Friday, 27 May 2016

Ballsybaldy: What next?

Ballsybaldy: What next?: I’ve sat at the kitchen table off and on for the past five hours, busying myself on the laptop and only getting up for an occasional lig...

What next?

I’ve sat at the kitchen table off and on for the past five hours, busying myself on the laptop and only getting up for an occasional light fit of tidying or marking things on the calendar. I’ve even managed to get dressed today and put some make-up on but the truth is I don’t know what to do with all the time stretching before me.

It’s too soon after the event to say I have depression, and the short space of time between where I am today and being told treatment was done affords me the dignity of ‘processing’ rather than being given a mental health label.

How would you envisage life after treatment? Do you think of smiles and the overriding feeling of success and hope? I did. I’ve even felt like that at times throughout the journey and began making plans. The trouble is, I wasn’t ready. I was pootling along in my new norm, going to appointments and resting in-between. They say it takes three weeks to form a habit so by now it’s become a way of life to be ill, looked after, checked in on.

Those pipe dream plans I was making have lost their lustre now I can do them, and anything else I might choose, and even though I was ratty and cantankerous, I miss my family coming in and If I’m honest, I miss that feeling of being the baby of the family again.

Now it’s time to be a grown-up, to once again organise a home and take responsibility, to find a job and more than anything else, find my place in the world. The past two days I have spent willing the phone to ring, the hours to tick by until some social interaction and I realise now how much my life before The Cancer was about my children.  I don’t mean this in regards to how I love them but how they were literally my whole life and I went into a suspended animation when they went to their other home.

I have no idea how to begin this fresh start of mine. Please don’t see this as ingratitude, I am not wishing the outcome were any different, It’s more a case of letting you in on the shock of It after spending so long thinking I wouldn’t be here, it’s the pressure of knowing I really need to make life count now when I really want to comfort eat and lie under a blanket until such a time as I feel ready.

I suppose it’s also that the treatment is done, the cancer is gone but the effects are still here. I’m still bald, I still have no eyelashes, I still, as our newsagent reminded me today ‘have put the weight on’, I will continue to be in a chemically induced menopause for the next 18 months with no guarantees that part of life will return to normal after the injections stop.

My confidence which was shaky at the best of times before cancer took hold has all but gone. There’s nothing to stop me now for applying for a job. Nothing that is except my thoughts and feelings.

As for dating? I’m doubtful I’ll be top of anyone’s pile after this. On a superficial level, treatment has aged me. On a deeper level, cancer has changed me.

Even as I type all of this it doesn’t escape me how it could anger some people who may think I’m being self-indulgent after such good news.  I don’t have anything in response for you except to say I am sorry. I wish I felt lighter and was blazing a trail. I think, if I’m honest, I half expected to find myself on a path after this where I could think ‘ah, I see,’ as though the cancer had all been part of a much bigger plan.

Yet here I am, looking around the house, checking in on Facebook, refusing to turn on the telly during the day, not knowing what to do next and fearful I’ll waste my fresh start.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

And Then This Happened

Surgical stockings, drains, dressings, injections.

Nausea, ulcers, swelling, tiredness, bone pain.

Nose bleeds, constipation, hair loss, nail loss, infections.

What do all of the lists above have in common? It's not a SATS question, I wont ask you to find the determiner or adverbial phrase or some other grammar thing Child 1 can identify on her own while I have to fire up The Google.

Don't guess. I'll tell you. They're lists of things I wont miss now The Cancer is gone.

I whisper that to you. All day long I have clutched that knowledge in my mind in much the same way as Charlie Bucket grasps his golden ticket on his run home. (I LOVE that film!)

I'd forgotten there would be 'news' at the surgery follow-up. I was so preoccupied with showing the consultant his handiwork and asking how long it would be before I could use my arms properly, have a bath, take off the surgical stockings, start exercising (not post-operatively but for the first time in my life!) I was taken off guard. This was the same consultant, who almost seven months before, had broken the news of my breast cancer. Today, he turned to the Macmillan nurse who has accompanied me from that diagnosis through every major step and said, as I sat before them showing off my scars, "shall we talk about results now?"

The results are these. They removed a 1.8mm tumour with clear margins and the lymph node that was biopsied showed no sign of cancer. In short, the tumour is gone and there was no spread. I have a check up with the oncologist to discuss radiotherapy but the unofficial word is that with results this good I wont  need further treatment.

It may seem strange that I'm choosing to share such news with such an expressionless tone but there are sound reasons for doing so.

Firstly, now the endless spin of appointments, discussions, treatments and side effects are over, I'm beginning to process all the emotional stuff. My brain is catching up. But more than this, so very much more than this, I can't forget everyone I've met who isn't getting out of it as easily, or at all and it wouldn't feel right to insensitively shout about 'the news'. So I whisper and blow kisses to everyone of you who has helped me and my girls through the last seven months by showing us kindness and giving us hope. You have given us much more than cancer ever took.

