The best outcome ever!

This is a short post and to the point as I’m still reeling from the impact of the brilliant news. No chemotherapy, no radiotherapy, just a few years of Tamoxifen and some short-term regular monitoring of the reconstruction.
I heard Mr Raytor’s words and I understood them at the time – the best possible outcome, he said – but it was only when I was at the reception handing in my post-appointment sheet of paper that the reality hit me and I burst into tears of relief. I’m still crying as I write – I feel unbelievably blessed. So so happy….


Home comfort

It’s great to be home and to have transitioned from patient to person again. They offered to discharge me on Wednesday, but I wasn’t feeling confident enough to distance myself from the hospital’s emergency equipment and drugs. I also thought that an additional day of bedrest would be sensible – and it was, although the last night turned into a cacophony of bed alarms from needy patients and the ‘off’ button was clearly malfunctioning!

Home is much more peaceful – I’m surrounded by flowers and the gentle thwacking of Wimbledon coverage and outside the sun is most definitely shining and the birds are tweeting. Each day I am feeling stronger and braver about what I can do. Everything works apart from my left arm which I can’t raise above shoulder height for the moment. Six weeks of gentle physio will teach the remaining back muscles how re-mobilise my shoulder and arm. I left hospital with a large bag of painkillers and a couple of drains. I’m cheerfully working my way through the pills and but I can’t find any redeeming features to report on the drains. Thankfully I had one removed today and will most likely bid the other farewell on Friday.

As expected, most things now tire me out and simple tasks like getting dressed and bathing take forever. On the plus side, I can only dress in clothes that I can step into or that button up at the front, so no real dilemmas on the wardrobe front!

I am still feeling upbeat – this is definitely the upwards bit of the roller-coaster. The operation is behind me and was successful. I’m recovering well and feel incredibly lucky that all this hasn’t happened in the middle of winter. I can walk to the park and beyond and allow the life-affirming sensations of warmth, birdsong and blossom to keep my spirits high. Simple pleasures are enjoyed to the max, like seeing thousands of tiny frogs marching around Abbott’s Pool on a peaceful promenade on Sunday when the sun finally came out.

I was at the hospital today to check the healing process and remove (a bit brutally if you ask me) some dressings. A precautionary course of antibiotics were prescribed in response to some minor redness / wound seepage, but otherwise things look fine. Apparently there will be quite a few of these follow-up appointments, but I’m not worried about these. I’m approaching Friday’s appointment like a sniffer dog to a suspicious package. I feel experienced enough now to deal with whatever the histology report has to throw at me and ready in equal measure for a nasty blow or a wave of relief.

Thank you to all of you who have visited so far and sent messages, cards and flowers which have made me smile and thoughtful treats that are definitely helping me to heal. Next instalment will be a medical update after Friday’s appointment xx

Gollum gone!

Apologies for the news void. The hospital wifi is as elusive as my ‘Gollum’ which meant no blogging and, annoyingly, no access to much of the entertainment I’d favourited on my devices. This, however, is my only moan and is completely trivial in the context of the bigger picture.

We arrived at 7 am on the dot at the departure lounge with my hand luggage (for those of you not in Bristol, the new hospital is designed to feel like an airport). There were masses of people so we expected a long wait. Incredibly, within the space of an hour and a half I’d checked in, completed the 15 page questionnaire, seen the nurse, the anaesthetist, the surgeon, the registrar and the lady who administered the radioactive liquid which shows the path to the sentinel lymph nodes. If I now start randomly telling people my name and date of birth, it’s because of the conditioning over the past few days!

It turns out I was first up and it was all so efficient that Patrick said he might write a letter of complaint as he’d have to leave during the morning rush hour! At 9.30 I stepped into the operating theatre full of plasma screens showing beautiful pictures of purple anemones and sunsets. Shortly, I thought, those pictures won’t be so pretty!

