Breast Cancer Awareness Month
ZERO OR THREE BREASTS?
The minute I found out I had breast cancer I offered my surgeon the opportunity to chop off my breast and to have a full mastectomy, even take both if she wanted, anything to get rid of the cancer that had invaded by body. Little did I know that it wasn’t quite that easy. Because of the type of breast cancer I had (I didn’t know there are different types??!!) I was to have chemotherapy first, then surgery then radiotherapy. This felt counterintuitive but I was told we could see how effective the chemo drugs I was to be put on would be and that the lump would shrink and therefore the surgery could be smaller. “OK” I said, whilst putting my life in the hands of complete strangers, and so the chemotherapy journey began.
I was lucky with my chemo. Firstly it worked well and after six rounds of chemotherapy it had killed off the cancer in my breast and four fifths of the cancer in the two lymph nodes that were also affected. I was also lucky because my side effects were only diarrhoea, constipation (yes you read that correctly, my body liked to alternate between the two!), heartburn, mouth thrush, reflux, terrible nausea, exhaustion and food tasted rancid. Yup I was one of the lucky ones because the other main aim of going through chemotherapy is to try and keep yourself out of hospital. 70% of patients for example end up needing a blood transfusion. But I am not trying to scare you. I did get through it and the chemotherapy did do the job. You just do what you need to do don’t you? Since I am overweight the silver lining of not being able to eat was I lost 17 kgs – but chemotherapy is definitely not a weight loss programme I would recommend.
Next was surgery after a whistle-stop trip to Spain in between treatments! By now I understood that a mastectomy wasn’t going to reduce my chances of breast cancer returning. They only needed to remove the lump and the lymph nodes and have clear margins which means they removed the lump plus a little bit more to get clear margins where there had never been cancer. I was advised to have a lumpectomy as a mastectomy in my case wasn’t going to give me better odds. The surgery itself went really well and I stopped painkillers one day after surgery because I had no pain at all and almost 90% of complete range of movement but I was extremely lucky because this is rarely the case.
What I did develop was an enormous seroma which is a collection of fluid that sometimes builds up under the surface of your skin after surgery. It is pretty harmless but what it has done is delayed my radiotherapy. I literally have what appears to be an alien slash grapefruit growing between my breast and armpit. As my surgeon kindly put it, I look like I have three breasts. So there I was at the start preparing to have no breasts and now I have three! The seroma will eventually push off but it is trifling annoying that I am sitting here waiting for radiotherapy and for this cancer journey to finally be kicked into touch.
Being informed by reading, learning to do visualisations, staying positive and exercising when I can have hugely helped me through this process. Having a caring support network and two children who need me has given me the strength and energy to see this through. A sense of humour also helps when possible.