Early that morning as I left for Kingsbury Hospital I felt like I had entered a free-fall zone; the sound of quiet rushing past my ears. I was hearing people talk but not really comprehending. I felt like I was being lead like a lamb to the slaughter. Before surgery I was sent for a PET scan: positron emission tomography. They injected nuclear medication into my veins which had radioactive tracers to help detect disease/cancer in my body; I just knew I had to get through it. I didn’t like it but it had to be done. I felt invaded; like a victim. I was grateful that Derek came with me. He was my anchor in this personal storm of mine: breast cancer, double mastectomy, the first time surgery and hospitals.
Waiting before surgery
took a long time,
Surrendering to the process.
All the time Derek
Anchoring me in my choppy sea.
So many unknowns –
but I trust the process.
Trust each professional to do their job well.
I found the nursing staff uplifting in a gentle way. They allowed Derek to go all the way through to the waiting area of the surgical ward. Till the last moment he stayed. I felt better not being alone. I can’t impress on you how important it is to have supportive friends and family. If you are supporting someone don’t underestimate your value. Once it was time for me to go in Derek and I hugged and I was wheeled into the operating theater. I felt like I was surrendering my dignity to the onslaught of what had to be done. No turning back.
A few words were exchanged with the anaesthetist; the lights swirled out and later the day broke into my unconscious world. I was waking up, groggy and woozy. It was over. I was still alive. The report was that the cancer was not 18mm but 22 mm; no cancer found in the first node and no cancer in the other breast. So just as well I had the biopsy when I did. The PET and MRI also showed that I was in the clear.
In some ways this part of the experience is a bit of a blur and that is possibly a good thing for you otherwise you would be getting all the gory details. All I remember was being told that I said weird things to my family when I woke up like: ‘Dr N was a truck driver and drove backwards and forwards over my chest.’ I felt broken. I also joked, ‘I am a caterpillar with my two middle legs amputated.’ My drug-induced jokes were not received well; instead my family went home feeling perplexed.
The nurses were kind in their care. I awoke to drains attached to me; one for each breast. It makes sense but it was a surprise. I had been told that the first stage of reconstruction went well but I wasn’t aware of anything except being bandaged up. At this point there was little pain because I was topped up with morphine. (More about the drains and pain in a further post.) The next morning I had a fever due to developing bronchitis; possibly because I suffer from asthma but with physio and antibiotics I recovered quickly.
Magical thinking: ‘it won’t happen if I don’t think about it.’
Why am I writing about my breast cancer, you may ask? At first I thought I would not write about my story because out of respect for close women I knew (one friend and one sister-in-law) as they had died from breast cancer. It was a very sad time. I guess it was survivor’s guilt that kept me from writing about it. Now I feel that I owe it to them and others who may experience breast cancer: you personally, or family or friend, to share my story. It is not my intention to be sensational but to tell of my felt experiences. I would not like to dispel the fear around cancer but to ask that you would respect its onslaught and make yourself acquainted with it. Knowledge it’s potential impact and face the reality head-on. It is my hope that by sharing my story it might be of help to someone else.
I definitely felt that if I didn’t think about cancer it wouldn’t happen to me. This is magical thinking. I had an irrational fear that if I contemplated cancer I would somehow open myself up to it. ‘If I don’t mention the ‘C’ word or read about the topic I would be exempt.’ It’s like my fears about snakes. If I don’t have to look at them they won’t harm me. That is avoidance. The problem is that our mind finds a truth and embellishes it with irrational thinking. It is true that cancer is life threatening but there is a good chance of surviving if you catch it in the early stages. Better to be vigilant and have your regular checkups than to pretend it doesn’t exist. I know quite a few people personally who have survived cancer, not without a fight. Women have lived into their 80s and 90s.
Despite the fear of surgery, the unknown of what might go wrong – fear of death, and the very real issue of pain after the surgery I am glad I faced it and overcame. I don’t feel like I am living on borrowed time; rather that I have been gifted with extra time. I don’t feel the pressure to ‘do’ something meaningful with my life because of what I went through but rather to appreciate what I have and to share my life with others. That is what I hope to do when I write to you. So please feel free to share my experience with anyone who might need it.
Keep a look out for my posts on Wednesdays if you want to read about the recovery and reconstruction. It takes months.
And appreciate what you have while you have it. Seriously!
If you want to read the sequence of events from the beginning you can find them here:
Forth Facing my fear of surgery,
Seventh Breast reconstruction.