The post op effects

On Thursday, I was ‘released’ from hospital. I’d been in for 4 days and by then I felt very anxious to get home. Like I would walk in the door and magically start to feel better… That didn’t happen. What did happen, was a big dose of the reality of what I’ve just gone through. In my last post, I mentioned ‘the operation’ but didn’t go into details of what that entailed.
I had a prophylactic (risk reducing) mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. The mastectomy was done horizontally through the middle of my breast. As my cancer was ductal in origin, it was decided that the surgery would remove my nipple completely (this can be reconstructed at a later date if I choose to) as this would be the highest risk area for a new primary tumour. Once all of the breast tissue was removed, an implant was placed in under the chest muscle and then stitched into place using a synthetic stratice. A drain was inserted under the wound which allows excess fluid, tissue and blood to be pulled away from the wound site by a small vacuum to decrease the chance of any post op complications.

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A diagram of how the implant and starting work

This is the same surgery I had on my ‘bad’ side just after diagnosis but unfortunately, the chemo meant my ability to heal was seriously compromised and, after several attempts to save it, my implant had to be removed. Couple this with the damage caused by radiotherapy and you’re left with one seriously knackered boob. The next option for me is to have this reconstructed using donor skin, tissue and blood vessels from another part of my body, most likely my back. This is the next conversation I’ll be having with my surgeon once he’s happy I’m healing from this operation. I might give us both a bit of a rest for a few weeks before I start hounding him to put another date in his diary though.
So, physically that is what I’ve been through. Mentally, it’s been even tougher. On the days running up to the operation, I suffered from a couple of extremely frightening panic attacks. The fear and uncertainty of more surgery as well as the flood of bad memories was consuming. I try to be a generally positive person but the truth is, this is an awful thing to go through. It’s extremely painful and limiting and, having been through it previously, no amount of being told “you’ll be fine” did anything to lessen that fear. Actually, it just kind of annoyed me. I understand it’s in our nature to try to make people feel better, but sometimes it’s more helpful to just acknowledge that it’s a shit situation and offer to listen. If in doubt, ask. I’ll never be offended by someone showing an interest. If that interest is followed up with cake: even better!
The recovery from this operation is likely to take several months. At the moment, I’m taking lots of painkillers and resting as much as possible. The physical trauma means that my body is working extra hard to mend itself so I’m very tired and sleeping lots. This is good because I’m not very good at doing nothing. I’ve already pushed myself a bit further than I really should and been told off for it by a few friends and by my infuriatingly always bloody right, mum.
Mum, I’m listening to you. If you need me, I’ll be on my couch, doing NOTHING. Well, maybe eating that cake I mentioned.

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A cake made by my lovely friend, Leigh

The one about the eggs

This post is about the fertility treatment I had just after my cancer diagnosis.
After I’d had the scans to determine my stage/grade and treatment plan, I was asked a question. “Did you plan on having any children?”. Another crushing blow was dealt. If I wanted to save my own life, it would be at the sacrifice of my fertility.
We had planned to start a family but had put it off for years to get my business off the ground. Ironically, the decision to stop working was very easy. I no longer cared about being a success or having money, I just wanted to be well and have all the things I’d assumed
I could have without worrying. I wanted to get married, have a baby, grow old…
My cancer, as far as they knew, had not spread to my lymph nodes and my surgeon was prepared to wait for one week to allow me a very small chance at IVF.
We attended a few appointments at Ninewells fertility department in Dundee and started an excelled course of hormone treatment to encourage egg production. This meant injecting myself a couple of times a day and becoming even more hormonal and insane than I already was. I recall a particular crazy lady incident where I screamed at Steph in the middle of a busy shopping centre then promptly burst into tears for all to see.
Once the week was up, I went for my first (of many) operations. This was to remove all of my eggs and ‘introduce’ them to Steph’s little swimmers, leave them to party and hope for the best!
It was a quick operation and I was on my way home the same day. It was very emotional and felt so rushed and frightening. Luckily, we got a call the next day telling us it had been very successful and that 12 out of the 14 eggs that had been retrieved had been fertilised and would go into the freezer until we were ready for them.
Phew! Phase one complete.
Sort of.

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Lots of things have changed since then (which I’ll get to) but, at the beginning, when there is so much on front of you, it’s very important to be able to ‘tick off’ things on your cancer to do list.
It felt like a positive step and that maybe, a normal life would still be within my grasp. I just had to get through a mastectomy, chemo and radiotherapy first….