Full Circle

In a little over 2 days, it will be two years since HD (then HRM), and I sat in the hollow grey room at the hospital, and we knew when the Macmillan nurse came in with the consultant, that it was going to be bad news. It all seems a bit surreal, people tell me how brave I've been, how well I've coped, you're an inspiration and you've helped me get through my own treatment. But it's weird, while all I can ever say about cancer is it is the arse end of a dead ferret with the largest set of diseased knackers hanging off it, which are persistent little fuckers and take about two years to see off (give or take, depending on whether they are attached to said, festering ferret with nodes or not). Life can be utterly amazing and it's because it can be so bloody brilliant, soul lifting, heart bursting, and face achingly joyous, that when a massive crap bit comes along, it hits you square end on in the frisky bits, or in my case, in the tits.

So for me, I had a cry, stared down at the splendid Eartha's and thought, right, lets get on with this. My odds of reoccurrence weren't tip top, the shit bag disease was already in my armpit and was growing faster than you can say, Ferrets Natty Ball Sack. But for whatever reason, be it my glowingly positive outlook, all the support I had, the fact that I noshed my way through sack loads of fruit and veg and ditched anything resembling a Jelly Baby, and got my trainers on whenever I could. I even bought one of those head torches, so I couldn't use winter darkness as an excuse not to move my bum cheeks off the sofa. I don't know why I got cancer, but I suspect mega stress over the last couple of years played a devils hand in my direction. You could say that getting my knick-knacks in a wedge over the situation wasn't going to help me a single jot. Not my mindset anyway. I even banned people from saying…. (insert whiny voice here for extra emphasis), "oooh you poor thing, how do you manage?" Or other such stuff. Well largely same as you to be honest, but my life back then was constant hospital appointments, counting out tablets and stabbing myself in the stomach with stingy needles to keep my white blood cell count in order. I may have shit my brains out and spewed everywhere more recently than you and I don't want to down play it, because cancer is a complete and utter c-word. But, I just got on with it, it was my life and what was happening at that time. Somedays I felt not too bad and occasionally I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and wondering when the bed would stop rotating. I just took the some days good:some daysterrifyingly awful concept and applied it in appropriate terms with some fairly bad and frequent swearing.

It can either eat you up until you can't see the black from the white, or you can get past it and do what you need to, to survive. I don't look at things quite the same way as before, it has been a great leveller of weird and bum trauma flavoured sorts, but if a delivery is late, or it rains when it shouldn't, or the traffic is bad and I'm running behind; you know what, it doesn't matter. It really doesn't – look around you at the sky (obviously not when you're driving you plonker) or enjoy a tune on the radio, it is only a passing moment in time and things will get worse, but they will also get a lot better if you just open your eyes and see it.

Years ago and for a completely different reason, I was going through a tough time and my boss came and chatted to me as he could see I was a bit down. He later sent me this story, and it has stayed beside me ever since:

" … Just before I dropped off to sleep, my memory presented me with a half forgotten story, used in Buddhist meditation, which I had once loved. It is about an Indian prince who gave a ring to his jeweller and asked him to engrave on it a sentence that would sustain him in adversity and restrain him in times of success.  In due course, the jeweller returned the ring, engraved with three words :

' It will pass.'   

  (From: A time to heal by Beata Bishop)

I've lost so many friends in the last two years and people who I thought the world of, but that is also life and death and taxes…. they're the only certainties and the rest is up to you. It might be my turn in a few months and while I am not afraid to die, it's inevitable sooner or later. What I don't want to do, and this would break my heart, is to waste a day, moaning about some trifling bollocks. That's worse than cancer in some ways, as you have a choice over that.

My fabulous Papa, who died last year.

And to close today's diatribe, I've been to have my left Eartha, tattooed yesterday, and no not a massive multi-coloured ferrets arse, but to have the nipple done. I was lucky enough to be asked to model for one of the best nipple tattooists in the country, and she trains most of the people that practice this specific and skilled area of tattooing. It meant I could share my story with the student who did my areola (definite Monty Python tinny word, right there) and that I hope it helped them, having me explain how I no-longer have any feeling on that side, under my arm and down most of the underside of my left arm as far as my elbow. It will never come back, but I still have my arm and it still all works, so not so terrible in festering ferret bollock terms.

A bit like Spirograph, you get to choose your nipple size.

The lovely Lisa, from Whitethorn Fields Clinic, starting my new nip.


They build it up, layering both carefully matched colours from the 'other side' nipple, also using different methods from pointillism, to zigzags to achieve a realistic skin appearance.

 

During just under two years, I've gone from WHAT THE FUCKETY FUCKING FUCK?!!, to 'Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, here is my new left cheb, it's slightly perkier than the right on account of it being a fake one, but it's still very much a part of me….oh, and all those lines, they're just scars.'

 

It will pass, if you let it.

Current status: Front Door Bell

 

P.S Lisa did finish it, but it's currently under a dressing for a couple of days.

 

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Thanks for the Mammaries

One of the things about this shite-hawk of a disease is that you meet some amazing people, lots of ladies with bits of their Eartha’s in various stages of being nuked and knifed. Now, although I did my chemo in the luxury of a private room usually with a round of prawn sandwiches, I did join a group of mad-ass bitches, who are quite literally from all walks of life and parts of the country. We’ve even got two in La Belle France, both of whom I am proud to call my pals. I’d never have met any of them otherwise, and had the chance to share more of their lives than just the twat puffin that is breast cancer.

I got an email the other night, from another breast cancer group, the one at the hospital where I’ve had nearly all my treatment and ops. With it came the news that the lovely (and I mean lovely) breast cancer nurse, who was there pretty much from day one, had passed away. I stared at the screen on my phone for a moment, surely it couldn’t be her? She of the fake boob hand-outs, hand holding, hugs in the corridor, in fact pretty much anywhere if you bumped into her, slightly risqué jokes and a smart and kind lady who just knew when you needed which of those.