The operation took about 3.5 hours and went very well. Mr Raytor was very satisfied with his work which is what you want to hear from a perfectionist. The best news is that the 4 lymph nodes that they removed and tested were all clear. Virtual champagne corks were popping in my head when I heard that! In terms of further treatment, they think radiotherapy is unlikely to be needed, I’ll definitely need Tamoxifen or equivalent (here come the menopause!) and the chemo question remains unanswered until the results on the histology report on 3rd July.

I came round in a spacious and calm recovery room where the lovely Mandy and Lucas clucked around me and made me feel normal. No sickness, no sore throat, just a bit spaced out – full marks for the anaesthetist! It took ages to find me a bed on a ward – this is such a busy place. Eventually I was on the move and excited about seeing my home for the next few days. Now, 75% of the bed spaces at Southmead are single rooms, so I was feeling hopeful. It didn’t last – ward 33 had 4 beds and mine was number 13! The staff nurse spoke to everyone as if they were deaf and English was their second language and my companions included a sweet old lady with a constant wheezy cough and a not-so-sweet one who found fault with everyone and everything. It was quite a long noisy night and I had to be examined every 30 mins for the first 24 hours.

At the end of the next day I was moved to an en-suite single room and it was bliss! ‘Daughter of boob’ is behaving herself and settling in very nicely. I’ve made good progress and am now ready to go home. I need lots of rest, but I won’t be in bed during the day so I’m up for visitors whenever. Outings may be limited as I’ve still got two drains in and the bag I’ve got to carry them in doesn’t match much in my wardrobe! I should be drain-free in the next week or so.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, can I just say that the NHS is bloody marvellous? Despite being very busy, the staff have been professional, caring, fastidious and patient and you could be forgiven for confusing some parts of this hospital with a hotel. It makes me proud to live here and it’s been great seeing UWE students learning the skills on placement and knowing they will be part of the future of this great institution.

So, all in all a positive experience. Feeling safe. Feeling positive….

Huge relief

I couldn’t wait to tell them this morning and when I did, it was unscripted and unfussy. There were tears of course but complete understanding about the big cover-up and even some laughs as they pieced together some of the odd behaviour and coincidences of the past 7 weeks.

So despite my typical over-analysis, it was fine and rather beautiful and we’ll be doing a spot of girly retail therapy between today’s rehearsal and concert.

With one thing off my chest, just one left to go (smiley face!!). Given the sense of relief and the tsumani of love that hit me this morning, I feel fantastic and can face absolutely anything right now xxx

Mum’s still the word…

I’ve told most of the important people now, including as of yesterday, friends with children who went or still go to school with Emma. That just leaves two very special people, so mum’s still the word for just a wee bit longer.

Telling your teenage daughters you have breast cancer has to be right up there on the list of things you never want to do, alongside putting a dying animal out of its misery with your bare hands and sticking needles in your eyes. I’ve assigned tomorrow morning to this delightful task to allow Sophie to celebrate the end of her GCSEs this evening (woohoo, she’s not the only one celebrating!) and them both to go to a choir rehearsal on Saturday afternoon. The evening will be taken up with (shameless plug alert!) an exciting concert in the Colston Hall conducted by John Rutter. At least it will beat sitting around the house looking glum – we can save that for Sunday – the longest day!

I have a 7 am admission booked at Southmead on Monday. My surgeon – Mr Raytor – has two ‘smaller’ cases ahead of me so once the warm-up acts are dispensed with I should be centre-stage around 10ish. It could take up to 6 hours start to finish. Tissue removal is pretty straight-forward, it’s giving the back muscle a new job description in a forward-facing world which takes the time. What a job! The lovely Mr Raytor will certainly be earning his crust that day. Luckily for me he’s done this particular procedure more than most, so I’m in safe hands.

