New boobs and new friends

The air bags are out and the implants are in! Too much information — sorry!

It’s now been five weeks since my most recent surgery and hopefully one of my last. This was a pretty involved one although it only meant two days in hospital which was amazing but brilliant.

A 6am hospital admission was followed by a visit from my reconstruction surgeon who drew all over my chest with a permanent marker before I was wheeled down to pre-op where I was met by my general surgeon and the anaesthetist.

The general surgeon had his turn first, removing my ovaries and tubes – a decision we made based on the fact that I have the BRCA2 gene, which increases risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Not that I was aware of the changeover as I was well and truly off with the operating theatre fairies, but the next surgeon then came in to remove my the air expanders that had been in my chest since January and had totally outstayed their welcome.

They were bloody awful things and I was ready for them to find their way into the rubbish bin. The implants are a lot softer and more natural and I can now even sleep on my side – which is sheer bliss!

Purple Brad day June 2016
At Nicola Peachey’s bootcamp with Sharon for Purple Bra Day

 

In the weeks following this, my fourth surgery since my breast cancer diagnosis in October 2014, bootcamp called. I’d never done a class before and the only reason for this attempt was to support fellow breast cancer survivor Nicola Peachey who hosted the event to raise money for Breast Cancer Care WA’s Purple Bra Day.

Nicola and I met in June last year when I spoke at Breast Cancer Network Australia’s Pink Lady luncheon. She came up and introduced herself and I will be forever grateful that she did. She’s been an amazing support over the past few months.

Incredibly, at the bootcamp, I ran into another gorgeous woman who I had met (although she was a lot clearer about our first meeting than I was). Sharon re-introduced herself to me. We were both at a Look Good Feel Better workshop last year. Now we both had a head full of hair (check out mine below) and were coming out the other side of treatment stages of our life battle. People come into your life for many reasons, and these two have certainly entered mine to help with my sanity! They are absolute gems!

July 2016
My hair is getting longer — woohoooo!!

 

From here there may be some ‘minor’ surgeries but they are more for cosmetic purposes.

Most importantly our little family of four is counting down the days until we head off overseas for four weeks. In 82 days, 2 hours, 38 minutes and 22 seconds (the Countdown app on my phone is very specific) we’ll be on our way to the USA. We all need something to focus on and we can’t wait to create some more amazing family memories.

Preparing to lose control

There’s meals galore made and in the freezer.

My shoes have been sorted and lined up at the bottom of my wardrobe!

Birthday presents for our youngest have been purchased ready for his seventh birthday on January 31.

School shoes have been bought and all the school uniforms ironed ready for the start of Term 1 on February 1.

This is not about me being a super-organised, super-mum.

This is about control.

From 4.30pm this Wednesday I will be somewhat out of control. Well the control of my life will be in the hands of others at least – doctors, anaethetists and nurses.

So the past few weeks have been dedicated to organisation, planning and controlling as much of my life as I can before I go under the knife for the next step of my ‘journey’ – a second mastectomy and bilateral reconstruction.

I’ve tried not to think about this procedure – there’s not going to be a lot to like about it (at least not for the next eight months or so). But in essence it’s an operation. It’s something that, in consultation with my surgeons and oncologist, we have decided is the most pro-active and sensible way to significantly reduce my risk of another Breast cancer or ovarian cancer diagnosis (removal of my ovaries in a few months time should take care of that)!

And I’ll do whatever I have to to reduce that risk. I’m 42 – I’ve got a long life to live and I want to live it with new boobs so I can feel as ‘normal’ as possible. (I dislike the word normal as much as I dislike the word journey! After all, what is normal? For me, I’ve chosen to undergo reconstruction. My son finds it all pretty fascinating. Especially after he just assumed this is how I would look (lopsided) for the rest of my life. He asked me if my boob would grow back? I said it wouldn’t but a clever man named Tony was going to make me a whole new one and fix the other one!

In the past two weeks I’ve had a friend undergo a mastectomy and another friend had to say the saddest farewell of all when she lost her 23-month-old in a tragic accident.

Life is all about perspective and while what I will go through this week and following months is plain crappy and cruel, it’s what I have to do to save my life and ensure I see my kids grow up. And that’s what it’s all about. I might (well I bloody hope so anyway) end up with a nice pair of boobs, every decision I have made has been about survival – nothing more, nothing less!

Who knows, I might get lucky and score a hospital room with a river view from where I can watch the Australia Day fireworks along the Swan River! Or maybe I can make friends with someone in one of those rooms – if only I could take a bottle of champagne with me!


These two are what life is all about xx

Stress of Christmas keeping me sane!!!

The stress of Christmas seems to be keeping me sane!

