Lessons in Moderation

After Monday’s bout of self-pity I woke up yesterday deciding to be more positive – resolved to put on a favourite dress, sparkly cardigan, some twinkly make up and a better attitude.

I had the busiest day since my operation. It was bright, sunny and warm, I was meeting my friend Jenny and her little Granddaughter Ruby in Chesham for coffee, so decided that I would walk down and that it would make sense to hang about in town, have lunch and then walk to the doctors for my mid-afternoon appointment.

Jenny and I had coffee, tea and a catch up at ‘The Little Orchard’, one of my new favourite cafés. Ruby had milk, snacks and a scrabble around, she is not quite crawling yet, very sweet little girl she is too! It was lovely to see Jenny, we have known each other for around ten years, when I was Belly Dancing we would travel together to class and to gigs with the student dance troupe ‘Anuket’.

After Jenny left to take Ruby home, I wandered around town, browsing in the shops until lunchtime, I bought a ‘meal deal’ and took it to Lowndes Park for a solitary picnic in the sunshine! As it is half-term there were lots of children and families out enjoying the fine weather. The ducks, geese and gulls are very well fed by the children so they weren’t interested in my sandwich, and I was really glad to sit down. At this point I realised that I had made a bad choice, I felt tired and sore, I should have got the bus home earlier, and tried driving to the Doctors. So I took a very slow walk up to the Surgery, arriving very early for the appointment but relishing the chance for a long sit down, I know I had over done it as I wasn’t even interested in reading, a most unusual occurrence.

My doctor wanted to sign me off work for another four weeks but I hope to be well enough to return sooner that this, so we agreed on two weeks and a prescription for Co-Codamol of my own so I don’t have to continue raiding Josh’s!

So the choice was call a taxi to take me home or walk, I had a long think about this and decided to walk as the surgery is half way home from town, the downside was that the remaining walk is all uphill. I just about managed to get home, make and drink a coffee before falling fast asleep for a couple of hours.

It was just the two of us at home in the evening, Ray didn’t feel like cooking, and I wasn’t up to it, so we decided to go out to eat, we went to The Bellcote, a new pub/restaurant on the road to Ashley Green.

So lesson learned – I am still being impatient with my progress, I need reminding that I have four operation sites and that they need time to heal, there is still significant bruising to my breasts and underarms. There is some remaining blue dye in my left breast, maybe it is taking longer to clear because this had the deeper lesion.

Always start with yourself.

I do feel that Surgeons tend to be over optimistic in their estimations of recovery time. Last year I had surgery for a Detached Retina in my left eye, when I asked about recovery before the operation, the surgeon said I should be healed enough to be back at work after two weeks, but in reality the actual time was four weeks. I have heard varying times for recovery from having ‘Bilateral Wire Guided Wide Local Excision and Sentinel Node Biopsy’ so tried searching Google, but the results do not shed any light on it so I’m really still in the dark about what to expect.

Today has been a ‘Duvet Day’, apart from doing two loads of washing, emptying and re-loading the dishwasher, I have slept and relaxed. To be honest I feel very tired, and from the increasing tenderness and hardening under my right arm, I think I have another Seroma beginning to build up. I have my follow up appointment with the Surgeon tomorrow afternoon so will be able to get it checked out whilst I am there.

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I phoned work and spoke to my Manager today, I was describing what had happened on Monday and about the cause and treatment of the Seroma but got a little carried away. I am never sure just how much information to give people, it is harder to judge on the phone if it is too much! Think I made him feel a bit squeamish, whoops! Must be more restrained in my descriptions in future 🙂

So my resolution for tomorrow is to take it easy, a short walk to post off my Sickness Certificate, to not to buy anything from the shops, to put on some happy music and have a go at finishing the Dream-catcher, or maybe just read.

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Return to Hospital – Sooner than Expected

Monday Morning:

Last week I noticed that I had some swelling under the scar in my right armpit. Over the weekend it became painful, particularly as my bra lays across it. So this morning I phoned the Breast Care Nurse for advice, she has asked me to go in to Clinic this afternoon as I may have to have the fluid aspirated, sounds like a thoroughly enjoyable experience! I will report back later….

