Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Keeping abreast of it - Part 2

I've been to the hospital today for a filling. But not of the tooth variety. I've had my implant inflated - or expanded. I also had a large amount of fluid drained from around the scar under my arm where my lymph nodes were taken out. The relief after this was done was amazing. Kind of like when you've been desperate for a pee for ages and you finally manage to find a toilet. I no longer feel like I've got a rolled up towel under my arm and it's a lot less painful.

The expander implant I have in has what is referred to as a port. I can actually feel this under my skin. This is where they put the needle in to inject to saline in to the implant to fill it up. The plastic surgeon used a magnet to locate the port and then inserted a needle in preparation for injecting the saline. However, in the process she found another pocket of fluid like the one under my arm, and so drained this one as well. Turns out that this fluid (stuff that actually wasn't supposed to be there) was what was giving my new breast a lot of its shape and after draining it, it looked rather like this:

Well, kind of. You get the picture.

However, after the injection of the saline, it looks decidedly more round again. Neither of the needles hurt. In fact, the skin on my breast is totally numb and I've been told will always remain so. I have to be careful about applying any sort of heat to that area as I won't actually feel it if it burns. In fact, you could probably set fire to it and I wouldn't actually notice. 

Back at the hospital next week for another session of boob inflation.....

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Keeping abreast of it

Just a quick update on the surgery situation.

On Thursday I had my last drain removed. The drain was basically a bottle on a long tube, the end of which was inserted in to my body and the operation site just at the side of my rib cage. It took a little while to get used to it not being there as I'd grown accustomed to carting the thing around with me everywhere. I'd also been watching in grim fascination as the 'tissue worms' (basically long pieces of tissue from the wound site) made their way down the tube in to the bottle at the bottom. Here is how the bottle looked the night before the drain was removed:

A bottle of blood, tissue and lymphatic fluid. Perfect for distracting zombies whilst you make your escape, if such a situation were ever to arise.

I've managed to get out and about a few times since my operation, including meeting with some of the girls from the Younger Breast Cancer Network. I've been carrying the bottle about with me in a bag like this:

However, as less blood and more fluid began draining from the op site, I realised that it did indeed look like I was carrying a bag of piss around with me. Nice.

Thursday was also when the dressings came off and was the first time that I've seen the results of my surgery. I have a large scar under my arm below my armpit from my axillary node clearance. They went through the scar that they made when they took out the few nodes for my sentinel node biopsy back in August last year. There is one huge lump of scar tissue there now, which makes me feel like I am constantly carrying a book under my arm and is pretty uncomfortable. My armpit looks like a banjo with the amount of cording underneath there, including one thick painful one that almost runs down the entire length of my arm and prevents me from fully extending it. Here is a lovely little piccy of the mess that is now my armpit:

When lymph nodes are removed, the nerves running in to the arm get a good bashing about. As a consequence of this, I've been left with a pretty sore bingo wing - the back of my arm down to my elbow constantly feels as if it's burnt and my elbow permanently feels like I've just banged my funny bone. Ironically, this is not funny. It's in fact very painful. And annoying.

Now on to what is my new breast for the time being. Its an incredibly odd feeling. When I lay down it feels as though I have a small animal sitting on my chest. Its completely numb to the touch and as the implant is only half full at present, when prodded it feels very strange. The only thing I can liken it to is when a football or tennis ball gets a puncture and it has that plasticy, empty feeling. I also have another scar of about 10 centimetres in length running across it. Regrettably however, I am not going to share this one with you!

I'm also currently not able to lift anything heavier than a quarter filled kettle or to use my right arm for anything at all strenuous so any offers of help with the housework would be much appreciated!

Visually, the outcome of the surgery is better than I expected and I often feel like I want to proudly show it off to people like some gruesome Blue Peter project - "and here is one we made earlier!". I am of course having to curb this urge as not everyone will want to be bombarded with unsolicited photos of my Frankenboob. But as happy as I am with the results so far, ultimately this is something I would never have chosen to do unless essentially my life depended on it. I'm still coming to terms with how my body is now irreversibly altered, and will be even more so when I undergo further risk reducing surgery to remove my other breast. So please, please save the 'at least you get a nice new pair of boobs out of it' comments. As it goes, I was pretty happy with the ones I had before. I'd really rather that this wasn't happening and that I could have hung on to those ones, thanks all the same!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Kiss and make up

Yesterday I decided I would buy myself a little post surgery treat and spent £38 on an eyeshadow palette. I think this is the most I have spent on one bit of makeup, indeed the most I have ever spent on make up at any one time. 

