Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ultimate Drain Warrior Princess

As part of some personal research for another post (not yet written) and possible project, I asked people who know me for their own perspectives on my cancer diagnosis and treatment. One of the prompt questions I asked was "Are you squeamish, and did I overshare the gross stuff?". So far the response has been an overwhelming "No you haven't overshared the gross stuff."

So I thought I'd treat you all to a post about drains.

When you have breast surgery (eg mastectomy, reconstruction) you are temporarily fitted with and sent home with drains. How many depends on the surgery you've had. In January I had three - back, arm pit (where lymph nodes were removed), breast. This time I had two, although one drained very little so came out after a few days. The other drain I had to keep for three weeks, which is the longest out of all my friends so I am now a kind of Queen of the Drains / Ultimate Drain Warrior / Drain Master Extraordinaire. That kind of thing.

A drain tube/pipe enters your body near to where the surgery was. This drain pipe is stitched in to your skin so that it can't easily be pulled out. A dressing covers the drain site. The drain pipe is very long and at the other end goes in to a bottle.

It's long enough that it can sit on the floor without pulling while you are stood up.

At first I didn't mind coming home with a drain. It was an inconvenience, that was all. You can't shower so washing becomes a big faff in front of the sink (and by the way I learned it's important not to forget the bottoms of your feet - don't worry, I won't go in to the gross dead-skin-peeling details here - even I think that would be a step too far). You have to remember to pick the drain bottle up whenever you get up and move around. Also, if you are me, and come with an above average share of clumsiness plus complete lack of spacial awareness, you constantly catch the pipe on things. Door knobs, drawers, radiators, handrails etc. I pulled the pipe out of the bottle three times.

What fills the drain bottle is a mixture of blood and other bodily fluid. At first it looks like this (ie, a bottle of blood):

But over time it gets lighter. More like a Sex on the Beach than a Rioja.

Every morning at the same time you mark on the bottle where it's filled to, and call the hospital to let them know how much juice you drained over the last 24 hours. All in all I drained well over a litre this time. Mmmmmmmmm.
You also grow drain worms. Drain worms are little pets that keep you amused while you are cooped up at home because you're too embarrassed to go out in public carrying a bottle of your own bodily fluid.

I grew a brilliant worm this time.

It was really long! This is all one worm....

It was an exciting day when it finally made it's way all along the pipe and reached the drain bottle.

Sadly though, this story doesn't have a happy ending. I had to say goodbye to my pet drain worm soon after.

I don't think I can tell the story better than I did in a message at 3.35 am to some of my friends (the ones who understand drains).....

If the pipe comes out of the bottle the vacuum thingy pops up - that's the little green concertina thing at the top. There's no fixing it, you just need to go to hospital and get a new bottle.

So I went to hospital the next day to get a new bottle, and while I was there got my dressings checked and changed. By this time my skin is getting pissed off with the various tapes and dressings that have been covering it, and the knot of the drain pipe stitch has rubbed my skin raw.

The nurse cleaned it up, put some sort of calming, moisturising, barrier cream stuff on, and then redressed with a different type of dressing that should have been kinder to my skin. Unfortunately it wasn't and the next day I had to remove it because it was bothering me so much I couldn't sleep!

Poor skin!

(I got round the problem by covering the whole area with one of the enormous left over dressings intended for my back wound in January.)

Anyway, my drain finally came out yesterday. It never actually got to the level my surgeon wanted it to before being removed (30ml or less two consecutive days) but they don't like to leave drains in for more than 3 weeks. (Risk of infection - I was on antibiotics as a preventive measure the whole time.)

I've now had 5 drains removed. One did actually hurt a bit but the other 4 were a strangely enjoyable experience. It's hard to put in to words but it definitely has the same sort of satisfaction as when you pick a scab off at exactly the right time - just more intense.

So now I just wait and see if without the drain I end up with a seroma - a build up of that fluid underneath the skin. They are almost as gross as drains. They bulge under the skin and wobble like a cross between a jelly and a hot water bottle when you poke them. I had one on my back in January. It had to be drained with a syringe.

Anyway, there you have it. Now you know all about drains. I hope this has been an enjoyable learning experience for you.
If you have any questions, do let me know. I'd be delighted to answer them.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Cancerversary - it's been 1 year

First thing in the morning on Friday 18th July 2014 I went to the hospital for an ultrasound scan. I thought I'd be back in work by about 11am. Instead, after texting Glen as he was in a meeting at work to tell him where I was and what had happened (I hadn't told anyone I was going for a scan) I found myself emailing my line manager and one of my friends in the office to tell them I wasn't coming in, and why.

A few hours later my friends started getting text messages that read as follows:

I went to the hospital today having
been referred by my GP for an
ultrasound scan. My left nipple was
going in a bit. I had an ultrasound,
mammogram, and 4 biopsies. I won't
be told this definitely til I meet the
surgeon oncologist next Thursday but
it seems I have breast cancer which
has spread to my lymph nodes.
They're 99% sure they just need the
pathology report for confirmation. I
don't know what to say really I just
wanted to tell people myself.

This doesn't feel like a year ago. It feels like a lifetime ago.

There's actually only two things I really want to say.

1. I'm alive. Phew.

2. Thank you to everyone who has been in my life this past year. It was you that got me through it. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. XO























(Couldn't resist ending on the drain worm.)