Before I start, I want to say goodbye to Auntie Joan who passed away on Wednesday morning after a torrid relationship with dementia. She always had the capacity to make us laugh and that is how I will always remember her. I wondered what quote she would want me to write in her memory and I thought she would smile at this…
“I am ready to meet my Maker.
Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
Sir Winston Churchill
To Auntie Joan – thank you. I will never forget your infamous poem about the Italian on holiday and if I think about it too long, it makes me laugh out loud and in my current condition, makes my stitches bulge!
Rest in Peace, God Bless. xx
For me, the surgical journey began the day before my operation. I had been asked to arrive on the ward around 7pm. We had dinner at home which felt significant and left for hospital. I was assigned a huge ensuite room which would be mine for the duration of my stay; the children were delighted with the ‘garden view’ – though this rather grandiose description was a typical one bedded NHS magnolia room with a view.
All was well until Mark and the children had to leave and it was at that point, when I could see the fear rising in the children ‘s eyes and the tears starting to well, I realised how difficult it was going to be. We clung on to one another in a desperate attempt to elongate the moment but the time had come. The children stood at the door as I kissed Mark, as though for the last time and they left. My shoulders shuddered, my body already ached for them. I looked out into the garden and to my surprise caught sight of them going down the stairs, they saw me too; my heart a little lighter. Three more flights of stairs and at each one of them we waved until the last when we finally waved goodbye. My spirits had lifted a little in the grace of the unexpected moment. My named nurse came in and offered me a hot chocolate, digestive biscuit and so started the investigations that would become so frequent over the next 24 hours they felt like breathing.
There was no need to set an alarm – I woke up at 5.20am. I didn’t feel afraid or anxious in the slightest. I was ready. The next three hours were busy with numerous clinicians visiting; junior doctors arriving in groups; the consultant oncoplast concerned with removing every trace of cancerous cells; the consultant anaesthetist who discussed pain management. His visit was lengthy; he breezed in smelling of expensive aftershave advising me that for most women with an average pain threshold, the breast surgery was 4/10 on the pain score and the abdominal surgery was 10/10. Until this moment, I hadn’t’t even considered the abdominal surgery so I must confess, this was a a bit of a shocker! He carried on talking whilst I focused mentally on the 10/10 pain score and then I re-tuned in to what he was saying….’the chance of pressure sores during surgery because you will be in one position so long and the possibility of going bald on the back of your head’. It was like a Paul McKenna moment, suddenly, I was wide awake and fully tuned in, ‘could you repeat the last part about being bald please’. ‘Don’t worry he said, the hair tends to grow back pretty quickly.’ Well – it wouldn’t be growing back quickly enough in my mind…all I could think about was a bald patch of short spiky hair amidst the bountiful masses of brunette. This was a living nightmare!
The plastic surgeon was my last visitor. She breezed in with her beautiful Middle Eastern accent, full of confidence, as though I was having cosmetic surgery today by choice rather than as a necessity. ‘Darling, you will look better than you did before, I promise’. It’s very sweet of her to say so but to be honest, given the choice, I’d much rather not have to go through this in the first place. Give me slightly saggy boobs and a tummy that is rounded any day because this is not a cosmetic procedure and nothing will make up for the emotional and psychological baggage that has got me here today nor what is to come.
She grasped hold of my tummy and yanked it down in a single unflattering motion, marking my skin as she went. My belly button would be several inches higher than its current position and my cleavage would be relocated somewhere much closer to my chin.
I text my family, waiting and then the porter came, it was time to go. I sent a final text – ”it’s time,” and I walked up to theatre remembering when I used to work there and how vulnerable patients were at this point in their journey – today it was me.
Theatre looked familiar but more sophisticated. There were a lot of staff; eight clinicians and too many nursing staff to count, all there to help me – how lucky am I! It wasn’t long before I was drifting off into the land of slumber and nine hours later, I emerged with two new boobs, an abdominal scar measuring 19 inches across and the first words out of my mouth – “Am I bald?!!”
Having been laid out like Jesus on the Cross for nine hours, the next thing I did was start a little yoga and roll my shoulders gently forwards and backwards to increase the blood flow and to stimulate recovery. My faith, yoga and meditation are my healing triangle.
Here I am arriving back on the ward and then on the right, giddy with excitement as Mark FaceTimed my brother who was looking after the children, it was wonderful that we were all able to be in the room together even though we were miles apart. After my husband left and there was a moment of calm from the constant interruptions from staff. I phoned the hospital where dad was an inpatient to tell him I was okay. The nurses called him to the nursing station, got him a chair and I told him how it had gone, he wept, it was all too much.
During the first 24 hours, I was monitored every 30 minutes so there was not much time for sleep. I’d been prepared by the nurse before I arrived in hospital and the staff were very considerate, so at nighttime, the blood pressure cuff was left on my arm so the wire was seamlessly attached to as to minimise the disruption and the lights were left on as low as possible. Monitoring moves from every 30 minutes in the first 24 hours to every hour, they every 2 hours, every 4 hours et cetera. The room is also kept extremely warm to stimulate the blood flow to the new breast tissue so I kept a cold flannel on my forehead which helped me to sleep and keep me cool. As hard as it is, you need to try and rest in between staff visits.
