Fist thing's first...
A month after my diagnosis, I was getting ready for my mastectomy which was scheduled for the 3rd December. In the whirlwind of the past four weeks I’d I not really had chance to mentally prepare myself for what was going to be happening.
On the run up to my surgery, I spent a lot of time reflecting on how much I had taken my body for granted. It’s human nature to never be happy with what you have and naturally, there were many imperfections on my body that I had spent so much time disliking, even hating, parts that I wished that I could change. All my insecurities suddenly seemed so ridiculous now I was faced with the fact that I was literally going to be losing a part of that body, and I was going to be permanently disfigured (because lets face it, even the best surgeon in the world isn’t going to be able to put me back together scar free when the time comes)
Because of the size of my tumour, the whole boob had to come off, and due to the fact I was going to have to have radiotherapy somewhere down the line, I wasn’t able to have reconstruction until a long time after that. Radiotherapy damages healthy cells as well as cancerous ones, so I was going to have to wait until at least 6 months after the treatment had finished to give them a chance to repair. This was something I really struggled to come to terms with, I didn’t want to have to live with just one breast for a year.
I could see other people in a similar position on Instagram, or well meaning survivors sharing their stories of lumpectomies or a mastectomy where they had been able to have reconstruction straight away… and I couldn’t help but wish for “their” cancer. It’s a stupid thing to think really, because no one bloody wants cancer, but I was really struggling to face the fact I was going to have to live with one boob for a whole 12 months (minimum). It just felt really unfair.
I didn’t want to ever have to be in this situation again so I actually asked the surgeon if he couldn’t just take them both off while he was in there anyway (also… I thought I wouldn’t feel quite so deformed if I wasn’t lopsided). Sounds flippant, but I didn’t want to live in a constant state of fear about the unknown. He agreed to a double mastectomy but told me that he wouldn’t want to do it at the same time… he didn’t want to increase the risk of infection and end up delaying chemo by taking away a healthy breast, plus, if he did the second one it at the same time as the reconstruction of the trouble maker, he would be able to use the skin and maybe even save my nipple. Every cloud eh.
The day before my surgery I dropped Frank off with my mum on a cold and frosty morning, and on the way home decided to stop in the middle of nowhere to take myself for a walk. I needed the quiet and the tranquility to try and make peace with the fact I was going to be having a life changing operation the next day. I had tried to prepare myself as best as I could, reading blogs, medical advice, talking to other people, and practically I was sorted… I knew what I was taking to hospital, what clothes I needed for the following weeks etc (will cover that off in another post)… but nothing will ever mentally prepare you for the experience.
On the morning of the surgery I was hoping I would be the first in, my surgeon had told me I should be as he was aiming to get me out and home on the same day. I ended up going down third after a couple of minor procedures that took about 45 minutes each. The wait was excruciating, but there was nothing I can do about it. While I sat there, the surgeon came in to mark me for the operation. He just drew an arrow in marker pen on my right chest… as I looked at it, I tried not to cry. I was really trying to hold it together, but that black line just seemed so final.
Going down to theatre, I was shaking. After I climbed onto the bed, the anaesthetist saw the tears rolling down my cheeks as I tried to stay strong. He was so kind, he held my hand and said “I’m so sorry you have to go through this, but we are going to look after you, try not to worry” and that was the last thing I remember.
Waking up from surgery, I actually just felt relief. It was over with, done, there was no going back. I was covered in dressings and bandages so I couldn’t actually see the damage, and because I was so swollen and wrapped up, it didn’t look as drastic as it could have done. I was sick a couple of times from the anaesthetic but to be honest, other than that, I actually felt ok. I was tired, sore and aching, but due to all the wonderful drugs they had given me, I wasn’t actually in any pain. Once the IV had finished and I had managed to pee, they let me go home that very same evening so I could begin the long road to recovery.
Physically the next few days weren’t as bad as I had expected, but mentally it was tough. I was terrified of what I was going to look like underneath the dressings, I was angry… angry that I was having to go through this, and I was sad. I was so, so sad. I mourned my former life, my former body - the one that I had lost.
Having the dressings off only a week after surgery felt quick. They actually told me to remove them myself but I refused… I wasn’t emotionally ready for what was underneath and I couldn’t face doing it myself. My cancer nurse agreed to do it at the hospital and held my hand as I looked down for the first time. I surprised myself actually by not crying. It was a body that I no longer recognised, and I felt like Frankenstein (I still do actually) covered in stitches and scars. But I didn’t cry. It was a quiet acceptance… yes, I don’t look like myself anymore, but that surgery was for the greater good. It saved my life, and it has given me a second chance. It has changed me forever, and I will never be able to look at myself the same again but I’ll also never take my body for granted again.
Writing this has actually been really difficult. It’s taken me days of having to walk away with tears in my eyes as it brought back all the emotions I felt and how hard it was for me to come to terms with it all. But I have, and it’s ok. I know it was something that needed to happen and I’m fine with that if it means keeping me here for a while longer!
If you can take anything from reading this, let it be to be kinder to your body. Love every single curve, lump, and bump, and every flaw, because you never know what’s round the corner, and that something could change the way you look at yourself forever.
Until next time