Much like Brexit – losing something you’re used to is blindingly unsettling and divides opinion. As I sit and watch the current political chaos it reminds me of the inner turmoil I went through when making the decision to lose my right boob. The precarious feeling of what the future holds. Is it the right decision? Will there be regret? Whose decision or opinion do I trust?
Obviously BrexTit was my own personal referendum and when it comes to life and death it was quite a clear black and white decision. The deal had to be made, there was no time for negotiations. However that didn’t stop my head from searching for a vote of confidence.
The thought of having any part of your body amputated is a huge deal. Even a haircut can be a major event in a woman’s life (we’ve all been devastated post-dodgy trim – don’t deny it). Lots of people have said to me ‘Oh it’s only a boob’ or ‘i’d rather you lost a boob and lived’. Yes of course nutbags – all that is true. Believe me, when I was told that I had cancer my head went into full fight mode. It’s like being told you could save your families lives if you immediately paper cut your eyeballs…you wouldn’t think twice. With all the will in the world I didn’t blink when my consultant said the word mastectomy. It was a no brainer despite the turmoil in my head. I didn’t want to drastically change my body and I was scared of what was to come but I HAD to survive this thing.
Now 8 months on, in the aftermath of it all, I sometimes catch a glimpse in the mirror and see nothing but a huge scar that triggers me to mourn my late booby doo.
(My new landscape just 6 weeks post mastectomy – Having a saline injection to expand the skin – read on to find out more about this procedure)
Sometimes i’ll find myself reminiscing about our past together. How aged 10 i’d stuff my Tammy Girl crop top with cotton wool to make it look like I had something there when I was at school. Or how aged 18 they popped out once by accident when I was at a Hawaiian fancy dress party and my coconut bra top pinged open whilst doing the hula. Or how I used to flatten them in a sports bra to go for a run. Or how i’d hoick them up in a Gossard Wonder Bra in my 20s as part of my ‘find a future life partner’ mission (in hindsight that was probably pretty slutty – don’t judge me, everyone was doing it). Or how i’d flop them out at any given moment to feed my three kids (not all at once).
(Left:Oh how i miss my pair Right:Feeding my middle baby with my now-gone boob. RIP)
What i’m trying to say is that boobs really are a huge part of a woman’s life. They have their own personality. One’s always a bit bigger and better than the other. One has a better nipple. Right? Or is it just me. And when one (or both of course) isn’t there anymore you miss what you had together. Plus your clothes suddenly look rubbish on you.
MASTECTOMY – WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS
There are 5 different types of mastectomy according to the NHS (see http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mastectomy/) but I can only really talk about the one I had which was the complete chop (that’s not the technical name. I don’t think). I thought that a mastectomy was a bit like carving a pumpkin – make a cut, hollow it out and put the lid back on. Incorrect. Your entire boob is breast tissue and breast tissue is where the cancer can grow back so they took my nipple, my skin as well as the jibbly filling.
(The area in pink is what was taken away during my mastectomy)
Some people are given options on what is taken and whether the nipple is preserved but I didn’t have a choice due to the grade of my cancer. I kind of liked the black and white nature of mine because I know what i’m like if i’m given options. Plus I just wanted complete peace of mind that all of the cancer had been removed.
THE DAY OF MASTECTOMY
I was nil by mouth from 6am except water. Once I got to the hospital I had felt tip black markings drawn on my breasts which was a very weird experience. A mixture of dotted lines and arrows. Then I was gowned up and I walked down to the theatre where I was given some drugs to get me off to sleep. I felt pretty relaxed and the staff talked me through every step.
The surgery took about 3 hours and I came to in the recovery room. I remember telling the male nurse that I loved him (in my groggy state I thought he was my husband…at least that’s what i’m telling Mark – sshhhhh). I stayed in hospital for two nights because I was in quite a lot of pain plus my blood pressure was very low. I had little movement in my right arm and for the time in hospital I wasn’t able to sit up unaided.
My chest felt very heavy and throbbed a lot. Unlike most mastectomies, I didn’t have any drains because my surgeon prefers to work without (using pressure bandaging instead). Drains are small PVC tubes which drain away excess fluid and they remain in for a week or so after surgery. They can be pretty grim because you have to empty the fluid away but i’m told it’s quite straight forward.
RECONSTRUCTION (am I taking things too far if I call it a Bre-union? Too far. Sorry.)
Everyone is different when it comes to reconstruction and there are SO many different options. Some women have skin and fat taken from other parts of their body and used to create their new shiny breast. Coppafeel / Breast Cancer Care / NHS websites can talk you through all the different options.
My reconstruction started almost immediately. When I had my mastectomy I had an empty bag fitted under the muscle and skin. The skin from below my collar bone was sewn up (over the bag) with the skin which was under my breast.
(This is what it looked like 4 weeks post op. The scar in my armpit is from the lymph node surgery i had)
Now every few weeks I go to my surgeon and she puts saline solution into the bag. I have a valve under my armpit which she injects into (it will be removed once my skin has stretched enough)….