Sounds odd I know, but the more I worry about getting my kids presents they want (because they don’t really need anything), sending Christmas cards to family in the Eastern States (sorry but I haven’t done those yet) and what is on the Christmas Day menu (veggies or salad), the less I think about the next chapter in this “shit fight” (ie: I dislike the word journey immensely).

The next chapter involves about half a day lying on a cold, hard operating table while two surgeons take more then give more!

In the second last week of January I will have a second mastectomy (surgeon number 1) and then the first stage of my breast reconstruction (on both sides with surgeon number 2).

Without going into too much detail, a quote from surgeon number 2 sums it up:

“It will be hell! But you’ve been there already so you know you can handle it!”

We’ll soon find out.

There was a story in The West Australian this week about breast reconstruction and why women chose to have it or to live without.

Everyone’s choice is personal and based on many, many factors. It’s not an easy choice — especially after you meet with the surgeon who talks you step-by-step through what he is going to do to you!

Reconstruction is not necessary, I don’t have to have it done. But I want to.

Like growing my hair out! People have been very kind and complimented me recently on my hair and saying that short hair suits me. But I like long hair and I miss my ponytail! That may be a bit sad for a 42-year-old but it’s how I feel!

IMG_1542
My hair on the recovery trail and how it looks at the moment
Lewis 441
How I wish my hair looked again
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And what I’ll settle for – the way my hair was a month after diagnosis

Same with the reconstruction. Growing my hair out and getting new boobs will go a long way to helping me feel like myself again — well as close to as possible. Me, my family and friends have endured a lot of emotional and physical upheaval in this past year there have been many things out of our control.

Growing my hair back and going under the knife to rebuild are in my control — and I would like some control back.

I lost a bit of control a few months ago when an infection in my scar reared it’s head. It was the first real setback I’ve had in my treatment.

In another first for me, I faced day surgery and ‘twilight’ sedation. It all went really well and it was just an infection and nothing more sinister — the worst part was the pain of the anaesthetic being pushed into my blood stream.

Seriously, after everything I have been through in the past 12 months, including seven months worth of chemotherapy, I have never felt pain like that.

It burnt and, while I can normally contain my displeasure and hide any signs of pain, this time I couldn’t.

After struggling to put the canular in and reminding me about my small veins, the anaesthesist said “this will sting a bit” A BIT!!!!! It bloody hurt. Even though it lasted all of about three seconds before I was off with the fairies, that memory will stay with me for a long time!

The focus for the next six weeks is to celebrate another Christmas with my gorgeous family and to strip life back to the important stuff — spending time together and creating memories (and taking photos, which I do a lot of and my family will appreciate one day)!

Merry Christmas everyone xxx

A year ago today!

Milestone, anniversary, landmark moment, commemoration — whatever you want to call it — today marks 12 months!

It was 12 months ago when Ross and I sat in my GP’s office and she said THOSE words “you have breast cancer.”

We knew. We had known for a few days – not officially – but we knew. The scans, biopsy, phone calls to bring our GP appointment forward a day – it was all adding up to bad news.

I honestly thought my ‘shit fight’ would be over by now. I had honestly hoped at least.

Memories from the last 12 months
Memories from the last 12 months

When I first met with my surgeon three days after my diagnosis, one of the first things he told me was to put my diary away! I like to be organized and still love my written, hard copy diary. I had it with me that day and as he talked about treatments (starting with chemo, followed by a mastectomy and then radiotherapy) I flicked through my diary pages and, for me at least, I had it all done and dusted by now.

And I guess his treatment plan is done, but my diary planning didn’t account for a dodgy BRCA gene, a delayed start to radiotherapy because movement in my arm had been restricted by surgery and my lack of understanding about how long recovery would take between all these stages.

It’s been a mongrel of a ‘journey’ and while it is not over within my timeframe – with reconstruction, second mastectomy and ovary removal to come – it’s all gone OK!

So, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Every case of breast cancer is different. Every treatment is different. How everyone reacts to their treatment is different.
  • Phenergan makes me sleep like a baby (even when the cricket or tennis is on the TV in the chemo room)
  • Taking steroids at 10pm and then forgetting to take your sleeping tablet sent me loopy and meant I was wide awake at 3am buying tickets online for me and my 10-year-old daughter to go and see her YouTube hero Tyler Oakley (and here’s the three of us before the show because in my drugged-up stupor I also purchased VIP meet-and-greet tickets)!!
Abbey, me and Tyler Oakley
Abbey, me and Tyler Oakley
  • People are inherently kind, generous and just amazing – from dinner, High Teas and lunch box snacks to flowers and fluffy robes
  • Oncology nurses are some of the most incredible people on the planet
  • I am only just starting to like the colour pink again! I was diagnosed in October – breast cancer awareness month – and at first I wanted to pop every bloody pink balloon floating around in Dr and radiology waiting rooms
  • I love my family more than anything on this earth and hope out of all the lessons they have learned about life in the past 12 months they truly know what is means to have empathy for other human beings
  • It looks pretty funny (and lopsided) when you forget to put your temporary prosthesis in your bra!

