It was always there, looming in the distance, that day, when surgery was going to happen.
In my case, I flew back from the UK, arriving home at 2am on a Monday morning, before going into hospital on the Tuesday morning.
Ducks in a row…
That Monday was a bit of a bonkers day. I slightly lost the plot, I must admit, and suddenly, it was overwhelmingly imperative to get my affairs in order. This involved transferring my little savings to a good friend in the UK, thinking that if I wasn’t going to come out of the other end, then at least it would be easy enough for my mother to gain access to some funds for my son. I was also, given that my life insurance policy had lapsed last summer (check your policies!) really pleased to know that my son would be able to inherit my pension, small though it was, should the worst happen.
The word ‘positive’ gets used a great deal in relation to any life-threatening illness. It might be, that doing the above on the day before major surgery makes me look less than positive, but the reality is that in these circumstances you also have to be pragmatic. People do die having major surgery and people do die from breast cancer. To shy away from those facts, when there is the well-being of a small child at stake, is quite the opposite to positivity. There is nothing wrong with a great serving of positivity with a side serving of pragmatism to deliver a well-rounded balanced meal.
On the Monday night, my friends threw me what we very positively called ‘The Last Supper’. It was lovely to get out, have a glass of wine and spend time with what are to me some of the best support system I could ever wish for. That night, I slept reasonably well, all things considered, so that when Tuesday ‘Boob-day’ arrived, I was ready as I could be for what was to come.
Checking out my motorway system…
Tuesday morning involved a trip to a hospital 45 minutes away to be injected with some sort of ‘nuclear’ product into my boob before being scanned to identify the location of lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are a key component of this breast cancer business. The lymph system is used to carry white blood cells around the body for healing as well as helping to get rid of waste materials, so they are like the German motorway system when it comes to cancer spreading around the body, actually effective, unlike the M25. The normal course these days is for a surgeon to remove a few lymph nodes, check them for cancer, then, if they are found to have cancer, remove the rest in that particular area before then starting ‘adjuvant’ therapies (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, etc).
‘Why not just remove them all?’ you might ask. The reason for this slightly cautious, somewhat prolonged approach is to reduce the chances of long-term side-effects, such as Lymphodema
Once this nuclear scan was carried out, it was back to our local hospital to be installed ready for surgery that afternoon. It seemed initially that this would take place almost as soon as we got there (once again I had the mighty tribe insisting that there was no way that I could just take a taxi, so had been driven to both hospitals), but then, in the best French tradition, ‘’Le Lunch’’ time came so it ended up being a mid-afternoon surgery.
I came around 5 hours later to find yet another member of the tribe by my bedside, with kettle installed and teacup at the ready so that the next morning I would not be subjected to the insipid tea served in French hospitals. After they had left, I then spent most of the night awake, listening to the man in the room opposite me who seemed to be refusing to close his bedroom door, listening to French television at 4am and then talking to someone on the phone at 5am.
On y va…
The next morning, my consultant came in, gave me the once over and told me that all being well, I could go home the next day. The big issue with surgery like this is that you have drains attached to you to take away excess fluid and blood from the surgery site (yes, it is minging). In the UK, I believe that normally you are sent home with these drains in, whereas in France, they like to wait for the site to be drained before letting you out. I was lucky in that my surgery appeared to be very straightforward; healing nicely and very little excess fluid- whoop whoop for me.
Of course, the elephant in the room had still to be dealt with; the actual viewing of what was now a scar and not a boob. I had snippets of views of bandages over those two days, and then, on the third morning, when I was to be allowed to go home, I was also allowed to have a shower. There is no getting away from seeing your non-existent boob when you have a metre square mirror directly opposite the shower.
Losing a friend…
This was the part of this whole surreal experience that I was dreading the most. I had prepared myself for this trauma and knew it would not be an easy thing to see. These boobs had been with me for 44 years. They had looked good in fancy-dress outfits even though I say so myself.., and for a short time at least, had fed my child. I wouldn’t of course, be able to view the actual scar as of yet, although again, I had caught glimpses when I had my dressings changed, but I was able to see the full blown ‘boob on one side, no boob on the other side’.
My reaction when I did see this was surprising to say the least.. I expected tears, maybe even some bawling, but the only way I can describe how I felt when I looked in that mirror was passive. My boob was gone, but so too, in large part, was my cancer. My boob was gone, but hopefully, it meant that my long life was not. Maybe it was the fact that I was no longer 25, or that I wouldn’t be having any more children, but if the price I was paying to see my son grow up was just what I was looking at that moment in the mirror, then I was alright with that. We were another hurdle down in this race to survive.