The mastectomy build-up

I decided a while back that when I had my double mastectomy, I wanted to have reconstruction using tissue from my tummy. It’s a big operation with a long recovery time, but I didn’t like the idea of implants or of having no reconstruction at all, and that’s what I was left with. I had a consultation with a breast surgeon and a plastic surgeon to discuss it, as both teams needed to be involved.

The appointment was odd. I had to strip down to my underwear and the plastic surgeon walked around me and grabbed various parts of my body to see whether I had enough tissue to spare. Tummy, thighs, bum, back. I could see that he was looking at me not as a person, but as a puzzle he was trying to solve. If we just move this bit to here… That kind of thing. He decided that, with my extra baby and chemo weight, I had roughly the right amount of tissue for the reconstruction. He wrote a letter to my oncologist, stating that I had a ‘reasonable abdomen’.

The next time I saw him, I was expecting him to check me over and talk me through the procedure again. I thought I might even get a date for the operation. Instead, he said he’d decided he wasn’t happy to do it while I was less than a year post-partum. I was stunned. I’d given this decision a lot of thought, and I believed that everything was in place. I felt like something had been snatched from me.

I saw another breast surgeon, my fourth. He talked me through the implant options, and we settled on expanders. These are part silicone and part saline. After the initial operation, I will go back to the clinic every week or two and they’ll pump a bit more saline in until I’m happy with the size and shape. Everyone I tell about this thinks it’s hilarious, no doubt imagining me going back again and again until I have comedy inflated breasts. But I’ll be sticking with a fairly modest size. I’ve never wanted big boobs. I guess this opportunity is pretty wasted on me.

So once the decision about reconstruction had been made and remade, I was given a date. It seemed quite a while away at the time, but now, all of a sudden, it’s next Thursday. For reasons that I don’t really know, I’m going to have two breast surgeons working on me, one on each side. This means it’ll all be over quicker, which is good news for Paul and my family, who will be waiting to hear that I’m safely out of theatre. A few people have asked me whether I’m nervous. I’m not, really. I’m sure I will be on the day, but I’m so clear about this being the right thing to do that it just feels like an inevitable hurdle. And hopefully, the final one.

I do wish I could talk it all over with my sister, though. She’s always been my go-to confidante. I know that, if she could, she would be sympathetic, and kind, and do all kinds of practical things to help during my recovery. Cooking us meals, looking after the children. I still have a portion of chilli in my freezer that she made in the run-up to my first breast operation. I wish I didn’t have to do this without having her by my side.

Every few weeks, I dream about Rachel. In these dreams, the stroke has happened but I visit her to find that she’s completely recovered. I used to wake up and realise that they were just dreams, and be devastated anew, but I’ve come to look forward to them. To meeting my sister there inside my mind, away from the horror and sadness that currently cloud our lives.

I remind Joseph all the time that I’m going into hospital and will be away for a few days. ‘Will you be able to run afterwards?’ he asked me, today. ‘Well, I can’t really run now,’ I said. He seemed happy with this. Things are good in his world. He’s moving up to pre-school at nursery, his sister is getting closer and closer to being able to properly play with him and he’s seeing an awful lot of all his beloved grandparents. I’m sure he’ll barely notice that I’m gone. And when I get back, and I’ve recovered, I’m hopeful that we can close the door on cancer for good.

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