Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Remember to recycle

"I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes illness worthwhile."
George Benard Shaw

Well three weeks have gone by since I last posted.  I feel a little wiser, a little humbler, a little changed, and completely grateful. I am also a little blonder. Don't ask just tell me I look great. Midlife crisis comes in all forms, at least I didn't buy a car.

The day of my surgery came with less drama than the previous one. No migraine to distract or the feeling of loss of control with my initial diagnosis. I asked for this, I never asked for cancer. Now of course I am scared to death, but it was like choosing to walk through the haunted house and not being pushed. ( I like to be seasonal with my analogies). My fears were lessened with the nothing less than superb care I received from the surgical and recovery team at the Health Science Hospital. Doctors and nurses coming in to see me and get me ready, bringing a sense of calm and trust that was quite remarkable. I can't ever thank them enough for that. I was in good hands and I knew it. I wasn't sure exactly how I would look coming out as the surgeon wasn't completely sure himself if he would be giving me a implant or expander on my new mastectomy side. I was good with whatever at this point. My biggest concern was the fact they wanted me to take my underwear off. I did as instructed but like a completely obsessed person I kept looking at my husband and saying " wish I could wear my underwear" over and over again. A new nurse comes in and I try and see if I can figure out a way to get my drawers back on. Nope they gotta stay off. I know I wore them for my first mastectomy. Geez! Hmmm.... then they put the lovely white compression stockings on me from heel to hip. Well now. No underwear and these long stockings. Somehow it just felt wrong. I had not taken this part into account so no preliminary waxing you know, " down around". You know how they say if you cut the grass it will grow faster, well if your hair falls out and grows back its like a chia pet. Just saying...Anyways I knew I had to let it go. They brought me to the operating room and fussed, poked and talked to me to keep me calm. The mask went over my face, I panicked. I felt like I couldn't breath. The nurse sees this, and lightens her grip. I look up and say through the mask " thank you". She looks down. Good she hears me. She says " your welcome" and its night night Sondria.....I am theirs.....

I awake several hours later to find I have new breast on my left and expander now in my chest on the right. Still lopsided but on my way to getting back to something. I can't say getting back to the old me as that person doesn't exist anymore. The essence of me will always be here, but the new chick with cancer is part of me now as well. I have landed myself the most wonderful recovery nurse. She fusses and checks and asks how I am. The two new formed mounds on my chest are on "FIRE". She gives me doses of this and that, not working really. I am trying to evaluate my pain level and it seems to be maintaining at "OMG this friggin hurts". I find myself crying, and sobbing. Overwhelmed I believed its called. I find out later that this gets me my first ever Ativan. I seemed to be so much more coherent, and with it, last surgery. She works hard to get me settled and calm. I finally get to see my husband around 6 o'clock. I am completely full of painkillers while my husband sits for several hours. I can really only remember reaching over and touching his hand and saying " I love you Patrick" over and over again. I meant every word even if I was high as a kite. He is a man of few words so he sits quietly as I bob and weave out of being awake.
The nurse assures us we will be there in recovery for the night, but at around 10:30 pm beds are found for all three of us who are left there. I am going to cardiology.  I hear someone say as they wheel me on the ward "sure you can eat of the floors on this ward its so clean". My luck is holding out. Again I am placed with a attentive and kind nurse who chats with me and makes me feel completely cared for.  Pillows fixed, water when needed not a bad place at all.

The next day it seems the consensus is to go home.  I was happy to stay and be a sick patient in a hospital bed,  it seemed appealing.  Again the faces of my ever enduring friends are there and ready to transfer me home. The last three weeks have finally brought me to a place where I knew I needed to stop completely. This was partly by choice and mostly due to pain and discomfort. As this journey has gone, with every negative there are more positives. I reconnected with old friends, got food cooked with love, and if after that I don't know that I am loved then I need to get a grip. I am once again humbled at my breast cancer support group as the women talk about their cancer journey's and I am reminded to be grateful. I get out of my own way as I see an old school friend deal with her 17 year olds' diagnosis of cancer and watch as they send out positive energy while their hearts are breaking. I call a dear old friend who is just finished her third round of chemo for breast cancer.  A dedication from a niece for a fundraiser for breast cancer. Sometimes I just have to remind myself to ask people " are you okay today" so that the positive vibes I receive are recycled and given back.

As I am finishing writing this blog, my thoughts that  I am writing down turn into reality. I receive an email from a friend. It contained a poem from a woman  I am getting to know who just thought I might like to read it and that it might mean something to me. It does. Now I am sharing with you. Thank you Joanie.

Love after Love

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the others welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

So I went to the beach!

After six months of surgery and treatments it was time to go away from it all. A temporary respite from what can only be explained as a pain in my ass existence at times. Tired of complaining and with my family needing a break from my diagnosis a collective decision was made to head south. I hoped for a place where the breeze from the sea would cool my core and let me forget that I awake as a 90 year old daily. I could forget, for now anyways. All due respect to reality.

I was still awaiting confirmation on my impending surgery. I left with no confirmed date and a resumption of my ongoing cancer medication.

