Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The Fortune Teller .....

At 4 O'clock yesterday afternoon, I went to visit the surgeon who had removed the tumour from my right breast, and the associated lymph nodes. It had been a full week since the operation, and I have to say I was more than ready to hear the full diagnosis. I had been feeling as if I was a refugee in some alien hinterland that I didn't recognise and when I sought direction from my internal compass to navigate my way back to more comfortable waters, it just span around and around, hopelessly seeking answers that disappeared like mirages every time I approached too closely. I think the past week has been one of the most uncomfortable journeys I have ever been on. Totally lost and disorientated in a familiar landscape.

We waited in the now familiar Waiting Area and watched as Couples, Daughters and Mothers, and occasionally a woman on her own, left the Clinic having had their fortunes told. No words were necessary to understand their destiny; the smiles that lit up faces or quiet tears of despair said everything the onlooker needed to know. You couldn't help but be moved by them, and I couldn't help wonder which I would be. My Husband saw me watching and clasped my hand tightly, his eyes reflecting the fear of the unknown visible in my own.

A Breast Care Nurse(BCN) called us in, and we went into a Consulting room. I was asked to go behind the curtains, undress and pop onto the couch; Miss Stebbing would be in shortly. While we waited, the BCN smartly removed the dressings that had hidden the wounds from a week earlier. I knew I was bruised, I had seen the yellow and purple mosaic spreading out in all directions when I bathed, but I hadn't quite prepared myself for how large the incisions were and was a bit surprised by what I saw. My husband's reaction to it later when we had a proper look in the privacy of home was ' Zoë fought the Tiger and the Tiger won'.

Miss Stebbing came in, and examined her handy work, and I have to admit, despite the initial shock, I had to agree with her that it all looked remarkably healthy, was healing well and was very neat; you can't see a stitch mark, despite there being 2 wounds, one 3 inches and the other 6 inches long. Happy with her work she told me to dress and come and sit down again. It was a joy not to have the dressings on, and as the nurse helped me do up the monstrosity bra, I couldn't help but wonder how long it would be before I could wear something less utilitarian again.

I sat down next to himself, and waited with butterflies racing around my stomach and my heart in my mouth. The last time I had sat in this chair, Miss Stebbing had told me it was 'bad news'; that I had Breast Cancer. What was she going to tell me today? She smiled. I knew the news would be good, and she started to explain what the future held. Mercifully, they hadn't found any cancer cells in the lymph nodes they had sampled, and from that they were confident there had been no spread. The tumour itself in the scheme of these things was small, and all the margins of the tissue they had removed was also clear of any cancer cells, which meant she was confident that they had removed it all; the threat of more surgery was gone. It also means that I don't have to suffer the effects of Chemotherapy, that I can continue as she initially predicted, and take Tamoxifen for the next 5 years, which is a hormone cancer therapy appropriate to the type of cancer they found in me, and Radiotherapy once the wounds are well healed.

I should start on the Tamoxifen today; my GP will phone to let me know when the prescription is ready, and I may throw all care to the wind and walk the mile into the village to collect it. I still haven't driven yet, as the area is still sore, and I don't want to push my luck and endanger other road users because of a wonky arm. I will see an Oncologist next week to discuss the follow on treatment from the surgery, Radiotherapy, and arrange when that will start and for how long.; the hospital will phone and tell me which day at sometime today. Miss Stebbing thinks 25 visits should do the trick, going along on every weekday to the Unit in Southampton for 5 weeks. That in itself is going to be quite a feat as it is an 80 mile round trip.

So it's Champagne all round! Here's a toast to you all who sent me messages of support and encouragement, kind thoughts and positive vibes; they really made a difference. XX

Monday, 8 September 2008

Some light relief

This cupboard in my bathroom is filled to overflowing with bubbles, oils and other exotic ungents

I thought I would share my comedy moment of the week; it will be these moments that stick in my memory in years to come when I discuss my personal journey with Breast Cancer; the things that made me laugh, when even laughing hurt.

There are so many little things we take for granted in everyday life, the ability to access hot water and clean ourselves when we feel the need. Little bathing rituals we acquire that help us set the world to rights, a bath, a hair wash, just feeling clean can be spiritually cleansing too. Imagine my dismay when I was told not to get the dressings wet! No showers, no baths, and washing my hair virtually impossible! I wanted a hair wash, it hadn't been washed in 3 days; I was beginning to feel like the great unwashed, it bothered me out of all proportion, despite my Husband's protestations that it looked fine, it smelt fine, and anyway who was going to see! Men don't get it.

I wash my hair every day usually, it's one of the few things I do that is any kind of concession to the usual female preening rituals, I don't wear make up, never have. I don't colour my hair, never have. I do like to feel clean, I like my hair to shine and smell fresh . I bathe every day, often having a shower in the morning and a bath in the evening. It is my way to cleanse away the ills of each day, a luxury; to feel renewed, rejuvenated; it is healing.

I had figured out that with some help from himself, I could clamber in the roll top bath, and submerge my nether regions in a couple of inches of water perfumed with my favourite bubbles and generally splash around cleaning me from the waist down. Introducing water above my belly button was problematic, it was apt to get uncomfortably close to the dressings on my breast.

A little Internet research is often my way to circumvent frustration when faced with a task that seems seemingly impossible; and my mission was to wash my hair. Despite having a bath of sorts, I still felt grimy, and unclean. Yes, I know I am totally irrational, but as I reminded my Darling husband, I am female and it is my prerogative to be totally irrational about such things, and if he valued peace, he would stop telling me I was being irrational and that my hair was fine and could wait a few more days.

They say 'Desperation is the Mother of Invention'; well I was desperate by now, and willing to consider any method to secure clean locks, regardless of how madcap it might at first appear. My Saviour appeared in the form of a roll of Clingfilm. Yes, that right, Clingfilm. I undressed, and bid my poor husband wrap me in it tightly, over the area that the dressings occupied, and above and below; this way if I got wet, it didn't matter! I have to tell you that it took us a while to accomplish this, and the subsequent mayhem that ensued as I was wrapped up like a Turkey had us both in uncontrolled fits of laughter.

It was some while before either of us calmed enough to allow him to wash my hair for me; I bent over the basin and he carefully and gently washed my hair, rinsing it as if I might break; me still trying to stifle giggles and the rid myself of the ludicrous image I made in the mirror. I shall never be able to look at Clingfilm on the shelf in Waitrose again without having to stifle a smile.