She smirked and told me off with a wink when I made bum-trauma jokes or wore the Tit T-shirt to oncology appointments, just to see if I could get Chemo-Sabe to break a grin (never happened btw). Then, when I needed to talk, she’d take my hand and find a quiet corner.

She always knew if I was having a bad day.

I was at the hospital on Monday night, for my four month post-op check-up with the Fabulous Doctor Fat Biscuits, I always looked out for her as the nurses office is on the same corridor as the consultants rooms. There was no-one about so I had my appointment (boobs have been signed off as good to go btw), and came home.

Cancer, sort of prepares you for loss; whether its your own body parts, or others, or even lives. A few from my group have passed this year, and it just gets harder to say goodbye to people you love and understand on a deeper level, what they have suffered and experienced, how much more they appreciate the joy and loves in life as well as the filth (obviously). Even though I knew lovely breast cancer nurse, who I guess I can now call Michelle, had problems with her heart in the past; she once gave me a small flash of her chest scar when my bottom lip was a bit wobbly at the thought of losing left Eartha entirely. Don’t worry she said, scars heal and you will be absolutely fine.

She understood better than most, that we can heal, inside and out. 

She was right of course, but I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye to her smile, her gorgeous curly hair and and her massively kind heart, just yet. I wanted to tell her on Monday evening that I was okay, that my boobs had made it through the shitstravaganza. I know she knew, I always thanked her, gave her a bouquet once and we’d exchanged the odd Email. But she always went the extra mile, and phoned me to tell me results ahead of follow-up appointments, so I didn’t have to worry a moment longer than necessary. Now she’s gone, and I know her two daughters will miss her terribly as will all her colleagues at the hospital.

But this one is for you Michelle, thank you for everything, for making the unbearable a little more bearable, but most of all for your wise if slightly unhealthy heart. I wish it had kept beating a little longer.


 Next time we meet, prawn sandwiches are on me. 

My Achy Breaky Bum.

 

I’ve had a bad back since almost ever, born with a bit of roto-scoliosis, means I have a slight limp, more noticeable when I am tired. I have a little orthotic that I wear in my left shoe as that leg is a lot shorter than the right. The man at the local shoe repair shop calls me Eileen…. All that misalignment has meant pretty much a lifetime of aches and pains, mostly nothing to write home about until I progressed into my late 20’s and more so in the last 10 years with age and wear and tear. The lumbar discs in my back are a bit squished and tend to get stuck together now and then and every once in a while I will do something as simple as opening a window and bang, it goes into spasm and I’m back scoffing painkillers and seeing the physio, chiro, osteopath and acupuncture to manage the pain and healing. Yoga and pilates thrown in as well. I pretty much have to accept that every once in a while this will happen and then eventually back to my kind of back normal again. In between times I have radio frequency denervation, which is darn clever and involves sticking massive long needles in between the offending vertebrae and effectively microwaving the nerve ends so the pain cycle is reduced until they regenerate and off we go again. I’ve got so used to having this done about every 18 months or less that I only have a local anaesthetic now and just swear it out on the op table if it gets a bit ouchy. It makes it easier for me to recover and frankly I’ve had enough chemical shizz tipped in my body for a lifetime or two.

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Anyway a few weeks ago, big HD and I were in Germany for the weekend, if you recall sausages and fireworks and all that. My back was a bit iffy before we went but nothing untoward. We walked miles and also got the tram, train and one of those bicycle rickshaw fandangos, up to the Brandenburg Gate, which was brilliant. So I was pretty careful not to overdo things.

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But since then it has got worse, and the only day it wasn’t too bad was when I met my beautiful friend Smiffy in Paris for lunch and some segway action.

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But over the last couple of weeks, just doing normal life and no running or swimming it’s become utter agony. I am basically off my remaining tits on codeine and ibuprofen, as I type. Its been so grim I haven’t been able to go out other than to drag my arse to the hospital for physio. I spend the day at my desk, working from home and sitting on a wheat bag or ice pack. The pain can be terrible, keeping me awake and my language has got a lot worse. (I know, how is this even possible?) It’s miserable as I can’t even bear to walk to the village shop or anything. Stuck inside swearing and hobbling about. Thats been me.

The hospital physio lady, took one look at me and wrote a letter to the oncologist, we’d be negligent if we didn’t check she said. It’s more than likely disc damage but we need to check given the lack of obvious reason and the duration of the pain.

Last Thursday I went to Mount Vernon Hospital. This is where the very sick cancer patients go, they have a cyber knife machine for sorting out cancer in the brain, and a massive scanner centre. This was where I went for a full body MRI scan. I didn’t tell many people, partly out of that nagging voice in the back of my head saying what if it’s come back in your bones, but also because I didn’t want to worry anyone. I went by myself, and walking down that long corridor, (it’s all very Victorian and Gothic), I could feel a small lump in my throat and seeing so many sick people, walking past the drug trial room and not wanting to ever have to join them. It made me feel quite emotional, the thought of ever having to deal with this cancer shite, ever, ever again. A few of my friends in my breast cancer group, (hello Bitches, *waves* ) have had that bad news recently, and we’ve rallied around to support them and cheer them up, but this is all a damn lottery and it could be me tomorrow or it might never be. You just keep on going and looking forwards and swearing (a lot).

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So, please don’t feel sorry for me, that’s not what this is about. I’ve never wanted that or pity, this is just how it’s been for me and those around me. HD, my brothers and my beautiful Papa when he was alive, friends and family. The other night HD asked me who I was texting and I told him; I’d had a message from someone who’d read my blog and was just diagnosed and wanted to know what to expect. I told him how sad I felt that someone else had that awful news, but that I was also glad that they’d asked me, and that I could help in some small way.

