I’m going to digress from my usual blogging about natural living today and report about my recent stay in hospital for a bilateral mastectomy and diep reconstruction.
My story begins two and a half years ago when, following my mum’s diagnoses with what would be terminal ovarian cancer I found that she was a carrier for a defective brca 1 gene.
The brca gene is usually a tumour suppressor but when defective gives women an around 80% chance of breast cancer and 50% chance of ovarian cancer. My family history meant I could have the test on the ‘NHS. I decided to do this: for me it was no big decision, I am a believer in knowledge so I went along to Guys Hospital for genetic counselling and testing. Two weeks later I received a personalised letter confirming I was indeed in possession of a defective brca 1 gene.
Never having really been ill, and obviously feeling fine I found it a strange experience to suddenly be thrust into a medicalised system of yearly MRI scans and blood tests. I attended a brca awareness day at Guys and listened to the various options available to me and then went home and continued with my life.
In that time I lost my mum, started studying counselling and generally developed a ‘live life to the full’ attitude. I don’t recall ever making a decision to have a mastectomy: it was just something I kind of drifted towards. I did waiver from this at points, but, for me, I felt it was best for my family. Every time I would hear of anyone suffering or dying of breast cancer I felt a responsibility to take the opportunity I had, not given to many, to take control of my health and save my children from the ordeal of a sick mum. The question then was when. I went for June as it gave me the summer to recover, in between courses.
I’m not a very vein person, but I will be honest and say that , ironically, the part of me I’ve probably been most proud of has been my boobs. I’ve always liked the shape and size (34D). Before the operation I had photos taken by my friend Kirsty (http://www.photographybykirsty.co.uk/) which I’ll put up when they are ready. I rationalised that they had had their use: I’d breast fed and my youthful wonder-bra days seemed over. All the friends and family I spoke to, including my husband were eager I put my health first.
What makes the decision easier is that the team at Guys and St Thomas’ really do treat you as an individual and so you can make your decision in your own way and reassure you that if you are unhappy with the finished result they will make changes until you are.
What does take more getting used to is standing around wearing just knickers while the doctors examine and advise on options in accordance with your physique. Still, I suppose it is good practice for what comes later!
I decided on a diep flap reconstruction. This basically means the surgeon takes skin, fat, and muscle (a flap) from another part of your body , in my case the stomach, and made it into a breast shape. The flap needs a good blood supply or the tissue will die so the surgeon cut the blood vessels and reconnected them to blood vessels in the chest wall. My original nipples were kept.
I went into St Thomas hospital at 7am on 27th June 2017. I had an 8 hour operation led by two teams: first the breast team and then the plastics team.
I woke up in the recovery room where a doctor was checking my new breasts. I was instantly relieved to see that they looked normal – lovely and round! On the side of each are two scars with thinner skin, and every hour here-on-in someone would check the vain was working with a doppler. I also won’t deny that I had a quick smile upon seeing my newly flat stomach.
The night was then spent with my lovely nurse checking my blood pressure and the breasts every hour. I was in no pain at all, although I could have done without the (compulsory) heated blanket. I also must comment on my lovely hospital room, over looking Big Ben and The London Eye.
The next day was another story. I was given the task of getting from the bed to the chair, along with my four drains. A task which proved beyond me, on the first attempt as I became nauseous and proceeded to be sick. Every movement also caused horrific pain along my stomach wound, which is more or less the length of my stomach. The good news is that by the next day I was able to walk to the bathroom for a shower, albeit bent over.
I’m home now, it’s 7 days post-op. I need to swear a sports bra all day and night and in the shower. I cannot bath or wear deodorant and I’ve yet to walk further than the street alone. The last drain came out yesterday. I’m just about walking upright. Apart from this I feel great. I honestly say I’ve had not one moment of regret yet. The gauze tape remains on my scars. The stomach scar does not bother me. It will be covered by clothing and ironically I think, moving forward, I’ll be confident in a bikini as my stomach is so much flatter than before and the scar will be hidden! I love the shape of my boobs, and do not feel as though they are not mine. In a few months later I can have day surgery to tidy up the scars and can have further tissue put in if I want a bigger size. I’m undecided because I reckon they are a C at present so will see how I feel when the swelling goes down.
There is not a single time in the process – from the test to when I left hospital that I have experienced anything less than great treatment from the NHS. I am aware in the US I would have been at the mercy of my insurance company and that my decision may have been influenced by my policy options. The operation would cost somewhere in the region of $200,000 there. I feel so grateful to have had this choice and to now be able to live without the shadow of breast cancer over me. In the future I will decide about having a hysterectomy to eliminate my ovarian cancer risk too, but I will worry about that in about a decade (I’m 37).
I also want to say how lovely it was to be able to donate my discarded tissue and skin to further research and to take part in medical trials. It helped my give back to something to the NHS and medical research communities.
So that’s it. I’ll put up some pictures (clothed!!) in a few weeks. I just wanted to tell my story and thank everyone involved. Now to continue to live