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Thursday, January 24, 2013


It's a despondent, rainy Thursday afternoon in Brisbane and it's bucketing with rain as I drive through the afternoon traffic on my way home.

Today I spent the day at the hospital, holding my sister Fiona's hand through her fourth chemo shot.

Last night I spent the night at the Manpad.  (Yesterday, I took the family to see the show "The Illusionists".  It was my Christmas present to Al, the boys and Robyn, Harry's girlfriend.)

After a lovely night out, it made sense to stay overnight as I was planning to visit Fiona and the Hospital is less than 10 minutes away.

I arrive nearly on time and head straight to the gift shop.  It was Fiona's birthday last week but, owing to my disorganisation, I have left her present at home.

I buy her some hideously overpriced soap and a tiny, too-expensive trinket and head on up to the Ward.

In the elevator, I glance at a man who has a bandage across his face.  It seems he is missing a nose.

In the waiting room, I am about to text Fiona to see if she's in with her doctor when she waves from the back of the room.  She is with Xavier, her eldest boy. She seems in good spirits.

It is a different kind of day at the oncology ward this morning.  Every seat is taken and the waiting room is full to the rafters.  I guess  the hospital is struggling to catch up with its patients' needs after the extended Christmas holiday break.

After checking out her present, first up, Fiona is agog to see my new mastectomy scar as we haven't seen each other since my operation. I sneakily lower the top of my shirt so she can 'ooh' and 'ahh' at Dr Lambley's fine work.

As there is a great deal of time to be spent waiting to be called, Fiona and I find ourselves chatting to a lady called 'Danielle' who hooks into our conversation as we are discussing the state of my hair.

It turns out Danielle, aged 42, has terminal breast cancer as it has spread to her bones.  She was originally diagnosed at the age of 34 and had the full suite of treatments:  mastectomy with 25 lymph nodes removed, chemo, radiation, hormonal therapy.   Her cancer reappeared in the lymph gland in the area that has been cut and burned after seven years.  She has one boy aged 25.  Her husband is beside himself as his mother died quickly from ovarian cancer in 2001.

Over the course of our conversation, we learn about her drug regime, the fact she's in constant pain, the fact she has started falling asleep in the middle of things so is unable to work and unable to drive.

She looks perfectly fine to us.  You wouldn't know she was sick.  But this woman is DYING.

It's sobering of course and, as I keep saying, there are no guarantees for any of us - cancer or not - that tomorrow will come, that life will go on.

So you don't have to think too hard to imagine what this story does for our own morbid thoughts.  Danielle's story has graphically reminded Fiona and me of the harsh reality that breast cancer kills.  It's seven years since Danielle's story began and now she is fighting for her life.

While we sit, Fiona and I talk about my mood.  I have been given, lately to pondering the point of things.  What does it all mean?  I tell her that recently, my whole mindset has been geared toward questioning my relationship with the Universe.

One person after another is called and I watch the waiting room empty as the oncology people finally get into their rhythm.

As I sit listening to Danielle and chatting with my sister I look around.  There is an African couple.  There is an Asian lady.  There is a very fat woman.  There are people of all ages, sizes and backgrounds.

Cancer it seems, does not discriminate.  It is the great equalizer.

When we are finally called in and Fiona is seated, it is nearly three hours since I arrived but I am pleased to report that the infusions are over in a couple of hours.

Fiona panics a little before the cannular is injected so I make Xavier stroke her hand.  The only episode worth noting is the high pitched squeal Fiona emits when the cannular is inserted

There is also a little delay between the saline and the Adriomyacin as the nurse scurries off to attend to a patient emergency.  She returns to report somewhat matter-of-factly that a client has had a reaction to his drugs.

Fiona politely inquires after his wellbeing and then we are down to the hard core business of chemotherapy.

It's at this point that I start talking in earnest.  This is why I'm here you see:  as strategic distraction.  It is something I learned from my own Chemo Angels.

My poor sister.  While she is beautiful in her baldness, I can taste her fear.

The Adriomyacin done with, today for some reason the nurse decides to do the Cyclophosphamide second (it's usually last).

By this time,  Richard arrives and Xavier decides to go home as the poor lad has not slept at all the night before (he works at a night club).  The two guys go off to fetch Fio and me a bit to eat and a coffee with Fiona waving them off with some impatience.  They don't want to leave her but they are hungry.

While they are away, Fiona complains about a funny feeling in her nose.  (I used to get the heartburn, remember?).

In the meantime we chat furiously. As Fiona describes it, all of this is "frightening".  I don't know.  I'm not sure I'm frightened by much these days, I tell her.

