Call it a strength or a weakness, but because of its very nature, this blog is inconsistent.
It is here so that I may record what the world looks like through my cancer lens. In the first year, pretty much everything I saw, felt and did had cancer at its core. In the second year, I slowly edged back towards a fragile sort of normality. And now at the start of my third year since my diagnosis, I can honestly say that I have gone whole weeks without feeling like I’m viewing the world through the eyes of someone who had, or still has, cancer.
I say this as a means for accounting for my long silence. It’s been a happy, busy, eventful silence. I think in this blog’s case, the silences are the periods I should be aiming for.
Right now, the thing that keeps me coming back here is my breasts. Or lack thereof, really.
When we last spoke, my surgeon had dropped the bombshell that he didn’t think that much could be done to rebuild my breasts. What was left was just bone and scar tissue. And we were trying to treat it with injections of fat to build it up and reconnect it to my blood supply as best we could, but we thought my skin was stretched too thin to allow real breasts to become a possibility.
Because I remain a staunch believer that everything is a process and that nothing is finite, I kept on going with the fat grafting.
Along the way, I had a nasty incident where my body rejected that grafted fat and I wound up on a new surgeon’s operating table just before Christmas. It sounds bad, but it was good really, because Dr Hyphenated (my name for him, not his) looked upon me with fresh eyes and told me not to give up. He is my “second opinion guy” and long may he remain so. He is a very good man.
And then in January something nice happened. The fat settled and my flesh turned from thin pale purplish grey to soft warm pink and my first surgeon Dr M looked again and said maybe we can slip a small implant in and that takes us up to pretty much now.
We’ve done it and they’re in – two smallish implants that are so far looking grand. They are much the same size as my breasts were to begin with, although more gravity-defying of course.
I am sending all the love that I can muster their way. Telling my body to nourish and accept them. It will be another two or three months before I can give a sigh of relief and say girls, you’ve survived so for the meantime I’m just trying to be good.
Take my antibiotics. Wear my hideous oversized compression bra. Don’t lift heavy things. Send love.
The last one is my own initiative, but I stand by it. Apparently if you think healing thoughts about a body part, you actually send more blood supply in that direction. Someone’s scientifically shown that. So that’s good enough for me.
Which takes me to today’s metaphor. It’s about sending love.
I know a whole lot of you have been waiting for the big wedding post. March 15 was the day. And it was pretty much perfect.
Coming up to the wedding I kept wondering what I should say. And I kept coming back to the same thought. That there are really only two times in life that all the people you love most are around you.
The other one? It’s your funeral.
In the end I couldn’t say much, I was too overwhelmed. But basically what I said and meant was that every single person who attended our wedding was now family.
I felt like, just as I am now concentrating all my love on two teardrop-shaped lumps of silicon resting under my pectoral muscle in my chest, for one beautiful evening the love of 120 people was concentrated on Charlie and I.
It was the best therapy and treatment I could ever have.
I love you all more than words can ever describe.
These incredibly gorgeous photos were taken by the extremely talented Brent Winstone who attended as a guest and could not have captured these candid and emotional moments more perfectly.
Every year it gets a little harder to answer when someone asks what I’d like for Christmas. I guess that’s what getting older does, every year you need a little less. Well, this year, I had no answers at all. Having cancer, and being in the midst of chemo, is one big want killer. All I could say, when anyone asked, was Have you got a time machine to take me forward by three months so I can finish chemo?
After my reaction to the Taxol, which it seems was a fully blown anaphylaxis, I was left awkwardly hanging there. My oncologist showed new depths, both of emotion and also professionalism, by taking a week to consult with her peers and weigh up all my options. It was an uncomfortable week, but an important one.
And at its end came some staggering news, which you’ll all cheer about, but I have to admit left me feeling a bit… lost?
The final decision was to end my chemo early. Three months early. My Christmas time machine had arrived. No more Taxol. No more Red Devil. No more anti nausea drugs, no more laxatives. Instead, a little white pill named Tamoxifen.
A little white pill that will be my daily companion for the next five years.
I knew that hormone therapy awaited me. That when chemo was over, that I’d be taking a little pill that blocked the estrogen receptors of all the cells travelling around my body, and that would mean that I’d need to be kept in a state of early menopause for five years. I knew it, I did, but I filed it in my bulging later folder.
And suddenly it was staring me in the face, and I was in the Survival Phase.