(Top left: Saline solution Bottom left: Saline injecting into valve which pumps up the bag and stretches my skin Right: A more recent photo showing how more inflated I look)
I’ve only got a few more ‘pump ups’ left now and then my skin should be expanded enough for reconstruction later in the year which involves creating a nipple and having an implant. WHO KNEW you could create your very own nip nip! I’ll tell you all about it when i’m having it done. Before that though I’ve got radiotherapy starting next month (Feb 2019) which means radiation on my chest area every day for 3 weeks.
It took me about two weeks to recover from the mastectomy. I then had my lymph nodes surgically removed so that added to my recovery time. I wasn’t able to pick the kids up or carry anything really. Sleeping wasn’t a breeze either but I soon got used to using lots of pillows and falling asleep more upright (I normally lay on my front – which was clearly impossible). Plus I relied pretty heavily on pain killers…especially codeine which wreaks havoc with your bottom. Terribly binding stuff.
MY TOP MASTECTOMY TIPS
- Do the exercises that are recommended as you can stiffen up very quickly
- Use Bio Oil on the scars to help reduce them
- A neck support was brilliant for when I was recovering. You can’t lie on your side/front so it helped me get comfy
- You’ll need at least two comfy wireless bras. I got sleep bras from Figleaves and an all important front fastening bra like this:
- More breast reconstruction
- Fake boobs and prosthetic nipples
- Nipple tattoos
Thank you for being so open and honest about the process. That’s my next stage. I had to stop breastfeeding my littlest and it’s part of the whole process that makes me most sad. It’s not the boob so much as what it represents.
I hope everything continues to go well for you 😊
That must’ve been so hard to have to stop breastfeeding. I can’t imagine. I know we’re forever being told that it’s ‘for the best’ and ‘it’ll make you a better mum’ blah blah. Yet we’re the ones living in every moment and actually sometimes want to stamp our feet and say Nooooooooo! Best of luck with everything x
You’re my tonic without the gin 😘 I love reading your blog, not only are you a gifted TV producer (obvs otherwise you would not be working with Lorraine) you are also brilliant with words. Thank you for sharing. My sister (diagnosed in May 2018) with breast cancer, mastectomy on 3 July, followed by multiple saline pumping up procedures, then postponement of reconstruction because her sister (me) was diagnosed with stage 3b ovarian cancer on 19 September 2018! So we required the BRACA genetic test before further surgery or treatment. Btw, our mummy was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 52 (she’s nearly 73 now 😀👍) and had a bilateral mastectomy followed by an elective hysterectomy to prevent possible spread of her type of breast cancer. Anyway, my sister and I are BRACA clear 😁, so no further radical surgery for her or I, double yay. I’m mid chemo, bald, eyebrowless and hoping that my treatment is the ‘belt and braces’ it was described following a radical hysterectomy in September. This journey is weird but enlightening because it has enabled me to appreciate what a cancer journey entails and fully understand what other cancer patients are going through. Keep trucking you. I’m with you every step of the way. Sarah x
My goodness you and your family have been dealt a tough card there. How on earth are you staying so chipper! Good for you. I’m so glad to hear that you and your sister are BRACA free. That’s something to hold onto whilst going through chemo. You’re halfway…you can do it. Best of luck and thank you for reading x
This is such a brilliant blog, so helpful for anyone about to go through this or who have gone through this. My mastectomy was very similar, I have an expander but they managed to keep my nipple. I had drains too, and didn’t need to be pumped back up (although I could do with that now but can’t with risk of infection during chemo and I just want to focus on getting through it!) only reduced a couple of times at the beginning from the fluid building up. My cancer was grade two and I do sometimes worry about whether or not my margins were definitely clear enough to keep my nipple but I didn’t really know what it all meant at the time and went with my surgeon’s call. I think I may have considered differently to be honest now that I’m more fully up to speed with it all but it just happens all so quickly doesn’t it. Thank you for coming back to me about the hot flushes, I am taking most nights a quarter of a sleeping pill which seems to do the trick in knocking me out so at least I get some sleep at night….only four left of the weekly ones hoobloodyray!! I hope your radiotherapy is going ok? Xx
I have been loving your blog since seeing you on Lorraine. I was diagnosed with grade 2 HER positive breast cancer in September 2018. I finished my chemo on the 3rd Jan. I saw my surgeon this week and I have my mastectomy booked for the 1st Feb. It’s very scary and your latest blog sums up exactly how I am feeling. My surgeon won’t do immediate reconstruction in case radiotherapy is needed. Seeing your blog has made me feel a bit better as when I looked at images on google they all look so horrible, your scar is amazing. I hope my surgery is as good, although I am not sure if I will have an expander, as he didn’t mention it. I wish you all the best with your recovery.
Hi Tracey, thanks for your lovely message. Honestly you should see my scars now. The photos are months old! It’s so good now! You’ll be the same. Use bio oil if you can. I still have to have radiotherapy and will have the expander in still. Maybe it’s worth asking your surgeon? Are you on herceptin as well? X
Yes I have had Herceptin & Pertzamab, and will have Herceptin injections for the next year. I will definitely use bio oil and i will ask about the expander, thank you for your reply xx
Thank you for this blog, helped a lot. Due to have chemotherapy on Tuesday, after having a mastectomy last month. Petrified is the word !
Thanks for your lovely message. Sorry to hear that you’ve started chemo and I really hope it’s going as well as it can. You’ll get there! xx