Richard returns with sushi and a lukewarm coffee for me.  (There was a drama at the parking station he had to sort out for his son).

It's at this point that I realise that perhaps I am empathising a bit too much with my sister's plight as I too, start to feel a little nauseous.

That done it's onto the Taxotere today.  But I don't make it very end because, as usual, I must dash to ensure I'm not slugged an extra $7 at the parking station for overstaying the minimum.

On the way home, I stop by client's house in Cleveland to pick up some copy we're working on for a new website.

 I stop at McDonalds for a cheeseburger and a small Coke as I'm absolutely starving.  (Don't be judgemental.  These dirty food days are rare.  Today I just can't be bothered).

When I get home, I hop onto Facebook.

A Friend has contacted me to complain about something I'm supposed to have said that has created a problem in the family.  I shrug.  What's new.  I'm always putting my foot in it.

Ben complains he is hungry so I throw together a Thai Green Chicken curry.

Al comes home baring some goods he has picked up from Harvey Norman, using those vouchers he won in the art union.

Rain falls then eases.  The night is quiet.

Tonight at home, Fiona is lying in bed feeling as if she's been run over by the Express to Cleveland.

This week, Ethel lost her best friend Mary to bowel cancer (in the UK), and her next door neighbour, Brian died suddenly of a heart attack yesterday ( he was 77).

Friends have lost loved ones left, right and centre including: Corienne, whose brother passed away on Monday, Malc, whose sister Sue died this month, and Kate and Terry who have buried their husbands in the past few months.

Recently I've been writing the word 'condolences' too much I believe.

I think about Danielle, who eschewed more chemotherapy for hormonal injections to stave off the cancer that is now in her bones.  I wonder how she is feeling tonight, how deep are her prayers?

I think about all those people out in the world, celebrating their lives, nursing their grievances, parading their woes, arguing their case for causes and concerns.

And I wonder about what they are all striving for, hoping for, working for?

And then I think I know.

It's simple this.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jugger Nought

One week since my double mastectomy and I have lived through a week of sweltering heat and humidity while carting around a 'drain' inserted into my armpit.

The drain was removed yesterday and, when Dr Lambley ripped off the dressing, I burst out in unconvincing giggles - which is usually a sign that I am in pain.

(It is also usually a sign that I have heard a very bad joke such as:  What do you get when you put a monkey in a minefield?   A baboom.)

My scar is still very sore to touch and movement is limited.  It seems this latest war wound is somewhat more painful than my first de-boobing episode and I am still getting used to the very strange feeling of a chest like an Ikea Flat-Pak.

As I reported to my Facebook friends, on leaving the hospital last Friday - BRALESS - I felt like a hussy.

Later, during the week, while enjoying one of my many ritual coffees with my bestie Louisa, I was startled half way through my Skinny Flat White when I realised I had no bra on.  There was a millisecond when my brain did a funny double flip and backward pike as I imagined I had stupidly forgotten a vital piece of underwear.  In fact, I had a minor panic before realising my mistake.

Afterwards, Louisa and I went shopping for some new tops for me.  We looked at some with those tiny little shoe string straps that I have NEVER been able to wear.   I couldn't help but gloat as Louisa is, as I used to be, rather well endowed.

"I hate to rub your face in it, Louisa, but these little straps are unbelievably comfortable," I crowed.  "Not like these ones" as I grabbed her the hefty straps of her over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder and 'pinged' them like an oversized banjo string.

"I know!" breathed Louisa, indicating my chest with her eyes.  "It's so wrong, but so right!"

I had to laugh right there because I feel Louisa has nailed it.  All of this is very wrong, but in many ways, is very right.

Never mind the fact that, in a few slices and dices if not fine chopping, Dr Lambley has divested me  of (possibly) irrational fears of recurrence.

He has also divested me of a whole ONE KILOGRAM of fat.

I am now a sleeker, more stream lined version of 'me' I guess and along with it comes a bizarre kind of freedom.

So free, in fact, that last Wednesday, as Brisbane sweltered in conditions comfortable only to a Kalahari Bushman, I brazenly lay topless on my bed - yes, topless I say! - enjoying the palliation of fan and air-conditioning.

So free that there is no longer that morning headache of locating the right bra for the chosen clothing of the day.

So free that I can actually do those Baywatch Babe runs on the beach without fear of being knocked out by a low flying double D... although, admittedly,  I am now built more like the paddle board, than the babe.

I am already salivating at the many activities I may improve at now that I am divested of a whole 1.7kgs in total carried across the chest area such as: body surfing (who knows, maybe now I can actually catch a wave); or crowd surfing;  or planking (the options are endless); or trapeze; or archery; or shooting (I sucked at shooting both lying and sitting unsupported.  No seriously: I used to topple forwards).

