Do the right thing

Posted: November 28, 2012 in The Big C
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve recently returned home after nearly a week in Ninewells hospital and I’ve realised that a trip to hospital is all about economics. There’s gain or loss with every visit. I came home with a new breast and a bit less padding on my right buttock.

In case you haven’t followed my previous posts I’ve been in hospital for a mastectomy with breast reconstruction. The procedure I’ve had is called an IGAP (Inferior Gluteal Artery Perforator) flap reconstruction. In simple terms they took a piece of my right buttock and inserted it where my right breast once was. It’s a bit like installing a new boiler, only with more pipework.

I am aware that I haven’t used the word mastectomy in earlier posts. For most, including myself, the word conjures up images of bald, breast-less women with big ugly scars. My worst fear was that I would become one of those women. Twenty years ago this would have been the case, however medical advances mean that I was able to have both my mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time.

Committing myself to major surgery wasn’t a decision I took lightly, however the alternatives were dire: an early demise or delayed reconstruction. I opted for the safest solution in terms of both my health and sanity. The risks of such a long operation are huge, however I had the 98.4% success rate of the breast reconstruction team on my side. Perhaps that’s why I felt so calm when I arrived in hospital last Monday.

The operation

My first afternoon in hospital was filled with pre-op assessments and chats with various medical people. I met with the plastic surgeon Mr M who listened to my bottom – a new experience for me – and covered me in blue pen in preparation for the operation. He is one of a handful of surgeons in the UK able to do this type of reconstruction, so I feel exceptionally lucky to live in an area and indeed a country where it’s both available and free. Big up the NHS!

The period between Monday night and Wednesday morning is all a bit of a blur. They let me out for a ‘last supper’ with family on Monday evening and when I returned to the hospital, I was offered me a pre-med to help me sleep. It must have worked because I have very little recollection of what happened on the morning of the operation. All I can remember is walking to theatre with the anaesthetist and being given a ‘gin and tonic’. The rest is history.

I woke from surgery sometime on Tuesday evening but it’s all really hazy after that. I drifted in and out of sleep. I had a midnight feast of toast and coffee. The whole nursing team were incredible but the nurse who looked after me on the first two nights was especially lovely. She fed me water through a straw when I couldn’t sit up. She cooled me down when I was too hot. The continual observations and monitoring of my new breast didn’t bother me in the slightest. The nursing was world-class and they just made me feel like I was in a really safe place.

I was bed-bound for most of Wednesday and Thursday, another new experience for me. I felt like a rat in a trap initially, however I soon became accustomed to the wires, needles and bags attached to me. Progress was steady over the course of the week. By Thursday I had taken my first baby-steps around the bed, by Friday I’d walked along the corridor and that same night the catheter and inflatable leg-socks were thankfully removed. My first catheter free trip to the bathroom was a big highlight of the week. Who’d have thought so much joy could be gained from a trip to the loo.

On Saturday, free of all my attachments, I enjoyed my first shower and ventured up to the hospital precinct, looking and feeling like I’d escaped from the asylum with my crew-cut, mismatched clothes and slippers.

The day after my operation I weirdly found myself listening to a discussion on Radio 4’s Women’s hour about breast cancer and reconstruction. It seems that breast reconstruction is a postcode lottery and many women are misinformed about their choices regarding surgery. I whinged in a previous post about my limited options for surgery, however these were due to my skinny frame and the radiotherapy I’m expected to have. Ninewells offers a multitude of possibilities when it comes to reconstruction (IGAPDIEP,TRAM & LD flaps among others) and after listening to this programme I feel really fortunate to have been given the choices I was.

What many women don’t realise is that you can elect to go anywhere you want for surgery regardless of where you live. New guidelines released by BAPRAS (British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons) last week, aim to ensure that all breast cancer patients are well-informed about their choices regarding breast reconstruction and can expect to receive the best possible outcomes wherever they are treated (www.bapras.org.uk).

Post op

I was determined to look at my new breast from the start and I’d already seen it from my semi-reclined position, however it wasn’t until I showered on Saturday that I saw myself properly in the mirror. I was really happy with my old body and looking at my new self was quite a shock, so there were tears.

My new breast looks and feels strange although its early days. The scarring is minimal, as I’ve had a skin sparing mastectomy, so the only scar is around the nipple. Considering the limited amount of donor flesh available on my backside, the size and shape is really good. It will never be as good as the original but it’s a fine start.

Maggie’s really helped to prepare me for this as I think I would be in a complete state of shock if I hadn’t had the opportunity to see other women’s scars and to chat to them about the operation. My breast is still healing, so I just have to remind myself that this is just the start of the reconstruction process. Nipple reconstruction comes later, as will surgery to make my breasts more symmetrical: it’s a work in a progress.