During the operation, they will test my sentinel lymph node to see if Gollum has poked his nose elsewhere. The team are very proud of a whizzy machine which will give the result on the day, so something for me to look forward to when I wake up. That said, my experience so far is that most test results are inconclusive, so it’s more realistic to expect more waiting and worrying. I’ve been told that when I wake up I’ll feel like I’ve run a marathon. At least I’ll know how it feels even if I haven’t actually run one. Not that I’m particularly bothered about that now – I might relegate it from my bucket to my ‘f**k it’ list!

Three nights in hospital is normal following this operation so I’m expecting to come home on Thursday. I’ll pack my bag and organise my in-flight entertainment tomorrow. This will include a new addition to my wardrobe which arrived this week – a post-surgery bra. I’ll spare you the picture. Let’s just say that it would look more at home in a first-aid box than an underwear drawer.

How am I feeling? At this moment and in no particular order:

  • Scared – I’ve never had an operation before
  • Worried about telling the girls – I’ve had WAY too much time to think about it
  • Tired – related to the above
  • HUGELY relieved to see the back of the GCSEs!!!

Telling people has been quite tough, particularly early on – I’m getting better at it now. Not telling people has also been difficult. Thank you for all your lovely words and hugs – it means so much and it’s very comforting to have such great company. When I talk to the girls tomorrow, I will feel you all routing for me xxx

Unexpected item in sagging area

Unexpected and about as unwelcome as they come, in fact….

The lump I found at the beginning of April worried neither me nor my slightly bored GP (“yeah, probably another cyst”).  At the non-urgent referral to the clinic, the mammogram showed nothing and the ultrasound struggled to justify its existence showing fleeting images of a 1 cm globule which the clinician eventually decided might be worthy of further investigation.

The diagnosis on 1 May was a surprise to everyone.   Grade 2 cancer (on a scale of 1-3), slow growing (yeah!) and HER2 inconclusive (might mean chemo, might not – needed further tests).  No problem, a simple lumpectomy will sort this out, they said.  Just to be sure, as it was tucked Gollum-like in the corner and a bit difficult to gauge the true size, I was treated to an MRI scan which shows everything in glorious technicolour.

Enter stage left under the MRI spotlight 3 additional tumours – small but just as messy, as proved by the subsequent biospsy.   Now we’re talking about an infected area of around 7 cm, meaning the whole boob needs to go.

At this point I’ve really had enough of bad news and want to take my toys and go to a nice land full of fluffy kittens where this isn’t happening.

Instead I get a menu of options.  Immediate reconstruction is advised and because of my size, shape, age, etc, all of the various ways to reconstruct a breast are suitable.  I did ask if I could just have the ‘plat du jour’, but no, I had to go ‘à la carte’.  So I spent much of the recent May bank holiday considering whether to go for an implant or have other bits of my body fashioned into ‘son of boob’.  The images on the ‘helpful’ websites will stay with me for some time!

With that decision made, a date for the operation is now fixed.  Monday 22nd June.  It could have been a bit sooner, but Sophie’s last GSCE is Fri 19th June and I haven’t told the girls about it.  I figure the risk of messing up the exam focus is worse than any fall-out I get over the web of deceit I’ve managed to weave.   Also, as the news has been trickling in at a maddeningly glacial pace, I’ll be able to answer questions and address their concerns with a bit more authority than if I’d told them what I knew weeks ago.

So now social-media-phobic Sandra is a blogger!  Future posts won’t be this long, I promise, but I did have quite a lot of ground to cover.  If you’re reading this before 20th June and have any connection with Sophie or Emma, please be VERY discrete – nothing on Facebook and don’t be overheard.  Once I’ve broken the news to them, I’ll let you know in this blog.  Feel free to pass this on and to write comments, if only to confirm that I have mastered the technology!

With luck it might be the world’s shortest blog.  I may have the operation and need no further treatment, in which case I shall bore you with details of my recuperation in the sunshine!  The ‘roller-coaster’ metaphor is a bit overused, but pretty accurate so far.  Now you’re on board, fasten your seatbelts and let’s see what happens next.  Hoping for a bit more fun and an upward stretch and certainly not an Alton-Towers-style crash landing!!!