I can hardly believe it has been eight weeks since my last surgery. But it has. Eight whole weeks. It seems a lot longer because I am so well and have recovered so much faster than I have done from any other surgical procedure I have ever had. Getting to grips with my dressing problems no doubt helped but I think knowing that this was the last big thing to happen was a major psychological boost. Having had a total of 1.450kg removed from my chest has probably helped too (1kg at mastectomy, 450g at reduction).
Anyway, today I got to see Surgical Spice for what may be the last time. But more of that later. Given that we are no longer land based, it involved a boat trip back to central Birmingham and then for the first time ever I walked to my appointment. This was actually rather fun thanks to brilliant sunshine. My Foob (fake boob) is looking excellent. It has healed well and no longer twitches quite so alarmingly. It still has the potential for a bit of tit twitching but it is not something I am practising and Surgical Spice is not keen to re-operate on that bit. Which is good as I am less than keen to subject myself to yet more surgery unless absolutely necessary. My Much Reduced But Still Real Boob is also healing well, although the scars are not what they should be yet. I have been instructed to be more vigorous in massaging both the scars and the breast in general as there appears to be some fat necrosis internally. This is not as alarming as it sounds and will settle down. The symmetry is excellent and all things considered everything looks very good. My histology results were also fine and given that I had totally forgotten about them were clearly something I was not worrying about.
The next stage is for nipple reconstruction and this is where things got a little complicated. My hospital is going through some major reorganisation and my lovely consultant will no longer be working there from June. This is a sad loss for the hospital and the service as the skills she brings will no longer be available to this NHS Trust. She is the only surgeon able to perform certain procedures like the DIEP flap reconstruction which was my reason for being referred there in the first place. I will not be recovered sufficiently for my new nipple to be formed before she leaves which leaves me with two options. One, have whoever replaces her at my treating hospital; or two, aim for the NHS Choose & Book service which may allow me to continue to be seen by her even though she will no longer be working within the NHS. I am inclined to continue under her care if possible given that she knows my history and I am so nearly through my treatment so will aim for that option. Once this is done, I get to explore the world of tattoos!
Once again, this appointment was rounded off with a trip to the medical imaging department as topless photos are now a standard part of my visits. I would quite like a complete set to see the changes but suspect this is not possible!
This is my mission now. The deed is done. I have been lopped, trimmed, tidied and hoovered. My job now is to pull up my positive pants, the ones that suck it all in, and get on with recovering.
All went well apart from a wee problem with my uvula. Yes, the dangly bit in the back of my throat. Apparently it got caught in the hoover. I know! Anyway, it swelled up like a balloon which made swallowing a tad tricky and caused a bit of alarm but hooray for steroids because they were fast administered and I was soon able to swallow. Fortunately breathing was never too much of a problem. Talking was but they did not seem too concerned about that. Can’t think why? I am now left with an elongated swollen dangly bit that tickles the back of my throat and is deeply annoying. It will pass. And it does mean I have been instructed to eat ice cream so it is not all bad.
All the surgical stuff seems to have gone well. I do not seem to have reacted to anything and everything so that is a major result. Everything is a bit sore but nothing that paracetamol can’t handle. The best thing is being home. They threw me out yesterday afternoon which was fabulous. I am hoping not to return.
By this time tomorrow, the deed should be done. I should have been hoovered, plumped, trimmed and lopped. I report for duty at 7:30am and hand myself over once more into the care of the NHS. This time I am taking jam to theatre with me. Can’t hurt to spread some sticky love, can it?
See you on the other side x
Part of preparing for this next lot of lopping and trimming involves buying yet more underwear. Before cancer came to play, I used to thoroughly enjoy any excuse for a spot of lingering in the lingerie department. Not so much since. I am in possession of three mastectomy bras that bizarrely seem to hide my lopsidedness whether or not I wear my prosthesis so despite much research, I generally do not bother with it. I do not understand why my size B cup and size F cup look relatively balanced while wearing them. I think it is the magic of the Mastectomy Fairy. That can be the only reason for having to wear such hideous and ugly garments. I will, of course, have to buy a whole new set of bras in a new size but just at the moment, my brain is fusing at this prospect and it cannot compute that yet. Which is just as well as it is too soon. To begin with, my delightful Asda Soft & Comfy bras will be pressed once more into service. Mm mmm!
So no, it is not bras I am after. My latest venture into underwear consumerism is for big pants. Think Bridget Jones. Think Trinny & Susannah. You see, this latest op involves a spot of hoovering. Surgical Spice is going to connect a Henry Hoover to my stomach, suck out some fat (I have suggested she may like to leave it running longer than is strictly necessary. She seemed less than keen), then use it to fill in the pot holes in my newbie. As techniques go, it maybe one the council should consider as the potholes round our way are dreadful and I bet there are many who would queue up to have their fat hoovered out. Anyway, anyway, anyway. Once this has happened I have to wear compression pants for sometime. That’s shape wear. Control knickers. The sort of thing one dons to look incredibly svelte on a posh night out. No one has told me how long I have to wear them for yet. My record for such garments is about two hours. Usually I last until the first trip to the bathroom. And then I am undone. Literally. Flapping in the breeze if you will. Or alternatively, totally removed and shoved in my handbag. I will have to be more disciplined. Tunnels may result if I am not. And while that sounds curious, I think it is better not to find about them first hand.