(Cunning link coming up…), which is why a few months ago I put my name down to take part in the Breast Cancer Care London fashion show. Not because I have ever thought myself to be a model, but because I think everyone has the capacity to be beautiful, to be good and kind and to do whatever they can to help others. Cancer has scarred me right up, it’s also made my back a lot worse as it now has some osteoporosis  from the chemotherapy. But I’m still here and I want others to know that they can be too, that you can wear anything and be yourself again. Cancer doesn’t take who you are away.

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Work it baby….

My BCN once said to me when I was trying on and discussing post mastectomy bras, she suggested I try a particular make as it had more ‘coverage’. I said, stuff that, I’ve had a year of minging ugly guinea pig beige bras and as soon as I can get back into the decent stuff I am. Huzzah! So what if my scar is visible, every day you see someone with a scar, whether it is on their hand or leg, or back or wherever. They are not ugly or shameful or embarrassing. They are part of life’s journey and they tell a story of our own lives. Cancer doesn’t make you ugly. Don’t ever let it make you think that. Cancer is the ugly twat in this, not you.

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Now then, if you are feeling generous, you can support me raising money for Breast Cancer Care when I wiggle my wonky ass down the catwalk in September. They’re an amazing charity who offer all kinds of support to men and women who get that shit awful news. So go on give us a £5 or whatever you can afford, it will make a big difference to someone like me.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/marieheyessavetheknockers

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‘Near far, wherever you are, I believe that the fart does go on… ‘

(with apologies to Celine)

A Tit Stitch in Time

I’ve got a tiny bit of a stitch poking out through the incision that the eternally fabulous Dr Fat Biscuits made to create my new nipple. Now, bearing in mind it’s 5 weeks since my last op and all other visible bits of stitches have fallen off and disappeared, I reckoned I’d be okay by now to ‘worry it’ a bit.  Now before you all start sniggering let me explain…. when I had my two week, post op follow up with Dr FB, I asked him if my stitches were soluble or not. To which he replied, that yes they were and now I was past the critical two weeks healing I could start ‘worrying them a bit’. This was too much to ignore, I tittered (pun intended)…. ‘Worry them a bit?’ I asked. Smiling gamely.

“Yes,’ he said. ‘Just a little.’

“What like tell them they smell or that Santa isn’t real?”

Dr FB: … *stares

Me: *deadpan face*

You get the gist.

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Anyway, back to the teeny tiny bit of stitch. I managed to get hold of the end of it with some tweezers, which for someone who lacks coordination at the best of times and while working in the bathroom mirror, because it was too awkward to look down at that angle while getting said tweezers in position, was a feat in itself. I gave it a bit of a tug. Nothing. Bit harder. Still nothing. Now seriously what is the other end tied to? My toes, my spine at the very least. The Great fucking Wall of China? Consequently I keep checking it out to see if it’s fallen out of its own accord. Has it buggery. Puh-ting.

In June I’m having the areola bit tattooed so aside from all the scars from one side to the other and two more; one for where the implant was inserted and the other to cut a slivver of skin to form the nipple, no one would be any the wiser. Chortle….as if.

I’m now imagining this bit of catgut like stitch poking through a posh dress over the summer or catching passing bits of fluff like a stray carpet tack. This thing has to go…. I’m not sure what else to try?

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Anyway, back to the boobs and life post op number 8, all I can say is that they’re healing nicely, still swollen as you’d expect and the arm stiffness isn’t too bad and halle-bloody-lujah I can now exercise again. So this week I’ve done three runs and a swim and pulled a muscle on my left bum cheek. Okay so I over did it, but after four sedentary dull as fuck weeks, mostly spent coughing my lungs up and two cougho-pukes, due to yet another insanely bad post op chest infection, I was as they say in polite circles, gagging for it. A run that is.

In fact the boob healing was fine, my arse cheeks looked like a stray baboon from the fat transfer bruising,  but the constant coughing to the point of barfing not so good. Two lots of antibiotics, two weeks of steroids, three bottles of cough syrup and a shit ton of tissues and late night cups of hot tea and Manuka honey, and I was just about able to lie down without my breathing gurgling and crackling. I am so sexy right now, what with my scratchy pokey-out stitch tit, and the whiff of codeine linctus. Which yes it does bung you up, but fortunately constant coughing counteracts that side effect. Ho hum. I am just the expert on all major forms of illness induced bum trauma.

Back to this week, we’re off to Berlin me and HD for a long weekend and am hoping it will be dry and that unlike the time we went to Barcelona we don’t have to pour water out of our shoes when we get back to the hotel. We’re also going to a Chopin concert, mitt feuerwerken no less. Which I assume means fireworks or sausages. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get both to be honest.

I’ve also signed up for a year’s course in fundraising and marketing. So all those of you who I previously told to shoot me at point blank range, if I ever signed up for another course…. where the bloody hell were you? Most of you know that charity stuff has always been close to my heart so I plan on just enjoying it and hope it will help with my work as a trustee.

Other than that in another month I will be having my first annual review since finishing chemo and having a mastectomy. It’s been a long year; sometimes it feels like a sort of limbo, never quite feeling tiptop before the next Herceptin injection or next op. I think it is coming up to close on a year ago that I puked and pooed like a belt fed spray gun all over Milton Keynes A&E. At least these days I make it to the khazi with time to spare. Still not that keen on peanuts, mind.

I know I’ve still got a long way to go, the recovery process from chemotherapy alone is at least another year away, never mind Herceptin and all the drugs and surgery. My GP asked me the other week as I sat coughing in her surgery,

“Have you ever seen someone with really bad eczema?’

“Yes” I said. To which she replied, ‘Well that’s what your lungs look like so you need to be patient and give them time to recover and heal.”

