Before the mastectomy

Okay, I love writing  – (I also love yogurt, which I’m eating right now) – and through writing I can clean my system. Plus, it’s a great way to share information.

So I’m going to write up two posts: before the mastectomy, and after the mastectomy.  And I’m going to start immediately, here, now.

The morning of my mastectomy I woke up at 6.50, ate a piece of toast and crashed back into bed. Zsolt and I slept in till nine, then rolled around the apartment till ten. My acupressure must be working, because even with the operation looming I was able to sleep soundly.  There was writing of emails, watching of Zsolt (he was eating and I was fasting; I couldn’t help salivating as he ate a late breakfast) receiving of letters, and prepping of bags. I used basically nothing that I packed, but it was still good to have it all there. For the most part things stayed ‘cool’, until I received two letters – one from Sandie and one from Laura, which were both very touching and helped me cry a little. Light crying is a good thing.

Eleven o’clock and we caught the bus to the hospital.  I kept looking down at my boobs, that happy couple sitting side by side, and would hold up my hand to cover the right one.

About ten to twelve we arrived at the Princess Anne, and we found our way to D level, day surgery. This is the area for people who are having surgery but leaving the same day. I guess they are getting things taken out, bits sliced off, etc. All the while I waited for them to take me away. One woman had to say goodbye to her husband in the lounge area and I burst into tears. How ridiculous is that? It’s not like this was a movie scene where the couple says a final goodbye; they didn’t even seem to mind. But still, the tears were rolling down my cheeks.

After my little scene, we kept on waiting. A lovely nurse came into the room – she was round, with big hair and a smiling face – and called out a list of names, on which I was placed third. She said that there were not enough beds, so we had to stay in the waiting room while the prep went on, and we’d go off and return one at a time. This was fantastic news for me – because Zsolt was in the waiting room and so long as he was there, I was happy.

Another hour passes by. Zsolt and I visit with my Anaesthetic Doctor (Nick) and he explains what we’ll be doing to knock me out.  I’m given robes to change into. Then it’s back to the waiting room.

Around 3.20 the nurse comes and asks if I’d like to sit on a bed to wait. “I’d rather stay with my husband,” I reply. And she says, “No problem, he can come with you.”

No problem? He can come with me? What was that pre-assessment nurse telling me two days before?

So! There you have it! Zsolt came with me. We sat in a small curtained off area, I was on the bed and he was on the chair. By this point in the day the patients were tapering off and the nurses seemed to  relax. They began to sing ‘all things bright and beautiful’ on the other side of the curtain, which I had never heard before. One nurse said it reminded her of a funeral, but another – the smiling nurse from earlier – said it reminded her of home; it reminded her of festivals and how people would walk down the street singing aloud. It held a lot of memories for her. So she sang it again for them. Zsolt and I listened through the curtain. It was lovely.

Eventually a nurse popped her head round our curtain (just past 4 pm) and asked if I was ready. Ready… well, I was willing. Can you ever be ready? A quick goodbye to Zsolt, I pulled myself together and was wheeled to the prep room.

Touching is such a comfort. All this nurse had to do was touch the side of my face and I felt supported.

We wheeled into this small prep room that somehow reminded me of high school tech classes. It seemed too small – not large enough for operating. But, of course, it must not have been. Before me were two grey doors, and I have a feeling the ‘theatre’ was on the other side.

There was Nick, the man who’d give me drugs, and he put a catheter into my hand. I frigging hate needles.  But in it went. He asked me what my favourite drink was . . . hmmm, water filled with ice cubes? (the question as an answer response, very Canadian).  He had meant an alcoholic drink, because what I was about to feel would be like two gin and tonics poured into my veins (maybe that’s his favourite drink).  Earlier he had told me it’d loosen me up, make me giggle. Nope, no giggles. I started to cry instead (a very common theme for the day). But good old Nick and my nurse did their best to distract me. “Where’s your favourite place for holidays?” Hmmm, Lake Balaton in Hungary? I answered (again as a question, because I wasn’t sure of anything at this point).  “Sounds great” he replied.

And then I was dreaming about Zsolt’s colleague’s German accent in conflict with someone else’s accent.

And then I was waking up, and realized that I was moving – being rolled, and Nick was there in his blue outfit, and the nurse (name forgotten, sorry!) was there with her pink ribbon and I asked if it had been okay – yes it was okay – and had they gotten it all out – yes they’d gotten it out.

And on we rolled into recovery. The rest was a dream with ins and out. I think I arrived in recovery around 6, and I know I arrived in the ward around 8.40. Zsolt was there after a day of waiting, and I was so tired I could barely stay awake.

