NB There are photos at the end of this blog of my breasts post surgery. Please understand that I have posted them here as a reference and as support for others facing similar surgery. These are deeply personal to me and are my property.
“My fore-parts, as you so ineloquently put it, have names.”
I pointed to my right breast. “This is Danger.” Then my left. “And this is Will Robinson. I would appreciate it if you addressed them accordingly.”
After a long pause in which he took the time to blink several times, he asked, “You named your breasts?”
I turned my back to him with a shrug. “I named my ovaries, too, but they don’t get out as much.”
― Darynda Jones, First Grave on the Right
Six weeks ago I brought my new twins home, nameless I might add! Small and innocent they, like typical newbies, have been giving me sleepless nights and though very shiny and very new they are definitely non identical!
After having these two totally alien additions attached to my female anatomy I confess I am only recently feeling human again. Coming home with two drains out of an original four meant moving anywhere initially was a tricky tango around tentacles. Hiding them from a three year old and a playful Labrador proved quite the challenge! With my rocks and my bags (and I am not talking diamonds or Mulberry’s) the first few days of recovery at home, were interesting. Add to the mix my mother in law moving in, an exhausted multi tasking husband sleeping on the sofa, me hibernating in the spare room, village nursery run rotas, haphazard dog walks, ballet and swimming lessons, we gave into topsy turvy and the control freak in me was forced, under no uncertain terms, to take a back seat! I willingly obliged. My decision to have this op was grounded but despite knowing what a big procedure it was, I have still been over whelmed, turned inside out and backwards.
I’m now exactly six weeks post surgery and I am starting to reflect with some humour on the whole process leading up to this significant stage of my life! It was slightly amusing to be informed that an enlargement would be necessary whether I liked it or not as they don’t do implants in a double A. Well, why on earth would they? Having had to accept (rather begrudgingly) that I was actually more a triple A (let’s just say, a croquet lawn would have been jealous!) I have gone up in the world and am currently sporting an unnaturally firm, rather static and for me, positively voluptuous A cup! Compared to BC (Before Cancer) my ever-supportive husband thinks Pamela Anderson has moved in!!
I, however, feel like a pair of tennis balls have been sewn into me. At first it felt like the cavity of my two breasts had not only been stretched like a piece of elastic, but filled with spiky granite rocks and an A cup felt more like a C! In hospital, it felt like I had small weighted boulders cello-taped to my chest when I hauled myself upright and what with the surgical drains, intermittently hissing pumps on my compression stocking covered legs, (apparently massaging them to prevent DVT. Not really my idea of relaxation) an inflatable cellophane bag over my breasts pumped with hot air to keep my blood circulating and don’t forget the attractive greasy hair limply framing my flushed face (why oh why are hospital rooms always so hot?!) I felt, and sounded, more like a villain from a superhero comic on a ventilator, than a human being! On glancing down at my new accessories that first night, while being shoved into a sports bra, all in the name of support, (I’ve clearly never had to worry about that one before!) since they were covered in clear bandages, I couldn’t work out how I even had enough skin to cover the small mounds that were now stuck on me.
‘Small breasts are best for the long haul’
– Norman Rush
I have, thankfully, escaped another course of chemo as the cancer had not spread to my lymph glands (after a rather stingy sentinel node procedure pre op, and countless repetitions of a positive mantra I composed, I have never been so relieved!) The nipple was also clear so I have kept the originals though despite being hot or cold, they don’t seem to change! Regardless, the histology report suggested the lump was growing, so having opted to have them both taken off was possibly the best decision I have ever made. Having had radiotherapy on my left side the skin is thinner, more fragile and less flexible, so when the surgery was confirmed I used Rosehip oil to help strengthen the skin and keep it supple. Now, post op, I’m rubbing in oil twice every day. Our bodies are amazing. Though still not quite firing on all four cylinders, on the outside my body is healing dramatically and adapting quickly. It’s incredible to watch. With a very brave first look in my own bathroom mirror, day eight post surgery, it was also incredible to see my original skin and all it’s familiar markings stretched over these two larger lumps which, in shape, are so unfamiliar! The bruising is now vanishing, the stitches disappearing, the swelling decreasing and I can only marvel at my surgeon’s handy work.
The recovery from an op like this, is definitely psychological; getting to know your body again and adjusting to it. You’ve been cut open, moved around, scooped out and put back together again and though only localised to those areas, they still look like something out of Frankenstein for a while and it’s hugely unnerving. One minute you know your body inside out and backwards and the next, you wake up after a mere four hours and you don’t know it at all. The side effects of the anesthetic, pain killers and anti sickness make you feel rather like you have been run over by a heard of elephants! Even more disconcerting are the sensations that are so different, sometimes not being able to feel anything (though I do wish that had applied to having my bloods taken!)
As much as the ‘twins’ and I are bonding, I’ve also learnt to appreciate that these babies have completely knocked the stuffing out of me, which is ironic really since their originals literally had all the stuffing taken out of them! The whole thing stinks of irony. I joke about bringing home the twins but due to all three of my diagnosis being hormonally receptive, the option of having more babies has been well and truly taken out of our hands now. Admittedly there is an element of relief to this, as a few months ago we had no idea what the options would be after remission and I was struggling to deal with that uncertainty, but never the less, having the decision made for you is never easy.
Obviously this time around the Tamoxifen did not work as effectively as usual and medically they don’t know why this happens. As always there are going to be unanswered questions but for now I am having the drug Zoladex in addition to Tamoxifen. I was introduced to this drug initially during chemo, to protect my ovaries so I could have a baby, now I’m having it to shut them down to protect all of me and stop me having babies. Being thirty-five years old in a drug induced menopause, isn’t what I had planned, neither are the now regular nightly hot sweats, (having a window permanently open is neither helping me or my husbands temperament!) but luckily I haven’t started throwing saucepans quite yet! Standing at this threshold in my life, there is, I confess, a shadow of sadness reflected in not being able to add to our gorgeous family, but, deep down, I know how lucky I am. I have a beautiful daughter and I am a mummy. We have been blessed with one and one day she will be educated to this wonderland but for now, she has a childhood ahead of her full of fun, love and security.
Going forward, I am looking at the positives. I don’t have cancer. That’s a big pro (understatement of the year!) but never the less, having cancer once, let alone three times, leaves your head spinning. This time, it’s been strangely more straight forward than the two previously, for various reasons, but this time, I feel I am in the driving seat. I am more in control than I have been before. By making this decision and taking action, I feel empowered and the rabbit hole doesn’t feel as deep, as dark or as foreboding. That doesn’t mean I have not been deeply affected. I admit I will be dealing with all the massive implications all this has had on me, my life and for my family for a while. I know there will be more hurdles to cross but perhaps I feel more prepared for them. I don’t want cancer to define me but as I have said, being this age and having had the experiences I have had, surely it is vital to use them pro actively to help others, honestly. It is life changing but it has made me, me. I have survived, again. I have beaten it, again. I am more aware and more compassionate and I can’t help but want to nurture that. Let’s face it, despite my disbelief of having to deal with this a third time, the way I see it, this time I’ve been falling down the rabbit hole with air bags! I’m not sure when I’ll land but when I do, at least the bump might be a bit softer.
‘I hope people realise that there is a brain underneath the hair and a heart underneath the boobs’
– Dolly Parton
Over the course of all my cancer experiences I kept a diary. These are the blogs I have written from the thoughts and feelings I recorded there. xx