Cancer the devious bastard has already had 20 months of my life so far, and now that the big fat wanky bit is over I reckon I can handle the slowly feeling better bit.

Who wouldn’t eh? Onwards and upwards, mitt feurwerken.

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Unzip the Nip

Stop it all of you right this minute…. okay, I should have known the last blog entry was a little premature with the flag waving, I beg your pre-emptive pardon but I was a little bit giddy on pain killers at the time and also being optimistic. However… how-fucking-ever…. those of you that have been privy to a boob flash, will know that lefty and righty aren’t the same size, this was in part due to the largeness of my previous boobage, and the fact that reducing one down too much could compromise balance and symmetry of the said boob. Also they will swell with surgery and how much and for how long is always a bit of a juggling act. Wah… hey. Also lefty was completely removed, flat as Keira Knightleys’ ironing board. So putting an implant in with scar tissue around was also a potential issue. What has in actual fact happened is that righty is still bigger than lefty and also lefty has a small tear in the muscle wall (fuck knows how that happened) and consequently there is now a visible crease – a bit of an unintentional indentation if you will.

So…. back into the hospital I go for another round of double sided rearrangements. Lefty is getting a small amount of lipo, with some fat sucked off my arse cheeks. Don’t even go there… my bum is fabulous and barely has enough to spare.

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And righty, is going to be unzipped, around the nip and a bit more taken out. Another 4 weeks of drudgery with no exercise and wearing BMI’s finest in surgical undies (I’d just hoyed out the last lot), and also a giddy pair of massive lazzie tight pants to support the areas where they’ve sucked the fat from those bad buns.

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Having tit cancer is like the gift that keeps on giving, I’m still numb under my left arm and dealing with a little cording from the last ops, but you know what, this is okay. When I got home and told HD what The Ever Fabulous Doctor Fat Biscuits had concluded, he was a bit down and bit oh, honey… I’m sorry. But I stopped it right there, hold it… I said, I’m not having any of that negative shizz , you’re entitled to be worried, any op of this duration and involving my bum warrants a little caution. However, I knew I was going to have to have another op of some sorts, to reduce righty a tadge, as it happens lipo reduction won’t be enough so a full on open it up and chop a bit off is needed, (they already took away over 400g worth) and also lefty needs a nipple. Okay, I need a bit more doing than anticipated, but that’s life isn’t it, and it hasn’t beaten me yet and it isn’t going to now. Also I get a pair of ta-tas, of a more or less similar size and I can stop losing the foam insert thingamy out of lefty on the train. I kid you not… it fell out and I don’t know where it is. Cold and lonely jammed in the foot treads of an escalator on the Northern Line…

Anyway, back in a couple of weeks with a more ‘balanced’ view on life 🙂

 

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Full Frontal Phlebotomy

I had my final herceptin injection in the left leg at 10am this morning. It stung and I swore a bit (read: a lot). But did you also know that 75 weeks ago, almost to the day I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, HER2+, oestrogen negative, ductal bollocky carcinoma. If you’re thinking this is a long time ago, it is. It is absolutely bloody ages.

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By some measures I’ve gone through it relatively quickly, lucky enough to have private health cover with my job, meant I rarely had to wait long for appointments or theatre time when an operation was due. I could choose my plastic surgeon and half edible food off the menu. And yet, a year and a half of my life has been swallowed up, and I am only now just stepping into the long corridor of recovery. This alone can take up to two years as my body slowly heals from the onslaught of some of the most toxic chemicals the body can have tipped into its veins in the name of medicine, along with a back passage clogging amount of general anaesthetic, and a bin bag full of tablets.

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In the diary of a cancer patient it is such a long time that it defies belief almost, that here we are in 2017 and it takes that bloody long to get someone in the doors, through the countless scans, X-rays, MRI’s, biopsies, endless blood tests, physiotherapy, painkillers, steroids, anti-sickness tablets, stomach injections to prevent neutropenia, 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 18 herceptin injections, 6 operations, far too many dodgy prawn sandwiches, doctors appointments, expander fills, a relationship bordering on illegal with Movicol, prosthesis fittings, all night poonamis, supplements, antibiotics, juices, pink wees and all the other things that have got me through from week one to seventy-five.

I feel overwhelmed when I look back through my folder of pictures – a photo diary of all those endless weeks. I took pictures of everything from hospital food, scars, breasts in various stages of removal, ports, scanners, needles to hair loss and growth, the lot. As I was scrolling through I had to pause as my eyes were filling with tears, not at the loss of my hair, or even really the Eartha’s; but the odd photo when I can see the pain in my eyes, the puffy steroid-filled face staring back at an 18 month older me. The blotches all over my face from chemo rash, my cracked lips and bloody nose, dark circles of yet another lost nights sleep, my father dying, me doing my best to be brave on the day they found another tumour, spending half the night on the loo and days when I barely had the energy to dress. It was just the sheer interminable length of time that I have been so terribly ill.

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But there are also days when I lay in the sun and smiled, giggled at some poo joke, or one of HD’s dodgy dance routines or just breathed in hard and felt the warmth of a future in front of me. People tell me I’m lucky, yes damn right I am…. I’m alive and I have a lovely home, HD, some amazing friends and family and that’s all that matters. But don’t tell me to be grateful; don’t get me wrong, I am very much so, every day when I wake up and have another day  – but don’t think I am lucky or should be grateful. You could have it all quite frankly, all the cancer and the hospital appointments and the pain each time when they try and find a vein and I come home covered in plasters where they failed. I do some days feel fed up at all that time spent doing everything I could to get better, we have so little time here and moments are just that, gone in a second, that wasting 75 sodding weeks for someone who positively hates being ill, for the sole reason that it’s a waste of a perfectly good day – has been galling at times, even though all that hard work paid off 100 fold. I still haven’t handed in my sick leave note from before Christmas, not because I am shit at admin, I just hate being off ill. Or in this case, off my tits (I have two now) on pain killers. I should add up all the minutes I’ve spent sitting on the lovely old Victorian stool in the utility room, trying to cool off while my face drips with sweat from another flush. Or in the office when I flick on the fan for a cool-down. But you can’t, and to be honest I wouldn’t want to even try. They’ve gone you see, all those minutes, already washed away into the past. Along with my cancer. Gone.