I bought this:

Its the Urban Decay Naked 2 palette which has lots of lovely colours inside:

It also comes with several sachets of eye shadow primer and a lovely brush. Like a proper one - not those crappy applicator thingys. 

I've always liked make up (even though I'm proper rubbish at doing it) but up until now I have never actually properly appreciated it's magic. Not fully. It turns me from from ill-looking-cancer-patient-with-generic-cancer-face to something bordering on acceptable-to-be-seen-by-the-general-public. I definitely feel a lot more confident and able to face the world after painting my face on. Anyway, I thought I would post some info about the products I tend to use daily, just in case there is an outside chance it may be useful to someone. The people who normally do stuff like this are expert make up artist persons - I am not one of them! But all the same, there may be a little nugget that a fellow chemo girl may find useful.

Here is the arsenal that I arm myself with before venturing out of the house most days:

 A motley bunch of stuff! 

Garnier 5 Second Perfect Blur Primer - I don't wear foundation and this stuff is really good at making pores and fine lines look less visible. 

No7 Beautiful Skin Dark Circle Corrector - very good at helping get rid of the steroid induced insomnia dark circles!

I also use this - No7 Instant Illusions Rapid Radiance Balm - when I can find it..... no idea where it is right now! 

Optrex Eye Revive Brightening Eye Drops - again perfect for helping to hide the effects of sleep deprivation! 

No7 Instant Radiance Under Eye Concealer in 30. A cheaper alternative to YSL Touche Eclat. 

No7 Perfect Light Pressed Powder in Dark. 

No7 Perfectly Bronzed Bronzing Pearls  

Sleek MakeUp Face Form Contouring Kit in Medium. It's made up of a contour powder, highlighter and a bronzer. I'm still trying to get the hang of using this. I'm going for Kim Kardashian although the look I quite often get is closer to that of a tub of Neapolitan Ice cream.... 

Lancome Le Crayon Sourcils in 020. I use this eyebrow pencil to draw on my brows and then seal them with a little bit of brown eyeshadow. The shadow I normally use is a Clinique one which was part of a palette - the colour is Coffee Shop. To be honest I've found this easier and a lot longer lasting than using a product such as Benefit Browzings. You can get a great effect from Browzings but I've found that it smudges really easily - on a few occasions I have been out and about and realised that my eyebrows are half way up my forehead. Not a good look! However, it could just be me that is using it incorrectly... 

No7 Stay Perfect Eyeshadow Trio in Cappuccino. 

Lancome Le Crayon Khol in 02. 

Collection 2000 Extreme 24 Hour Felt Tip Liner in Black. I use this to drawn on my lower lashes.....

Even though my eyelashes have actually started to grow back (hurrah!) they are still in the very stumpy and sparse stage so I'm still wearing false lashes. The ones I tend to use are Dimples Eyelashes in style 112 which are about £4 for two pairs from Ebay or Ardell Natural Demi Wispies - about £10 for four pairs from Ebay.

The Ardell ones don't come with glue and the glue with the Dimples ones is like water, so I use Eyelure Lashfix Adhesive instead.

I use mascara on the false lashes but at the moment it tends to be whatever I have in my make up bag - currently it is Loreal Volume Million Lashes Excess Black Mascara.

Dreamweave Lip Voltage - this is a lip plumper that actually works. However, do not buy if you have a low pain threshold. It hurts. Like, really hurts. I usually put it on whilst I do the rest of my make up, let it do it's thang and then blot off and put my lipstick on over the top.

No7 Precision Lips Pencil in Red.

Bobbi Brown Creamy Matte Lip Colour in Red Carpet.

Some of the make up items are from the amazing goody bag I received when I went on the Look Good Feel Better workshop. These workshops are provided for women with cancer and I would definitely recommend booking on to one if there is one near you.

So there is my weaponry in detail. Probably completely useless to know, but all the same. I tend to stick to the same things all the time, with a lipstick or eyeshadow change sometimes for a night out. But I've decided I want to be a bit more adventurous, hence yesterday's purchase. Start off small and all that. The next thing you know, I'll be covering myself in tattoos and running off to build wells in Africa. Watch this space.....

Saturday, 14 February 2015

For Claire xxx

Even though I am not the best placed person to do this, I felt I needed to write something. Yesterday we lost a beautiful bright young woman to this cruel disease - exactly one month on from her 30th birthday.