I can even, as Harry intoned, rock my air guitar without obstacle.

But this freedom has come with two particular issues:

Firstly, my wardrobe is proving vexatious.  I had no idea that dressing for a non-existent chest was so onerous and it seems that many of my existing dresses are going to have to be sent to the Op Shop or flogged off on EBay if I can be shagged.

As my good mate, the mini-titted (but gorgeously sexy) Mel has been at pains to advise, dressing for a AA chest or, in my case an A Minus chest, takes patience and planning.

It is incredibly tedious!  Every top must be assessed for design elements that conceal rather than enhance the booblets.  Gone are the days when I could just pluck any garment from a stand based on cut or colour.  Now I have to micro-analyse its features.

In fact, so galled am I at the difficulties I have already observed, I am now thinking of setting up a business exclusively supplying fashion for the negatively-chested.  The working title for this hare-brained project is 'JuggerNaut' (what do you think?)/

Or perhaps I should channel my new-found sympathies to charity work on behalf of those whose cups are doomed to be half-full?

Forget the alcoholics, we need "AAA Anonymous"(at least guaranteed a top-spot in the White Pages). This charity would be aimed at those for whom nipples are merely decorative, who can get together and compare the many horror stories of being side swiped by the rogue F-Cup in the room.  Oh, the distress of being reduced to a minor role by the busty chested vixens who flaunt their wares!

It's just not funny.  All these years of moaning about the perils of excess cleavage and, all of a sudden, I see that it ain't exactly fun from the other end, either.

At last, I do finally understand why the breast enhancement industry has gone gang-bust (ers).

Because you really do feel as if perhaps, you're not quite measuring up when you look down and what you see is the floor.

Which brings me to the second issue.  I am, so far at least, not entirely sure just how comfortable I feel 'flaunting the flat' as it were. Having already ventured out in a singlet top, I have wondered if people have noticed my obvious lack of lumps.

It is all well and good laying myself out like a fallen harlot at home but really, do I really want the world to know that I am thus deformed?

And, am I  doomed to be forever obsessed about the wars of my chest?  Isn't it all just a little unhealthy, giving a monkey's about what amounts to a couple of mounds of body fat?

In short, I am, in these early days, tortured by the terrain of my thoracic topography.

I can only hope this obsession pass with time as I get used to this leaner, meaner me.

For now, I am coming to terms with the new lay of the land.  The guns have died down, the bodies have been buried, and what remains is an empty battlefield.

Like any battle ground, I am certain that one day, everything will be a distant memory.  And all I'll have are a couple of scars and maybe still some remnant tightness of the skin to remind me of this testing, if not interesting, time.

In the meantime, this Friday, Fiona turns 48.  Next Thursday is Fiona's fourth chemo shot.

There is consoling to be done, healing to be had, prayers to be said.

There are travels to be planned and celebrations to anticipate.

There is, simply, life to be lived, in freedom.

Let's carry on, shall we?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mastectomy 2

It is a humid Tuesday morning and I wake at 7.30 am after an average night of sleep.  I am in no hurry to leap out of bed as I am unable to eat anything for most of the day.  It's a bummer as I'm so hungry I could, as they say, eat the crutch out of low flying duck.

That's because in five hours, I am to be admitted into the Mater Hospital again. Lee, Anne, Nic, Mum, Fiona have all texted or called me to wish me luck.

These are the last few hours of 'Paris' my lone right breast, which has been the focus of my attention for the last 14 months.

That's how long it's been since her partner in cleavage crimes, 'Nicky', bit the dust.  

I have prepared for 'Paris's impending execution with the diligence of a professional assassin.  Because it does feel like I'm snuffing out a life.

If you have been following this blog on a regular basis, you'll know this event has been well-researched.  It is not a decision I've made lightly. 

I've consulted two plastic surgeons, I've discussed the issue with all my various doctors and advisers, I've watched endless YouTube videos, and Googled widely.

Many of my friends have listened, bleary eyed and most likely secretly wishing I'd bloody shut up about 'the Last Tit', to regular ruminations and pontifications on the pros and cons of de-boobification.

I've also spent months and months sussing out numerous chests and breasts.  I've been a surreptitious tit watcher.

Additionally, I've consulted my fashion expert, the flat-chested Mel about how to dress. I've even got my counsellor at the Cancer Council all primed in the event of any emotional fall out.

In fact, I think I've put more thought and research into this decision than into other life changing ones: such as what career I should follow (I just copied what my best friend Louise had and to this day rue my decision);  whether I should have a baby (put it like this - when Al and I need to work out our anniversary we need to deduct a year from Harry's age);  or whether I should go blonde (the shortest hair colour change in history, lasting barely 24 hours, so hideous was the result of my brief dalliance with peroxide).

