Prosthetic Breast

My mom is packing for Canada. I can’t imagine this taking too long, she’s been living out of a suit case for the past six weeks. But then again, it’s my mom – and when does a job, she does it right. So I may have a little while to type.

But today I won’t talk about how Mom is leaving after six weeks of being here, giving her love and support. And I won’t mention how incredibly grateful I feel to have spent this time with her. So there is no point saying she’s incredible, and I’ll never be able to thank her enough.

There is time for all that tomorrow, because tomorrow I’ll probably be thinking of nothing else.  (Last time my mom flew out from Heathrow, I left her at the departure area and returned home on the bus. Once home, I realized I had no key for the apartment. Being locked out I tried to call Zsolt, but my phone had no credit. While heading to the shop in order to add credit (couldn’t do it on the bank machine because I didn’t have a card with me, just cash), I dropped my phone down five flights of stairs. Suffice to say, I cried like a baby once Zsolt asked, “how you doing?” and it wasn’t because I was locked out, or dropped my phone, or was exhausted – it was all about my momma. But on the plus side, I can absolutely say that those basic Nokia phones are tough stuff. FIVE flights of stairs!)

Anyhow, I won’t go into any of that. Not even a little bit.

Today we did something fun, and now I understand why men love breasts.

Grabbing a taxi to the hospital, Mom, Zsolt and I called in on the breast care nurse (I had an appointment). We were taken into a room with many boxes – similar to the back of a shoe store, only more hospital-esque, and were asked to take a seat. The nurse then asked me to pull out my bra, which I did (giant A cup mastectomy bra) and we began to try on prosthetic breasts (I tried, others watched; it was a group effort).

I had to swap my pre-bought bra for an on hand sampler because my bra had padding. Therefore, I was wearing a non-padded bra, and we were slipping in different size prosthetic breasts.

What does a fake boob feel like?  It’s a bit like a Ziploc back sealed with water inside. . . if you hold the bag up and touch the bottom where all the water pools . . . it’s kind of that sensation, only softer. Anyhow, it feels good. Really smooth to the finger.

Trying on, trying on – a little smaller, a little bigger, a little here, a little there . . . till we hit the perfect shape.

“Run your hands over both breasts. Give them a good feel,” suggested the nurse. Wow, did that ever feel good. Not like “ohhhh yeah” good. GOOD. It felt real, really real. Had I not known otherwise, it’d be easy to forget there was a difference between the two sides (except for the temperature). And I was fascinated, I could have spent the entire day stroking this soft boob that wasn’t really mine. Not mine, but mine.

So I get the fascination. Mind you, I still don’t have an urge to oogle or stroke anyone else’s breast . . .

Summary: fun day boob shopping. It was a good change.

[Upcoming preview: next week Zsolt’s parents will arrive, shortly followed by his sister Anita and Berci-in-law. Who will sleep where? How much Hungarian will Catherine remember? And will Zsolt be able to work on his thesis? ]

Chemo cherries and Pac Man

Every morning I wake up and drink the most horrible concoction of wheat germ gross. Well, maybe it’s not exactly wheat germ  – it’s a Hungarian thing that is meant to boost the immune system and help kill bad cells (aka, cancer cells).

Combine that with the chemo drugs and we’ll have a game of Pac Man. The little ghosty cancer cells (if they’re in my body still) will be floating around the grid stalking my healthy Mrs Pac Man with her pretty pink bow. But BAM – here comes a chemo cherry and now it’s going wild. She’ll gobble them whole, boosting up on immune system lives, and send them all to ghost prison where they die-die-die. In my game the ghosts never come back; I always hated how the nasty buggers were allowed to escape the centre box. In this version they are eaten and then disappear from the entire series. If you proceed to the next level it’s a breeze because all the ghosties have been eradicated, and Mrs Pac Man is welcomed to chomp in a healthy, cancer-free grid.

So I’m taking the terrible wheat germ stuff. Every morning I wake up and shoot it down with a quarter glass of almond milk. At first it was a twist in my arm, but now I’m beginning to own the habit.

My mom often talks about ‘owning your space’. I know others who do this well, so can imagine what she means – wherever you go, whatever situation, you make your place. I’ve been so anxious about entering the chemo room, with its numbered chairs and cancer patients, and I’m a little concerned that it’s the anxiety, not the chemo, that may send me into freak-out mode.

MRI and the dizzy dye was exactly the same. I had a mediocre peanut butter sandwich but that was no reason to faint on the nurses, almost take an ambulance ride, and vomit my guts up after the scan. It was all nerves. All nerves.

We’re practicing ‘owning spaces’ but it doesn’t come naturally. Another thing on my to-do list: visualizations. Every time I even imagine the treatment room butterflies start to flutter. Nerves again, needing to be conquered.

Honestly, I’m terrible at Pac Man. But with the supplements and drinks and treatments and consultations, I’ll jam that grid full of cherries. It’s time to go fruit salad.