Claire was one of the first people I spoke to when I joined the Younger Breast Cancer Network and although sadly I never had the chance to meet her in person, we talked over Facebook. There are many women that I have met as part of this network that I have yet to meet in person but feel a very strong bond with due to the adversity we are facing and Claire was one of them. One thing that always struck me about Claire was her determination and tenacity. She read, researched and armed herself with the knowledge she needed to fight for the treatment that was best for her. She battled through periods of illness to run and completed a race not long after her first lot of chemotherapy finished. She was also incredibly warm - she always took the time to respond to the concerns and worries of others even though she was battling through tough times herself. I remember on my birthday she left me a fantastic message on my wall:

'Happy birthday!! You may feel like s**t, you may think you look like s**t... but you're gorgeous, this may not be the best birthday you've had but this time next year, hopefully you'll be sipping champagne amazed at how far you've come. Lots of love and hugs xxx'

It really made me smile and cheered me up when I was feeling particularly low. Claire always seemed to have the time and energy to try and pick others up when they were down, to offer advice and support - to be a friend. 

Claire was diagnosed in April of 2014 with triple negative breast cancer. She was still undergoing treatment when she fell ill with excruciating headaches in December and was admitted to hospital but scans and tests could give no definitive answers. However, her symptoms improved and she was allowed home. When her symptoms then worsened again, she was re-admitted to hospital and after further tests was told the cancer had spread to her spine and brain. She wrote a final blog post that you can read here. Although a positively heartbreaking read, her bravery and strength shines through.

Sadly, just days after this diagnosis, she passed away. The outpouring of love and sadness amongst members of the Younger Breast Cancer Network shows just how popular Claire was, how highly thought of she was and how much she will be missed.

True to her nature, in the gap where her symptoms improved she bought a treadmill and was determined to train to run a 10k race in May to raise money for Macmillan, even though her sight was failing. She won't get to run now but her £2000 target has been achieved almost twice over and I hope she got to know that before she went and that it made her smile. If you would like to make a donation to Macmillan in her honour, here is a link to Claire's Just Giving page.

My heart is heavy with sadness that we have lost such a bright, talented young woman to this vile disease. I think of her family, friends and partner and my heart aches. I feel like all the positivity has been sucked from my body and I'm not sure how to claw it back.

But as one of my friends from the network has said, we can honour Claire's memory by fighting as hard as we can, by raising money for worthy causes and raising awareness of breast cancer in younger women. By living each day to its fullest. So that's what I intend to do. I'm going to dig deep and find it within myself to keep battling against this disease as hard as that seems right now. I will draw strength from Claire's bravery and determination. I will try to cherish each moment and to appreciate life for the precious gift that it is.

Shine bright beautiful lady - the brightest star in the sky xxxx

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Operation Boob Removal

As I'm now safely back in my own flat thank goodness, I'm going to try and write about my surgery and hospital experience. However, some of it is a little hazy due to the copious amount of morphine I had pumped in to my veins and later thrown down my neck. It's also taken a while to write as typing hurts! But anyway, here it is.

Thursday started with me arriving at the the hospital at 7.30, ready to be 'processed' for surgery. I'd had to wash myself that morning and the night before with a special anti bacterial shower gel - sadly it did not smell of coconut but was a lurid pink colour, rather like toilet cleaner. I'm guessing the effect it had on my skin was the same as well.

Once again, I had to stand almost naked in a cubicle whilst I was examined and drawn on ready for the surgeons knife. When I was taken down to theatre, they very kindly let me keep my little hat on so my fluffy chicken head would not be displayed to the world and its wife. I now have very little dignity left so it's nice to be able to cling on to the final shreds of it once in a while! I had concerns about the anaesthetist being able to cannulate me, basically because the veins in my left hand and arm are quite wisely hiding themselves somewhere beneath the surface, however he was very reassuring that he could cannulate my right hand to administer the anaesthetic and then once I was asleep he would find a vein in the other hand. I definitely need to be unconscious for that one, due to the fact that the chemotherapy has ensured that having a needle anywhere near that arm is very, very painful. I'm now not able to have needles anywhere near my right arm due to the risk of lymphoedema after lymph node removal. There goes that tattoo I was planning! 