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Cancer some days has a funny way of making you see life almost through a tunnel, blinkered, while you put your head down and take those steps from one day, one hour, week, minute, treatment, tick-tock, needle, IV, tick-tock… run, sleep, sweat… tick-tock, shower, breathe, tick-tock. Tick-tock. But also for seeing life for what matters, those that have really cared, sunny days, hugs and doing things you love. So in a way, it’s like being in a tunnel and then all of a sudden on some days you’re not. You’re outside and you can see everything with such clarity you wonder what the fuckety, fuck you were thinking all along.

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I started this blog for a number of reasons, 75 weeks ago… because writing for me has always been one of the best ways I express myself, I do it for work and I have notebooks around the house with doodles, lists and thoughts. I loved writing at school and I still do now. So, this has become my way of writing down, recording how I feel – how I felt through the bad and the better bits. The wonky eyebrows, the  itchy skin and the nights  spent staring restlessly at the ceiling, or trying to sneak to the loo in the night in hospital, dragging my IV along for company. It was also intended for friends and family, so they knew what was happening, where I was, how I was – without having to continually ask. ‘So how’s it going…?’ They would already know. The fact that it has helped others in the same situation gladdens my heart, but also saddens it… too many still are suffering.

The level of care that I’ve had at the hospital where I’ve been treated has been fabulous, from hugs to cups of tea left for me on reception.

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From the quality of care to the brains behind it all, Chemo Sabe, the Moan Arrangers, Dr Babylon, Mr Lanky and the lovely Dr Fat Biscuits. There is one particular nurse who sticks in my mind, the day I had my exploding tit biopsy in August 2015, a young nurse was sitting next to me, while Dr Babylon skewered my tumours and while I bled all over the table and floor. She held my hand in hers and talked to me and knew what to say without being trite. She was perfect, kind and gave me strength. I’ve seen her several times since, she’s stopped to chat in the corridor, or high-fived me and given me a hug. She works in the phlebotomy department, which is where if you don’t already know, where they do the blood tests. She’s one of the needle in the arm vein ladies, the vampire blood-letters. I saw her this morning for my last blood test, she asked how I was doing and I told her it’s my last day today. Then we both just stared at each other, blinking hard for a moment at the enormity of what I’d just said. Then she told me that she would always remember me, for my courage and my smiles (I recall crying the first time we met, so think she was being polite…) but also because that day in August 2015, when I bled all over the place, was her first day on the job as a nurse. I had thanked her and she remembered that, but also sadly her aunt was diagnosed with cancer around the same time, and she knew better what she was going through because of me. Sadly her aunt didn’t make it. But she told me I had to live now for both of them. I promised her I would. Then she took the blood from my vein, we smiled, said polite goodbyes and I walked out of the cubicle. I couldn’t look back, I think we were both still blinking hard.

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And so, she was my inspiration for this last cancer treatment blog, because having my hand held at the start and at the end of all this bollocks, feels like the right way to complete at least this stage of my ramblings. Holding someone’s hand says many things beside that you care, that you’re not alone. It’s my last memory of my father and he has been on my mind a lot lately, it would have been his birthday this week, so it feels more than proper that I should have been holding his hand in my heart today. She held my hand at the beginning and she was there, perhaps by chance, to sign me off at the end.

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It’s strange that today was my last day of what they call ‘active treatment’, while it’s still going on, you feel sort of supported, safe, monitored and getting some drugs that might stop it coming back. While I still might need a bit of lipo on right Eartha and Melons still needs a nipple and a tattoo; as I walked out of the doors this morning, I thought to myself is this a tunnel moment or a door wide open, kind of occasion?

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The door ladies and gentlemen is of course WIDE FUCKING OPEN.

I’m sure not for the last time, but at least for now I can say in the largest and loudest letters on the planet,

I HAVE FINISHED MY TREATMENT.

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PS Might be back to share some cheerier stories with you, but hopefully no more bastard cancer.

 

 

 

From Dolly Partons, to Milk Cartons

Bloody nora and strike me down with a wet lettuce, but the 12th December has finally arrived. Bit like most days really, it appeared after the one before. Hey ho…here we go.

If you’ve paid any sort of attention to my blogs you will know that this is the day that my saline expander implant, AKA Melons Galore comes out and is replaced by a silicone implant; eminently more comfortable to lie on and one that when I hug my friends, they don’t pull away and ask me ‘what the actual fuck is that upturned wok attached to your chest?‘ It is r.o.c.k hard. Melons Galore has been brilliant and aside from causing a deal of chest and shoulder ache as she’s been under my chest wall for the last 4 months, she’s amply done the job of slowly stretching my skin. And apart from her ridiculous faux-breast, cantaloupe melon-like appearance, she’s been a perky beast and one with the unmovable tension skills of a mad dog with lock jaw. It’s been weird and there’s been endless giggles and posturing in front of the bathroom mirror, as I literally could way-hey up the difference between Melons Galore and Right Eartha. Although Melons doesn’t move. At. All. (I’ve tried).

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But today, they both go under the knife. Having passed my recent right side mammogram (they had to check pre-op that there was nothing ghastly in there before the op, like more buggery bollocks cancer for example), with flying colours, right Eartha is going to be reduced from her historic Dolly Parton status to match the cup size of Melons Galore, and Melons will have the bag of saline taken out and a squidgy and much more natural looking and feeling, implant in her place.

