Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Next chapter in this crazy journey!

This time last year I was celebrating my daughter's 3rd and 6th birthdays.
This time last year I removed my head scarf for the first time following treatment.
This time last year I was getting ready to spend Easter in Kalbarri with my family.
This time last year I was petrified the cancer would one day return and take my life.

I can't believe how much can happen in a year...

This year my scans came back showing no sign of cancer.
This year Ryan and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary.
This year I can get my hair into a teeny weeny pony tail.
This year my body is strong but my will to survive is stronger.

Wow, it has been quite some time since I wrote my last blog post. Just goes to show that time flies when you're having fun!  Life sure has been good and I am so grateful to be feeling happy and healthy again.  Since my last entry, I have enjoyed a few fantastic holidays (Bali with our families, Sydney to attend the BCNA national conference and Singapore with my sister).  We also had a fantastic Christmas with our families, a relaxing school holiday break in January, attended a beautiful friend's wedding in February, an awesome engagement party in March and have attended a few gala balls along the way.

Attending the BCNA (Breast Cancer Network Australia) National Conference, Sydney

Lizzy and I enjoying the Transformer Ride at Universal Studios, Singapore

Ryan and I relaxing by the pool at Crown Perth

I suppose the main reason for this new blog entry is to keep you updated with the next step in this crazy journey!

Just over 20 months ago, when I received my diagnosis, I was given the option of an immediate breast reconstruction following my mastectomy.  At that time, I was not in a position to make such a big decision.  I was still in shock and really just wanted the cancer to be removed from my body. The last thing on my mind was a breast reconstruction!  Crikey, I was still getting my head around terms such as Malignant Breast Carcinoma, ER/PR positive, HER2 negative, etc, etc.

Not long after commencing Chemotherapy I started to think about reconstructive surgery but I still felt I wasn't strong enough to deal with the op or recovery, especially whilst going through invasive treatment.  In fact it has been just over 20 months since my diagnosis and only now do I feel as though I am in a position both physically and emotionally to deal with this next phase.

Fast forward to now and I actually have (tiny) cleavage!! Alrighty, I am jumping the gun here so I had better rewind the tape a little to keep you in the loop.  Towards the end of last year, I decided that it was time I start investigating my options in relation to breast reconstructive surgery.  I still classify myself as young (despite what my kids may think - haha!) and I certainly miss wearing 'normal' bathers and bras, not to mention some of my favourite clothes.

I was aware that the options were reasonably limited due to having 5 weeks of radiation following chemo but it is something I really wanted to investigate.  I had originally wanted just implants (as it would be a much quicker and easier procedure) but was advised this was not possible due to having a previous radical mastectomy on my right side.  I had lost nearly 5cm of skin on this side and it was very tight from being so burnt from radiation.  My only option was to have a bilateral (double) lat dorsi breast reconstruction - using the skin, fat and muscle from my back to re-create new breasts (this operation takes 6 to 7 hours).  

This was certainly not your standard, everyday 'boob job'.  In addition to using my back muscles, I also have tissue expanders inserted on each side.  Once I have fully recovered from surgery, these expanders will be slowly injected with saline to stretch the chest skin and after a period of time (approx 3 - 4 months), they will be exchanged for permanent implants.

There was only one plastic surgeon that I wanted to meet and that was Tony Connell.  Tony is very well respected, is an absolute gentleman and his work is outstanding!  I was thrilled when my breast surgeon, Peter Willsher advised that he works closely with Tony as I would be needing both of their expertise with this next stage.  I decided quite some time ago that I was going to have a skin sparing mastectomy on my left breast (performed by Peter Willsher) at the time of reconstruction and then have Tony come in and perform the bilateral lat dorsi reconstruction component.  Both surgeons walked me through the procedure and whilst it was daunting, it was also very exciting!  It was kind of closure in a way to finishing this journey and putting it behind me.

I was admitted to The Mount Hospital on the evening of 12th March (Baylee's 4th birthday) and my little family came with me.  They stayed for a short while and then it wasn't long before Tony came in to 'mark' me up.  By the time he was finished I was covered in blue texta!  I slept quite well that night (thanks to the sleeping tablet they gave me) which was good as I was woken at 5.50am the following morning by the night nurse.  I was asked to have a shower using the special antiseptic wash and to put the gown on - so attractive!  Surprisingly, I was feeling good and only got a little teary when Ryan and the girls called just after 7.00am.  They wheeled me into pre-op around 7.20am and thankfully covered me in some beautiful warm blankets as it was freezing!  I was feeling really relaxed when Peter Willsher came by to see me and still remember the exact moment I started to drift off to sleep....