The pain in my armpit made me reluctant to do my exercises, the booklet says that when you have swelling that it is best not to do them until consulting the Breast Care Team, so I decided this was a good enough excuse to give them a miss today.

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I did some more work on the Dreamcatcher I started last week, the weaving is now finished, I am now wrapping the ring, once this is all done I can add the fringing and some twinkly bits 🙂

Late Afternoon:

It was a very pleasant walk down to Chesham in the sunshine to meet Ray and then go on with him to Wycombe Hospital. I am so grateful that Ray is willing and able to drop everything to get me to and from hospital, and being there for me every step of the way.

2014-09-05 17.21.06I was seen by the Senior Nurse Practitioner, the aspiration involves using a big syringe to draw out the Lymphatic Fluid and relieve the pressure. The needle is inserted through the scar tissue, by this time the discomfort from the swelling was so persistent that I didn’t notice the needle at all, and I had Ray to hold my hand. The nurse drew off 60ml of fluid, it is a yellow/brown colour (like the fluid in a blister), after the pressure was released the pain was less intense. This collection of fluid is called a Seroma, sometimes it will refill, so may need to be aspirated several times over a few weeks before it goes away completely.

Apparently my body will learn to divert the fluid back in to the lymphatic system rather than just dumping it in my armpit which is what it is happening at the moment.

Fortunately my left armpit is unaffected (for now), however, I feel rather battered about after the travelling and stress of an unexpected visit to hospital. Although the pressure has gone, I still feel sore, weary and a little down. I just want to curl up with a snugly blanket.

On Being Brave

On Saturday I had my first unaccompanied venture out, Ray dropped me off at Chesham Town Hall on his way out to golf. I had a wander around the Halloween Fayre and then the charity shops. I was very restrained, being limited by how much I can carry meant being thoughtful about my purchases. I was pleased with what I found, smart baggy lightweight trousers, a black lacy bolero and some necklaces to use in craft projects and a replacement butter dish, identical to our one which got broken recently.

I was walking across Sainsburys car park debating if it would be best to get the bus home or go to have a look in the Workaid shop when I heard my name called, it was my neighbour Angie, she kindly offered me a lift home which I gratefully accepted. It was just what I needed, a comfy ride home rather than being thrown about on the bus and also saved me from going in Workaid for which Ray will be very grateful! A locally based charity, WORKAID tackles poverty by providing disadvantaged people with the tools they need to learn a skilled trade and earn a living. Since 1986, they have helped around 100,000 disadvantaged people to break the cycle of poverty and build better lives for themselves and their families in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.

But the real treasure trove for me is the shop, it stocks all sorts of handicrafts, wools, yarns, fabrics and haberdashery. I can spend hours rooting through all the pretties gathering things to use in my crafting and come home with a bag or two of bits & pieces to add to the ever expanding collection.

Only problem is, I then go on Pinterest looking for inspiration and spend so long looking that I don’t actually start anything! This ‘meme’ says it all with the additional bonus of featuring Sean Bean 🙂

Today Ray & I went to London Colney so I could exchange a bra at M&S, I have not driven yet, and judging by the discomfort I feel just being a passenger, I think it may be a while before travelling is pain free.

Today I contacted Breast Cancer Care, they offer a service to put women in touch with someone who has had a similar experience to talk to and for support, I have been thinking about it for a while and now feel I need to do this.

I have had some lovely complementary feedback to this blog on Facebook, several comments describe me as brave, but I don’t feel brave, I am just getting on with living as best I can and telling it like it is. Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, some days are good, some bad, my approach to life is pragmatic, Ray & I have always dealt with challenges  by giving consideration to our options and making joint decisions. This time there are no options, I had to have surgery, and I will have to have Radiotherapy, so we are taking the advice from the experts and supporting each other the best we can. We have more experience of cancer than we would wish, both my parents and Ray’s mum died from it, but I must keep in mind that my chances are good and that treatments are improving all the time.