Another consideration pushed the decision to end the chemo. My friend the elephant. He’d made it clear that he wasn’t leaving me as long as I was on chemo. My body was… is… too weak to fight elephants right now. Taking me off chemo gives me a fighting chance to kick the cellulitis once and for all.
So, simultaneous to the arrival of the time machine, was the arrival of the Baxter Bottle. The Baxter Bottle is attached to my chest, via my port, and will be delivering me IV antibiotics 24/7 for the next six weeks. This saves me having to be in hospital (big hurrah indeed!) but means I must carry a bag or wear a bum bag (fanny pack for my American friends) at all times to hold my bottle. I have some interesting tubes hanging out of me, which draw stares when I’m in public.
But that wasn’t all that happened prior to Christmas.
We also had a call from the IVF clinic. The genetic testing on our three Judes was complete. And two out of three Judes carry the bad cancer gene.
It’s a lot to take in.
So I must apologise for my extended silence. I’ve been thinking, and reeling, and trying to readjust to having been whisked three months in to the future.
I know the news is good, provided the cancer stays away. And I know that compared to chemo, Tamoxifen should be a walk in the park. So why am I feeling like I’ve just been sent out to sea in a leaky boat?
I guess this is what happens when the future sneaks up on you. This next week or two I’ll let it all sink in, and then take stock and see where I am.
Stay with me. Merry Christmas and happy new year to you and yours…
Ginger cakes for all the lovely folk at St Vincents and the Kinghorn Cancer Centre.
Nobody thought to tell Saskia that I also owned an elephant. The poor hound didn’t expect to be sharing a bedroom with a creature that wanders muttering around the house at night, keeping a drug diary and microwaving heat packs at 4:20am.
It’s done wonders for her toilet training though, as the three of us mosey around the courtyard three or four times throughout the night, my bald head twinkling in the moonlight, all in relatively good humour considering the situation.
And then I had to have a colonoscopy and endoscopy as well. I keep having blood transfusions, and then the red blood cells vanish, leaving me gasping for air within about three weeks. Has the elephant developed a taste for red blood cells? The oncologist thought that maybe the red blood cells were going missing because of an ulcer or internal bleeding, but nothing became apparent despite the battery of tests.
At the height of the special colonoscopy diet, Saskia had the pleasure of watching me sip laxatives, clear beef soup, green jelly and icy poles all at the same time (5:36am!), and then bolt for the bathroom. Only a puppy can love you at a moment like that. She would drape herself languidly on an abandoned pile of pyjamas and patiently wait until I returned from the bathroom, wagging her tail delightedly. I love you the most right now she would happily wriggle. I just love being near you! I love you the most at 5:36am with the runs! I can barely contain my love…
Can you tell why I love her right back? Love love love you too, Saskia!
As the nurse’s (and thus my own) fear rapidly escalated re the elephant, my surgeon as usual fluctuated wildly between totally deadpan You’re fine. Purple is a fine colour for skin. Pus is positive. And what’s wrong with eating hardcore pain meds like they’re M&Ms? and spontaneously over reactive Can you come in at 12:45pm for emergency surgery, and can you start fasting… Umm… Now?
My answers, by the way… Purple is not nice. Pus is not fun. And hardcore pain meds not working anymore is just plain scary. And painful! and While I am already fasting, it is for a colonoscopy, and no you will not be spontaneously performing emergency surgery on me this afternoon. Besides, I have nothing left to operate on!
(Sorry, my true believing friends, I truly don’t intend to mock, but I can’t find a more accurate way to express my frustration and sadness.)
So today I left Saskia chewing on an oversized lamb shank and walked the elephant to hospital.
We were due for my first round of twelve weekly doses of Taxol, but first I had to work my way through three fat bags of B+ blood with my name on them. Transfusions are slow. They drip drip drip away, and I was entertained first by my dad keeping me company, and then dozing in a recliner, trying to recover from several weeks of elephant filled dreams. Sleepy and uneventful, I’d call it.
And then six hours in, the Infectious Disease Registrar turns up. She is the Elephant Specialist at long last! Can she teach me how to kick this bloody cellulitis? Please please please?
Then as I’m deep into giving her my medical history, something strange happens. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t remember what I’ve said, or am saying, and I’m scared but even more scared to admit something is going terribly wrong. I feel very faint and I feel very strange, can you call a nurse?
