(TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains photos of my mastectomy scars. Some people may find them distressing.)
It’s been three months and three days since my bilateral mastectomy. I’m slowly getting stronger and healthier. This week I managed to side plank in my yoga class. I was particularly pleased because I couldn’t do this before surgery!
The Mondors Disease has cleared up so I no longer have painful channels running down my torso. The exterior of my wounds is fully healed. The left side still has some puckering and some hard lumpy bits under the arm, but both have improved. There’s still some mild pain around the wounds and the left side occasionally shocks me with sharp, stabbing pains. These seem to have started in the last couple of weeks. I’m seeing my oncologist next week for a scheduled check up and I’ll ask her about it but it’s almost certainly just part of the recovery process.
The peripheral neuropathy in my hands is about the same. Interesting that post surgically it completely vanished. Now it’s back to where it was. I suppose if I was prepared to risk the side effects of a cocktail of drugs I could have all of the feeling back (and none of the pain, especially first thing in the morning) but who knows what else I’d be doing to my body. My feet have pretty much recovered. I have a renewed sense of joy at my ability to feel carpet, or vinyl, or wood, or paving, or grass under my feet. I’ve had numbness and loss of sensation for so long that the return of it is sensational. I sometimes sit with my eyes closed, just to focus on the feel of the earth beneath my feet again. No wonder I’m feeling more grounded.
Thanks to fasting and calorie restriction I’m continuing to lose weight at a sensible rate. It wouldn’t matter if I didn’t. I’m now at a size 12 and the benefits of fasting go way beyond weight loss. Fasting gives my body a break from insulin production. Like everyone else, my body produces insulin in response to sugary and carb rich foods. If I don’t give my body a break from insulin then, over time, my body becomes resistant to it and has to produce more and more of it to work effectively. This creates a vicious cycle which can lead to type 2 diabetes and a significantly increased risk of heart attack, stroke and all of the other complications of diabetes.
An added problem is that as well as being a sugar and fat controller, insulin, together with the hormone IGF-1, stimulates the growth and turnover of new cells. If my body (and yours) doesn’t get a break from this by way of fasting then there’s an increased risk that some of these cells will turn cancerous. That’s because fasting helps the body to shift into ‘repair mode’ and to remove any dodgy cells from my body. Fasting reduces IGF-1 which should help to reduce my risk of recurrence. People with higher levels of IGF-1 and insulin are at higher risk of cancers, including breast cancer.
The best part about making this change is that I don’t need to be measuring anything or counting anything for five days a week. I’m using the 5:2 method where I restrict my calorie intake for just two days a week. I’m also increasing the length of time between my last meal at night and my first one of the day. Both of these are really easy to do. The rest of the time I just eat normally. Interestingly, I don’t find myself gorging on the days after I’ve fasted. If anything, my appetite had reduced. I find myself naturally drawn to healthier foods and some days I really do have to remember to eat! This is so different to my life before cancer. I used to have an unhealthy relationship with food. I don’t now.
I’ve found a wonderful therapist trained in oncology massage and I’m seeing her regularly. She’s a particularly gifted healer. She tells me that my body ‘talks’ to her and tells her what it needs. From my perspective she’s consistently managing to ‘hear’ exactly which bits of my body need which kind of touch. If you’re in treatment or recovering from cancer I highly recommend trying oncology massage. It helps me to heal physically, mentally and spiritually. It reconnects me with my body. I few friends have asked me if she massages my scars. Yes. And what’s surprised me is how relaxed I’ve been about that. There’s something genuinely caring about this woman and I have never flinched from her touch, even when she’s touching scar tissue. The experience has helped me to settle in to my new body and to feel great about it.
I had planned on writing this post on the 8th of August, my three month anniversary. Instead I was modelling at the Hilton.
A company called Living Silk has been involved in a travelling nation-wide event called ‘The High Tea Party’ that includes a fashion parade of their clothes. This year they decided to put the call out for women recently affected by breast cancer to be their models. I volunteered.
I spent two days in the company of some seriously inspirational women. We laughed and cried and enjoyed being in a room where we could openly discuss our treatment, our surgery, our fears and our futures. It’s sixteen months now since I was diagnosed and for most of my friends the world is back to normal. There’s not a lot of conversation about my condition other than polite enquiry and response. This is as it should be. I’m enjoying relating to my friends the way we used to, without the elephant in the room. But there’s something wonderful about being around other women that have been through treatment. They get it. They don’t get sick of listening to lists of symptoms, or complaints or concerns. It’s relaxing to be able to discuss cancer and not be worried about upsetting the person you are talking to.
Some of the younger women bravely took their tops off in the dressing room and had their photo taken with their reconstructed breasts on show. I felt an almost overwhelming sadness that these beautiful girls have had to go through so much at such a young age. One of the women that had been all the way through treatment, including chemotherapy, for triple negative breast cancer is miraculously pregnant. Some of the other women are stage four and taught all of us by their example about being mindful and experiencing the joy that every day can bring.
I hope the mother and daughter team the run Living Silk make a huge profit in sales. The parades were certainly a hit. One woman commented to me that it was great to finally see a fashion parade where she could imagine herself in some of the clothes. “Models can look good in anything. That’s why they’re models. Finally there was someone on the catwalk shaped like me and I could see how beautiful I would look.”
Here’s some photos I took yesterday, with the reminder that I’ve taken them in a mirror so my left side looks like it’s my right:
I’ve just looked at the two month shots and there’s a big improvement. For some reason these photos look a lot darker. Just in case you were wondering, this is something to do with a change in the lighting. I didn’t get a spray tan for my spectacular modelling career!
As you can see there’s a lot less redness and swelling. There’s a couple of strange white dots in the crease on that third photo. I think that’s a trick of the light. I don’t have spots on my body.
I’m hoping these photos will reassure anyone facing similar surgery. Just three months later and I am close to fully healed, even on the side where the tissue was damaged by radiation treatment. I almost have complete range of movement back and the pulling sensation is much less. I still feel like I’m wearing an undersized bra (oh the irony!) and hopefully this will ease over the coming months.
Thanks to my gig at the Hilton I’ve now seen lots of reconstructed breasts. Some of the surgery is seriously impressive. It’s great to see women, particularly young women, happy with the outcome of cosmetic surgery. I’m still happy with my decision not to have it. I really do think I just look the same as naturally flat chested women but I’ll let you be the judge. Here’s a few shots from my incredibly brief but spectacular modelling career:
As an added bonus I got to spend the weekend with a very dear friend that I met during chemotherapy. She’s a joy to be with and I am so grateful to have her in my life.
Best of all, the free tickets they gave me were passed on to my daughter and her best friend. After so many months of me looking bald, bloated, fatigued, grey and miserable it was very emotional for both of us. “Oh Mum, you’ve never looked more beautiful!” she said. We stood in the middle of that huge crowd in the Hilton ballroom and hugged and sobbed. I am eternally grateful to the Living Silk team for giving my daughter this priceless gift.