On the left, I’m wearing beautiful Flowtrons with five attractive velcro panels from ankle to knee – even Cara Delevingne would struggle to make the intermittent pneumatic compression stockings attractive but I did my best with the added bonus of a venflon in my foot – deep joy! Add to the picture, pressure sores on the soles of my feet from the long surgical procedure and you get a very glamorous picture (and they’re not even the main event!). The plastic thing in the front of the picture is a Bair Hugger – this is a lightweight electric blanket for want of a better description and is designed to keep you hot. I could not wait for my consultant to give the green light for this to be removed which was the morning after surgery.
Moving swiftly to Saturday and a nurse very kindly located what I can only describe as glass slippers to alleviate the pressure sores, alternatively known as silicone heel protectors. The pain of the bed sores was worse than the operative pain until I was given these amazing slippers which enabled me to sleep again. In the photo on the right, the are being held in place by a tubi-grip on top of TED stockings.
On day two, I asked the nursing staff if I could have a shower and was told ‘certainly not’ in no uncertain terms, so I spoke to my consultant and managed to persuade her. It was a bit tricky with drains and pain infusers attached but worth it.
Have drains will travel…now I’d been given permission to shower there was no stopping me and furthermore, why sit in my pyjamas when I could get dressed? On the left, setting off for a stroll around the ward which was a useful reminder of how lucky I was. In the middle – removing the drains which was uneventful unlike removing the pain infuser which snapped inside of me and meant I couldn’t leave hospital on day three as planned but worse, I had to go back to theatre – hey ho. The picture on the right is me doing an adapted Vriksasana or Tree Pose to accommodate my limited ability following surgery. The Physio team in hospital have all be genuinely surprised at how much flexibility I’ve had, from straightening my back after the operation, to shoulder mobility and have put this down to yoga.
A blessed gift available from Jen’s Friends – via Facebook and Twitter @rainbows67 for a minimum donation of £3.50. This pillow has been fabulous for travelling around particularly when in the car under the seatbelt to alleviate the pressure on my bionic boob.
36 hours at home before going back to theatre and having the pain infuser removed left me feeling very tired. Negotiating the stairs, walking greater distances and sitting down on chairs that were way lower than the ones in hospital were exhausting but sleeping in my own bed – was like a dream. Ben surprised me with the flowers on my bedside table and Gracie treated me to new pyjamas too so I felt very spoiled.
Five days post op, showing became a family affair – we moved a chair into the cubicle as my back was too painful to be stood up for too long. Here I am getting some help washing my hair…
I must confess, these are not my most glamorous photos!
Overwhelmed by gifts galore including cooked dinners and cakes a bounty which I wasn’t able to show because we ate them! Thank you, thank you, thank you – it has meant so much, more than you will ever know.
My week at home has been blessed with people visiting and so many more people wanting to visit. I am tired though now, and by the end of week two, feel as though everything is catching up with me somewhat. The rash that led to the cancellation of my op reappeared on Wednesday. My GP did suggest I should take some painkillers; I am taking no pain killers at the moment as my pain is bearable. I don’t intend to be a martyr to it and if I need something will take it but for now, I am taking turmeric for inflammation, phosphorus and a post surgical preparation made by Helios in Tunbridge Wells.
I had my dressings taken off yesterday and the reality of the scars are left behind. I was fine in clinic but when I got home I got undressed to reflect on my own and looked in the mirror. Only a few weeks before there had been smooth skin that my hand would easily slide over, a body I was familiar with; freckles that had appeared from sun damage on holidays I could remember; stretch marks from the extraordinarily wide girth I adopted when I was pregnant; slightly droopy boobs appropriate of a woman my age who proudly breast fed both of her children. As I caught sight in the the mirror, it did not look like me anymore. My abdomen with a jaws like gash across the middle and now another cut in my groin where the second, unsuccessful, procedure to remove the pain infuser had taken place. My breasts, now feel like they have been strategically placed on my chest rather than an integral part of me. They are more like Chelsea Buns than breast. There are a number of cuts all over my boobs and the sensation of fullness is overwhelming, my clothes rub on my skin as though chaffing, they are sore even to the slightest touch.
But then I give myself a stern talking to and I look down and I have a cleavage, something mum didn’t have from being 37 years old. My boobs are odd sizes and I think I’ll need some more surgery but I have choices, more than many women have. The scars will lessen, they are simply angry right now but they will fade. I’m up and about and walking a couple of miles a day after only two weeks and I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing that so whoopee! This jigsaw of a body will tell a story, a chapter in my life.
It may not be linear progress, some days may be more painful, more difficult, more of a struggle. Other days, I will walk farther, do more yoga, make more strides to getting better but each day is part of this journey towards completion and I will continue to take one step at a time and I know everyone is behind me and for that, I am truly blessed.
Thank you for everything xx
I am not ready to post pictures of my new boobs on line for the sake of the children as much as anything – I’m not sure how they’d feel if their teenage friends saw their mum posing on line! Maybe that will change but for now, anyone who is genuinely going through this who would like to see bionic boobs or foobs as they are often called, please get in touch.