Not one nurse pours in, but eight or ten. It turns out that they started giving me my Taxol six minutes earlier, and they’d been standing by in case of anaphylaxic shock. Apparently, my chest turned red and rashy over a few seconds. Like magic the nurses injected me with cortisone, were on to me with blood pressure monitors and were holding my hand and stroking my back as I sobbed and tried to breathe.
Have I just become another bad statistic? Again? Seriously?
Everything that happens after that is blurry. I’m given something called Phenurgan and it makes me pleasantly sleepy. The poor Elephant Specialist stands well back, shamefaced, as though her case history caused me to have a near death experience, and quietly asks if she can photograph the elephant and show it to her supervisor.
There is a lot of quiet chat, and I gather that I’m not getting my Taxol today. I’m not getting an elephant cure today either. And I just lie back in my recliner and wait to be taken home to my bad puppy who loves me any old time.
Love you all as well. Even at 5:36am. Even when it’s raining.
If you’re a sweet, sensitive soul, you might not enjoy this post. But it amuses me, and thus I can’t help but share. So please be amused, not offended by what I’m about to share.
I want to tell you about my favourite nurse, and why it is that she holds this honorable title, and there’s no better way than sharing an exchange that we had today.
A special dressings nurse came by to check my wound post-surgery and dress it before my discharge from the hospital. She pulled back the layers of bandages and unwrapped a very wide, very deep hole in my chest. My favourite nurse, let’s call her Nurse G, stood by.
We all admired the hole for a few seconds. Let’s say that surgery is a lot like mining. All my surgeries to date have been the type of mines where there’s untold masses of work happening beneath the surface, but on the surface (the skin) you’d barely know. A few stitches, a scar, that’s the extent of it. Well, my new wound is an open cut mine. I now have an open cut mine the size of a big coin and a good half inch deep sitting below my right breast. I half expect to see a tiny mining truck chugging up the side.
It’s more open than I expected. I say at last.
Your skin is harder than I expected says the dressings expert.
I’m more concerned about the breasts above it! says Nurse G.
I call them my ugly pug tits. I reply.
I was thinking sausage dog… Nurse G suggests.
No, sausage dogs are better looking than that. I reply.
Well, I didn’t like to say it… says Nurse G.
I know, I know, the whole interchange sounds tacky and tactless but it wasn’t at all. Nurse G was able to turn a disturbing new discovery of what the medical profession had done to me this time into something we could all laugh about.
I also loved that she was honest about my breasts. It takes a big person not to lie when it comes to something sensitive like botched up breasts. It’s much easier to make evasive comments or say nothing at all. And it’s best to laugh because, as the cliche goes, laughter really is the best medicine.
I love Nurse G, and wish she could always be by my side. She is unfailingly honest, incredibly experienced and deeply involved with her patients and their well being.
The depth of her experience means that nothing phases her, and you know you’re in the safest hands when she’s around. You’re so safe you can have a laugh along the way.
She’s the one who told me that six doses of the chemo drug I’m on now will kill you. I’ve just had my fourth. I found this remarkable more than terrifying and that’s because I was in her company when I heard it.
Immediately after our pug tit interchange she went and arranged for a community nurse to come around to our house every two days for the next 4-6 weeks to clean my wound and redress it without me having to trek in to hospital. I just hope the community nurse has a fraction of her depth of experience and humour.
Big love to you, Nurse G.
I know how you all like stories about elephants. Many of you have told me so, which is flattering indeed and makes me feel like a Writer with a Capital W.
Sadly, I’m not sure I like stories with elephants any more.
I’m writing this from a rather small but blessedly private hospital room. I say blessedly private, because no-one deserves the punishment of sharing with me and my elephant.
Despite the two surgeries following the mastectomy, the elephant never really left. I thought I’d seen the last of him as I finally went off antibiotics a week and a half ago, but then he started sneaking back in the dead of night.
He developed an unquenchable appetite for pills. Every two hours he’d trumpet for something. I had my work cut out for me tossing Panadol, Nurofen and Endone his way (Side note about Nurofen… It turns out Ibuprofen is really not good when you’re having chemo. I wish I’d known this before the elephant developed a taste for it!). I’d try to buy him off with heat packs and he’d snooze happily for twenty minutes and then yell MORE! just as I was falling asleep.
And then he started spurting pus everywhere. You know a room mate has to go when he spurts pus. That’s the deal breaker right there.