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Over Doing It, and Ladies That Lunch

Yesterday I felt pretty good, well in comparison to this time last week anyway. So I decided to have a go at doing some crafting. Before going in to hospital I had gathered things together for a Dreamcatcher so that when I felt well enough I would have everything ready to make it. This is one I made recently for my good friend Jan’s birthday.

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I spent a couple of hours happily weaving before deciding I needed to stop. Yesterday evening and today I have suffered for it, my right shoulder has been very uncomfortable so I have resorted to Co-Codamol, I’m feeling frustrated about this as I really want to be well enough to get on with the normal stuff – more patience required!! Or maybe a simpler project!!

Today I went out for lunch with Jan, it was great to spend time with her, we haven’t seen each other since before my operation so had lots to catch up on.We popped in to the pet shop as Jan needed something for her dogs, the shop had advent calendars for dogs and cats, so for a laugh I bought a doggie calendar for Shadow, Ray has been shaking his head in disbelief and despair 😉 Ha ha!!

Tomorrow there is a Halloween Fayre/Table Top Sale at Chesham Town Hall, I had a table booked with the intention of selling crafts I have been making, but my breasts have thrown a spanner in the works, I haven’t been able to make enough stock, so I will be going as a customer instead, it will be my trip out for the day. It is open between 10.00 am – 3.30 pm and is in aid of The Hospice of St Frances, maybe I will see some of you there?

But for now I’m climbing the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. Good night all, sleep well

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Shades of Purple, and Ventures out in to the Great Outside

Wednesday 22nd October

Since Operation Day by body has been witness to colours which are unfamiliar to it, the bruising has been developing nicely, and when I say nicely, I mean in a colourful, rainbow like manner. I have some red around the points where the wires were inserted, bruising in orange/yellow and lovely shades of purple in several places not for public viewing. (Too much information alert!) the Radioactive dye has coloured certain bodily functions green and blue. And I still have indigo coloured ‘X marks the spot’ pen markings on both breasts, being where they are I am loath to scrub hard enough to remove them – ouch!!  

Over time, these vibrant colours will fade and the wounds will heal, but – 

 I will have the scars to remind me of the turbulence I am experiencing right now, and – that’s OK.
During my pre-op tidy up, I came across the decorated bra that I made for taking part in the London ‘Moonwalk’ raising money for breast cancer charities, here I am wearing it setting off in May 2010
I also did the ‘Henley and Marlow Cancer Research Stride to help support the fight against breast cancer’, Ray and Shadow walked with me as my trusty supporters 🙂  
On Sunday morning Ray took me out for a coffee in town, this was my first venture away from home since Wednesday, it was a beautiful warm, sunny day, there were lots of people out in Chesham enjoying the fine weather. It was just about the right activity level for me, and fabulous to spend time with Ray away from the pressures of home, something we don’t do often enough. 
My sister Sharon arrived on Monday morning for a two-day visit, we walked up to the local shops to get some stamps, the post office were really slow and I queued for nearly half an hour, what with that and all the chatting I was very tired on Tuesday and spent most of the day sleeping. 
After Sharon had set off for home this morning, Josh drove me to Chesham so I could run some errands (slow walk would be a better description), I haven’t been out in the car with him since he passed his test, he drove very well and I told him so 🙂

Lynda Bellingham, who sadly passed away with Bowel Cancer on Sunday (19th October 2014) said about herself, and her family, coming to terms with her terminal cancer “By talking about it you become kind of used to it” Now I know I am fortunate in that my cancer is not anywhere near as seriously advanced, it is true that talking about it, directly with family and friends and also in this blog, does help come to terms with it.

