5th May 2018
Poached. Always poached. Even when i’m lying here in a hospital bed after a single mastectomy, mourning my late breast, i’ll take them poached. Ten days ago I was a blissfully unaware and fully boobed 39 year old TV producer and stereotypical hectic mum of three. Life was a mish mash of kids clubs, homework and helping run a daily live ITV show.
So as I lay here, tit-down, in walks the waiter Adam who’d asked me repeatedly yesterday ‘How would you like your eggs?’. 24 hours ago he was the epitomy of persistant amongst the circus act that was taking place around my hospital bed – Two things were happening that day, the surgeon was taking my boob and Adam was taking my post-op breakfast order. From his gusto it’s debatable which was the actual priority.
We already knew there was a cancer party going on in my right breast but despite numerous tests last week the consultant emailed me at 1.16am yesterday, the day of my surgery, to say that she wanted me to have a last minute ultra sound to triple check my left boob. I’ve got to admit I was slightly nervous because a) leftie was given the all clear in the MRI and b) why is my surgeon awake at 1.16am when she’s splicing me open later that day? I went to the ultra sound hoping Dr Smyth hit that snooze button a few times. I considered picking her up a red bull en route.
The ultrasound overran so I was an hour late for my surgery – thankfully it confirmed it was just my right boob. Theatre time is precious so when I arrived an entourage of doctors and nurses were waiting in my hospital room, all gowned and ready to de-boob me. I felt a bit like how Mariah Carey must’ve done when she arrived for an interview on the show I was working on 10 years ago…apart from her demands for a white sofa, white drapes and purple berries she had a team of stylists, lighting directors, assistants and makeup artists all fussing around her diva self.
‘I’m Adam and i’m here to take your breakfast order for the morning’ His voice piped up from the corner.
‘Can we all confirm in the room that it’s a single right mastectomy?’ My surgeon Mrs Smyth interjected. She was quick to unbutton my top and with my back to the room started drawing arrows and lines on my chest with a black sharpie. The room all concurred.
‘Cereal or eggs?’ He was still there.
Someone started measuring my ankles. Not sure why.
‘Can I confirm your name and date of birth’ asked breast nurse Jo putting a name tag on my wrist.
‘I’m your anaesthetist today – Are you allergic to any medication?’ said a voice over my shoulder who I could hear was writing out some paperwork. I replied no and she told me i’d be sound asleep for around 3 hours for the op. She made it sound so peaceful but what she meant was ‘you won’t be able to breathe unaided for 3 hours so i’ll be keeping you alive’. I considered gifting her the red bull instead.
‘Cereal or Eggs?’ Adam saw an opportunity and took it.
‘Helen, I need you to confirm to the room please. Are you in agreement that we are removing your right breast today?’ the surgeon asks
It felt like a ridiculous question. I had no choice about the surgery. The cancer was grade 3 and aggressive. But I did have a choice about my breakfast.
‘I’ll have eggs please and yes, i’m having a single mastectomy too’ Like it was a side to my order.
A blood pressure cuff was velcroed on my left arm and a thermometer shoved in my ear.
‘How would you like your eggs’ Hats off Adam.
‘You misunderstand sorry, are you in agreement that it’s the right breast, the one I have marked up’ asked Smyth
‘Poached, fried or scrambled?’
The penny then dropped. The question wasn’t whether I wanted the mastectomy, it was whether Smyth had gotten enough sleep last night and had accidentally drawn arrows and circles around the wrong boob. I looked down and my chest resembled something my 5 year old daughter had drawn in class. Almost like a very crude treasure map with dotted lines and an ‘x’ to mark the spot.
‘Yes’ I replied and an official looking document was put in front of me to sign. A tit release i guess?
‘Yes to which?’ Adam went unanswered.
My gown was then being fastened on and my hair tied back. The tape measuring nurse came in and started putting my white support stockings on. I was feeling pretty spaced out. I was desperate for the fecker to be cut out of my body but desperate in equal measure to keep my body the way it was. What was it going to look like? Will it change me? Everything felt like it was racing away before my eyes. I left the room with the entourage and headed to theatre.
‘Sorry, how would you like your eggs?’ Jackpot Adam, you had my full attention in the corridor.
‘Poached please.’ I felt reassured that I still had control over something. And you know what? I went into theatre doing the worm (in my head) knowing that i’d be eating those eggs this morning and that i’d have taken my very first step to becoming that person I was 10 days ago.
So as I lay here (sore) I’m wondering whether I should have actually said goodbye to my boob yesterday? It had been with me for 39 years. It used to be proper pert until it finished feeding my 3 kids and went into early retirement. Where is it now? (If you’re interested – apparently they get put into in a small airtight bright yellow box and sent off in a van for testing – I wonder how much it actually resembles a boob still, or if it just looks like unidentifiable roadkill?) . I can’t lie. I feel sad that part of my womanhood has gone. In walks Adam who says less to me now than he did yesterday. He plonks the tray down, lifts the cloche (think that’s the first time i’ve ever typed that word) and leaves. And there in front of me, like a sign from above, is the perkiest, jibbling round pair of poached eggs i’ve ever seen. Unable to reach the cutlery I pick up the one on the right with my hands and bite into it. Yolk runs down my face and I cry like a wally. RIP boob.
Thank you darling – means a lot x
Brilliantly written Helen.
Sebastian usually has two poached eggs before school. I won’t think of them in the same way again. One is for him, one for your boob from now on xxx
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I saw your interview with Lorraine Kelly this morning and immediately read your blog. I found my lump on 1st May this year. I had six rounds of chemo first, and today, my husband and I meet with the surgeon to decide if the next stage is mastectomy or lumpectomy with radiation. This post in particular made me laugh out loud at times! You are an inspiration. I wish you the best of luck with your continuing treatment and I hope you are soon back to work. You seem to miss it as much as I miss mine. xxx
Hi Jane, thank you for your message. I’m sorry to hear that you’re in the C club too. I hope chemo treated you well. It’s tough isn’t it. Best wishes for the next step. What did they suggest today? X
Thank you for replying. Chemo actually became easier for me after a very difficult start. I had neutropenic sepsis after the first one, and was in hospital for five days. They kept giving me different medications to counteract the various symptoms so by the sixth one I just felt the awful fatigue, which has now passed. Thank you
The surgeon has advised a mastectomy. I took it very well at the time, but I have had a few ‘wobbles’ since. It is quite dfificult to comes to terms with. I know it is saving my life, and of course I am grateful for that, but obviously I would rather not have to go through it. It is booked in for 31st October. I shall re-read your post so I can find some humour in the situation prior to that day.
With very best wishes