Monday morning 11th January 1999 at 7.00am I was sitting in the waiting room at the Hospital, waiting to be taken to Theatre. This time a week ago I hadn’t even had the revealing mammogram. How quickly everything was moving. In the preparation room Mr. Wilkinson, in full surgery dress reassured my that I was in good hands.
Because of the size of the tumor, grade 3, the Surgeon was to remove the complete left breast along with 13 of the axillary (lymph) nodes from under my arm. Fortunately only the first 3 of the nodes were affected with a “speck”. This meant that the cancer had not invaded the rest of my body as far as could be ascertained but I was in the high risk group for recurrence.
Six months of Chemotherapy and five weeks of daily Radiotherapy would follow the surgical procedure. The possibility of recurrence is greatest in the first five years. So far, so good! This aspect played on my mind for months, I never seemed to be free of the thought. Now, twenty one months later I feel a confidence that it will not recur but.......
There was really no pain following the surgery. I had a morphine line I could activate when needed but only used it a couple of times. I felt emotionally very fragile and welcomed the nursing care of a hot towel bath. The warmth of the towels encasing my body triggered a release and tears flooded out. I felt such a relief and at the same time was acutely aware of a huge task ahead of me.
Five days after the operation I was sitting up on my bed feeling pretty great. I had not yet seen the result on my chest and two drains were still in place. Mr. Wilkinson came to see me to say I could go home. Off I went carrying my two drain containers in a bag. I felt quite bright in spirits but a bit slow in physical movement.
Once home, I was tired and emotional and spent the next week mostly lying on my bed looking out at the waving gum trees against a brilliant blue sky. Passing clouds provided an ever changing scene. I felt peaceful and content to follow whatever came along. That was until anyone spoke to me when I promptly dissolved into tears. This fragility continued for some weeks. I recognize this as part of the emotional cleansing process.
Thoughts of what I was going through were ever present on my mind and I practiced noting each thought and letting it go.
A week later the bandages
came off and the drains were taken out. I looked down at a flat chest after
having one well endowed. A long angry scar slashed its way right up under my
arm. Surprisingly, I really liked this
new flat look.
I stood in front of the mirror and became familiar with the new me, front on and
sideways. I looked into my eyes and confirmed "You will come through this
OK. You will meet this challenge." and smiled.
I stood in front of the mirror and became familiar with the new me, front on and sideways. I looked into my eyes and confirmed "You will come through this OK. You will meet this challenge." and smiled.
Mirror work is very good therapy. Not just for this situation but for any time you are feeling a little depressed or get the "poor me" feeling. You can be your own best medicine.
It was about this time that I found myself thinking of reconstruction. I looked forward to it as a type of reward for what was coming in the form of Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy, although I had no idea of what either entailed at that time.
I began research in earnest. Nothing is more empowering than being informed. I researched in books but found the greatest asset was the Internet. I found numerous sites which provided medical information I could compare, as well as patients' experiences like mine. I am grateful to Pat Murray from Providence, Rhode Island for her illustrated website which gave me so much courage to go on and the 'Your Surgery' site which I found to be extremely helpful with clinical detail. Important for me because I always want to know the detail.
My thanks and enormous gratitude go to Mr. Stephen Wilkinson who had the difficult task of revealing the bad news and then removing all traces.