My Hero

3 Oct

A few months ago I read The C Word, by Lisa Lynch. I’ve been following her blog for ages and I also follow her on Twitter. All in all, I feel like I know this wonderful woman, despite having never met, and having never had any interaction with her apart from Lisa sometimes replying to my tweets (I still get starstruck every time, because I’m a doofus).

She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the tender age of 28. In reading her book and her blog, I identified so much with her, and she’s been a real inspiration for how to make it through ‘The Bullshit’ (as she calls it) with grace and with humour (and the odd tantrum here and there). And, more importantly, how to live life once all the needles, scans, tests, and hospital appointments begin to wane. I know she’d be proud that I’ve titled this post “My Hero” after a fabulous Foo Fighters track, because, the self-confessed doofus she also is, she’s a massive Dave Grohl fan and secretly wants to marry him (if she didn’t already have the most wonderful husband in the word. Second to mine of course). Continue reading


Whole again

25 Jul

Another day, another hospital gown – with “hospital property” stamped all over it (like anyone in their right mind is going to steal it).

I was sitting waiting for my first consult with a plastic surgeon to begin the road to being whole again. They kept me waiting for ages, I’d read and re-read everything on the walls in the room including a baa-baa black sheep poster, the writing on the boxes of latex gloves, a poster about melanoma and a notice about ACC. I listened to and watched dozens of pairs of shoes walk past the curtained-off room (or maybe it was just one person walking back and forth dozens of times), until finally a young, spritely little registrar came in to greet me.

Registrar: “So you’re here for a breast reconstruction? Good. What are you wanting to get out of this?”

Me: “Umm… a new one?”

What kind of question is that? I wasn’t quite prepared for it. I mean, am I allowed other stuff too? No one told me this was a “you want fries with that new boob?” kind of deal.

After a short awkward silence we moved on to the next point of business, whipping my top off to let him take a gander (less awkward, considering how often I have to do that these days). He got out his tape measure and took all sorts of measurements, drew all over me and noted things on his piece of paper, and whilst doing this he kept frowning… I don’t think he realised he was doing it and I just about told him to stop it, but then I’m very shy (event without my boob out) so kept my mouth shut.

There are several different options when it comes to breast reconstruction. In one method, they insert a tissue expander underneath the skin, which they then progressively fill with saline over a few months, which serves to stretch the skin into a boob shape, and once it’s sufficiently stretched they whip the tissue expander out and replace it with a silicone implant. This option won’t be so good for me since I’ve had radiation to my skin (another post coming), which means that it is a bit more fragile than normal. I’m not that keen on an implant anyway, don’t like the idea of having something foreign in my body. Plus, I’ve got heck of a long time to live with it – and we all know fake ones don’t age quite the same as natural ones. I can’t imagine that one standing proudly to attention, while the other is heading southwards will be a good look for the future. The other options are taking muscle, fat and skin from either my stomach (free tummy tuck!) or my back. There are different methods with these options too, and it all gets a bit confusing. There’s not much fat on my back, and the radiation to my armpit reached around to my back too, so he didn’t seem to be keen on that option. Although, he didn’t seem sure there was enough “spare” tissue around my stomach to be able to reconstruct a breast either – “I could always grow some more!” I joked (like he’s never heard that one before. Facepalm).

I must have looked like a difficult case because after the frowny registrar had finished measuring, poking and sizing me up (read: grabbing a handful of tummy fat, then comparing that with a handful of boob), he went and got his senior.

This guy rattled quickly through all my options without taking the time to make sure I knew what he was talking about (I didn’t) and huffed a bit when talking about the fact that I wasn’t keen for an implant. So we started talking about the options around taking tissue from my stomach. I asked how this would affect future pregnancies. He said that it may make the abdominal area weaker, but didn’t seem to give me straight answer. He then proceeded to say that considering that this procedure is cosmetic, and child bearing is a much more important life choice, that perhaps I should consider delaying the reconstruction until after I’ve had my children.