After having the inside of my breast scooped out and replaced with an empty implant (well - half filled implant) and having all my lymph nodes removed, I came round in a haze of morphine. Cue the talking of absolute bollocks. I had one hand connected to the morphine pump and IV drip - he had managed to cannualte me in my left hand - after a bit of trying judging by the state of it - and three drains attached to my right side. In case you have never seen one of these, this is what they look like:

I had to carry these around with me in a fetching green plastic bag like a spare body part everywhere I went whilst in hospital.I still have one of them in which has been christened Billy or 'this fucking thing'. I don't think I'll miss him when he's removed next week. The stuff in the bottle looks rather like beetroot juice and I would imagine just as unappetising.

Being unable to move very far at all due to pain and being incredibly woozy from the morphine and general anaesthetic, having a pee was not a simple as it once was. Even though I was in a side room with a bathroom, there was no way I could make it to the loo. So I was given a bed pan. If you've ever had to try and use a bed pan you'll know that lying flat with a cardboard bowl under your bum is not the easiest position to have a tinkle in. So in came the commode. Again, if you've never seen one of these, its basically a wheelchair with a hole cut out of the middle with a bed pan stuck in it. Having a pee sat in a chair is a very bizarre experience. Almost as weird as having to try and have pee lying in bed.

Apparently morphine can make it difficult to wee (who knew?) so the second time I sat on the commode my bladder appeared to have gone to sleep. The nurse then inserted a catheter which just made me feel like I was constantly bursting for a wee until I begged her to take it out later, hoping that my bladder had now been given the equivalent of a slap round the face and had been shocked back in to action.

This time I seem to have had quite a bad reaction to the general anaesthetic, meaning I spent a lot of the time in the 24 hours after my operation in fits of hysterical tears. Indeed, my surgeon found me stood in the bathroom the morning after my operation bald and with my arse hanging out my gown crying my eyes out, desperate for someone to come and help me have a wash. Not my finest hour.

At this point I also had a cannula on the inside of my wrist due it falling out of the back of my hand in the middle of the night and the nurse being unable to find another vein. If you can imagine how thin and sensitive the skin on the inside of your wrist is..... ouch.

The morning after my operation two nurses sheepishly came in to my room and told me that unfortunately they had to move me on to the ward as they needed the side room for another patient. Cue more fits of hysterical crying. As I said before, holding on to the final shreds of my dignity is important to me and being displayed on a ward with my Phil Mitchell haircut and broken body like some shit circus attraction was really not what I wanted! My bed was also positioned directly opposite the nurses station meaning that I was party to the comings and goings of the entire ward whether I wanted to be or not. To add insult to injury, the woman in the bed next to me was insisting on telling everyone who would listen to her that she hadn't had a poo for a week and nothing would work 'not even prune juice'. Poogate continued for the rest of the time she was in hospital (luckily she went home the next morning).

My wrist cannula also had to be taken out due to it being incredibly sore and swollen. Because I had been having injections to thin my blood to try and avoid blood clots due to lying in bed all day, the removal of the cannula created a scene akin to something from a Shaun of the Dead - i.e. blood squirting everywhere:

No more IV morphine bah!

The nurses on the ward were lovely albeit overworked and not enough of them. However, i did have to fight the daily curtain battle - I wanted my curtains drawn around my bed to retain a modicum of privacy, whilst they wanted them open. Also being woken up at 6.30am every morning really did not make for a even tempered Rebecca. And the food was terrible. The last evening meal I had there was roast chicken with creamed potatoes and vegetables. Ah that sounds nice, I hear you say? Well, it consisted of a lump of dried up chicken you could have used to polish your boots with and lumpy jaundiced looking mashed potatoes which tasted like they'd been mixed with gone off yoghurt. They were also ironically fashioned in to two mounds which bore a fleeting resemblance to a pair of tits. Talk about rubbing it it.

However, it wasn't all bad as I was treated to lots of visits and pressies from my lovely friends and family including a suprise visit from these two beauties, my friends Sarah and Aimee from the Younger Breast Cancer Network:

Hospital selfie! And a distinct lack of real boobs between us!

There was also a nice array of very attractive doctors. Ladies, if you're wondering where all the fit blokes are in Birmingham, they are hanging out at City Hospital.

As I said at the beginning, I'm now back at home and it's now a week since my operation. The pain level has subsided a bit and has been kept in control with copious amounts of codeine and a sneaky bit of oramorph that I had left over from when I was having chemotherapy. One of the nicest things about being at home is not being woken at 6.30am by glaring fluorescent ceiling lights and being able to eat food that doesn't resemble something that the dog has just chucked up. Anyway, I've rambled on enough now so just to finish with the fact that Operation Boob Removal is hopefully complete -  now just to wait for the results eeek!