As per usual my crack medical team under reacted. He’s not the biggest elephant we’ve ever seen… they commented. Well, he’s the most painful I’ve ever had… I countered. And it’s true. At night he sits on this nerve under my shoulder blade and it’s bloody agony.
And of course, as tradition dictates, as we suddenly found ourselves four days away from chemo with a wildly out of control elephant on our hands it was “to hospital to hospital jiggity jig” all of a sudden.
After one stunningly sleepless night where the elephant terrified a night nurse with his constant trumpeting and unreasonably frequent demands for heat packs, suddenly everyone in the hospital was treating my elephant with far more respect. We even got to meet an elephant specialist (his business card said he specialised in palliative care but he was at pains to reassure the elephant and I that we weren’t dying quite yet… Well, me, anyway, watch this space Mr Elephant). He came up with a “pain plan” whereby the hospital has to give me pain control whenever I ask, which felt like a bloody miracle and made the elephant dance a happy jig.
And my surgeon announced that what the hell, let’s go for surgery number four which seems to involve washing the elephant out from the cavity left behind by my now deceased right breast.
So once again the elephant has been issued an eviction notice and I await yet more surgery. I must admit all my optimism and enthusiasm is a little on the wane at this point. I hate the following things about surgery: the stupid socks you have to wear afterwards, the horrid anti-coagulant shots they make you get in your thighs which then bleed at the drop of a hat, the scarring, the queasy feeling post-anaesthetic, and the occasional really weird dream. They also cover you with stickers which you keep finding days later which kind of feels like the medical equivalent of those “kick me” stickers that people thought were hilarious in late primary school.
However post surgical pain is seldom, perhaps never as bad as out-of-control elephant pain and as such once again I’m giving my consent for a little more body violation.
On the plus side, I have something very exciting to look forward to this weekend so by hook or by crook the psychopathic pachyderm has got to go. All will be revealed, it’s going to be awesome! I figured I owed myself something wonderful and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
See you all on the other side of surgery number four… Sans elephant of course… And with nice news attached.
Much love, as always.
Another long silence…
And where have I been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
No, not quite true.
I went to the “Great Lakes” (remember, this is Australia, people, so our “Great Lakes” perhaps aren’t quite so Great… They don’t have their own tides, anyway…) for a wedding. More on that soon.
Round three of chemo was mostly uneventful. The main thing I can gather is that every time you think you’ve got its measure, chemo trips you up and laughs in your face.
In this case, over the first weekend (days 3 and 4) I felt all very jolly and ate my way through the nausea. “Ho ho!” says I… “Ha ha!” says the chemo and socks me for days 5, 6 and 7. I believe I lived on white beans, grapefruit and peanut butter. Yummo. And then my eyelashes and eyebrows started to fall.
I wish I was the type to wish on eyelashes. I would’ve had so many wishes that I could’ve wished myself clear into May next year.
It wasn’t until I was putting on mascara before the wedding that I realised just how many of my eyelashes had jumped to their death. I’m used to having quite thick lashes and needing to treat mascara with respect and caution so that my lashes don’t turn into hairy spiders crouching on my face, but that is definitely not an issue right now.
The wedding was on the very lovely Boomerang Beach, which sits between Smiths Lake and Forster. Despite the fact that we were well into November, the wind sprung up and it was quite cold and so I decided to premiere my wig.
If our neighbours caught sight of my preparations (a very bogan family with a son named Tyson!) they would have been perturbed indeed… And possibly lynched us.
First my fake breasts went on… Then my wig… Then my contact lenses… Then I pencilled my eyebrows back in… And outlined my thinning lashes… And bronzered my cheeks to bring back a little colour… And popped a hat on my head for good measure (wouldn’t want the wig skittering off down the beach!)… And then the woman within was released.
I should really hunt down photos.
What was quite gratifying was that one ex-workmate who I hadn’t seen for a few years was entirely fooled by my charade! He was quite shocked when I told him I was entirely bald and undergoing chemo.
We had a wonderful night. Thanks so much to the talented and lovely bride and groom for putting on such a gorgeous wedding. I even danced a bit (Gangnam Style!!! My HOAC friends would’ve been impressed I think).
For a day or two I was entirely released from cancer world, and it was blissful.
But all good things must come to an end, and as our trip wound up I felt an all too familiar pain in my breast. My cellulitis had returned.