Firstly, this is a HELL of a lot more than just a “cosmetic” procedure. No matter how much I try to pretend it doesn’t really affect me, and how many times my husband says I’m beautiful, it is a constant battle. I long for the day when I can look in the mirror and be symmetrical again, feel confident with little or no clothes on, have lights on sex, wear shoestring straps and low cut tops (not skanky ones though). It affects my self image, my mental health, my wardrobe choices (how dear it!) and my relationship. I’m not just some bored housewife out to get a new pair to fill out her designer tops you know.

Secondly, wait until AFTER I’ve had children to put myself back together again? Already I have to wait another 2 years (hormone therapy, another post, soon) before I can even start thinking about conceiving. Then even if I do get pregnant without too much trying (unlikely, considering what my body has been through), if I want to have a couple of kids, and do some breastfeeding with my one good boob, that stacks up to at least another 7 or so years in the mono boob club. HELL TO THE NO BUDDY!

Of course, the ability to have children is far higher up my priority list than a replacement for my righty, and if it came down to it and I had to choose, I would pick the former, but why the hell can’t I have it both ways? *stamps feet and has tantrum*

I could only articulate part of what I was thinking/feeling at this point, and simply said that I would rather not wait.

As you can probably gather, I didn’t exactly warm to this guy. It was compounded more when he said he didn’t do DIEP reconstructions (apparently this is the one that I wanted, however I didn’t know what he was talking about and had to Google it later). What do you mean you don’t do a particular type of reconstruction? What kind of surgeon are you? I expect the creator of my new boob to be an expert in everything, and I need that person to be someone I have the utmost confidence in. I was about to ask if I could talk to another surgeon then, but I didn’t need to, because he said that he thinks I should see one of his other (younger) colleagues. Thank GAWD.

So, all in all, I didn’t really get much out of my first plastic surgery consultation. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but I’m pleased that I’ve been scheduled to see another, more technically proficient surgeon, who does do DIEPs. Whatever those are…

(DIEP reconstructions I later found out are where they take just fat and skin from your stomach, and leave the muscle alone, therefore resulting in a faster recovery, and far less abdominal weakness, than the traditional TRAM flap reconstructions)

Rail Trail Day 4

27 Apr

Feeling: pleased with myself & proud of my family
Distance travelled: 52 km
Average speed: 15.7 km/h

I intended to write this last night but I was too busy out celebrating our achievement with a meal out with the family, followed by (most of) a bottle of Hinton ‘I survived the rail trail’ Pinot Gris.

It was bloody cold starting out yesterday from Waipiata and with 52 km to bike (our biggest day overall) it seemed a bit daunting. The day was mostly downhill though and the weather fined up from an overcast morning to show off more stunning Central Otago scenery. This was a day of dramatic vistas looking down towards the Taieri river, and across the Strath Taieri plains.

Some of us did a little detour (on foot) just before the Hyde rail tunnel down to the Hyde diversion tunnel. This was bored out to divert the Taieri river to assist with gold mining back in the day. It was well worth the steep walk to see the stunning views and observe the water gushing through the tunnel at a ridiculously high speed.

We stopped for lunch in Hyde, where I had a Speights steak & ale pie, with a Speights Summit on the side. Just what I needed to get me through to the finish line. Our group all met up in Ngapuna (as we were normally riding in smaller groups or pairs along the way) to ride the last 7 km together. They let me lead the pack the whole way to the end at Middlemarch. It was slightly anti-climactic though – we weren’t sure if it was the end or not (there was no stamp box for our Rail Trail passports!) so we were all just standing around going ‘is that it?!’. I think we all thought we deserved a welcoming party, or confetti or something. Nonetheless, it was an awesome feeling to finally finish and stamping that last page of my passport book (once we realised the stamp box was down the road) was extremely satisfying.

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Rail Trail day 3

25 Apr

Feeling: tired and a bit sore
Distance travelled: 33 km
Average speed: not sure because I accidentally had Runkeeper going when we were in the van coming back from Naseby! Estimate around 17 km/h.

Who would have thought the fun factor associated with biking would increase exponentially when one switches from uphill to downhill terrain? We passed the highest point on the trail this morning after a short (not that it felt short at the time) climb out of Oturehua and it felt AWESOME gunning it downhill into Wedderburn. The weather hasn’t been as kind to us today – it was pretty cold, and quite windy at times.

