Side Steps and Setbacks

I was supposed to start chemo on Friday. If there’s one thing having cancer has taught me, it’s that planning is pretty much futile. Everything changes – from the day of diagnosis, your life is taken entirely out of your hands and placed carefully into those of surgeons and doctors and you are left to rely on your body to do what you need it to.

On my birthday, Chris and I were sat in a Zipcar on the way to Longleat Safari Park when my new boob sprang a leak. Luckily for me, I hadn’t spontaneously started lactating, but the patch of skin I was struggling to heal had breached my implant. Infection is the enemy of the implant and if stuff was coming out, stuff could get in. A slightly frantic cool and aloof phone call to the breast clinic told me to carry on with my day. My BCN knew it was my birthday and as I was scheduled to have the wound stitched up the next day, there was no benefit to going into clinic. I was advised that in light of the leak, I’d probably need a new implant.

Fast forward 24 hours and the implant I had spent a while getting used to and getting to know was gone, replaced by an expander implant – one which is injected with saline to determine the size. My surgeon – who confessed I’d been giving him sleepless nights – didn’t fill the implant as much as he could to give my skin chance to heal without the weight of an implant pressing on it. My chemo was pushed back a week to 25th September and after two more nights in hospital and with another bag of my bodily fluid flung over my shoulder, I was sent on my way.

I saw my surgeon, who I think it’s important to specify is a properly top guy, just over a week later and everything was peachy keen. He said chemo could go ahead. I cheered (I know right – never thought I’d be cheering to get all that badness injected into my veins) and left with an appointment to come back for another check up pre chemo.

Wednesday, I got off the train in Farringdon ahead of the first full day at work I’d been able to manage, 8 weeks after my mastectomy and two weeks after the second surgery. My dress was sodden, my coat was drenched. Once again, I was leaking out of my basooma. I swore. Quite profusely. And burst into tears while I was waiting for my Uber to Guy’s.

Cue a distressed phonecall to my Dad (sorry Pops) and more crying in the cab (sorry Uber driver – there were lots of swears about cancer and chatting openly about my breasticle and mastectomy). I was convinced I’d need more surgery, or I wouldn’t be able to keep this implant either, that I’d have to stay flat because my body just didn’t want to play with this foreign body inside my body. My brain was buzzing with all of the worst case scenarios. But I knew, that the thing I’d been building up to for the whole week – the great unknown of chemo – was going to be pushed even further back. I’d come so close and that was the thing making me sick with tears.

At the hospital, they told me I’d burst a couple of stitches, and the reason for which was almost completely inexplicable. The two expert surgeons I had looking at me couldn’t figure out why I just wouldn’t heal in a straight forward way. So all of the saline was removed from my implant, leaving me even more lopsided than before (imagine one DD cup boob, one A cup boob and you’ll know where I’m at). Hilariously, my surgeon ended up having to squirt the saline from my implant ACROSS the room into the sink like it was a water pistol. Even when I felt more bleak than I had throughout this whole drama, I still found myself laughing. If there’s another thing I’ve learnt, it’s that cancer makes ridiculous things happen to you.

Anyway, another brief surgery, making three in less than two months, without even a local anaesthetic because (you can choose an answer) a) I’m exceptionally hardcore or b) can’t feel a bloody thing in my boob any more anyway) and I was told chemo would have to be postponed. I was sent home dejected, deflated and in the darkest mood I’ve experienced since my diagnosis.

I can’t bloody stand uncertainty and having got so close to finding out exactly how I was going to deal with chemo and then have it taken away from me made me feel empty. I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to eat. I just wanted to get into bed and pretend that the world wasn’t out there. It was like the darkest days of my depression but magnified and focused on one thing. It makes me feel a bit sick to think about it, even now. Even after a few good nights sleep and another date scheduled in for Friday.

It’s a weird thing this having cancer. It makes you feel all of the emotions all at once. Last week I had one of the highest moments of my diagnosis when I found out I was BRCA negative, meaning I won’t have to have another mastectomy, won’t have to have my ovaries removed and there are no implications of my diagnosis for my sister. The relief was…like nothing I’ve ever felt before. But then the next day, my stitches ruptured and the thing I’d been building up to was taken away from me and I found myself almost empty of anything other than a crushing sadness.

But that sadness passed. And a new day came (cliched but true – that’s how the universe works yo). And a whole new host of emotions visited. And a new plan was made. My bleak mood didn’t hang around. I got up, dusted myself off, and carried on with this experience and hopefully on Friday, the great unknown will not be so unknown any more.

I don’t want to be a person who quotes Rumi on their blog, but here’s a Rumi quote I’m posting. It’s never seemed more relevant to my life. Full poem here.

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5 thoughts on “Side Steps and Setbacks

  1. Ann Downie says:

    Stay strong and determined young lady. Life’s a bitch but then we carry on because we have a different life to live, a new normal.
    Sending you tight hugs but not to tight as I don’t wanna burst that implant! Always here Alice XXX

  2. Fran Evitt says:

    You’re an inspiration to others Alice, keep up with the positive attitude and you’ll beat this thing. Sending much love from Yorkshire. X

  3. Vicki Norman says:

    I read this with tears! No one so young,beautiful and vibrant should have to endure this, Alice. Beaming love and support. Vicki xx

  4. Jayne Little says:

    Good luck with the chemo Alice, I’ll be thinking about you. Hopefully the lows are past and the only way is up!! Love Jayne x

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