Dr Elf on the Shelf 

Well, when I say ‘feeling’ I can’t actually feel my skin on that side, it’s still completely numb from the total mastectomy and node clearance I had back in April. The underside of my left arm and armpit are also numb. They will more than likely stay that way now forever, as the nerve damage in the operation is often irreversible. I’ll have a bunch more scars, as the mastectomy incision is stretched so tight from the expansion process and as Dr Fat Biscuits rightly said; if I open that up we’ll never get the sides back together again.’So on the underside of Melons, will be a small  incision. Saline bag out, silicon implant goes in.

Then on the right side they will make a keyhole kind of cut around the nipple and then fan out to either side, removing a middle section of breast tissue. Sides to middle and re-attach the nipple. I can if I want to at a later date have one made or tattooed onto the left side. I get to keep my right one, although in rare cases they drop off like an overcooked macaroon.

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This is the joy (not) of breast cancer; yes I am bloody lucky to be having reconstruction and not only that by the amazingly gifted Dr Fat Biscuits. He’s a knifey genius of the tit variety (I think he does noses as well to be fair) and even my lymphatic physio has commented that his handiwork, or is that boobiwork, is nothing short of amazing.

Not every woman who goes through this chooses to have reconstruction – it really is a personal choice and sometimes women are given no choice for one medical reason or another, they have to stay flat and consider a prosthesis. Some women choose or are offered – again for all kinds of reasons, like BRCA gene risk, to have a bi-lateral mastectomy and then stay flat.  They may or may not then have reconstruction in the future or at the same time. The combinations of reasons, choices and options vary from woman to woman. And it should by and large be our choice what to opt for post treatment.

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But none of us choose to be in this boat or would want to be, no matter how well we cope with what is thrown at us, no matter how good my new breasts may look to you, they will still be scarred, numb and not the ones I was born with. I’ll have a foreign body in my chest forever and may have to have further surgery if I reject it, if it moves or does any other manky shit thing to my system. I’m hoping it doesn’t of course, its rare but still possible.

So I’m back to resting for another few weeks, walking, not running, and definitely no lifting and absoultely no bouncing. Although I’m not sure they even do any more…

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It’s Christmas soon, and this time last year HD and I didn’t even know if I’d be around for this one. Neither of us said it, but it was there in the air like a wispy shadow. I was bald and bloated from chemo and steroids, the hot sweats made me glow like our very own human Christmas decoration. I was all of the sexy.

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If you can be arsed to flip back to one of my first blogs I mentioned that the two physical things most people noticed about me first, were all the hair and the boobs. They’ve both changed completely. And the latter permanently so. Yes, it’s been a big old shock to the system and it has taken some getting used to, the idea that is; and now, the reality. But when I look in the mirror I still see me, I am still the same person underneath, a little older, a bit greyer and with smaller bazookas, a lot more determined and happy to have a good life and be the same cheeky and disgusting me. Cancer doesn’t take that away from you, and don’t you forget that.

Beauty and your heart are always on the inside and they should be constants.

You know what else, I am here and I’ll be here next year as well and the one after that. And all the days in-between, me and my new milk cartons.

Happy Titmas everyone xxx

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Hi Ho Silver Lining

I lay awake last night, staring at the red dot on the TV, listening to HD breathing (I mean snoring like a rhino obvs), next to me. For some reason the Fearpoop had returned, although not in a full blown exploding brown sense of the word, just that nagging feeling that my cancer could come back. Mine was HER2+ which is a high risk, aggressive and fast growing cancer. Now, as HD rightly reminded me this morning while I was trying to interrupt him peeling the spuds for Sunday lunch (not a euphemism btw), that my last MRI and post MX and expander op histologies were all 100% clear and that I should try not to feel anxious. I don’t know why last night it was there, maybe because after a day of gardening and house stuff on top of a hercraptin week I was super tired and achy; reminding me of what I’ve had and the treatment I am still having. Made me feel a bit more vulnerable, bit of a wake up call and a poke in the chuff if you will. This cancer coming back worry malarkey bollocks is a real and ever present worry for some, last night it felt as if my shadow had darkened behind me, a little heavier to pull along as I walk. Holding me back a bit from moving forward freely with my life, with our lives together.

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Shadows are rarely what they seem

Wedding planning is well underway and I can’t wait to walk into the church in Italy next September and see HD waiting for me at the altar. I just don’t want this mother-effing cancer to trip me up, I’m well capable of doing that myself, as walking in a pair of heels down a medieval church aisle will take some kind of clever balance mastery, the like of which will challenge an A-grade wonky walker like me. I blame the rotoscoliosis but also the rule that says; always consider whether you can run for a bus when buying a pair of shoes.

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Whoever said that, wants poking in the eye with a rusty stiletto heel, however you get my drift. I normally go bare foot, despite a humungous pile of shoes in my wardrobe. I love them actually, and for this I blame my mother who made me wear Start-Rite specials well into my teens. I’ve spent the rest of my life craving hot shoes and boots. I admit it. Call me Imelda.

Anyway, I digress, the balls against the wall issue here is that it could come back, any damn day or not at all. Ever. So this morning, after a hug with my honey and look out the window at the blue sky and the beautiful autumn day, I stuck two fingers up to last nights fear and while I know it will be back, I know I cannot do anything other than kick it’s sorry arse again or bash  it on the head, if it does return.

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Meanwhile I have some leaves to rake up and a pork joint to crackle. Might even rustle some apples from next door for pud.

I’m not pretending there ever is a silver lining to cancer, ask anyone who has had it and some will say it has devastated their life. Relationships end over the long (LONG) and gruelling treatment never mind the massive mental and physical health impact it has on your body. It puts a huge strain on your life, but it can be turned to something positive. I know that HD and I are closer for having gone through something we didn’t anticipate so soon in our relationship. But then, very few people actually expect to get cancer. It’s a sneaky little bugger like that, definitely not just one for the old and infirm. It’s anyone at anytime.