We cycled downhill to Ranfurly where we stopped at the pub for lunch before being picked up to take a detour to Naseby to give curling a go. A sport that I’ve thought looked completely ridiculous when I’ve seen it on TV was actually loads of fun. Hilarious watching each of us initially attempt the slide delivery of the stone, but everyone managed to get the hang of it in the end. And, my team won.

There’s been lots of lovely old buildings to look at and photograph today. Ranfurly has several art deco style buildings and Naseby is like taking a step back in time. A time where stores didn’t have snazzy made up trading names, but just the owners surname and the stores purpose clearly displayed.

After getting back to Ranfurly we had a short, but cold, journey to our final stop for the day in Waipiata. The colours of this Central Otago landscape in the late afternoon sun were absolutely stunning.

We have fabulous accommodation at the Waipiata Country Hotel, with the whole guest wing to ourselves. We arrived and the fire was already roaring in the guest lounge, and all our rooms are lovely. We had a great evening meal here too and I’m more than ready for a good nights sleep now.

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Rail trail day 2

24 Apr

Feeling: drunk & happy
Distance travelled: 36.2 km
Average speed: 11.5 km/h

After spending the night at the Omakau Bedpost, in the old post office building, we got back on the bikes & did a little detour to Ophir in the morning which was well worth the 6 km return trip. It’s a tiny town with a handful of really cute historic buildings and a pretty awesome bridge.

We got back on the trail and biked to Lauder where we grabbed a takeaway lunch to have later (best cheese scones in all the land from here!). The weather was cooler & cloudier than yesterday & the wind picked up top which didn’t make the climb towards Oturehua any fun. We all got through it OK though, and there was some absolutely amazing scenery along the way, including two tunnels and the majestic Poolburn gorge & viaduct (and a spirited discussion over what exactly the definition of a viaduct was).

My youngest sister, who has recently moved to Queenstown, has come to stay with us tonight, which is awesome because I haven’t seen her since she moved several weeks ago. She brought me a bottle of Pinot Gris that I ordered too which sweetens it even more.

After a BBQ tea, and the bottle of PG (which I shared!) we went down to the Oturehua pub to play some pool and darts. Then it was back to our accommodation for some cards and drinks. I’ve had a great night. Hope my head is OK in the morning.

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Rail Trail Day 1

23 Apr

Feeling: ridiculously full
Distance travelled: 40 km
Average speed: 11.5 km/h

Right now I’m in the Omakau Commercial Hotel recovering from a seriously good buffet meal – although by the time I get to post this we’ll be somewhere else as there’s barely any cell reception here, and there’s an even slimmer chance of picking up a data connection.

We left from Clyde this morning after having a wonderful nights stay at a B & B (Argyll on Clyde) & biked to Alexandra where we had to stop to get my brother in laws bike fixed (huge shout out to Henderson Cycles & Mowers for helping us out). There’s 11 of us altogether – my husband & I, my sister & brother in law, my mum, my mother & father in law, my two brothers in law & my sister in law & her husband.

Once we got back on the trail we made our way to Chatto Creek where we had an awesome lunch at the Chatto Creek tavern. We were feeling pretty good at this point, but the hardest bit was coming up. In hindsight, having a big lunch before attempting the steepest portion of the rail trail possibly wasn’t the best idea.

It seemed like forever biking uphill (in reality it was only about 7 km) but we all made it. And coming downhill the final few kms to Omakau was fantastic.

So far there has been wonderful scenery, great food and lots of Lycra. Looking forward to tomorrow.

If you are so inclined you can follow my tweets throughout this trip using the #railtrail hashtag.

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End of an era

21 Apr

It has been a crazy, stressful past few weeks. I was planning on 1) celebrating, and 2) relaxing, given I had my last chemo exactly two weeks ago, but that didn’t exactly happen. The company I work(ed) for went into liquidation on 31st March and we all lost our jobs. We started finding out the state of affairs around a week before this, and it felt like we were all kind of in limbo, waiting for an official announcement to be made so we could all move on. I then had to decide what to do with my life/career. The problem was I had too many options! I was approached by another company who wanted me to work for them, either in a permanent or contracting role, but there was also the opportunity to independently contract to a new company started by three of my old colleagues.

