Meeting my surgeon

I have to share some slightly personal information at this point to explain why I did a rather unusual thing the day I met my surgeon for the first time.

I am a large breasted woman, in fact I wear an H cup bra, and once I knew I would be having a mastectomy I started to think about how I would manage only having one very large breast. Also being in my late 50s, let’s just say that the breast would not be what you might call pert either!

I decided that it would be a lot easier for me to manage with a completely flat chest and use prosthetic breasts of a more manageable size. I mentioned this at a meeting with my oncologist and was told that surgeons are loath to remove healthy breasts, and that I would have to put a good case forward.

This is where my unusual act comes in!

I wanted to graphically demonstrate just how big an H cup is, and so I took a spare bra to my appointment and when the discussion started I took it out of my handbag…and placed the cup of the bra on my bum fluff covered head to show that it exactly fitted my skull…in other words my breasts are the same size as my head!

Luckily my surgeon has a sense of humour and thought my demonstration was an excellent idea.

I then put the rest of my case forward and he totally accepted my argument, and agreed to a double mastectomy! In fact he asked if he could use my case in a lecture he was giving on this very topic (but perhaps he may not mention the bra on the head!)

A couple of weeks after this I saw my MacMillan nurse so that she could give me more information about my surgery. When she approached me I noticed that she had a large carrier bag and I wondered if she’d done a bit of shopping in her break, But no!

This bag contained my new breasts!

Affectionately known in the trade as “cumfies”, they are little (well in my case not so little) stuffed,soft cushions to place in a special bra (also supplied) with pockets, to wear while my chest wounds heal. Once healing is complete (hopefully 4-6 weeks after surgery) I then swop them for the more substantial ones! My nurse had also brought one of these for me to handle. The full size prosthetic breast (known in alternative circles as a chicken fillet) was pretty heavy and so I was glad I had decided to go for a D cup rather than anything larger, or I would have had to add back problems to my list of side effects!

Also in my goody bag was the sweetest thing so far…a little heart-shaped cushion to place under my armpit for comfort after my lymph node removal.

It may seem daft considering what lies ahead, but I came away feeling happy and cared for.

Chemotherapy

When you are told that you will be having chemotherapy they give you a sheet that lists all the possible side effects. I thought this information would be the same as that enclosed in everyday medication that falls into the category of…”They have to warn us of all the possible side effects so that we don’t sue them if we are one of the rare people it happens to, but it’s very unlikely to happen to me”… How wrong could I be! Now I have completed my course of chemotherapy I went back to that list and realised that not only had I had most of them but they had left some off!!

Now it wasn’t all bad as I managed to avoid one of the most common side effects, of nausea, but I had stocked up with ginger biscuits and Jamaican ginger cake just in case I did!

On the subject of food I picked up a wonderful leaflet entitled “Eating well during your treatment“ which told me that I needed to keep my strength up, and not to lose weight. In this it stated that I should have full fat everything, add cheese to every savoury dish and cream to every sweet one. This became my bible! Sadly I think it was meant for those whose appetite had been reduced by nausea, as with my continued healthy appetite I put on a stone!

One of the biggest and surprising realisations I came to during this time was how important nose hair is! Once mine had gone I discovered that:-

  1. If I feel my nose is running I have to get a tissue STRAIGHT AWAY! This is because you do not have the luxury of a dewdrop, as there is nothing to hold it there! So, if your nose runs…catch it!

  2. I have never suffered with hay fever before, but my eyes were streaming throughout the summer season as there were no hairs to filter the pollen.

  3. And apologies for the graphic content of this one: As there is nothing to get in the way, your nose is filled with the biggest bogies I have ever seen (not that I studied them too closely of course!)

Talking of hair loss. One thing they don’t mention in any literature is that the hair on your nether regions is the first to go. I did ask one open-minded member of the hospital staff if a merkin is available on the NHS as well as a wig, but she didn’t know!

My head hair was the next to go, and unfortunately the hair cut I decided to have before my treatment started, as a halfway measure, served me badly! I had the side of my head trimmed to about a number 2 and kept it longer on the top…bad move!

What happened was that the longer hair on the top fell out first (and my fringe quite dramatically whilst I was hugging my partner, as when I pulled away I realised that my fringe was now hanging from the stubble on his face!)

This left me with a hairstyle like a monk, totally bald on top with a ring of hair left around the sides…this is when I started wearing a hat!

Ah yes, head coverings…

I got my NHS wig voucher and a “sensible” wig for work, but once I realised that I was not going to be able to work for most of the time I was having treatment I decided to have more fun! I now have a grey wig with black roots, a blue/black spiky wig, an ombre black/green wig and a beautiful manga style wig with a sharp cut fringe! Luckily the way I dress lends itself to hats as well and although I had a few already it gave me the wonderful excuse to buy more.

What I didn’t realise was that not all your hair goes. Most of my eyebrows have gone over the weeks like a case of creeping alopecia, but unbelievably I still have to pluck them as there are a few remaining stubborn ones that are still desperately trying to create a monobrow!.

This is also true of the hair on my head. I would be very happy to be bald but still have irritating bum fluff all over my head, which sadly during chemotherapy treatment you are not allowed to shave off. But at least the concern over whether my head would be ugly without hair has eased, having been told by many people that I have a good-looking head!

Luckily I have not had to have too many medical procedures in my life and so had never noticed that my veins are very deep-seated. This means that each time I go for a blood test, MRI, CT scan there is a struggle to find a good one! I decided to try to help, and for a while kept renewing a “Sharpie” mark I had made on my arm that pointed to my best vein! I made many a phlebotomist’s day by helping them this way.

Chemotherapy really messes with your digestive tract too. Some of the medication makes your rhythm speed up (if you know what I mean!) and others make it stop! So your poor insides just don’t know what to do. I became very adept at adapting my diet to match the circumstances. I found that beetroot is very good for speeding things up, and white bread and pasta for slowing them down. In addition the medication to protect your stomach from the chemo reduces the amount of stomach acid you produce. The practical effect of this is not good in social situations….as your intestines have to work harder to digest food, things get VERY noisy!. Conversations can be interrupted by gurgling noises worthy of any drain unblocker! I find strategic coughing helps or if you are lucky enough to have a pet you could blame it on them!

Introduction

As you can see from my blog title I do not conform to the usual stereotype of the gloomy Goth!

I have always tended to have a smile on my face and have used humour all my life to deal with whatever has happened to me, good or bad.

Well…I have been given a challenge now!

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March and will be having the whole gamut of treatments over this coming year.

This blog is a record of how I manage to keep a positive attitude and try to look for the humour in the new and strange world I have found myself in.

I know that my attitude will not be to everyone’s taste and the last thing I would want to do is demean or offend anyone that is going through this. It is just my own personal coping mechanism.

It would be lovely to think that I might brighten even one person’s day with my slightly different view, but I won’t lie, I am writing this blog mainly as it will give me pleasure and again keep my spirits high!