Topic: Health Issues
Last Friday was my appointment to see the consultant at Worthing Hospital and to have my stitches removed. I was actually looking forward to that - another step on the way to recovery, especially as the stitches were beginning to pull a little. We arrived on time and sat down to wait. Eventually, my name was called. "Would your husband like to come in, too?" Yes, he would. "There are quite a few people in the room". There were about five and the consultant had a serious expression on his face, "We need to discuss your options.", he said gently. My heart sank down to my boots and I felt a lump rising in my throat.
There had been an unexpected result. It seems that the slice of tissue they removed and tested post-operation had more 'invisible' problems than they thought. At least 39.6 mm (about 1½ inches) of pre-cancerous cells continuing right to the edge of the sample. This despite the fact that my operation had entailed a "wide excision", well beyond the area of microcalcification marked by the "localisation wire" they had inserted prior to the operation. Consequently, the consultant did not believe they had succeeded in removing all the pre-cancer cells. "This type of cell can't be detected on an x-ray and will not show up later. Do you understand what I am trying to say?", he said, gently. I did. I put it into words, "A mastectomy.", I said, trying hard to be brave. "Yes, that is what we advise".
I reached out for my husband's knee and he put his hand on mine reassuringly. The consultant stressed that all these cells were pre-cancerous and did not pose an immediate threat. However, eventually they would turn into an invasive full-blown cancer, which would be much more difficult to treat. When this might happen could not be foreseen, I could take a gamble and ignore it but there would always be that nagging worry. My brain tried to keep up - all this just as I was so pleased with my free "breast reduction" - it was difficult to take it all in. I cracked a feeble joke about possibly taking up archery again. I explained that I had done archery as a teenager and that 'a large left bosom' got slightly in the way! [I remember a somewhat buxom lady at the archery club. She had had a mastectomy but didn't let that deter her and obviously thought it was all to her advantage!]
I looked at my husband - his eyes looked slightly watery but he squeezed my hand. We both agreed that the sensible thing was to go ahead with a mastectomy. My stitches having been removed, the consultant went on to say that I could have reconstructive surgery, which could be done at the same time as the mastectomy or at a later date. "It does involve a six-hour operation and we take muscle from your back", he explained in reply to my question. More scars, more pain. Why go through all that at my age? "No", I said, "I don't think I want that". I was told that I could always change my mind later, should I have second thoughts.
So, I signed the consent form and was given an admission date of Thursday, 22nd September. I would be in hospital for three nights this time. The specialist cancer nurse led us out of the room and explained more about the operation. She showed us the type of breast prostheses available - a soft one to start with and then a plastic gel-filled one which fits into a pocket inside special 'mastectomy bras'. She was very kind and supportive and I can ring her any time if I have any more questions. We walked out slightly dazed and subdued by all we had heard. My mind dwelling on the ancient tales of Amazons, one of those fabled tribes of warrior women...
We soon realised that we were hungry, so our thoughts turned to the hospital canteen. Apart from their cakes, they do an excellent choice of sandwiches. (Yes, I did have another doughnut!!). Leaving the hospital, we wondered whether to go straight home, look round Worthing again or go somewhere else. We opted for the latter and decided to visit the Marks and Spencer super-store in Shoreham. I wanted a new dressing gown, which I found, together with a skirt, a blouse, and a leather jacket! Oh, dear, I managed to spend a small fortune.
Saturday, I woke up with a slight sore throat and a headache, which would not go away. Also, my breast was extra painful and quite swollen. Sunday morning, it was still swollen and painful but slightly less tight and I could see a lovely shade of yellow suffusing my skin. I suddenly realised what had caused all the swelling — driving! I probably should have kept to a steady, low speed and enjoyed observing other road users cursing behind me! I certainly recall feeling very uncomfortable every time the car jolted over all the little uneven bumps I had never noticed before! I also remembered driving away at my usual reckless speed on coming out of the 40 mph restriction near Arundel mainly because a chap in a white van seemed to be right on my tail. He flashed his lights as if to say, get out of my way. Later, it occurred to me that he probably thought I wasn't wearing my seat belt! Well, I was, only I had pushed it under my arm instead of over my shoulder. Not sure if that is legal but I felt I had a good excuse. Will be very careful how I drive for the next three weeks and will keep to short and necessary journeys for the time being!
And yes, thank you, I am feeling much better about the whole thing now. I am not alone and I will be joining a privileged group of women lucky enough to have been diagnosed early and to be spared the ravages of malignant breast cancer, possible metastasis and the unpleasant after effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.