I’ve been doing a lot of “reading” recently. I say “reading” in inverted commas because it’s actually “listening”. I have a subscription to audible.com which I can’t recommend highly enough. The big advantage of audiobooks is that when you’re in pain and unable to sleep in the wee small hours, you can “read” for hours without disturbing your other half.
Well, I can’t help but notice an alarming trend in what I’m reading. First Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (epic) and now the Hunger Games trilogy (please don’t judge?). It seems that I’m drawn to books where people find themselves, or exist within, alternate worlds where they are trapped and must find their way out… with or without violence.
I feel the same way about the cancer, the chemo, and the cellulitis. I’m stuck in a world that I never wished to be a part of, and all I can do is slowly grope my way out as best I can. I’m out of breasts to operate on. I just have to hope that the oral antibiotics will work at long last, and that I can kick the cellulitis into next week (no… further!) without having to go back to hospital.
Keep your fingers crossed for me.
As things shift rapidly from the sublime to the ridiculous, I’m worried that I (ab)used my Lady Bracknell quote from The Importance of Being Earnest too soon.
Because… believe it or not… I am now set to get my fourth breast removed. Yep, folks, you heard it here first. My lovely breast reconstruction is soon to be entirely defunct, kaput, cactus, on the shelf, sleeping with the fishes. Pick your preferred.
And how am I? Strangely ok with it. Having now lived with my new Frankentit for almost three weeks now, we’ve reached a state of compromise. I don’t like its grouchy flat little face, but it in turn doesn’t hurt and isn’t infected and as such I can forgive it its trespasses.
Basically, I’m sick to death of being in pain, and if having an ugly flat chest for the next six months is the price I have to pay, I’ll take it.
In addition, I got my fake tit. Or tits, really. I have a light foam one for now (sort of a surgical recovery tit… It’s light and doesn’t press hard on the bruised flesh beneath). And for later I have a much more hardcore fleshy feeling stick-on tit with genuine weight, although I’m not allowed to stick it on until January when my chest wall is better healed.
It’s an expensive business buying fake tits. While the government will reimburse me $400 for each tit (maximum two, before you weirdos start having any ideas) you then have to factor in the underwear. It’s a captive audience, the mastectomy crowd. And so they slug us. A bra with little pockets for the prosthesis costs on average $80, although a bit of clever Internet shopping revealed a few cheaper sources. A swimsuit (what, flat chested people swim too?) cost me another $150. Expensive tit pockets, huh? And because you can’t wear a bra/ swimming costume 24/7 but might not want to look like an adolescent boy (or in my current case with one breast remaining I just look wildly lopsided) then there are camisoles with pockets that are a bargain $60!!! Yay! I’ll buy three!!! (true).
So in amongst all this financial bloodletting, getting the second tit off almost seems like a bargain. I might as well, I have all the kit, the prosthesis place is on speed dial anyway. Hey, I’m so organised that I’m picking up my extra tits tomorrow so when I get out of surgery my new breast awaits me. What a cozy thought!
Let’s step away from fake tits for a moment and talk about hats. Because of course, I’ve been buying a lot of those, too. All of these are very worthy things to be blowing my cash on because they enable me to leave the house but oh boy oh boy do they add up!
Our study, which is where we store our clothes, now looks like it’s inhabited by a drag queen. Fake tits, a wig on a wire head, bright scarves and oversized hats strewn everywhere… Weird. Weird weird weird.
And then we get on to the high altitude bit. I’ve mentioned before that if I walk up a teeny tiny five metre hill I find myself gulping for air like a goldfish that’s lost its tank. Well, it turned out that it was because I was incredibly anaemic. I had so few red blood cells to transport oxygen around my body it was like living at high altitude.
So the other day I had my first blood transfusion. This was a strange sensation, because for years now I’ve been on the donor end of the blood world. I was a plasma donor, as apparently that was how my B+ blood was its most useful. I had to break up with the blood bank when I found that I had cancer, because they don’t want your stinky cancer-ridden blood (they put it more politely than that). And now I’m a receiver! I suppose at least I did my bit when I could. And I hope that one day I can go back to being a donor.
Anyway, I can now say with authority that donating your blood is a wonderful gift. Whoever gave me theirs has made me feel a whole heap better. As I gulp whole lungfuls of air I think fondly of them, wherever they are. Thanks, kindly stranger!
So that pretty much covers where I’m at. I return to hospital on Tuesday (RIP Righty) and chemo happens again on Thursday, and then I’m sure you can expect some appropriately grumpy chemo related post some time after that. Chemo is a bitch.