I had to choose between a secure job, with a very decent salary, or something not so secure, but potentially very exciting, and the opportunity to be my own boss. I took a leap of faith and went for the latter. I am now owner/director/consultant/administrator/lackey/coffee lady at my new company The New Black Online Solutions Ltd. Please don’t judge my website, I haven’t had any time to do it property, but it is on the (very long) list of things to do! It’s an exciting time, but also a sad time as we had a great team of people there, and I’m going to really miss working with everyone.

A decent nights sleep has been hard to come by. With all of the above going on, I’ve also been having to cope with hot flushes waking me up several times throughout the night. A side effect from the chemo. This condition even has a gloriously colloquial name – chemopause. It’s been going on for about a month now, and it’s really starting to piss me off. It happens frequently throughout the day, but also at night, when I wake up in a hot sweat and have to throw all the covers off. Then, if I can get back to sleep (which I often can’t because I’ve had so much on my mind), I end up waking up again because I’m freezing with no blankets on.

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Delayed reaction

6 Mar

A few weeks ago it dawned on me that I hadn’t blogged about my first Paclitaxel treatment. Since then I’d been meaning to write about it (honest I had!) but then something really major happened. My beloved city of Christchurch was devastated by a M6.3 earthquake. As anyone in New Zealand knows, we have suffered massive loss of buildings, infrastructure damage and much, much worse, people have been taken from us. Now it seems to blog about anything other than the earthquake would be trivial, even insensitive. I mean, I’m still battling my own bullshit, but so many people are having to deal with much worse circumstances than me. I will go ahead with my intended post though, because perhaps it will be useful to someone, and because it does help to think about something else for a moment.

On January 12th I switched from AC chemotherapy (given every three weeks) to Paclitaxel. I was slightly pissed off about having to switch from a three-weekly regimen to a weekly regimen. Chemo is enough of a drag without having to go in to the hospital to get it every week. It is administered slightly differently than the AC treatment. With AC treatment, the ‘A’ (Adriamycin, also called doxorubicin) is pushed through with a syringe, and the ‘C’ (cyclophosphamide) is given through a drip. Paclitaxel on the other hand is administered through a line hooked up to a machine that pumps it through. Continue reading

Regrowth and radiation

14 Feb

I am sporting a great new ‘do. I would say it’s about a number 1, pushing a number 2 perhaps. I started noticing some regrowth about a week after my first paclitaxel treatment. I thought I might have been imagining it. I was checking myself out in the mirror every chance I got, straining my eyes to try and find evidence of tiny new hairs on my almost bald head. It was kind of hard to see because I hadn’t lost all of my hair. I still had some straggly bits that I was holding on to like some kind of victory prize. I kept making people take a look at it and see if they could see any new hairs poking through or not. I don’t think they could. But it felt different. And then this dark line started forming at the front. But maybe that was  just where my wig or headscarf had been rubbing during the day. Then it started coming back downstairs and since all of that was gone I could definitely confirm, without a doubt that my hair was growing back. Wohoo! I was so stoked! And I didn’t care that the regrowth on my head was starting with a frullet at the front. A week or so later my head looked like a giant peach with a lovely fuzz all over. Now, 3 or so weeks later, it’s grown to a point where I can feel confident enough to go about town sans headwear. And, lucky reader, I am even feeling bold enough to post a picture ON THE INTERWEB for you. So here you go:

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Halfway there

9 Jan

A new year and a new milestone – it will be 12 weeks tomorrow since my first chemo treatment meaning that I’m halfway through this step in the crappy process that is beating breast cancer.

Since my last (and first) post about chemotherapy I have had two further treatments. I was anticipating that the side effects would get worse as the weeks go by, but it has been fairly smooth sailing. I am so grateful that my body is coping OK with all of this as there are so many other people out there who have a really rough time with chemo.  There have been a few noticeable, but unexpected side effects though, including: Continue reading