But that’s after the mastectomy, and this is about before.  I’ll write the rest later. For now this is enough.

Mastectomy Prep 101

Right! It’s been a few days since I’ve written a substantial post, but I have been trying to give myself a break from constantly thinking about breast cancer, and happily it has been working (on and off).

Tomorrow is my operation. So, in preparation for my mastectomy I’ve been doing all sorts of things (and not doing all sorts of things) which I’ll summarize in a list for anyone who is interested. Here it comes, my “getting ready for a –bleep– ing mastectomy” list.

One: Have the talk.

Mmmmhum. This one-to-one pep talk was conducted while Zsolt worked some overtime on his recent paper submission. I whipped off my shirt and bra, sat down in front of my Ikea mirrors (mirrors because we were too cheap to buy a full length… instead we have several squares lined up vertically on the wall), and just looked in the mirror for a while. And yes, there is a physical difference between my two breasts; the right nipple (cancer boob) has started to turn in, and a bit of red spotting has appeared on the skin. I looked up close, I leaned far back, I covered my right side and tried to image it was a patch of scarred blankness.

And finally, I had the talk. Basically it went along the lines of, “Catherine, you have cancer and losing the breast is the best step to being rid of it all.” Which I found hard to believe. “I have cancer? Me?” “Yes, you have cancer.” [Fun Fact: people may tell you that cancer is inside your body, but it is incredibly difficult to believe them. I can go to the screening, see pictures of the lumps, have my breast removed, be told I’ll need chemo . . . and all the while I’ll still be saying: “who, me?”] “Yes, you.” This is what I kept telling myself. And then, moving on, “You can’t be scared because this operation is a good thing. It’s a good day, and a freaking miracle – and they know what they’re doing – so just let go of your control issues, at least on Thursday.”

Anyhow. No more details on that. It was a discussion to remember, but I’m glad I had it. My mom suggested talking in the mirror, and I’m very thankful she did.

Two:  Get on with life.

Which, sorry Mom and Dad, is the reason I haven’t written any posts. There were things to do, people to see, and places to go. Saturday was a night out with friends, Monday turned into drinks and a £4 brownie down at Tragos, and Tuesday was my writing group, followed by a discussion on flirting and online dating. Also there was work, and acupuncture (or acupressure, which I tend to prefer), and going to the beach with my man. All the while my surgery rose and fell in my mind, but thank God for good company – they have all been so wonderful and supportive. Overall, it’s been a very good week.

Three: Pre assessment.

Zsolt and I arrived at the hospital 9.00 am sharp. The waiting room was totally empty, so we sat and hummed and watched the nurses and doctors arrive.  About 9.10 am we were called into a side room. Here the nurse took my blood pressure, weight, height and asked me to go back into the waiting room.  She was quite nice. Then, around 9.20 am a second nurse called me into a second side room. Here we discussed my medical history, she gave me some disinfectant to shower with, and I had to swab my nose and leg/stomach crease. It felt formal, quite quick. She was less personable, but not bad.

Also, I had a bit of Thursday explained to me. Apparently I would arrive at 12, say goodbye to Zsolt and then wait for my surgery (which could happen any time between 12 and 7pm). I would then be taken to my room to sleep off the anaesthetic.  It was likely I’d be able to see Zsolt, though she wasn’t definite on that.

Eh? What? Are you kidding me? To sit alone for an entire afternoon waiting for an operation while twiddling my fingers and quietly freaking out does not sound like fun. No sir. Not for me.

So today I called one of my Breast Care Nurses (incredible team of women!) who managed to calm me down. She said Zsolt would be allowed to take me into the Day Surgery Room, and we could possibly get away with having him there for a short while. Apparently the area can get crowded, so the nurses like to keep it clear. But at least he can walk me in.  Then I’ll see a round of doctors and someone will come round to give me some giant socks to stop blood clotting.  She also said I probably won’t have to wait all afternoon. Thank goodness for great people skills, because she calmed me down quite a bit.

Anyhow, there’s a picture of what I’ve done this week, and what I may be doing tomorrow. Which leave the last step. . .

Four: show up.

And then the rest is up to them. So breath – in, and out, and in – and let go of the control . . . in and out and in . . .

Thanks to everyone for all your support and encouragement. It means an incredible amount to me. If you can, please spare a thought tomorrow at some point between noon and seven. That’s when I’ll need it most.

See you on the other side. Tomorrow this cancer is OUTTA HERE.  Whew!