The Morning It Got Real – Surgery

So the day of surgery finally arrived.  I have never been into hospital properly for anything and the thought scared me.  The night before I tried to put it out of mind knowing that I needed a decent night’s sleep.

We were up early as they call you for about 7am and we drove in quietly through the dark streets with barely any traffic.  That morning, every single traffic-light let us through, and I really wished they hadn’t.  I would have preferred to have driven myself as driving takes your mind off things – but there was no way my husband would have let that happen, mainly because he hates my driving!

We sat in a room full of other ladies, all in the same situation, all waiting for their pre- op checks.  Luckily for me I was first up, so no chance to dwell.

My surgeon (my angel) the same lady who had delivered my diagnosis arrived and took me to have a final discussion and confirm my choices about my surgery and reconstruction.  I had chosen to opt for a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and implant on both sides.

I will never forget that morning she was so kind and reassuring.  So pretty and intelligent, but yet matter of fact, and assured me that all of her procedures were ‘second nature’ to her.  She also had children, around my children’s ages and she just ‘got it’ you could tell.  All of this matters a great deal to me, the fact that I knew I could trust her and that she understood the importance if what she was about to do.

I kissed and hugged my husband, careful not to show my fear and I ushered him into town to try to take his mind off waiting for me to re-emerge from theatre. After signing several consent forms and donning my sexy surgery socks I was called in. The anaesthetist tried to talk to me, but soon realised that it was pointless in trying to make small talk and the nerves had kicked in.  I thankfully do not remember another thing after this point, and it definitely was not as bad as I thought.

When I woke up, the first person I saw was my surgeon – and I am embarrassed to admit that I asked her to stay with me and hold my hand.  She did for a few minutes until I drifted back out of consciousness.  My husband found the next part of me ‘coming round’ hilarious as apparently a babbled all sorts of crap much to his amusement.

Of course when I woke up the next morning a piece of me had been taken away.  In its place lots of bandages and discomfort, but this was managed by the pain relief. Every morning I flashed my new boobs to several attending consultants and I quickly got over any shred of shyness I had left after giving birth to two children.

My consultant seemed really pleased with the results and she came to check on me every day as did my breast care nurse. I in turn, embarked upon my rehabilitation with a determined mind.  Every day I made myself get up and showered, changed, did my hair and ordered the healthiest foods I could keep down.  When I couldn’t keep anything down in the beginning the kind kitchen staff snuck extra crackers and cheese onto my tray to try to get me to eat something.

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Family & friends made visits to cheer me up, and eventually even the children came and sat on my bed sneaking in fish & chips after school, and giving me much needed cuddles.  This was the longest time we had ever been apart and it was tough going.

The whole hospital stay was exhausting and all the while the bandages stayed on and the drains annoyingly stayed in place until my hospital stay was finally over. Fresh flowers and chocolates were given to the kind nurses who had looked after me for the week and I could almost feel the sense of relief in my husband as he drove me home to continue my recovery.

Testing Testing – the day everything changed

Quickly referred the Breast Care Unit, I decided to go to my appointment on my own.

It was close to Christmas now, the children’s first Nativity plays and my sister’s 40th birthday – added to this my husband’s Nana had been ill, so fair to say a typical manic family build up to the holidays. No need to worry everyone for no reason I decided.

I parked at the front of St James’, it was my first time visiting the hospital and I hadn’t realised there was a huge multi-storey car park at the rear.  The car parking attendants were emptying the ticket machines, so in my haste I opted for a hand written ticket (big mistake) and I stupidly gave my money to the ‘helpful’ attendant. This later resulted in a ticket received mid-way through my first visit to the Breast Care Unit!*

Finally at my appointment, the first lady I saw was a trainee and she asked if she could go through the standard questions with me and examine me.  Yes I am young, no I don’t smoke, no I’m not overweight, yes I (somehow) managed to breast feed my two babies etc etc.

Upon examination she too felt the lump, but assured me that it was small, and that it moved upon pressing it, and that I was young so to try not to worry. We repeated this scenario with the consulting specialist who sent me for an ultra sound and a mammogram straight away.