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But being the positive little sod that I am; I won’t cling onto shit like this, it is inherantly part of my make up to have a twinkle in my eye, I would genuinely rather laugh than cry, smile than frown. My morning kitchen dances are evidence of this. It probably pisses off some of the miserable bastards out there who prefer the doom and gloom scenario. We’re all entitled to our own view and all that shizzle. Don’t get me wrong either, I’ve had some seriously piss poor days last night wasn’t high on my list, but they’ve been in the minority and for that I am hugely grateful. I’ve had some incredible support from some amazing places and had old friends get back in touch and their contact has calmed my mind, made me giggle and made me feel warm and very happy when I least expected it. And not in the hot sweaty chemo-flush kind of way either. You know, that deep smile in your heart that only friends and love can bring. I hope you know who you are.

There is one small physical thing however amongst the poop pile that stands out for me and I suppose this comes from always having had a mop of curly hair. As a child my mother used to liken it to a big curtain and frequent squeals could be heard as she tried to get playground tangles from my head, or try and plait my hair into something less unruly. Cousin It, Minnie the Minx and Maria de los Diablos have been three of my various nick names. Chemo the stinky shit-bag, rendered me bald for months on end, and winter months at that. I did buy a fancy pants wig, which sat on one of those polystyrene heads on the shelf behind my desk, so if you face-timed or Skyped me you could see it in the background, part Tina Turner and part Bernie Eccleston I’d say.

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Way back when last year, getting wiggy with it.

I never, ever wore it. Aside from a couple of times when I stuck it on to make HD laugh. This was partly due to the epic hot sweats chemo and herceptin give you, trust me when you’re peeling all your clothes off and trying to shoe-horn your head into the freezer compartment the last thing you need is a wig on your head.

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I was also quite happy with a bandana or beanie, hiding my cancer was never something I felt the need to do. I’d got it, and I got on with it.

So, that’s my hi-ho silver lining in all of this.

And I can assure you, if you look into your heart you will always find at least one.

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Pump up the volume…

Greetings boob blog followers, the nights are drawing in, I’ve done my summer:winter clothes switcheroo and moved a few weeks further down the tit cancer treatment conveyor-belt.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been back to Italy to do some wedding planning, a little shopping and a moderate amount of wine drinking. I still have the alcohol capacity of a 2 year old, so not much booze there then. HD has got an amazing new job (blows horn and does naked dance of joy) starting later this autumn and I am well past the half-way mark in expanding the left side of my chest. In fact, I may beg your unbelievable pardon, but I have one more fill to go and then…

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Penultimate boob fill, et voila!

Ha… I won’t bore you with a total re-cap on how this all works as it’s in my previous blog if you missed that one out (consider yourself duly reprimanded), but each week I go and see the lovely Dr Fat Biscuits and he injects anything between 150ml – about 70ml of saline in through the expander port. The expander pocket sits behind my chest muscle to ensure a good shape post surgery, and so each fill gradually stretches the skin and increases the ‘cup size’. We’re gradually reducing the fill amounts as my skin is slowly reaching the capacity stretch limit. Although at the moment it looks a trifle like a half melon on my chest, I could give those Karkrashians a run for their money, and being full of water it is hard as a rock and doesn’t move… well unless I do this of course…..

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It’s a pretty painless if slightly tedious process, as if I don’t spend enough time in hospitals anyway, but this is a very clever and minimally invasive way of restoring ones ta-ta’s to semi-glory and all that. My scar has healed well, no infections this time round and since the drain of doom effed off, it has all settled down rather nicely. Everyday without fail I apply either organic aloe gel, coconut oil or apricot kernel oil, and I use collagen gel on the scar itself. This helps the skin to heal, reduce the impact of the scar (which is massive but hey-ho) and also to improve my skins elasticity. What I don’t want is for the the muscle to tear as this will present problems with the implant and overall appearance in the future. For example, you can end up with what they call ‘waisting’ – which is literally a creased dent line across the breast where the tear indentation falls. To this effect I’ve been unable to do any aerobic exercise for 6 weeks post expander insert, and am now gradually easing myself back in with swimming, running and yoga. Still having lymphatic physio every few weeks to support my arm healing. I usually just need a couple of painkillers the night of the fill as it puts some pressure on and gives your chest wall a belting ache, for want of a better description. I can only liken it to having something large and heavy sitting on your chest and pulling around your neck and under arm. Comfortable it ain’t. But it wears off over a couple of days max.

So, I now have one more fill left… there is still some considerable size difference between left and right norks, it’s odd looking down and seeing one half melon bolted on with a slash across the centre and the right one, well pretty much (cough) where it’s always been. But somewhat more sizeable. Cancer, the shitty bastard will mean my chest is never, ever going to be as magnificent as the one nature dolled me out. However…. in the more than capable hands of Dr Fat Biscuits… I must stop calling him that as he is bloody lovely and a genius of the chesticle variety; I will have a decent pair sorted just around Christmas time. I’m all booked in for the 12th December, a couple of nights at BMI’s pleasure and hopefully not too long dragging a couple of slutty drain bags around. Left expander will come out and in will go and implant and right nork will be reduced to match. After that, well I think I plan on not looking back over my shoulder too hard, what I’ve been through the last 13 months has been a monstrous pile of fetid poo. I still have 5 more hercraptin (Herceptin) injections to get through and if the last one is anything to go by, I’ll be limping about until Easter next year. The words, ‘dead’ and ‘leg’, come to mind.