Oh ho, what fresh hell is this?
I came in to hospital, you’ll recall, because I was having issues with an elephant. Well, it turns out that when your elephant has gone unchecked for so long, he won’t be deterred by IV drugs alone.
No, you must have your elephant surgically removed.
Sounds drastic? It is. Yesterday I had my third breast surgically removed. And you know the greatest irony in all of this? Leftie was the healthy one! Poor Leftie didn’t even have cancer in the first place. Leftie died, first time around, for the greater good and now how do we repay her?
I know this is all a bit odd and hard to follow, so I’ll try to summarise it simply. Two months ago, I had a bilateral mastectomy. The right breast had a rather nasty cancer lurking beneath the nipple so it had to go. Because I have the bad cancer gene and knew it was very likely that I’d have another breast cancer over my lifetime, I decided to get my healthy left breast removed as well.
At the advice of my breast surgeon, I had the first stage of breast reconstruction immediately, during the same surgery (two months later, Medicare still can’t get their heads around that, but that’s a different story).
So, following the surgery, I had breasts. A bit high, round and odd, but breasts nonetheless. Over a period of weeks, my new breasts were expanded with saline, via a humorously oversized needle. Oh, the things these breasts have seen.
But then, as you’ll know if you’ve read the elephant post, Leftie turned feral.
Obviously a bad bug settled deeply into the implant on the left side, and no amounts of antibiotics would flush it out.
After a weekend of feeling really rather neglected in hospital (by the doctors, not my amazing support network), on Monday morning, my oncologist stormed in, fresh off an overseas flight.
That left implant has got to go, it’s held us up long enough says she. I never approved of getting a breast reconstruction pre-chemo! she adds. And honestly, she didn’t. But that’s because my arrogant surgeon didn’t let me meet the oncologist until after the surgery. Useless much? Yes.
Monday was an angry day.
I couldn’t honestly believe that as a result of all my myopic, self-centered, uncommunicative specialists (and this is the A-Team, remember!) I was going to lose Leftie again. I mean, for shame!!!
I insisted on a meeting of the Big Heads (in this case, my plastic surgeon and my oncologist), which to their credit, they both turned up to. And after some initial tensions, we eventually all sat down like some kind of “A-Team” (hah!) and as a unit agreed that Leftie had to go. What I needed was some basic sign that the various Big Heads actually realised the scope of what they were about to do to me. They were going to put me into immediate emergency surgery to clean up a mess of their creation. My problem was that the oncologist kept on saying that it was just a breast but it isn’t just a breast, it’s my bloody breast and it’s already mangled with a whopping great scar and it’s been stretched for weeks and weeks and fricking weeks so don’t tell me it’s just a breast.
You can get an idea of my state of mind. My oncologist’s core point, as usual, was that if I was dead due to lack of chemo, my breast was kind of irrelevant. Do you think I don’t know that? I mentally raged. Do you think that after all these months that I honestly haven’t figured out that cancer is life threatening yet? What kind of a moron do you think I am?
This is not about perspective, or values, or priories, but it is about my expectations. And I expect my A-Team to not only save me from cancer but also to acknowledge that I’m a complete human being and as such I give a shit about superficial things like breasts, and pain, and the almighty time suckage that comes out of a medical screw up like this one.
Whoa, still angry.
Anyway, obviously I somewhat managed to get my point across and eventually we were all singing from the same hymn sheet, albeit out of tune, and so I signed the consent form to have Leftie cut out, for the second time.
Isn’t that just the best part? That in the end I get to be my own executioner and sign away the life of a breast (again!) that was perfectly healthy to begin with!
On Tuesday the deed was done, and the surgery went fine, as always. It’s nice to know that I can depend on my ability to bounce out of surgery, Tigger style. It seems that some primitive life force springs out and dances around inside me going you’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive and you’re marvelous! so thank god for that. Thanks, body and spirit for being so unerringly optimistic in a shitty time such as this.
I hope that Leftie died again for a worthy cause, to help me get over this infection, to drive my elephant of pain away, to let me get on with chemo and knock that cancer dead once and for all.
If all that happens, as my A-Team promised me, then I’ll begrudge the six months of having to wear a fake boob (a prosthesis, as they say, which for some reason makes me think of comical false ghoul teeth).