Looking through some articles on the ‘Breast Cancer Care’ website yesterday I read that 1 person is diagnosed with breast cancer every 10 minutes.” I have been aware that the incidence in women my age and over is relatively common, but the numbers – around 50,000 in the UK each year is shocking. However, the survival rates are improving all the time so, this is the statistic to focus on 🙂
There are two things which bother me right now, one is not being able to have a proper hug, my boobies are too tender. The other is the realisation that once the treatment has finished I will not be able to say I am cured, I will be ‘in remission’ and this scares me.
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So how do I feel – some ups and downs

Looking back over my post about operation day, I realise it is all about the facts, so today I will try to tackle feelings, emotional and physical. Thursday was a day for acclimatisation, getting to know my physical limits, at this stage I can only sleep on my back, the wounds are too fresh to accommodate comfortable sleep in any other position. Fortunately I am feeling so weary that I have been able to sleep in what would not normally be my natural sleeping position. On waking on the morning after the operation, my back was troubling me as much as the wounds, on reflection this may be due to having to lay flat with my arms above my head for a good proportion of the day before. The hospital sent me home with Ibuprofen and Paracetamol, these were really inadequate for the job, hunting through our first aid cupboard I found some Co-Codamol which Josh had been given for back pain earlier this year, so I have snaffled these, they do the trick 🙂 I spent most of the day relaxing and drinking plenty as I was very dehydrated, so much so that I couldn’t eat without having a drink to wash down each mouthful. I napped a lot, aided by the remaining anaesthetic.

I feel so relieved that I have no evidence of the cancer spreading to my lymph nodes, although I didn’t acknowledge this fear beforehand, it wasn’t until I had the confirmation that I appreciated how worried I had actually been about it. 

I have been tackling this challenge by only confronting what is immediately before me so my focus has been on getting through the operation. I will now try to focus on getting well and hoping the result on the examination of the tumours will be good, meaning that I will not need another op to remove more tissue. I felt positive and happy to be home, my family are being stars and looking after me, I’m feeling like an honoured guest with my hosts seeing to my every need 😉

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Friday was not such a good day, I woke feeling low and tearful. I managed to have a shower but looking at my wounds and surrounding bruising did nothing to improve my spirits. I know that these feelings are to be expected, I am grateful that the cancer was detected early and that my chances are excellent, but being confronted with having cancer is frightening whatever the prospects. My wonderful husband Ray saw how I was feeling and took the day off work to be with me, for this I am very grateful as I would otherwise have been on my own until Liza got home from work in the afternoon.

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My spirits improved as the day went on, I received a lovely bunch of flowers from work which cheered me and by the evening I was feeling more ‘normal’ but was physically uncomfortable, the swelling in my breasts and under-arms had increased making my bra feel tight. I went on line to order a bigger bra – good ol’ M&S to the rescue! I placed the order at 7:45 pm and it arrived this morning by 9:30 am, truly excellent service! When I opened the package the bras looked simply enormous!! We all had a laugh about it but they are just right so all is good 🙂

Today I feel very much better in myself, I am in good spirits and feeling less discomfort, I was able to wash my hair this morning, and got dressed in more ‘normal’ clothes, I have been slobbing it in joggers & t-shirts for the last two days. I had another delivery of lovely flowers and also chocolates from my sister Nicola & her husband Rob and a big card from everyone at work, our mantle shelf is now full!

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Megan is cooking a cheese & mushroom omelet for me so I’m signing off for now, I may just need a little snooze after lunch… 2014-05-10 06.21.31

How it went – Bilateral Wire Guided Wide Local excision and Sentinel Node Biopsy

Wednesday 15th October 2014

(Written Thursday Evening)

I will start writing this post, but if it gets to difficult, (physically) I will stop and carry on tomorrow.

Ray & I arrived at the Day Surgery Unit at Wycombe Hospital shortly after 7 am on Wednesday in good time for my 7:30 admission. There were three other ladies in the same room, all of us having breast surgery of one kind or another, I was the only one having surgery to both breasts. After the usual blood pressure etc checks, the Senior nurse practitioner (I think that was her title but I’m not certain) came to talk through the procedure and sign off the consent forms with me.

