Iron Bra and Buddha Belly
There are some interesting disparities between feelings and reality at the moment. For example, I have an itchy left nipple. But I don’t have a left nipple, nor a left breast, nor anything on the right for that matter. Of course I’m still full of codeine which makes me a bit bonkers. (Note to self – hide my tablet after surgery so I can’t order any more inappropriate items like that indoor trampoline, or totally unnecessary silver charms for my charm bracelet, or that shirt in the wrong colour which I thanked my sister for but when I checked my browser history it transpired that it wasn’t from her…..) I can still feel the weight and pull of my left breast but it’s not there. I feel the grip of an iron bra tight around my chest and back, yet for the first time in thirty seven years I am not wearing a bra. It’s all a bit weird.
The Buddha Belly is what we see if you take our breasts away. Even very slim women are shocked to have an unimpeded view of their belly. Those of us in the business talk about being eleven months pregnant. I suck mine in but it still sits there. It doesn’t really matter. As one of my friends said recently, “well, your organs have to go somewhere, don’t they?”
My chest is a bit of a battle ground: bruises in blue, green and yellow, a dark red haematoma, a hole in my side from the drain and a wound which stretches from high in my left armpit across to the right. My surgeon took the opportunity to do a bit of tidying up on the right so the new scar is long – about 37cm long, getting on for 55cm if you join in the old mastectomy scar. Both ends rise into my armpits. I am Frankenstein’s underwear model.
My chest is skin and bone and feels cold and vulnerable. Being built for comfort not speed I’m not used to being able to feel or see my ribs. I am pear-shaped now.
It’s going to take some getting used to but I am much happier as a pear than as a one-boobed, lop-sided freak show who failed completely in the wearing of a suitable prosthesis. Horrible, sweaty uncomfortable things that made my nerves jangle. I am also free of the fear of my left-boob turning nasty and trying to kill me.
Pain – there’s plenty of that but it’s nothing like as bad as the axillary clearance last March. This pain is more straightforward and my body tells me every three hours, day and night, that it needs painkillers. Miss Paris Cetamol and Mr Cody Eine are my pals, together with Ike buprofen and La La lactulose to keep things moving. (Yeuchy stuff!)
I was a medical marvel for a while as my drain was draining more gunk each day for a fortnight rather than less. My body doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to. It doesn’t follow the rules. Drains shouldn’t stay in too long due to the risk of infection; there is also the real risk that the bearer of the drain will go crazy one night and snip their own stitches and haul out the damned thing themself. Drains do an important job but are universally hated. Who wants to carry a plastic bag full of blood around day and night? Who wants a hole in their side with a tube stuck in it? Who wants daily visits from the nurses poking at it. Ask me if it pinches…go on….ask me. Does it pinch? It bloody does! And I only had one drain. My friend who had reconstruction had to deal with six and two young children. What a trooper. Anyway, my surgeon decided that the drain could come out last Friday and I heaved a huge and painful sigh of relief. Last April I developed a seroma that had to be siphoned off with big needles twice a week after the drain came out but so far, touch wood, thank God, there’s no sign of a build up of fluid.
It’s all so disgusting isn’t it? I’m pretty disgusted with it all. The smell of the hospital makes me want to run in the opposite direction, I even got fed up with the lovely, kind, daily district nurses. I have really had enough of all of this. I want to shout at the docs and nurses “I used to be well and have a job and never go near any of you!” I think this means that I am on the mend and not in danger of becoming institutionalised. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’ve been so patient for so long and I just need to hold it together a while longer. Now the drain has gone I can start my proper exercises and get moving a bit. This morning I walked to the chemist round the corner. Hurrah! But now I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus and my arms ache so badly. It has taken me hours to type this as I have to keep stopping and stretching. I have to follow the physio programme and take it slowly as that will mean better and quicker healing in the long run. Oh but it’s hard to be patient. I want there to be an end in sight but I have to see the surgeon on 14th February for the results of the breast biopsy and the Prof on 29th March which is routine three month oncologist appointment but will also give results of the x rays of my hip. There always seems to be something going on.
As for all those people out there grumbling about losing a week to flu ….come on people. Really?
Polyanna Moment: There are so many of these. This operation marks the beginning of the end of all of this nonsense and I’m glad, glad, glad that it’s done. It was devastating when the December operation was cancelled at the last minute (And I mean ‘last minute’. I’d been there all day, hungry, thirsty, anxious and it wasn’t until early evening that I was told it wouldn’t happen). I’m also glad and grateful for the friends and relations who are STILL visiting and doing shopping and cooking for my freezer and bringing presents and cards and giving me lifts to boring horrible hospital appointments and walking Bonnie, and the long distance people who are sending flowers and cards and texts. Thank you! Things One and Two also need a special mention as they continue to be kind and resilient. Thing Two kept me fed and watered for the first ten days or so, put the fire on in the morning, checked on me, stayed in. Being alone in the house with someone who’s just had an operation requires courage and kindness. Thing One came home for two weekends to help and, with my sister, got me up and dressed in the hospital. This was no mean feat as I was completely out of it! She’s constantly in touch. Amazing daughters.
Needle Count: Oh the fun we had in hospital trying to find a viable vein for the anaesthetic. How we laughed. Including the drain we are now on 180 needles since diagnosis in August 2015.