Rest & Recuperation

The last couple of weeks have been spent learning some special skills and how to adapt to being post surgery. This is because along with a certain level of discomfort I have what feels like a tight iron bar across my chest which restricts my movement.

The most important skill in the early days is the “Zen art of cushion placement”. As the strategic placing of various shaped and sized cushions is vital for a comfortable night’s sleep.

The second skill is use of a “grasper” ( you know, the metal rod with a claw at the end that you can use like a litter picker, to pick things up off the floor). Mine was invaluable, if only so that I could pick my mail up and read it. But one word of warning…do not drop your grasper to the floor as you then don’t have a grasper to pick it up with!

I also had to go around the flat and ask for all the items I might need to be brought down from up high, or up from down low so that I could reach them. This is when I realised how little worktop space I had in my kitchen! And in the kitchen was I think my biggest frustration so far. This was having a pack of sausage rolls to eat for lunch and then discovering that my oven door is so stiff that I couldn’t open it to cook them! Cheese sandwich is not a satisfactory substitute!

Another realisation was that I cannot put my tights on! As I am someone that does not own a pair of trousers this necessitated a quick online shopping expedition to buy some, as it’s pretty cold in November with bare legs!

I would also recommend in these early weeks not get hiccups…it’s not pleasant!

But on a positive note some of the after effects of chemotherapy are now starting to ease. I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover nose hair! Of course my eyebrows are growing back in the one place I don’t want them, and so as soon as they are long enough they will be plucked! And I now have enough hair to cast a shadow on my scalp and actually had some “bed hair” going on the other morning. The bad part of my hair returning is that it’s most lush growth is under my armpits, the one place I can’t get to at the moment!

This week I have seen both my surgeon and oncologist for post surgery check ups. My surgeon was very happy with how I am healing, but there was a build up of fluid that needed to be drained. Ten comedy size syringes later, 500ml of what looked like lager had been drained and I suddenly felt a lot less restricted across my chest!. Apparently my breasts weighed 2.4kg, and so with their removal and all the fluid my BMI is probably looking a lot healthier!

I proudly showed the nurses that not only had I been doing my daily exercises, and because of that had a relatively good range of movement, but I had also managed to wear a t shirt. It doesn’t sound a lot, but again it’s a step back to normality after wearing button up lumberjack shirts since my surgery.

My oncologist gave me some helpful advice on how to hopefully ease the last two remaining chemo after effects. To use Arnica on the cording in my forearms ( this is where the chemo has caused my veins to collapse) and Omega 3 fish oil to help the numbness from the chemo induced small fibre neuropathy in my left foot ( wasn’t that the title of a film?).

I will now be referred to the radiotherapy department for measuring, marking up and a three week course of radiotherapy.

I think I should mention the word prognosis at this point. I was, like many others I am sure, thinking that following pathology results the specialists would be able to give me an idea of what the future holds for me. But I have come to realise that what I was told at the beginning of this journey is so true:-

I am unique.

The cancer I have is unique.

The relationship between me and this cancer, is unique.

This means that no-one knows what will happen, there is no point in using statistics as they can only ever be a “guesstimation” and no other person’s experience will be the same as mine.

My doctors are using all the treatments that they know have been successful to cure me, I am keeping my positive attitude, and bless it, my 50+ year old body is doing very well with all that’s been thrown at it. So all of us together will beat this thing as I intend to claim the free bus pass that I have paid taxes for all these years!

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.