I am now in possession of several pairs of the aforementioned constricting garments. All of them come with popper openings to make the bathroom trips less of a struggle. I foresee much wailing and gnashing of teeth as I have never been a girl for restrictions but needs must.
It was odd being back at the hospital today. I was being prepped for surgery on the 9th but still waiting for the results of my mammogram so unsure whether or not it would go ahead. However, despite leaping whenever the post dropped through the door and pouncing on the phone as soon as it has rung, no results have arrived at our house.
So I went through the motions with an extremely nice nurse, ticking boxes, standing on scales, being measured etc. all the while thinking this may not be necessary. Although now I come to think about it, whatever the outcome of my mammogram, some surgical intervention would happen so maybe it was all as well.
As the appointment drew to a close, she handed me reading matter on breast reductions and ward/admission information. Then, as an afterthought, I mentioned my mammogram. Immediately, she looked up the results and there they were. On the screen. In plain sight:
No abnormality detected.
And I breathed a little deeper and a little easier for the first time in over a week. Until the hacking cough got me that is. The Captain has been very ill. With proper flu. It appears he has been generous with his germs. I am thinking of daubing a cross on the front door in red paint for we are a house of sickness. Bugger.
What better way to kick off my second year of breast cancer survival than with a mammogram? Perhaps a large gin? But no. For me, a trip to the All Singing All Dancing Breast Unit was in order. And to be fair, for this I was very grateful.
As previously mentioned, I have a date with Surgical Spice in March that I am keen to keep. But I can only do this providing there is no evidence of a new breast cancer lurking within my, hopefully soon to be considerably reduced, right boob. I do feel it would be particularly mean for a new cancer to pop up but given that I have done this once already, I am sadly at greater risk. Sigh. So annual mammograms it is.
The delightful Brainy Spice rejigged appointments for me so that I would have all sorted in time for my date with Surgical Spice and today was the appointed hour. It was odd. I have never found it a distressing or painful experience. Undignified, yes. Uncomfortable, even. But these things are acceptable. However, it has taken on a new significance. Since beginning the whole screening malarkey back with smears in my twenties, I have always been able to put them out of mind once done. Somehow, I do not think I will be doing that this time. I only had to have the one boob irradiated. Does that equal half the discomfort and half the indignity? Possibly not. It certainly does not make for half the worry.
The radiographer assured me I would hear through the post in the usual way. I also have a date with Brainy Spice in two weeks time. But from past experience, I know I may receive a phone call. So for the next fortnight I shall be leaping out of my skin whenever the post arrives or whenever the phone rings.
Maybe it is time for that gin, after all.
Last week the Captain and I abandoned the dull cold and drizzly weather of January in the UK for the sunnier climes of nine days in Tenerife. And it was just a little bit fabulous. To lounge around in shorts and tee shirts under blue skies and warm sunshine really was delightful. We read books, walked walks, ate masses of fish and even drank a soupçon of gin. Perfect.
We got back on Wednesday to a letter from Surgical Spice. Apparently they anticipate a bed being available for me on the 9th of March for the next phase of my reconstruction. Oo er! I know she said March last time we met, but somehow I had sort of consigned it to the realms of Sometime Never so it came as something of a surprise. I am a bit dim like that. However, I am not sorry. I had a total meltdown on holiday over my unbalanced state. My last minute packing had meant I could not find my mastectomy swimming costume so there was no point in taking my prosthesis. I did pack other costumes but when push came to shove, I could not face the pool. It is one thing to go about unbalanced in a bra, fully clothed, when quite frankly, it is pretty much impossible to tell (for reasons I do not understand but there we have it), but it is an entirely different matter to do so in a swimming costume. And I just could not do it. So the lopping and trimming of my right boob and the plumping and adjusting of my left is coming at the perfect time.
There is, however, the small matter of having a clear mammogram first. Since cancer came to play, I get to have mammograms on an annual basis for five years and I am due one very soon. So, February is going to bring a whole host of appointments as I gear up for yet more surgery. Fun fun fun!
Today I had a date with Surgical Spice. Remember her? I last saw her back in May. Before chemo. It is hard to remember such a time but it did exist.
This appointment was another opportunity for her to admire her handiwork. Which she did. And then pointed out all the flaws. A dip here. A bulge there. Rude, I thought. I tried to cheer her up with my party trick. Have I told you about this? I can make my newbie twitch. It is really quite impressive. I could tell Surgical Spice was taken with my performance as she checked my notes to make sure she had disconnected the various bits of muscles from the things they needed to be disconnected from during my last op. She had. I probably will not put on public displays of this talent. It is probably best left unseen. I was certainly not asked for an encore. Sigh. But should the Captain and I ever be down on our luck, perhaps a career in a freak show could save our bacon?