And what I’m hoping for now:

  • That I’ll be writing my 2-year ‘anniversary’ blog from America when we take our family back there again having been in 2013 to help celebrate my 40th birthday. We thought that was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but given what we’ve been through in the last 12 months we’re busy planning (and saving) to go back again once my surgeries are done
  • After the final chapters of treatment/procedures are over, at the end of every annual check-up I get told “see you again at the same time next year” and not any sooner!
  • The sickening and still very raw and emotional memories of treatment fade sooner rather than later
  • I am always thankful for the amazing family and friends I have in my life – I could not have done all of this without them

Lunching with a legend (and plenty of emotion)

“Yeah I can do that, I’d love to!”

That was my first reaction when one of my friends Kirsten, who is the Partnership Manager at Breast Cancer Network Australia, asked me if I’d share my story at the first BCNA Pink Lady Luncheon to be held in Perth.

I wasn’t even overawed at the thought of being introduced on stage by one of my all-time favourite sportsmen, Shane Crawford. Well, at least not right up until the moment he said my name and invited me to stand in front of over 100 people, including breast cancer survivors and those like me who were still in the midst of their ‘journey’ (still don’t like that word. In fact, I told the crowd at the luncheon that and my friend and MC Nat suggested a better term would be shit fight – and I think that sums it all up a lot more thoroughly!

This wonderful man has done a lot for BCNA and was an absolute pleasure to meet
This wonderful man has done a lot for BCNA and was an absolute pleasure to meet

BCNA chief exec Christine Nolan, me, Shane Crawford, MC Nat Locke
BCNA chief exec Christine Nolan, me, Shane Crawford, MC Nat Locke
A big crew of former Netball WA staff gathered at our table and were there to support BCNA and me as I ventured up onto the stage after an emotionally-overwhelming video showing the guts, determination and generosity inspired by Shane’s amazing bike ride from Melbourne to Perth in 2013. This wonderful soul raised over $1.3million for BCNA during that ride!

With my 'mental health' buddy Angie and Shane
With my ‘mental health’ buddy Angie and Shane

With the gorgeous Kirsten
With the gorgeous Kirsten
I have to take you back to the first moment I met Shane. He asked how I was going with my treatment and while I gave him a brief answer to my current state of play, typically the conversation turned to a bit of fun when I gave him a gift from my son Jack.

When I told Jack, an avid Hawthorn supporter, I was meeting Shane, he said “Who?”

In his defence I was pregnant with him when Shane played in the 2008 premiership with the Hawks and then retired – so he hadn’t played a game in Jack’s lifetime! He was more than impressed when I went through Shane’s football career and promptly decided that Shane would like one of Jack’s Auskick footy cards – signed of course!

In one of my favourite moments from the lunch, Shane took the card and filmed a little video thanking Jack for the card, saying “I’ll put it next to my Brownlow Medal and my premiership medal.”

It was just gorgeous and Jack was soooooo excited when I showed him.

Anyway, my turn came and I walked on stage, tissues in hand, thinking I could handle this. Eventually I did. But after another gorgeous friend, Angie, came up and held me, calmed me down and got me breathing again. I was flooded with emotion as I started to tell my story, it felt so raw. I looked out at faces, many of whom knew exactly how I was feeling. There were many knowing nods of the head.

It was an absolutely amazing event to be a part of. Getting to watch Hawthorn’s final win later that night sitting next to the great man Crawf later on was a mere bonus.

I had eight more radiotherapy treatments to go and had been for my 22nd session the morning of the luncheon. Heading to hospital every day for six weeks – that had become my new normal.

On the Radiotherapy grind - day-in, day-out
On the Radiotherapy grind – day-in, day-out
While it was monotonous going to treatment every day – generally I would drop the kids at school and head in – it only took about 30 minutes each day and I was home by about 10am. And it wasn’t even close to being as horrendous as chemo – it was relatively painless. Well it got tougher at the end when your skin looks like it’s been exposed to extreme UV light for many hours. Eventually the skin broke and got pretty sore, but nothing a good dash of paraffin and moisturiser couldn’t fix.

Anyway, that’s onemore treatment done and dusted – now we just have to plan for reconstruction (which will include a second mastectomy) and removal of ovaries. We’ll worry about all that in 2016!