Sunday, 8 February 2015

Being inflated and other post-surgery adventures

Oh my goodness, tomorrow it will be four weeks since I had surgery. How time flies when you're having.... lots of drugs and hospital appointments. Considering I haven't been able to do much, some exciting things have happened in the last few weeks. Here are a selection of the highlights.

I've had a bath
Something I'm sure my friends are really grateful for. It was three weeks and a day after my surgery when I could finally completely remove all dressings and have a proper bath/ shower. I went ahead and lit some candles and it was wonderful! I was clean! (And my fears about the skin graft detaching and ending up floating around in the bath were thankfully not realised.) The other exciting part of this was that I could remove all dressings, wash off all the iodine/blood/tape glue etc and see properly for the first time what I look like post surgery. Turns out I look pretty much the same as I did before, except with a circle of skin where there should be a nipple, a scar under my arm, and a scar on my back. Nice work Mr Krupa!

I've been drained
I had a seroma on my back which is basically a pocket of fluid that built up in the space where muscle was taken away. It wasn't really bothering me but there was quite a lot there so my surgeon wanted to drain it. A medical student was brought in to watch the show so I thought it might be a particularly dramatic or disgusting experience, but actually it was straightforward. From what I could tell he stuck an empty needle/syringe into my back and sucked the fluid out. It didn't hurt and it only took a few minutes. Job done. (Although I grew another one within about two days. Oh well.)

I've been inflated
So you know how along with the cancer I had to have all the breast tissue removed to stop it trying to kill me again in the future? That was replaced with muscle from my back and an "expander implant". An expander implant is one that's put in empty, and then is filled in bit by bit over several months with saline. This enables your skin to stretch and grow gradually. Then later on it gets replaced with a permanent implant.
Well, at my last hospital appointment with my surgeon I got the implant filled up for the first time. Once again a medical student was brought in to watch the show, and as the draining experience had been such a non event I wasn't at all worried. He said it might be a bit painful and uncomfortable and I responded along the lines of "Mr Krupa! Relax! It's me! I've done chemo! I can handle anything! As long as you're not going to attempt to put a cannula in any of my veins I'll be fine!" I lay back on the bed, big smile, chatting away, and then I saw him pick up the biggest, longest, most threatening needle I have ever seen in my life. 

Here's an illustration, to scale, so you can see what I mean:

FUCK SAKE! It's only because I think so much of him and want to be his best patient that I didn't leap up, punch him in the face and run out of the hospital half naked screaming my head off. Somehow I held it together and lay there looking up at the ceiling while he stabbed me like [insert here your own example from a horror film where someone gets stabbed with a frighteningly big needle. I'm unable to insert an example myself because I do not watch horror films. Ever. I still have occasional nightmares about Jumanji. Years ago I tried to get over it by watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I got as far as the meat hook scene before I had a full mental breakdown. Forget my dodgy PALB2 gene, I think it might have been that experience that gave me cancer. Anyway.... horror films do not suit my disposition so you'll have to use your own imagination for this.]

I got stabbed through the skin graft which is currently (might always be) numb, so it didn't hurt going in, but I could feel it inside and it made me feel sick for about 8 hours afterwards. I've not told Mr Krupa this because I don't want to ruin my reputation as Best Patient, but FUCKING HELL. Next time I'm in to get my implant pumped up I'm taking a bottle of vodka with me to swig in the waiting room before I go through to the torture chamber.

In case you're interested, I'm now 100ml bigger than I was before. Apparently though I can't attribute any of my weight gain to this.

I'm having radiotherapy
There was a question mark over this because I had such big massive clear margins around my cancer when it was removed in surgery, and because I only had two lymph nodes affected. But they have decided I should have radiotherapy, and I'm glad. I want the cancer and the place where the cancer was blasted in every possible way. There are risks associated with radiotherapy; it could damage my heart and damage my lung. There's also a significant risk of damage to the very neat surgery Mr Krupa spent eight hours on, especially the skin graft. I'm now under orders to bathe myself in moisturiser at every possible opportunity in the run up to radiotherapy starting to try and reduce the risk of this as much as possible. But ultimately, while I don't want the surgery messed up, and while I don't want my heart or lung damaged, my biggest concern is the cancer. That's my enemy number one. So I'm now waiting for my appointment with Mr Radiotherapy (forgot his real name) to find out what happens next with that.

My blood clots like a normal person's
My cancer was the kind that gobbles up estrogen as fuel to grow. There's a brilliant drug called Tamoxifen which prevents cancer cells from feeding off estrogen in your body and someone with my kind of breast cancer is usually given Tamoxifen for 5-10 years after treatment, to reduce risk of cancer recurrence. There was a concern though because it increases your risk of blood clot, and as well as cancer, there's a history of DVT and pulmonary embolism in my family. So I was referred to get my blood checked out by a very nice doctor called Dr Mensah, to see whether I appear to have any hereditary predisposition for blood clots. The answer is: No! My blood is fine. The blood clots in my family all appear to be cancer treatment related. I should be fine to have Tamoxifen. Yey! As well as getting this good news, the appointment with Dr Mensah was great fun. We talked about blood, and cancer, and genetics, and he asked me if I was a scientist too. I wanted to lie and say yes but my friend Emily was with me so I told the truth - that I'm a control freak who has to know what's going on and so I've just self taught myself stuff via the internet. Anyhoo, it is SO NICE to be coming out of hospital appointments with good news, and feeling happy.

I have cording
Waaaaaaah! In surgery I had lymph nodes removed from under my arm (technical name: axillary lymph node dissection). A common issue after this surgery is "cording" - it's a bit confusing because from what I've read even the experts are a bit unsure about why and how, but basically scar tissue forms like cords running from your armpit and down your arm. I think I have at least two. They don't bother me until I try and lift or stretch my arm and then I can't, and it hurts. A week after surgery I managed to get my No More Page 3 t-shirt on. No idea how, there's no way I could do that now. It's button up clothes only for me at the moment! So I am now also on a mission with massage and stretches to try and get rid of the cording. By get rid, I mean snap them. Apparently it's like an elastic band being stretched to it's limit then snapping. Boke. I need this sorted before radiotherapy starts because I need to be able to lie with my arm stretched out for that.

I'm going back on the painkillers
At my last appointment Mr Krupa was asking about pain, and I told him what pains I had and also how I was spending half the day sleeping still. Why am I so tired? Look at my scars, I've healed really quickly. He asked if I was still taking painkillers and I told him I'd stopped taking them about ten days ago. He raised his eyebrows at me and asked how long ago I had surgery. Three and a half weeks ago. No need to relay the whole discussion here but the upshot is I am back on the painkillers, and will be napping in between moiturising, massaging and stretching for a little while longer. Young people need to learn to be more patient.

But enough of all that.... I saved the best for last. Now for the really good news.

I have eyebrows!
Yep! I woke up one morning and there they were! Around 300 eyebrow hairs made their appearance all in one go. They need to grow a bit more before I can stop colouring them in but I think it'll only be another week or two at the rate they're going. No more being out in public wondering if I still have two eyebrows on my face. Yey!

Right! Must go now - need to pop some pills, stretch my scar tissue, moisturise my skin graft and have a nap before popping another load of pills, stretching my scar tissue some more, and moisturising my skin graft again. TTFN!

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