little sorry for myself as the enormity of what has happened hits me; I feel blue and cry for the better part of two hours over the loss off my breast and the recuperation that lies ahead. After my little meltdown everything feels better, or maybe it was because I was so bloody exhausted and sleep took over.
The next afternoon I’m given the all clear to head home and after a stop at the pharmacy to collect some pain relief medication that’s exactly what we do. The house is clean and tidy and I’m proud of my boys for making an effort to help me feel calm and relaxed. After a cuppa my mister and I take a very slow walk around the block with my comfort pillow under my arm and I feel lucky to have gone home with no drains attached. The rest of the evening is spent resting and napping and coming to terms with my new body.
The next day we celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary in a low key way, the day my mister came into my life was the day I knew love and he changed my life forever. We are a great team and I respect the heck out of him, he’s a good man; a devoted husband and an amazing father. Today our wedding anniversary holds even more meaning and takes on a new perspective, nothing like a cancer diagnosis for perspective. I’m noticing more and more that I feel so much more gratitude for each day and all the little moments.
Losing a breast makes you dig deep, really deep as a woman. Our society is very superficial and holds a woman’s body image and good looks up on a pedestal. When your self-esteem and body image are challenged it gives you a deeper understanding that beauty truly does come from within and breast cancer is now allowing my inner beauty to shine and I see beauty in a whole new light.
I have learnt who matters and who doesn’t, it’s funny who reaches out and who stay silent and there are a few surprises there. The outpouring of love from those who do is perfect and makes me feel loved and protected. I gaze around my house at the many vases of flowers sent from caring friends to help brighten my days and they all represent love and care. Friends deliver homemade meals to help nourish us and to take the pressure off my mister to cook every night.
Over the next week I battle pain, blocked bowels and sleepless nights. My wound is crawling and is numb in places. The nerves that have been severed are trying to repair themselves and it feels like an electrical storm is zapping my chest and arm. My voice is raspy and hoarse caused from the removal of a tube from my throat during surgery and I have a terribly bruised jaw which is also the work of the anaesthetists. Because of my wounds and limited range of movement in my arm I’m unable to drive and rely on good friends to pick me up for coffee dates and if I can’t face the world they bring lunch to me where we chat and eat in the sanctuary of my lounge room. My youngest takes me for after school walks around the block and I delight in the warm afternoon sun on my skin and the chatter from my boy about his day.
Friends visit and some pass comment on how well I look and how great my attitude is but it’s a conscious decision I’ve made to keep a good attitude. You can choose to go one way or the other. I could choose to be bitter and twisted about cancer and the loss of my breast, I could choose to feel sorry for myself and question ‘why me?’, I could choose to be owned by cancer and all that it brings but it’s not how I roll. Instead I choose to be a fighter and stay strong. I choose to be grateful and look for the silver linings in everything and every day; this attitude will stay with me throughout my whole cancer caper and will serve me well. In the months to come I will see how a good attitude will help me and those around me as I battle through chemo and all its awful side effects.
When friends pop in we share cups of tea and chat, I don’t feel self-conscious of my changed body and they help to make me feel comfortable. I’m grateful to my friend Julie who over the next couple of weeks delivers homemade shepherd’s pie, lasagne and minestrone. She doesn’t ask if we need help, she just does it, turning up on our doorstep at night with piping hot meals to lighten the load.
Being unable to to cook, wash the dishes, hang washing or even reach up into my cupboard to get a glass is so bloody frustrating. The surgery has left me sore with limited reach and daily physiotherapy helps me regain my range of movement. We wouldn’t dream of asking anyone for help but are truly grateful for the special friends who step up and consistently help us out.
Two trips to the specialist twice this week to have the wound checked and drained, watching as the doctor inserts a large needle into my raw chest wound and sucks out the build-up of seroma (fluid) Is freaky. My armpit is swollen and filled with fluid, my chest wound also bulges with a build-up of fluid and it feels like my skin might tear with the tension it causes. The relief the draining brings is instant but it doesn’t take long before the fluid starts to build up again and I know tin a couple of days I will need to have the seroma drained again.
The night before I get my pathology results our eldest has his year 12 graduation ceremony and he would prefer it if I didn’t attend. At first I’m angry and hurt by his decision and curse my cancer for taking something else from me, but after a little reflection I get it. You see I have a bright blue comfort pillow given to me by the hospital. It sits cradled under my armpit with a strap over the arm like a handbag protecting my wounds from the weight of my arm and from friction; it goes everywhere with me and it stands out.
My boy feels that the pillow will attract unwanted attention and questions, I get it. His graduation will be held at school where he’ll be amongst his peers, teachers and friends and this is a night where he should be able to be himself, his 17 year old self. He should be celebrating the end of his school life where he’s worked bloody hard and achieved much and not talking about cancer, blue pillows and mastectomies, I totally get it. He doesn’t want the stares and the questions from his friends and teachers, he doesn’t want to talk about his mother’s breasts and he definitely doesn’t want the pity looks if he has to tell them all that his mother has cancer. I’m sure my boy cares more about the after party than he does the boring ceremony but he makes a big deal of not wanting me there, I care about how he feels so I stay home. I hope he feels carefree and that he gives himself a pat on the back for all of his hard work and I hope he has an awesome time at the after party.
This isn’t the first thing that cancer will take from me and it won’t be the last.