So the upshot was I need more surgery. This I knew. It cannot happen before March. Pesky chemo. I would like it to happen before April as our plans for this year have been delayed until then. If it does not happen in March it will be some time during next Autumn/Winter.
I will be having my remaining breast reduced to match my newbie. I get to keep my nipple unless fat necrosis claims it. My newbie will have its dips filled out with fat grafting from fat hoovered out of my stomach. And my bulges, or dog ear, will be removed and tidied up. The whole op is expected to take about four hours. I should be in hospital for no more than two nights and the experience should not be as arduous as my last. But it will involve constricting knickers (which I had better not get in a twist), surgical bras and weeks of recovery. At the end of it I should have a matching pair of newbies. Which would be rather nice. After that, I will just be in need of a new nipple to balance the old one, something that can hopefully be done under local anaesthetic.
Consent forms signed, hands shaken, Christmas wishes delivered, all that remained was to get yet more photos taken. My portfolio as a topless model must be getting quite thick. Still have not nailed the Lean In And Pout look which must, of course, mean I will have to do it all again.
And now I just wait for the surgery appointment to arrive.
Somewhat sneakily I have been away in foreign climes these past few days. The beauty of scheduling posts has meant that I have been able to keep posting without drawing attention to my absence. But since the internet over here is really rather good, I am writing to you from the sunny isle of St Lucia. By the time you read this, however, we will be back in the UK, unpacking and getting the washing on. Sigh.
We have spent an amazing week soaking in the sun, drinking in the views, feasting on the food and imbibing in one or two of the local brews. It is exactly what the doctor ordered. Seriously. I checked. ‘You must go!’ he said. So there you have it. I am here on doctor’s orders. Sadly it is not available on the NHS.
Travelling with my falsie has been a mixed experience. I remain euphoric that wearing it is utterly undetectable and renders me beautifully balanced in the chest department. But, it is heavy. And it is only a partial – room for my newbie has to be left. So I can only wonder at the weight of a full sized one. I suspect this is causing me problems as I am still healing. Eight hours wear is enough in one day so I have been going lopsided in the afternoons. After all we are here with friends. They know I am unbalanced and have done for years.
Following a day’s boat trip, the Captain and I were heading back to our room. I had changed out of my swimming costume on the boat and removed my prothesis at the same time. Years of training by my mother kicked in and I rolled my wet cossie up into my towel. With my falsie. This would have been fine. But in his eagerness to help, the Captain decided to take the towels back to the beach to drop in the linen skip. He found the end of my roll and pulled. Hard. Both my cossie and boob flew out and landed on the floor. I’m pretty certain the whole resort know about my fake rack now 😉
Yesterday I saw Surgical Spice again. This time it was just me and her. We had no nurses, no extra doctors, no hangers on. It turned out to be quite a giggle. She is thrilled with her handiwork and I have to say, I cannot blame her. It really is beginning to look rather good. In fact, I rather think it has moved on from its shoubsicle stage of development. We’re not quite at the fully fledged breast stage. We are really quite a long way off that. But we are heading in the right direction. Thanks to the enforced surgical ‘rest’ that chemo will give me, the next phase of my surgery will not now happen until I am done with the poison. We will regroup in the Autumn when I shall be rocking the slaphead look but will be busily regrowing hair and cells and all sorts. Just not cancer. I shall not be regrowing cancer. Just saying. But I am running ahead of myself.
There is something decidedly odd about having another woman handle your breasts quite as much as this woman has handled, and will no doubt continue to handle, mine. She complimented me on the softness, the shape and the general pertness of my newbie. And then went into raptures over my flap. I cannot blame her. It is rather sweet. In an Oh-My-Life-There’s-No-Nipple-There kind of way. That bit of skin is a perfect circle taken from my back. The Captain and I debated her technique one night. Did she free hand it with a scalpel? Possible but tricky, though Leonardo Da Vinci would have managed it. Or did she in fact, use a cookie cutter? My money is on the latter. This woman looks like she could bake a mean biscuit. However, I am not left with a hole shaped scar on my back. So there must have been trimmings? Perhaps they save up the leftovers and make a coat. Buffalo Bill could have had a field day.
The other slightly unusual feature of my perfect circle No Nipple Flap is that I disturbingly have a hairy back. My No Nipple Flap is covered in the lightest dusting of soft, downy hair. A bit like velvet, it is. Maybe it is as well I am about to be challenged in the hair department. I could very well be the missing link that completes Darwin’s theory of evolution and frankly, just now, I could do without the publicity. Besides, it turns out stroking the fur on one’s own fake nipple is not acceptable in any society. Ever.