My life of late has become a collection of very bizarre events.
In the early days of diagnosis, cancer is pretty all-consuming. Not only because it’s a massive freak-out, but also because it seriously does take over your life in all respects. You live and breathe it day after day.
On the 5th of December, I went from strolling through a standard, Friday morning, to being suddenly whisked off for urgent scans and tests. Before I knew it, I was meeting surgeons and having little chunks of tumour bored from my boob and armpit. What a balls-up that was for my perfectly planned Friday, and every other one since!
I joked recently that having cancer is a bit like having a newborn. I KNOW. TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE comparison. Newborns are beautiful, joyful little creatures who smell divine, make gorgeous noises and fill you with more love than you ever thought possible.
SO WHAT THE HELL WAS I TALKING ABOUT?!
When I made that absurd comment (to my husband – who for the record ogled me like I was seriously cray-cray) I was referring to the time factor. Newborns take up amazing amounts of time – time that just disappears and you’re not exactly sure where it went. They need lots of appointments too. And energy. They need all of your energy.
Cancer is the same. In the last two months I have been ferried around to a myriad of appointments, tests and procedures. I’ve had to meet surgeons, oncologists, breast care nurses, clinical trial researchers, blah blah blah blah blah.
And it has completely set up permanent, prominent residence in my brain, whereby practically everything I think or say now, is done through this new cancer lens. It is incessant, exhausting and at times plain cruel.
And fucking unfair. But whatever. Let’s not dwell on that.
Back to the original point of my post…
My life has become quite, quite bizarre. I want to share with you one particularly wacky event that involved me lying topless with giant syringes being prodded into my boobs (if I can call them that – I don’t even know what they are anymore!)
I’m sure you’re all aware by now that I had a bilateral mastectomy about four weeks ago. Well, for those who haven’t done Breast Cancer 101, a mastectomy is the removal of all your breast tissue. This can be done prophylactically, as way of preventing breast cancer occurring in people who are high risk (aka Angelina Jolie), or combatively once invasive cancer has been detected. I unfortunately needed both lopped off.
Mastectomies can be skin-sparing or nipple-sparing if the disease hasn’t affected these areas, and reconstruction can be done immediately or following cancer treatments. I (again, unfortunately) couldn’t keep my nipples, so they got the flick too. I was however, able to keep my skin (YAY!) and had a plastic surgeon reconstruct my boobs mounds during the mammoth eight-hour operation.
I opted for some temporary implants, called tissue expanders, which were popped in under my pectoral muscles and filled with saline. These will be expanded at regular intervals throughout my treatment and then replaced with proper implants, or my own tissue, at a later date.
Last Tuesday, at 8am, I was lying topless in my plastic surgeon’s rooms, waiting for my expanders to be filled before chemo started.
My plastic surgeon (let’s call him Mr. Cool) is ace. I think when picking someone to rebuild you some boobs, and sew you up as seamlessly as possible, he is the total epitome of what you would want. He is polished, has perfectly coiffed hair and is always impeccably dressed in exactly the same black shirt and white tie combo each time I see him. I guess he knows what works and feels no need to mess with perfection! I imagine his wardrobe at home being kitted out with an amazing array of identical black shirts and white ties. Perhaps he goes all out with an ‘egg-shell’ one occasionally, just to mix it up a bit. Who knows!
Anyhoo… back to being topless. This is how wacky my life has become. Everyone is getting a gawk at my boobs these days. Quite frankly, I’m happy to show them around – to me they don’t feel sensual and private like they used to. They are hard, round, tight and not at all reminiscent of the soft breasts that were once mine, the breasts that nurtured my children (and let’s face it: the breasts that then decided to turn on me). Harrumph.
As expansion time was slim, my surgeon and his lovely assistant decided to simultaneously tackle a boob each. Smart move, I thought. They waved little magnets over my skin to find the small metal port in each expander, and then proceeded to come at me with giant syringes filled with saline. Without much warning, they plunged both needles deep into my boobs. My poor pec muscles had a complete hissy fit, spasmed in protest and I very nearly jumped off the bed and out the door! Importantly though, Mr. Cool was very cool and calm throughout.
Afterwards, he took photos and made notes on his handiwork. “Cleavage is good…Shape is not, but we don’t worry about that at this stage, Kate. Size….hmmm. I think we go bigger.”
BIGGER!!!! That means more giant syringes and pectoral spasm sessions. Bloody hell.
Radiotherapy, which I am due to have in May, can shrink your skin and exacerbate scarring. Therefore, Mr. Cool suggests we combat this by going bigger now. Each time I have my boobs filled, they become so tight and hard I feel like they could burst. I am not used to these round, rock hard mounds that announce themselves uncomfortably in hugs, prevent me from sleeping on my stomach and don’t flatten when I lie on my back. They stand at attention no matter the direction!
On the plus side, I no longer need to wear a bra. I haven’t tested this out on a run yet, but once I’m feeling stronger that’s precisely what I’m going to do. I’m also looking forward to rocking a one-piece bathing suit and a strapless top. (I haven’t dared to wear one since the fateful top-drop of 1997.) I’m also looking forward to being 80 years old with the boobs of a teenager. (Yeah…not so much!)
Wishing you all many, many leisurely strolls through standard Fridays, and absolutely no giant syringes and pec spasms in sight.
PS. And you want to know about the whole nipple situation? Tattoos. Apparently they can look quite 3D with the right artist. Or I could go all out and do like butterflies or dolphins instead. My four year-old’s vying for unicorns.