I can’t wait to see what Medicare says when they hear that I’ve just had my fifth boob operated on. Tabloid TV, here we come.
Lopsided, walking in circles, half boobed love to you all…
This is a slightly difficult post to write, because I finally have to address the elephant in the room. If you’ve never heard the phrase before, you’re probably thinking that chemo brain has finally settled in. Fear not, this elephant is no result of chemo. His name is Pain, and he’s been my constant companion this last month.
This elephant of mine, I can see him, and my nearests and dearest can see him too. However, the medical profession resolutely could not see the elephant, up until two days ago when his looming presence actually showed up on an ultrasound and his weight displayed itself as a nasty mottled purple zone around my lower left breast.
Around the time of my egg harvesting, I had a most terrible weekend of pain. The harvesting itself was a walk in the park next to this unbearable, heavy, seering pain that had settled itself in my chest and back. I know that I stoically announced that pain was nothing next to fear shortly after surgery. Well, that pain was not this pain. It sounds bizarre, doesn’t it, that I could be spontaneously be hit by pain many times worse than the straight out of surgery, four drains, no breasts, a few battered lymph nodes pain.
But that’s the truth of it. I went to my surgeon and he said… nothing. He smiled sweetly and told me that I shouldn’t be worried about taking lots of heavy duty pain meds, and that this would pass, naturally, in time.
So the elephant and I battled on.
And a week or two passed, and I returned with my elephant, and still I was told that there was nothing to worry about. As I had started chemo, I was reliably informed that this elephant (if indeed such an elephant existed) was actually the responsibility of my oncologist.
So I led the elephant to my oncologist and she told me in no uncertain terms that if there was an elephant it was not a chemo elephant, because they are an entirely different species. This here (theoretically) was a surgical elephant.
So the elephant and I returned home once again, and we started having the most frightful shakes and shivers, and I wound up in the emergency department with my elephant. In emergency, they too failed to see my elephant. They failed to see anything, and when there is clearly nothing to pin symptoms on in the medical world, they have a name for this elephant. They call it a virus. So my former surgical now viral elephant and I returned home.
And another week passed, and the elephant grew so big he stopped me from leaving the house, and he would wake me constantly at night, not even every two hours, asking if he could have another pain killer please?
And still we shivered, and still we sweated, and I grew angry, and took my elephant back to the surgeon. I explained that he was clearly not a chemo elephant nor a viral elephant. I demanded that if no-one was to take responsibility for my elephant, that at least we must train him. The surgeon didn’t approve, so I went to the breast cancer nurses to see if they could see the elephant. They thought they might see an elephant and prescribed a few more pain killers just in case. At the same time, they saw a mouth ulcer and tonsillitis and thought perhaps they could pin the shivers on those culprits. So they sent me home with drugs to battle those new invaders, plus kindly agreed to find me a physiotherapist who specialised in disciplining out of control phantom elephants.
I appreciated this, as it appeared to be some kind of concession that the elephant existed.
Then over the next weekend, the elephant really went all out. He painted the house purple and trumpeted all through the night ensuring that I didn’t sleep at all.
So… (boy oh boy is this a long elephant story) on Tuesday I took my elephant back to visit the nice breast cancer nurses, and now that he’d painted the house purple it was pretty obvious he existed, so they photographed him on my iPhone and sent him to my surgeon.
The text sadly did not not actually read “Definitive Proof That Surgical Elephant Exists” but it did the trick regardless.
The elephant and I were taken for an ultrasound and the ultrasound technician knew exactly the species of elephant, bless him. Cellulitis, which is a soft tissue infection.
After another 24 hours, the elephant and I went to visit the surgeon again, this time wearing only a sun dress because it was hot.
Well, praise be, this time he saw the elephant! Its clinical name was Cellulitis, not Pain.
So the elephant had a name. But how, pray tell, does one treat a one month old out of control elephant on a rampage?
With IV drugs of course. For five days minimum. In hospital.
This is the end of day two, and the elephant is still with me, although I’m hoping I’m seeing signs of him weakening.
What is not weakening is my anger. When I say there’s a bloody elephant in the room, there’s an elephant, ok?
I have now lost a month of my life to an elephant. I haven’t worked in weeks, and even my chemo schedule is screwed up because you can’t go for chemo with an elephant.
So all I can say to patients everywhere is get feisty if there’s an elephant in the room. I didn’t, and look where it got me.
Someone get me an elephant gun.