One adjective I hear a lot in relation to this blog is ‘honest’. I clearly have a limited concept of shame as I don’t really see it that way. My view is, since I’ve made the decision to share something so intensely personal it makes no sense at all to then be coy about it.
Which is just as well as there is plenty about this (cliche klaxon!) journey which is deeply sensorily unpleasant, as I discovered this week.
On Monday whilst in my office, I caught an unpleasant smell. I searched the room for a discarded milk beaker or a scrap of food… no luck. On Tuesday I visited the plastic surgeon for my penultimate expansion. When the nurse peeled back the dressing I realised the smell was coming from me. There’s a 3mm split in the stitching on the left AFKA breast and it had leaked a small amount of clear fluid called serous. Are you pulling a face of disgust? I hope so, because I did, and then I started… can you guess? Crying!
With a tenderness that made me cry more, the surgeon cleaned it up then wrote me a script for antibiotics in case I get an infection. I’ve been instructed to lay off the yoga as I’m pretty sure some vigorous arm movement is what caused it. I pushed myself on the mat when I should have respected my limitations. I obviously had something to prove, but all I managed to prove was that I’m a twat.
Some encouraging news later in the week, though, when Ted and I went to another cancer surgeon for a second opinion as to whether I need radiotherapy. Picture a surgeon, and Dr. Simon will fit the bill. From a more traditional mould than my (amazing!) female specialists, he is bald, clean shaven and kindly. His slightly untidy room was full of tomes with titles like The anatomy of the breast along with a few thank you cards from patients.
He read the notes then jotted down my answers to questions which I’d anticipated and rehearsed. I felt calm, coherent and together until I uttered “I’ve got three young kids and I’ve got to do everything I can. Everything!” The words came out in a sort of asthmatic honk. Not for the first time, I was offered a tissue by the doctor who didn’t even need to look for the box. This obviously happens a lot.
“I can understand why you want the treatment and would be happy to recommend it.” he said, to my relief. He’s the first expert who hasn’t dismissed me off the bat. “But.” The but. “I want to take your case to panel review to see what my colleagues think.”
I’ve decided ‘take your case to panel review’ is code for ‘no-one really knows what the fuck’s going on’. This’ll be the third time my case has been panel reviewed and the outcome is anyone’s guess, but I’m heartened this doctor will support my inclination to have radiotherapy.
He offered up some more information. “I am influenced by what I’ve seen. I’ve operated on a woman with a cancer very much like yours. Twice.” i.e. he’s seen a post mastectomy recurrence. I asked “And how is she doing?”
A pause. “May I examine you?” Hmm. I use this evasion technique on my kids. “Can you feel this?” he asked, tweaking my (lone surviving) nipple. “No.” Another moment so bizarre it brought on an out of body experience. He remarked the plastic surgeon has done an excellent job. “The best I’ve seen.” Which was kind of a compliment but also a reminder of what’ll be compromised if radiotherapy proceeds.
Earlier in the week, I read C : Because cowards get cancer too by John Diamond who died in his mid 40s. I nodded a lot. An extract from the final chapter has been in my mind all week.
I said to Nigella “It’s strange how in the last year, I’ve never appreciated you so much. Or the children.” … For the first time I found myself capable of talking like a 50s women’s magazine article without blushing…I still don’t believe that there is any sense in which the cancer has been a good thing, but, well, it is strange, isn’t it?”
A silver lining that is something of a paradox is that while I’m sure my kids’ behaviour hasn’t altered, I’m much more easy going around them now, almost like I’m their granny rather than their mum. Most of their transgressions seem so minor. Also, it suits me and Ted to be more laissez-faire right now. Yeah, stick the telly on. Hot dogs for dinner? Why not.
They are not the centre of my attention right now but at the same time I’m listening to them more. Laughing with them more. And appreciating them more?