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!
… but it is also quite dull. Five days post op and our house is still a house of unnatural quiet. My throat and mouth are by far the worst things about this latest date with the operating theatre. My uvula is about 50% longer than normal and likes to drag itself across the back of my throat. Which is as unpleasant as it sounds. My mouth is a bit like the sorest sore throat you can imagine. The one where you brace yourself to swallow your own saliva. It is improving. And it is good for the waistline as I am only really managing to eat variations on mush at the moment which is also quite dull. Ice cream is good but, and here’s something I never thought I would say, there is only so much I feel like.
Medically speaking, there seems to be nothing to be done except wait it out. I have been assured it will get better. And I can see that it is doing so. It is a tedious old business though. All that is to be done is to continue with the mouth numbing preparations, drink lots and wait.
Meanwhile, I rather think the Captain is enjoying the peace. He should worry about all the things I am plotting …
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
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.
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.
It has been an age since I sat behind the wheel of a car. Since before I embraced blue tits and had my sentinel node biopsied. Which is really quite a long time ago. My instructions from the hospital forbade me to drive for at least four weeks following my latest op. However, since it was my left side that has been carved up, it was thought wiser to leave it a little longer.
Today I decided enough was enough. I had a little jaunt planned. Just the delivering of some jam to a National Hero. And a wee trip in search of an egg basket. It was not much. But it was exciting. You see, I do not get out much.
It was going well. Forward was fine. Right and left were also good. Speeding up and slowing down, no problem. Backwards was more of a challenge but I had little call for that. Once the gear was in reverse it was ok, just getting it there was a tad tricky. Still, I figured, I could just keep going forward and all would be well. The trouble came when I was half way round Sainsbury’s. I hit the exhaustion wall. It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other and get back to the car.
I ate some sandwiches, had a little doze, then drove home again. Carefully. Possibly a little much for my first day out but, man, it felt good to be independent again.
As I am deficient in the breast department to the tune of a half, I am going to be visiting the Prosthetic Clinic next week with a view to being balanced up. Amazing, a clinic designed to bring balance into my life. World peace may also be on offer or perhaps I am expecting too much?
In order to prepare for this event, I needed to be fitted for a bra. I have done this many times. I am not sure I have ever enjoyed it. Today’s experience, while as good as it could possibly be, was right up there with the worst of them. Actually, cancel that. It WAS the worst. During none of the others have I sobbed in the changing room. The fitter was lovely: kind, professional and good at her job. I could not have asked for more. The reality of buying the hideous sort of bra my grandmother would have considered conservative just felt a bit much.
But the deed is done. And on the upside the VAT got knocked off as a perk for having cancer related surgery. And on another upside, I rather suspect it will be quite comfy when I eventually get to wear it.
Today I was back at the hospital. It was my routine appointment. My swelling was checked out and deemed unconcerning. Although Surgical Spice conceded that it was indeed impressive. And she was positively excited by my peau d’orange skin. Needles were thrust into unmentionable places but only 20mls of fluid was withdrawn which has not had a great deal of impact on my balloon like bosom.
While there I was asked about physiotherapy:
How are you getting on with your exercises?
I’m doing the ones I was told to. When do I move on to the next set?
Oh. You should’ve started them last week. It says quite clearly on the sheet to do so.
Which sheet would that be?
You weren’t given a sheet?
That would be no.
So, the I Must, I Must, I Must Improve My Bust exercises have not been going as well as I had thought. Fortunately, I have been diligent in doing the scaled down version. You do not get to maintain friendships with physiotherapists for thirty years without realising that ignoring recommended exercises is simply Not An Option. Physio Extraordinaire lives just around the corner from me and her regime of back exercises has kept my lumbar back in tip top condition so far. Which is a huge relief given where I was starting from. And if I dared to even consider skipping the I Must I Must I Must Improve My Bust exercises, my bezzie mate from hundreds of years ago would shout so loudly at me that no telephonic devices would be required to cover the great many miles between us for the monstrous telling off I would be subjected to. Basically then, the ease with which I slipped into and found the next stage of exercises, is down to fear of my physio mates. Hurrah, they are probably cheering.
I now have a week to progress to the final stage. Ever competitive, I think this will be fine. My phone has alarms set for three times a day. I have memorised my sheet of instructions. I am good to go.
There were always going to be complications. Over the past couple of days, maybe longer, I have been aware that my somewhat diminutive shoubsicle has been growing. It is now stretched tighter than a tightly stretched drum skin. It has even changed in shape. And now I have swelling in other places too.
At my last appointment I was told I had a developed a ‘dog ear’ under my arm at the end of my back/shoulder scar. It is a flap of skin that hangs down like the ear of a dog. It happens a lot and will be corrected during one of my other surgeries at some point. However, it is no longer hanging down. It is sitting upright. To attention even. Which makes putting my arm by my side uncomfortable. In fact, all this swelling is extremely uncomfortable. Not painful. Just a nuisance. I have developed a whole new sympathy for Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I rang the Bosom Friends at the All Singing All Dancing Breast Unit and they have consulted with Surgical Spice. Providing my temperature does not shoot up and my transplanted skin flap remains pink and healthy, they are content for me to keep my appointment tomorrow. Which could well turn into a day of more needles in unspeakable places. What fun!