Sunday, 10 May 2015

Re stitching

This week I finally said goodbye to the wonderful surgeon who put me back together again. Five years on from initial diagnosis and surgery, I am no longer quite who I used to be; time and circumstance remoulding both physical and spiritual form. Last time we met, he asked me to write a piece for his website; yet I had hung back, unsure that any words I scribbled down could even begin to convey such a maelstrom of events. 
 On the drive home, it slowly occurred to me that the words I sought had already woven themselves into those blog posts written when the thoughts and memories swirling round my waking hours slipped through fingers and onto the page. As a quilter carefully stitches separate patches together to make something new; so I have unpicked and re stitched my words ; to try and create a coherent whole.

I first felt it in the shower, a lump the size of a plectrum; hard and unyielding beneath my fingers, in stark contrast to the soft surrounding flesh. I ignored it at first, knowing that I was soon to go for my annual scan; I put it to the back of my mind, carrying on regardless whilst it resolutely remained; a solid nugget under probing fingertips.

At the clinic I smiled through the mammograms, scans and biopsies; willing this to be a cyst, a blocked duct, a figment of a hypochondriac's imagination...... I told my husband all would be well, and went alone to get my results.....but then the nurse walked into the room with the specialist, and in that instant I knew.There is that sudden moment of clarity when you hear what is to be said before a single word is uttered. The look between specialist and nurse confirmed what in truth I had known all along.I went into preservation mode, poker faced; discussing the practicalities of the surgery to follow.  Lumpectomy was not an option... mastectomy? One breast or two? 'Like ordering tea at a posh cafe,' I remember thinking in a wry moment of black humour.

Words flew over and around me as I watched hands sketching quick drawn diagrams, weighting up the pros and cons. The specialist and surgeon were both so kind and attentive; giving me time to ask questions, double checking I had understood the mechanics of the procedure. I smiled, I nodded, whilst all the time my unspoken thoughts were spinning into free fall.On the drive back from the hospital reality hit, as it surely must. I pulled my car over to the hard shoulder and howled, then, mindful I was heading to work, wiped my eyes, gave myself a stern talking to and found my poker face once more.

By the day of the operation I had switched to self-preservation mode; reminding myself that both sister and cousin had been here before me, and that I would not be without a breast when I awoke. My husband and son chatted in the car, but I cannot to this day remember any of the conversation; just the pinched look on their faces as we said our goodbyes. The waiting was the worst; sitting in a ward allowing all manner of thoughts to tumble unchecked through my mind….. but suddenly there was the reassuring voice of Mr Mathur, introducing his team, and patiently going over the procedure.

I did experience a mild sense of panic as I stood naked but for a pair of briefs, being drawn upon ready for the off..... Slightly alarmed I noticed not one but two lines were being drawn upon my chest ' it is only the one' I said; quickly to be reassured that In fact the lines were to measure the natural fall of the chest, so the reconstructed breast would closely match the natural one. As I had opted for a DIEP flap reconstruction, a hand held ultrasound was used to map the viable veins on my stomach, which was to be the donor site. At one point it resembled a small child's attempt at dot to dot, and I smiled quietly at the thought of how I must look with this strange new graffiti inked upon my skin.

Suddenly it was time... a porter came and off we went. It's strange, but to this day I cannot express that feeling as I was wheeled into theatre; it wasn't fear or dread as I thought it might be; but more a sense of overwhelming inevitability. 

Waking up and realising that I still had the shape of a breast under bandaging and drains, helped enormously on my road to recovery. Cancer strips you of many things, but a missing body part was not to be one of them. In reality chemotherapy is a hard road but manageable. Your hair will regrow and your skin will glow once more; you will regain your energy, the deep seated ache in your bones will finally dull,  and you will discover a profound sense of who you are.

 Unlike Humpty Dumpty I have been put together again, in a different, more complex manner. My scars now faded to silver meander like contours across my body mapping the years of openings and re openings; of harsh lights, soft voices and blue scrubs. These are the tattoos of an incredible journey, which act as a testimony to the skills of a team of dedicated surgeons, and the amazing healing powers all our bodies possess. I have reclaimed this tired body moulded by circumstance and surgeon's scalpel; becoming familiar with new curves and old wounds. There is more balance in my life; I have learnt to be still and breathe the world around me. My wide eyed trust in the inherent goodness of others has been reaffirmed by the incredibly skilled and caring medical teams who came in and out of my life with more frequency than I ever thought. There has been trauma, loss a
nd bewilderment, but this has been tempered by laughter and the friendships forged in the fire. 
I have emerged older, wiser, and as yet unbroken; eternally grateful for the medical teams, family and friends who carried me through.

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