Come to think of it, I don't seem to put a lot of thought into much.  Spontaneous, perhaps foolhardy, usually in hindsight, most of life's great decisions/choices/purchases have occured on a whim.

But in the case of Paris, I have, luckily, my experience with Nicky to guide me and so I KNOW it is not as simple as it may seem: lopping off a breast.

At last, I have been motivated by a mix of medical reasons, practicality and vanity.

Medically, I should remind you that my particular brand of breast cancer, the invasive lobular kind, has a higher than usual chance of recurring in the other breast.

The key words are 'in the other breast'. Other form of breast cancer, when they recur, are most commonly found in the cervix or ovaries, bones, bowel or brain.  But ILCs most commonly recur in the breast.

Look, I'm just not the kind of person who lives in fear of the worst.  But I must admit to increase palpitations whenever my routine breast scans occur.  How can I be sure that it will not recur at all?  This mastectomy will remove that fear.

Practically, a lone breast, I argue, lacks context and when dangling pairless, appears well, impaired!   Especially so, the matronly Double D, which can appear of humongous proportions when compared against a void.

In terms of vanity, the lack of symmetry is especially disturbing and disgusting to me.

If Nicky and Paris were hard to manage, Paris alone has been a particularly onerous charge, her single status somewhat hard to conceal without recourse to an uncomfortable prosthesis.

And ultimately, it's the bloody prosthesis, more than anything that has driven me to the knife.

Weighing in at 715 grams (I know: I measured it!), fake Nicky bounces heavily when I run, shifts somewhat on a golf back swing and is so uncomfortable that young boys often spring me with my hand down my chest.

The bra in which this fake must be contained is so ugly my clothing choices are limited.   It is also incredibly annoying when I am in a hurry and cannot locate the prosthesis.  (I have been known to scurry out with a rolled up sock or a bunch of balled tissues stuffed into the void when bras are in the wash or the fake is hiding).

However,  it hasn't all been bad.  The prosthesis bra provides a handy pocket for the stashing of coins, credit cards and my Ipod.   A lot of the time, I've almost forgotten I am titless.

What's more, Nicky-less for more than a year now, I am very aware that a mastectomy brings its own discomforts.  

Feeling is slow to return and, as the nerves regenerate, one is prone to localised itching.  There are also rogue pains and, all these months on, though I have good range of movement, in some positions it is still a little uncomfortable.

But medical concerns, practicality and vanity have won and I lie in bed thinking over my decision.  I feel Paris with my hand (too big to cup) and try to memorise the feel of a whole breast.  The skin is smooth and warm to touch.

You would think I become maudlin at this point, but I don't.  What's the point?  The decision has been made, the die has been cast, the boob has been unleashed.

And so I rise.

Ben is due back from New Zealand today and I believe the lad will be hungry when he arrives.  I zip down to the shop to buy some ingredients and whip up a slow-cooking beef borscht for the boys.

I finish this blog.

I ponder the last days of Paris.  Yesterday, Monday, I went to the movies with my good friends Anne and Sue.  We saw 'Quartet' and I do believe Paris had a giggle or two.  We went to lunch.  I came home and went for an 8K run.  Then Ethel came over for dinner.  And Harry was home!  It was a good day.

On Sunday, I had 12 people over for a curry lunch finished with a noice pav, luv.  A dozen of my besties mooched on the deck, enjoying the breeze.  They left at 7 pm.  It was a good day.

On Saturday, my new Hiking Club set off on our first walk.  Again, there were 12 of us - 13 if you count Spunky.  We went to the Daisy Hill Conservation Park and had a nice two-hour hike.  Afterwards we had coffee.  In the afternoon Al and I went to Mel and Pete's for tennis and a  barbecue. Yeah, that was a good day, too.

Paris has had a pretty good life.  I am sure that wherever she goes, Nicky will be waiting for her and I can see the two of them now, reunited under some great big boulder holder up in the sky.

Who knows, maybe George and Jossy are up there, staring approvingly at my fine set, misbehaving as usual.

Meanwhile, here on earth, life will go on.

Eventually feeling will return to my chest.

I will keep you posted about how I get on but for now, my operation is in one hour and I must go and pack.  Dr Lambley is wielding the scalpel so I'm hoping for a nifty scar. Dr Warden, the hilarious Scotsman is once again sending me to sleep  so I'm hoping for a few more laughs before I go under.

I am just glad to be getting on with it after all this pondering and thinking.

Wish me luck!