I don't remember returning to my room but I vaguely recall Ryan walking in (he later told me he arrived around 2.45pm) and squeezed my hand.  I was drifting in and out of sleep and don't really remember much for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening.  I was confined to my hospital bed for the next few days mainly due to the drip, 6 drains (uuggh!), oxygen mask and catheter.  By far the worst bit for me were the numerous 'Heparin' injections in the stomach (my poor tummy was so bruised from all of the needles) and the catheter and drains were just horrible!  I had two drains running from each side of my chest, my side and two drains from my back.  To say they were uncomfortable is an understatement.  It sounds funny but they felt like pets as they were always by my side, I had to take them with me if I ever left the bed and the tubes were like long leads!). You can see 3 of the drains on the floor in the below photo (the other 3 are on the other side of the bed!).

Three hours after surgery (still very sleepy)

It was a slow and steady recovery in hospital with small milestones achieved every couple of days.  On day three I had two drains removed, on day four the catheter was removed (after I pleaded with the nurses to ring Tony to seek his approval), on day six,  two more drains were removed and on day nine the last remaining drains were removed and I was allowed to go home - hallelujah!!  The only real set back I had in hospital was on days 6 & 7 when I had a terrible reaction to the drug Endone.  It was horrible!  When they took me off Fentanyl (which I could administer myself via the drip), I was put onto Endone which is a strong oral pain killer.  I woke up the first morning vomiting but I put that down to sitting up and getting out of bed too quickly and feeling dizzy and unwell.  I also experienced terrible headaches despite taking Panadol every 4-6 hours.  When I woke up vomiting and with a pounding headache the following day, Tony walked in and immediately called the nurses to cease the use of Endone.  I was to now start taking Tramadol instead and thankfully I didn't have a reaction to this!

The 9 days spent in hospital were long but I was very fortunate to have my family and some lovely friends come by to visit me and keep me company.  The highlight of my 9 day stay was the moment my sister arrived at the hospital to surprise me (Lizzy recently moved to Karratha).  I couldn't believe it!!!!  We had spoken every day in the lead up to my op and she messaged me on the Friday morning to see how I was and to say she would call me that afternoon.  It was only a few hours later when I heard a knock on my door and Lizzy poked her head in.  I honestly couldn't believe it and just burst into tears. It was the most fantastic surprise! We spent hours chatting, with no kids to interrupt us.  It was so nice to spend time with her and more importantly she could do my hair for me!  Ryan also did an amazing job taking care of our girls whilst I was in hospital and both sets of parents were on hand to help again, which was greatly appreciated.

Lizzy surprising me in hospital (Day 3)

The past couple of weeks at home have been nice but also a little frustrating.  There are still so many things I can't do just yet, like open the blinds in our bedrooms, unscrew the cap off some medications, hang the washing out, etc. In fact for the first couple of weeks, Tony advised that I shouldn't be lifting anything heavier than a loaf of bread.  Sounds easy enough in theory but I have found it so difficult in reality.  When you're a Mum, you have to perform some superwoman stunts sometimes!  It's even sore to cough, sneeze and laugh at the moment.  On many occasions we have had to remind the girls about hugging me gently and not jumping on my back when playing, etc.  Thankfully I was given the all clear to start driving after Easter - phew, some independence back! I start physiotherapy again in a few weeks time which will help with recovery.

I meet with Tony again this coming Friday where he will start injecting the saline fluid into the tissue expanders.  I have heard this can be quite painful but I am just hoping I am one of the lucky ones.  I have pain killers on hand to help should I need them! Thankfully I will only need them to be injected around 3 to 4 times.  

I continue to receive lots of wonderful support from all of my colleagues at Crown (both Perth and Melbourne) and am so grateful they have given me 6 - 8 weeks off work to have this surgery performed. In fact, my Director sent me a lovely message in hospital and summed it up perfectly... 'the last chapter in the book is coming to a close and soon you'll be able to return it to the library for good - it wasn't a bestseller anyway'!  I am so fortunate to work with some amazing friends and I can honestly say I love what I do :)

I can't finish off this new blog entry without mentioning the fantastic Bubbles and Boobs Afternoon High Tea fundraising event I am hosting in June with my awesome friends Lee & Damian from Chica Catering. Both Lee & Damian came to me earlier in the year saying they would love to be involved with a fundraiser (based on a bigger scale to the Ladies who Lunch event my parents held late last year).  We decided it would be an Afternoon High Tea and Lee was instrumental in securing The Sorrento Beach Shack (Hillarys Boat Harbour) as the host venue.  The event will be held on Tuesday 11th June 2013 between 2.00pm - 5.00pm and tickets are $40.00 per person.  Ticket price includes a deluxe afternoon tea (courtesy of Chica Catering), glass of champagne on arrival, gift bag and entry into the door prize.  We have already secured some amazing silent auction items, namely overnight accommodation at various Perth hotels with a couple of fantastic vouchers coming from InterContinental Sydney and Crown Metropol Melbourne!!  It is definitely going to be an amazing afternoon and I hope to see lots of family and friends there.  I will be saying a few words about my journey and my lovely hubby will be the MC on the day.  100% of the proceeds will be donated to Breast Cancer Care WA.

Now that I have had the chance to sit back and review the past couple of years, I am extremely happy with the decisions I have made.  Of course I wish my life hadn't taken this detour but I am definitely much stronger for it :)