It was when the girl carrying out the ultrasound told me that told me that something was there, and that it wasn’t all ‘in my imagination’ that it slowly began to dawn on me. She took extra time to capture the image of all ‘three’ lymph nodes under my arm that she needed because she was a perfectionist…

Then the mammogram – I did wonder how the hell they would get an image of my tiny boobs, but sure enough they did, and even though I hadn’t been given time to worry about it – it didn’t hurt (I can tell some would wonder). It was when the girl returned, explaining that we’d need to do a second mammogram as something wasn’t quite clear, and the specialist had requested we repeated it, that I knew.

Finally I was sent for a core needle biopsy, six hours later, more money on the car – laying on a table with my trust put into two more nurses.

Eventually I saw the consultant for the results.   My fears were confirmed, I could tell straight away in her eyes and her demeanour there was something there – but she was confident that we would get ‘it’ all sorted out.

I would need to come back to clinic the next week for the biopsy results. I explained that I couldn’t because I would not miss my children’s first Nativity play.  Something in her I could tell took pity on me and she agreed to meet with me the following day – on her day off.

And so I knew, before even going through the following weeks that I had breast cancer. The diagnosis was merely a confirmation of something that had already existed in my body for some time.  The morning everything changed.

*Incidentally my Breast Care nurse was so appalled at my resulting ticket that she personally saw to it that they dropped the ticketing fine – still it is the type of thing that could only happen to me, given my general level of dizziness.

The Element of Luck – Where it all began

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Now the day it all began, was officially ‘D Day’ the day I was diagnosed.

But I think it wouldn’t be a true representation if I didn’t explain a little about the lead up to that day and how it all came to be.  It was the Summer of 2014 and we had accepted an invitation to Alton Towers with some close friends of ours and their children.

A few days following our day trip I felt a sharp pain in my right breast, I put it down to knocking myself on one of the rides and I thought no more about it. I must admit after a week, the pain was still there, so I rationalised in my head that if it was still there in another week I would mention to my doctor. The pain did go away though, and so no need to bother anyone I decided.

A month or so later I noticed I had a small pea- sized lump on my breast.  Again, it bothered me enough to mention it to my husband, but he said, and rightly so, that I had pretty lumpy boobs. You see, I had breast fed two babies at this point and my boobs were quite frankly buggered. That, and with all the advice they give you about breast feeding babies helping to reduce the occurrence of breast cancer, I decided to keep an eye on it in case the lump changed.  Again though, I tried to try to keep the lingering anxiety in check – after all I was still young?

Then it happened, the rare occurrence of closeness between two people who have two young children – and just a fleeting comment from my husband.  He had noticed it too, and it had changed shape, not by much – pea sized to kidney bean shaped. ‘Best get that looked at’ he said in passing, and that was it…

The thoughts lingered, enough to prompt a visit to the doctors to check it out. Even then, it felt silly and irrational, slightly embarrassing too but I decided firmly in my head that it was better to have someone tell you everything was alright than to make a mistake that could cost you everything.

The element of luck – was that I listened to my husband that day, that I ignored any embarrassment that I may have felt, and most importantly that I made the trip to the doctors straight after the ‘school run’ instead of rushing to work that day… the rest as they say is history.

It Really is The Small Things

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Hi, I’m Dee

I decided to write this post for a few reasons.

The main one, or the reason I finally decided to ‘get on with it’, was because I recently watched a T.V drama called, ‘The C Word’ written by Lisa Lynch.  A very real account of one girl’s experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Of all the admirable things that Lisa wrote, the thing I felt most akin to was the question she posed shortly after her initial diagnosis-

‘Where are all the other women my age who have also been diagnosed with breast cancer, surely I can’t be the only one?’

I too asked the same question after my diagnosis. Endlessly scrolling through the internet, looking for real  accounts, by real people.  The truth is, there are thousands of women out there, but I suspect to write an honest account of something so difficult is no easy feat.

So here’s my nod to that brave girl.  I am here.  I am not anyone special. I am definitely not as funny. I am just a 32 year old girl from Yorkshire, diagnosed with breast cancer – still fighting it, with a young family to look after.

I will do my best with the little confidence I have left remaining, to write a real and honest account of breast cancer.  In my experience so far, it really is the small things that get you through…