(Written Mid-day Friday)

She also made what were the first of many pen markings on me, an arrow on each wrist pointing up, to indicate both breasts for surgery, and notes across both shoulders indicating to what was to be done on each side. After a short wait Ray & I were taken to the Breast Unit. This was for a procedure to insert wires in to each cancerous growth to indicate their location (Wire Guided), as the growths are in ducts they would not be easily located without doing this. I asked for Ray to come in to sit with me whilst this was being done, the nurse was a little reluctant as she explained they have had partners passing out when they see the needles and what is done with them, falling off the chair and needing to be taken to casualty. After assurances that Ray was fine with needles and would not pass out, he was allowed to sit beside me. The Doctor located the growth in each breast using Ultrasound, took measurements, and marked the area, he then injected local anaesthetic in to my right breast and inserted a wide needle in to the growth, again using the ultrasound screen images to guide it to the correct location. Ray watched the whole procedure, he says the needle was a similar size to that used when he gives blood. Then the guide wire was fed through the needle, it has a hook at the end to hold it in place internally, once it was fully through the growth, the needle was removed and the external end of the wire securely taped to my chest. The procedure on my left side was identical but was painful as this growth was larger and located deeper under the skin. I am really squeamish with needles so didn’t watch any of this, when it was all finished and covered up I did sneak a peek 😦 I was glad I couldn’t see any of the wire!

The next procedure was another mammogram –  the dreaded squishing machine >}<   >{< to double check that the wires were correctly located, fortunately they were 🙂

Then we were taken on a trip to Nuclear Medicine for another scan, this time to locate the sentinel nodes under each arm. What happens is that the Radiographer injects blue radioactive fluid in to each breast, then waits five minutes or so for it to begin working its way to the lymphatic system. Then I was taken to have the scan, the machine was the same as the one below:

Image source: http://www.enherts-tr.nhs.uk/files/2013/11/N-medicine.jpg

The machine takes up to 15 minutes to produce each scan image, once the images are displayed, the radiographer uses a metal instrument, like a long pen, and by pressing lightly on my skin could see on the screen where my sentinel nodes were positioned in relation to the instrument and marked them up under each arm. During the procedure I had to have both arms raised above my head and was laying there thinking that I now understand why this position is used to torture people, it was painful! However, using meditation techniques, I was able to cope with it, and at one point actually drifted off to sleep for a few minutes. Towards the end I was able to see the screen showing the radioactive particles moving along and settling in my lymph glands, fascinating!

I had so many scans that I got given a bar-code, beep-beep!

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Ray & I were collected and taken back to the ward to wait for my operation, it was now the afternoon, we were both tired after such an early start, I settled down on the bed, Ray in the bedside chair, and we both went off to sleep.

Some time around 2 pm I was called to Theatre, Ray was able to walk with me as far as the entrance doors, it was a this point the reality struck me and as Ray & I hugged I could see the emotion in his eyes. Then the nurse and I went in to the Theatre suite to wait for me to be taken off for anaesthesia.

Waking in recovery, I was very aware of discomfort across my upper torso which made breathing difficult, this meant that my stats were not improving quickly enough. The Nurse Practitioner who I has seen earlier came to let me know that they had removed both growths and that they had found no cancerous cells in my lymph nodes which is wonderful news 🙂 The recovery staff agreed that I could have Tramadol to relieve the pain, once this took effect I was able to breathe more deeply and although I still had an oxygen mask, my oxygen saturation scores increased enough for me to be released back to the ward where Ray was waiting for me.

After having some water, tea, toast and a wee I was allowed to leave. The journey home was painful, I felt every bump in the road, and there were a lot of them! We arrived home at 9 pm, Megan, Josh & Liza were pleased to see me and to hear that the cancer hasn’t spread. They have me Lilies, my favourite flowers, Lindor Chocolates – my favourite treat! and get well cards from everyone, I was very touched 🙂

I was weary after such a long and eventful day, and sore from the surgery, so after more tea and toast went off to bed.

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