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It seems ironic somehow that I’m one of the lucky ones, I still to this day don’t know why I got cancer, it wasn’t genetic and it wasn’t oestrogen receptor. But somewhere, somehow and at some point in time, a switch inside me shifted in cancer’s favour. That’s the scary bit, never knowing why or how it happened. And that is why if you’ve got any cash sloshing about or are even feeling gorgeously generous, please give some money to a cancer research fund, anyone will do to be honest, stay away from the pink fluffy awareness bollocks, frankly it boils my piss that anyone thinks that cancer is pink and that copying and pasting some shite into your timeline for an hour does anything other than …. well, jack shit to be frank.

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What does change things is research, and funding and supporting people in hospices and folk who are struggling for one reason or another to keep going through cancer. Make them a cake, or take them round a meal, give them a lift to an appointment, clean their house, do what you can and then one day, I hope and pray that cancer will be as curable as an ordinary sore throat and all this hideous pain and suffering will be something we stare at in wonder; and just feel sad that so many people for so long, died. But not any more. Now we have a cure.

That will be amazing.

That will make my boobs, the old one and the new one, very happy. I hope I am here to see that happen.

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Onwards and titting upwards.

I’m not being funny or anything, but the next person who says, ‘ooh, at least you’re getting a free boob job,’ will get a punch in the chops. Seriously?? So you think I’d rather have a new pair, and in exchange go through the last 13 months and still counting of unbridled shite. Want to see my massive scar that goes from my breast bone right round to under my arm pit? Or can you not think of anything more tactful. I know cancer gives people the heebie-jeebies, and we’re all guilty of the odd crass remark, but this is a big, sweaty, fat-bummed no-no. To be honest, having the rack sorted, helps take some of the bitter taste of chemo away. And me being the positive little sod that I am, well I’ll take that and the thought of a brand spankers new drawer full of undies. But I liked my boobs how they were, when they were well and still both attached to my chest wall that is.

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It’s a month to the day since my last operation, that’s my fifth since this cancer malarkey started and not including two biopsies (including the one with the exploding tit), 3 MRI scans, 4 ultrasounds, 5 heart echo scans, 3 CT scans, X-rays, Port Scans, DEXA bone scan and fuck alone knows how many blood  tests and appointments I’ve had. I have lost count. And I’m not even including the chemo and hercraptin, in that list. My hair has all fallen out, my eyes are worse, I get reflux, my skin is sensitive, my left arm itches like a bandit most days as the nerve endings following my node clearance on that side when I had the mastectomy, are trying to re-group. Although my arm and chest wall are still largely, and will remain numb forever more. Once they chop those nerves, that’s it pretty much. I can’t feel it on my skin when I use any deodorant on that side, which generally I don’t and if I do it’s a  herbal one as my lymph nodes are now in the hospital incinerator so there is nothing there to take away the guff. I have to for example, wear gloves when I garden, and avoid letting anything scratch, bash or nosh my left arm, the risk of lymphedema will remain with me for life. My finger nails are still a bit twatted, although thanks to some nail oil are slowly recovering. Chemo weakened my teeth and I had to go back 4 times to the dentist to have a bridge reaffixed, as they couldn’t do anything more invasive due to my immune system having been nuked. I think my bum is the only thing that is back to normal. More’s the pity as chemo farts are a distant memory. Although HD still reaches for his gas mask if I suggest I have one brewing.

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Last week I went to see the lung specialist as I’m still coughing and a bit hoarse, so waiting on those CT results to see if chemo has left me another present in the form of fibrositis. Otherwise known as lung damage of the bollocky permanent variety.

The 3-weekly shots of herceptin, are still on-going. Got 6 more to go and then they estimate around a year to get rid of the side effects, any that I am left with like maybe carpal tunnel syndrome, will stay with me forever. I can tell the week I’ve had the stingy-bastard thigh jab, as my hands are a little stiffer so I spend a few minutes in the morning squeezing a little stress ball. It wears off eventually, but its another thing.

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Then, there’s all the psychological stuff, cancer really is a horridly scary piece of work, people think that dying is the worst it can do, and that is certainly true for still, far too any people. But us lucky buggers that beat it by fair means or foul, are left with a legacy of will it ever come back? Does that pain or lump mean it has returned? In my case if breast cancer comes back, as a secondary – there isn’t much that can be done apart from buy me some time. Now, don’t get me wrong for a cotton picking minute here, I don’t sit and gaze out the window or go on wistful windy walks and worry about my fragility. But it does pop into your head, it’s only human for this to happen.

So you see, outwardly and inwardly I am doing bloody great, still not entirely sure what a good night’s sleep consists of, but I’m looking after myself and my health so well that all I can do is furnish my mind, body and soul with the best tools I can to make sure it doesn’t come back and that I don’t go bonkers worrying it might. Some of my friends have been utterly amazing at keeping me going, you know who you are you little treasures, and I will snog you all personally as and when I see you next.

I went into work this week, wandered out at lunch time to get a wrap to eat and it was just so lovely to be in London, walking for 20 minutes around Covent Garden and seeing all the life and the colours and sounds. We take this shit for granted. Don’t. It’s all around us this beautiful, complicated and messed up world of ours. Go and see it, don’t hide inside and avoid life, it’s amazing all of it, the arguments, the hugs, the greasy take-aways, the nauseating sunsets, the stinky farts and nose-pickers, Sunday roasts, belly laughs and the moment when you open your eyes and can breathe in another day.

I may be looking so much better, and you know why? It’s because I bloody well am. I’d wind back the clock anyday. But I can’t, so what the heck is the point of even giving that nonsense a thought.

As far as I’m concerned it’s chin up and in the words of Andy Dufresne from one of my all time favourite films: Get busy living.

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P.S My mini boob will be very sad if you don’t all embrace life, share it, squeeze it, in fact, in your own way just shag the living daylights out of it.  Just do it. With bells on.

Always.

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