After the mastectomy

Today is Zsolt’s 29th birthday. He’s a fine kind of man and getting better every year. In the morning I serenaded him with  multiple rounds of happy birthday, followed by some birthday crepes (made by Zsolt with my help), presents, and a game of football. England vs Germany – at this point things aren’t looking hot for England because Germany just scored their fourth goal. Brutal.

Later today Zsolt will make us some birthday quesadillas while I cheer him on, and we’ll have some cheesecake that my colleague’s wife bake especially for Zsolt. It’s looks really delicious and is sitting in the fridge just waiting to be eaten.  Overall this isn’t the birthday we expected, but to be together is enough.

Tonight my mom flies out from Ottawa and will land tomorrow morning at Heathrow. She’ll be here  early afternoon-ish. Thank goodness for that; I can hardly wait to see her. Processing this away from home can distance me from those sad emotions, but not being able to hug my family sucks.

So – after the mastectomy, as promised. If you don’t want to read a long post I’ll give you a quick, poetic-type summary:

After the mastectomy – short version, by Catherine

Groggy, sleeping, blood pressure, needles, pills, waking, washroom hurdles, drinking, vomit, drinking, needle, waking, talking, sitting, bored, sleep, Zsolt! taxi, bed, painkiller, painkiller, numbness, stiff arm, stiff neck, missing breast, don’t look, look, don’t look, look and finally get up, get out, get on. And eventually back to bed, because I’m still a little tired.

After the mastectomy – long version, by Catherine

So it’s been okay. Thank goodness I’m out of the hospital.  Did you know it’s nearly impossible to sleep in a hospital? Forget about sleeping well, every moment of dreamy bliss is quickly taken away by an alarm, a neighbouring patient, or a visiting nurse. Of course, they’re just doing their job and considering how low my blood pressure was, I very much appreciate that.

After Zsolt was asked to leave the ward I drifted off, but was woken soon after for a blood pressure check. Attached to my catheter was a drip, which helped me stay hydrated because I couldn’t keep anything down. It was a slightly messy night with details I won’t mention, but I must give a shout out to Lou in the bed opposite who pulled my curtains shut and handed me a tissue when the nurses couldn’t attend.

The staff was busy, but still very supportive. And thank goodness for that midnight shot in the butt. It was a big needle, but stopped my nausea cold. I don’t even know the name of the nurse, but I really appreciate her care.

The following morning I had a visit from one of the surgeons. She didn’t do the operation, but she had been there to assist. Apparently everything went smoothly; I should have one neat scar across the right of my chest. Actually, she was very friendly and informative.

Then I was visited by one of the breast care nurses. She explained my upcoming appointments (consultation in 2 weeks, they’ll examine the lumps and see how weak/strong the cancer is), and gave me a little additional information. I’ll be fitted with a silicone breast in about 6 weeks time, after the scar has healed more.  Also she warned me to moisturize my arm and hand, to wear gloves around chemicals, and not to get any cuts in my right arm because without the lymph nodes I’m at greater risk of illness in that area.

Finally Zsolt arrived, and we were both visited by another nurse who checked out my bandages, which I didn’t look at, and gave me some exercises. Also I received two comfys, which are soft fluffy forms to slip into my bra. Frankly, a bra is totally unappealing at the moment but it’s nice to know I have spare boobs available.

Pain wise it’s not bad. There is a numbness beneath my arm (because they removed the lymph nodes) that is slowly changing into a tingle. But no – I’d say a paper cut with its shocking sting is more painful, though less constant.  However this is my fucking breast so ultimately a paper cut doesn’t compare; stupid example.

Point: it’s not too painful.

Comfort wise it is different. I feel like something is constantly pulling on my side and the numbness is a bit disturbing. Also there is a drain in my chest, which leads into a long tube, and down into a container which Zsolt empties once a day because I can’t stand to watch. I’m leaking fluid and blood. Gross.

Body wise it’s a shock. At the hospital I never looked down. At home I was crying when Zsolt helped me change shirts. The uneven slant of cloth across my chest is bizarre. I miss my perky peaks; now it’s all downhill.

However, today I didn’t cry, and I didn’t freak out. This is my chest and I’ve got to accept that. And I think that once the discomfort stops, I’ll really be able to adapt to my new look. I still look forward to visiting the beach, and I still look forward to wearing pretty dresses with v-neck tops.

Bottom line: I still love my body.

That is after the mastectomy, as promised. Anyone about to undergo the procedure – all I can say is have a chat with yourself, know it’s the best and just get through. Everyone reacts differently to losing a breast, but we all come through it. And it’s better on the other side. This cancer is out of my body, and even if anything remains  – I’m going to blast the shit out of it with treatments to follow.

So here’s to the first step. And here’s to Zsolt, my new carer and 29 year-old hunk. Happy birthday Zsolti, I couldn’t have managed without you.