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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)

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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1 Dec

This has already been brilliantly summed up by a new favourite discovery Boganette, but I feel the need to add my two cents.

A new breast cancer awareness campaign has been launched by online magazine/blog/girly website NZGirl. The tagline of the campaign is “I’ve got a lovely pair”.

Well. That’s nice for all the lovely young women with lovely pairs of boobs that are healthy and cancer-free but what about those of us that do not have a perfect pair? I find it a tad insensitive.

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Making babies

31 Oct

I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks but better late than never huh.

During the writing of my last post I was about 2 weeks into IVF treatment. I decided to subject myself to this crappy process (read: needles every day and mood swings every other day) in order to put some embryos aside in case the upcoming chemo wrecks my fertility.

From the 6th September until 29th September I had to inject myself every morning with a hormone called buserelin. Then from the 30th September until the 6th October I had to have the buserelin every morning, and then a Gonal-F injection every evening. Great fun. It didn’t stop me going up north for 10 days though for my sister in law’s hens’ weekend and fabulous wedding. Pissed me off though that I had to leave the wedding earlier than I would have liked just to go home and stab myself yet another time. All for a good cause everyone kept reminding me. Continue reading

No pain, no gain

19 Sep

Wow, it’s been a month since I posted last. There’s been a few things going on. Getting my gammy arm back to normal has been one challenge. I’ve been seeing the physiotherapists at the hospital regularly to try and pull it back into shape. They like to stretch my arm out until it starts hurting, and then pull it just a little further. Not fun! But it has to be done, and for all their efforts, and for my efforts at home stretching regularly, I can now get it straight up and down. Wohoo!! (It’s the little things). I even managed to bust out the YMCA moves at a wedding I went to recently. A wedding that was held despite the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Canterbury in the early hours of Saturday 4th September. It was a gorgeous spring day and a beautiful wedding. Much love and respect to Raukura and Phill for pulling it all together despite all the ups and downs (literally!)

Me with my girls at Raukura and Phill's wedding

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Positive results

18 Aug

I’ve been staring at this post wondering how to start it for half an hour so will just make a bulleted list instead:

  • The tumour is defined as an invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC)
  • It has been classed as a grade 3 (where grade 1 tumour cells are somewhat abnormal, and grade 3 are very abnormal)
  • Positive for oestrogen (ER+) and progesterone (PR+) receptors
  • Probably negative for HER2 receptors (has been sent away for further testing to confirm)
  • Just one lymph node involved out of 18 tested – and it was only a micrometastasis (good)

My surgeon was very happy. She said we couldn’t have hoped for better. It was great to hear that, particularly because I was a bit gutted when she said it was ER+ and PR+. She said it was good because hormone positive cancers tend to be less aggressive than negative ones, and they can treat it with hormone therapy to really kick it’s butt. I’m still not keen on taking hormone therapy pills for 5 years (can’t get pregnant when you’re on them) but will discuss that further with my oncologist and make up my mind once I have all the facts. She did say that you can do a 2 year course, then try to have children, then complete your course after you’ve had your baby, so perhaps it’s not all bad.

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Post surgery wrap up

13 Aug

Surgery sucks balls.

It’s been 9 days now since my mastectomy and I’m still sore, and likely to still be sore for many weeks yet, although it should get better (so they say). I’m getting frustrated by not being back to 100% already. But that’s me, impatient, and known to want everything done yesterday.

But despite my whining, the doctors say I’m recovering well.

After meeting with the nurse, the anaesthetist and my surgeon, they took me into surgery around 9.15 a.m., Wednesday 4th August. I don’t recall being scared or nervous at all, but then again they had given me a lovely little calming pre-med around half an hour earlier 🙂 The anaesthetic technician spent a while trying to find a vein, then wheeled me into theater and the next thing I remember was waking up in the recovery room.

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