The Day After Surgery

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It’s over.

I booked into hospital yesterday morning and headed straight to nuclear medicine for some radioactive dye. This is injected to help my surgeon identify the closest lymph nodes so they can be removed for pathology. Not having any cancer in the lymph nodes is a very good indicator that the cancer hasn’t, and probably won’t, spread.

Then it was the long wait for surgery. Around about three (or was it four) I was wheeled down to the operating theatre. I was having so much fun chatting to my surgeon that the anaesthetist said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but do you think we might be doing any surgery today?”

I woke up today feeling great. I’m sure the yoga helps me bounce. I also think the liver I had for lunch yesterday helped. I’m not a huge fan but it sure does get that red blood cell count up. I used it the same way during chemotherapy and consistently had a higher than expected red blood cell count. Fortunately we’ve got an organic shop near us that sells organic lambs fry.

It’s a curious thing, looking down at my new, breast-less body. I’ve been mildly annoyed over the last couple of weeks about comments implying that my decision not to have a reconstruction has anything to do with how fond I am (was) of my breasts. I thought of a good analogy:

We used to have the most amazing cat. Toby was my gardening buddy for fourteen years. He’d follow me around the garden and supervise all planting and mulching. If I’d been away from home he’d greet me with a meow that sounded just like ‘Hello’. His favourite trick was to get down the far end of the house and call ‘Mum’ in exactly the same voice as my daughter. I’d call back, call again and then go to see what she wanted, only to find she wasn’t at home at all. Toby seemed to find this funny.

One day I heard him making the most dreadful noise. I found him collapsed in amongst the Jerusalem artichokes. We rushed him to the vet and he died on the table as they tried to resuscitate him. We wept for days. We had no idea what had killed him and we didn’t want an autopsy to find out. The vet suspected the feline equivalent of a stroke. We suddenly realised what a special cat he’d been.

A friend suggested a trip to the RSPCA to get another cat. Her own cat had died a few months before and she’d replaced him within a month. I explained that Toby couldn’t be replaced. I had loved him. He was gone. My grief was an appropriate reflection of that love. Another cat just wouldn’t be the same.

I have loved my breasts. They have nurtured my baby girl. They have been an important part of my sexuality. They have attracted plenty of admiration (sometimes unwanted but often desired). I am grateful to have had them. Sadly, the dense tissue that made them still reasonably shaped for fifty two year old breasts is the same dense tissue that makes cancer hard to detect and easy to grow. They stopped being my beautiful breasts and became two potential tumour sites. I will miss them but I am not sorry to have lost them.

I can completely understand why many women want reconstruction. I have a friend with the most beautiful implants (sadly not for me due to radiation) and I’ve read the stories of many other women that are happy with their cosmetic surgery. I’ve also seen some horror stories.

Reconstruction is a very personal decision and while I really do understand the appeal, it’s not for me. Ultimately my breasts are like Toby. I will grieve the loss of them, but having something else attached to my chest (like the skin and tissue from my tummy) would not replace my breasts. I would not regain my sensitive nipples (which I will grieve most of all) and anything transplanted will have less sensation than my neatly scarred chest.

I don’t have less regard for my breasts than someone having a reconstruction. I don’t feel less female without them. It’s been a wonderful coincidence that all of the nurses caring for me have been very small breasted, and two of them quite flat chested. They are beautiful, feminine women with naturally small breasts. I will be proud to look like them.

My surgeon called in while my husband was here and we all had a look at my chest without the binder on. I’m told a lot of women don’t want to look at their scars and avoid it for a long time. I really wanted to see them. I gave Graham the choice and he decided he wanted to see them too. Afterwards he said, “You’re going to look gorgeous when you’re healed.” Then he took this glamour shot of me.

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How I love him.

Also, not bad for one day after surgery, I’d say. I’m calling this my new svelte look.

I’m not in any pain. I’m on panadol, something to prevent nerve pain and intravenous antibiotics. I feel great, and greatly relieved. I am finally, absolutely cancer free. I’ve also greatly reduced my risk of recurrence and metastasising cancer. I’ve been warned that the blues kick in around day three (just like baby blues) so Graham has planned to be back here in case I need a shoulder to cry on. My beautiful daughter and her partner are calling in tomorrow, along with a couple of very close friends.

Meanwhile I’m enjoying the excellent quality of care at the Mater, North Sydney. There’s a reason this place keeps winning awards. The nursing staff are just outstanding. Even the food is great. Seriously.

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