A trip to the beach for a one boob wonder is interesting. Things to consider and think about. I had always wore bikini's and was determined to be in one this trip. With one water prosthesis and some mcgivering of a few swimsuits, I thought I could pull it off. Anything is possible right? Smoke and mirrors had become my speciality these last few months. What really was important for me was to be somewhere that gave my family a chance to just be. Life is constant, good and bad.
I always do well in the heat and sand. Healing to the body and soul for me. No worries about cooking, cleaning, laundry for one whole week. With the surgery in the back of my mind, I let it stay there resigned to just being in the moment.

I think one of the biggest gifts was that no one knew I had cancer.  I felt invisible, but in a good way. My newly filled in scalp went unnoticed. Nobody cared that I only had a fine layer of hair, although to a former bald girl I could of been Farrah Fawcett. Hair is hair when you go bald to get well. Not one eye batted when comparing my current self to my passport photo, although the security guard upon leaving asked if I cut it. I thought I would explain to him what happened and realised he did not speak english and had used hand signals to ask me. What was this need to tell everyone I have cancer. I think if I say it over and over again the reality might actually sink in.

Several days of sleep, eating, and sun begins to put you in a different frame of mind. Then I get the call. A beckon back to my reality. A message from the surgeons office in the middle of my paradise. I was happy to receive the call but the stark contrast to  my beach bubble was very real. I accepted a surgical date for a week after my return home, this would give me time to prepare or run away not sure which one I would chose. I stopped the cancer meds again. I felt relieved to finally know. I could go back to enjoying each second with my family.

I felt I needed to bucket list a little on this trip. So I para-sailed with my daughter, at which time I cried as I floated over the beautiful ocean and beach. Terrified that after everything I did this last six months to live, this would be how I daughter just wanted me to get a grip ( insert eye roll).. I reminded her that I did it and I conquered my fear. I am afraid of everything these days, my challenge seems to be to overcome my fears. I like to give cancer the reverence it deserves and its ability to take away precious time, I am mindful how I spend mine these days. We went on a helicopter ride over the area and although I was scared to death I desperately tried to stay in the moment so that I could appreciate the beauty of where I was. I  got to laugh a great deal on my trip, from having a seaweed fight in the ocean ( parents vs child) to laughing as my daughter had a hand held fan removed from hair by one of the waiters
( dont' ask).

As I sit here writing, I know tomorrow is my surgery. I know I will be changed. My body asked to morph once again so that I may have a sense of taking control of my life. Getting back to where I think I need to be for me. Although I can change my outer person, it is the moments like my trip with my family that make me who I am and fill my soul...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

" The Doorway"

 The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. 
                                                                Audrey Hepburn

As a woman I am sure you never imagine you will utter the words " I miss my breast", but I do very much. The months following the surgery and cancer treatments you are caught up in the world wind that now is your life. When the treatments stop and you slow down you are left with the reality of what now is your body, your new existence. Words like self acceptance, sexuality, femininity all encompassing as you grapple with moving on and living your life in the wake of your experience.

I remember the day I had my follow-up with the surgeon who performed my mastectomy. He said to me as we finished up " we will be watching that other breast". I left that appointment with an uneasy feeling. My remaining breast had actually been the one to give me all the grief in the past couple of years. Gifting me with mastitis infections and big bouncy cysts, but in the end it was my right side that had the cancer. I always thought that was weird but this gave me an opportunity to think about things.
On my second last appointment with my oncologist I had asked her what she thought about my remaining side. She stated that I had a low chance of reoccurrence but agreed I had a complicated boob. I also had cancer that did not grow in the standard lump and the last bout hid behind and around my cysts. Sneaky bugger.  I don't qualify for yearly MRI's. My cancer could not be seen on mammogram. She referred me to a surgical oncologist.
My thinking going into this whole thing was " I wanted a new boob" that was a given for me. I did however want to discuss whether I should be thinking about my other breast. I knew my chance of reoccurrence was low in my remaining boob, in actual fact I have a higher chance of getting cancer again on the already removed side. I did know that I had an aggressive cancer. I did know I had more than one type of cancer initially. Does that put me at higher risk? My life a matter of percentages and statistics now. The surgeon was open and direct with me and understanding to my fears. In the end it would be my decision to remove my other breast but based on my history and current lumpy conditions the doctor concurred that it was reasonable. He spoke to me about a certain technique they could perform that would help keep my breast looking somewhat like it currently is.
I did not go into the meeting with the surgeon thinking " cut it off ". I really had no choice the first time I lost a part of my body. This time I do. Its not really just about that though. Its about the rest of your life. How you want to live it and worrying about how long that life will be. Whats best for me? In the end, as you sit alone, you need to be okay with your life and decisions you make. This was a big one.
I thought about things for the next couple of days. I think I already knew though what I was going to do. It just seemed like the right decision. I met with the plastic surgeon and discussed moving forward with the surgery to reconstruct and shared with him that I met with the surgical oncologist. He agreed to performing a nipple sparing mastectomy on my left side with the other surgeon as well as beginning the process of rebuilding my right breast. I signed the papers. Now I wait for a date.
I feel pretty good about my decision. Somehow seems exactly right for me. I have no illusions of what I will look like down the road when its all said and done. I don't look like me anymore anyways, my new body powerful at every glance I take.

You adapt and move on but you are forever changed.