Before surgery I was just as concerned about my bottom as my breast. I expected there would be a huge indentation in my buttock and although there is a massive scar, the shark sized bite I imagined is nowhere to be seen. Mr M mentioned that they can improve the symmetry on my buttocks but I doubt this will be necessary.

My body is recovering incredibly well from surgery although I do have to take it easy, something that I’m not very good at. I have to keep my leg as straight as possible for the next few weeks, to allow my bottom heal, which means I have adopted a peculiar gait. According to mum this is somewhere between The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mrs Overall. I can’t bend, which means mum has to help me to put on my shoes and socks. I’m nearly there with the full reversion to childhood.

Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques – she’s the one in the pinny

My breast is actually less painful than my bottom but this is probably because our bottoms are slightly more functional than our breasts. I did have plans to make use of my good breast, or ‘My Left Tit’ as I like to call it, to write this post, as I didn’t know if I’d have full use of my arms. Thankfully it hasn’t come to that, however my left foot has been giving me a hand. I’ll be typing out my next post with my big toe before you know it.

This week has been a rollercoaster both physically and mentally, yet I feel surprisingly okay about it all. I’ve gained a breast, lost a bit of my right buttock and my arse is now quite literally staring me in the face. I’ve also acquired new addictions to white-toast and Game of Thrones. Of course the thing that has made the bad bits bearable is that I am now potentially cancer free, or at least very close.

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Comments
  1. Kerry says:

    Brilliant post Kath, everything has gone remarkably well it sounds like, and really pleased you had fabulous care in hospital. I have learned so much from you on this subject matter too, as am sure many of your friends have.

    Will be in touch. in the meantime… TAKE IT EASY!
    xxx

  2. Amy says:

    Great post, sounds like the last week has been busy, emotional, productive and a start to a new future. Welcome to your new left tit!
    P.S If you’re going to be over exposed to breasts in the following weeks it’s watching Game of Thrones. I love it but definitely written for men! I do love the imp though 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Kath
    Glad to hear all has gone well, keep your chin up and take care
    regards
    Wendy
    xxx

  4. loulouctee says:

    You are awesome. I’m sure your new boob has been working hard to keep up, it will also be awesome. Lou xx

  5. Clare says:

    Well done Kath x you are so brave, although not on anywhere near the same level I can relate to how you felt post op but you are doing so well to be so positive x it’s not easy x
    Hope everything works out and hope to see you soon x
    Clare xxx

  6. Kath, thank you for sharing about the ‘no longer’ post code lottery, that info is logged! I love reading your posts and truly believe they could provide inspiration and support to anyone who may find themself in your situation.

    Love you lots, and look forward to meeting the new tit soon xxx

  7. Anonymous says:

    Congrats, Kath – a huge milestone reached! Hope that you are taking things easy and not bothering to try and walk or do too much aside from sail through GoT, which saved me while I was recovering. Sounds like you’ve had great care too – which bodes really well for all the follow-up. Make sure you celebrate getting through this stage – you deserve to! Xxx

  8. Pat says:

    Fortunately it’s not all down to me or we would all still be living in caves – the technology of all that is available to us freely on the NHS is mind boggling, isn’t it? I so identify with your emotions Kath – gratitude for being able to put your life literally into the hands of an army of strangers. So many people behind the scenes. All those technicians who keep the masses of equipment involved sterile and shipshape, people beavering away in the labs, the pharmacists and the anaesthetists who calculate exactly what’s right for us. The team of surgeons and nurses who have learned these amazing skills. Porters and admin and cleaning staff. And the gentleness, kindness and confidence giving experience of all the nurses and support staff on the ward. Endless meals and cups of tea and TLC.

    And why? BECAUSE YOU’RE WORTH IT!

    Pat xx

    • killerkath says:

      You’re so right Pat. The NHS is vastly under-rated & something most of us take for granted. There’s not many places in the world where you get free health care on tap and in Scotland we don’t even have to pay for our prescriptions. It’s shit having cancer but I’ve felt nothing but gratitude for the NHS since my diagnosis. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Big Up the NHS! xxx

  9. Kath you are really brave, incredibly strong and I agree completely with Imelda and Pat’s responses. I didn’t think about the intimate scenes in GOTh, I thought you’d be too busy enjoying the humouring script and the men wielding their swords ; ) I’m coming to see you v soon. Big love Beki xxx

  10. natstar12uk says:

    Hi Kath, sorry I am a bit behind but just read your brilliant post. Loving that you’ve had/are having such amazing care. And so pleased you are on the mend & recovering well. Game of Thrones has totally passed me by – I think I need to watch it! xxx

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