Time to go now and make some plans for the future. Whatever that may hold.

With lots of love always,

Ballsybaldy, Child 1 and Child 2

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Ballsybaldy: All Change Here

Ballsybaldy: All Change Here: I have so much to tell you. As you may remember, I was feeling really excited in the lead up to my operation which is unusual for me as, h...

All Change Here

I have so much to tell you.

As you may remember, I was feeling really excited in the lead up to my operation which is unusual for me as, having suffered with anxiety most of my life, my default setting is imminent doom.
The day before the 'double off-double on,' my sister and I went off to the hospital for a scan of my sentinel lymph node (which involved being injected with a small dose of radiation and having a plank of machinery pass really close to my body to build up a picture) and my pre-op assessment. With bloods, weight and height checked, MRSA swabs taken and a bottle of Hibiscrub to give myself two surgical washes before the morning I was off home. Later on that afternoon I found out I was going to be admitted for 7am and so for the rest of the evening I added random objects from home to my already bulging suitcase (think appropriate size for a two-week family holiday).
The next morning, having dropped the girls off to my BFFs at an ungodly hour, we headed to the Admissions Suite at Maidstone Hospital- if it's already building an image of an airport you wouldn't be far wrong- myself and the other ladies being admitted that morning hung around outside the suite until the doors opened in much the same way as you do when waiting for your gate to be listed for a flight. One thing my sister and I noticed from the off was how everyone else had a rucksack or at most a bag for life while here I was, dragging ginormous luggage, so cumbersome it got stuck if both double doors weren't open.
After check in, we were sent round to a waiting room and very soon after to a consultation room where my vitals were once again monitored and I met pretty much everyone who would be in theatre that morning- this included having to repeat my name, date of birth and what I was having done to everyone who entered the room (many) and having lines and arrows and dots drawn across my chest and abdomen, a surgical map, if you will. Despite having no partner for a long time and being in a chemically induced menopause for the past six months, it's still procedure to take a pregnancy test before theatre- that felt odd- and an hour or so later I was walking myself into the theatre/the place where they give you the good stuff that makes you fall asleep....

Five hours later, I woke up in recovery and apart from feeling like I'd been used to lick every stamp and envelope the hospital was sending out for the next year, I didn't feel any pain or discomfort, save for the pressure I felt around my chest which turned out to be from them putting my surgical bra on inside out (turns out men have got taking bras off down but putting them back on? Sheesh).

Sometime later  I was wheeled off to the ward I would be staying in for the next two days and I was very fortunate to be given a side room with a tv and an ensuite so I can please myself throughout the day and night. In typical Ballsy fashion, I surprised my mum and sisters with a call as they were expecting the hospital to let them know once I was our of theatre. A doctor came and checked 'what was going on' under my gown/ how I was bearing up and it was then that I was in for a shock.
"Do you want to look?" They asked.
"Yep, best to know what I'm dealing with," I said. Typical journalist, needing to know first.
I was expecting to be bound with bandages and for there to be red, angry incisions with eyelash-type stitches clawing out of my tender skin.
My gown came off to reveal clear plasters- I could actually see my bobalobs- which appeared bruised but LOOKED THE SAME AS BEFORE. Complete with nipnaps and everything. Effectively my chest had been on a formula 1 experience- complete with like for like pitstop.
"They look the same, I look normal!" I said to the doctor and nurse who smiled at me as if to say 'surprise!' (and also looked flaming happy with themselves!)
I wont give a blow by blow account of the rest of my stay in hospital as frankly it mainly involved my sister and I doing hundreds of puzzles and riddles to pass the time, an endless supply of tea, food and the best care I have ever had. I can only imagine it felt akin to the same treatment you get on a First Class flight- but it was courtesy of our NHS. I was genuinely sad to leave.
In terms of pain I can't say I've had any. Sore and pressure, yes, but pain not really.
I was discharged with four drains which were an absolute treat for Child 2, who once spying they had blood in wanted to squeeze them out like I was a mummy/water activity table hybrid.
Child 1, my sensitive little-big girl, was quick to let me know how proud she was of me and we have exchanged many a cuddle and a squeeze since I've been home.
The girls have gone to their dad's now for a week as I am unable to lift anything or do anything strenuous with my arms for the first two weeks and then by adding bits and by trial and error from there on in. It seemed sensible to not be a martyr about it and send the girls off for a great time with their other family while I recover/ drink tea and watch yet more Netflix. Thank you, House of Cards.

I went back to the hospital yesterday to have two of my drains taken out with a hope the remaining two will be removed early next week, and I have a follow-up surgical appointment on Wednesday where I hope to find out the results of the node biopsy and if radiotherapy will be necessary.

I'm going to head off now as my arm hurts from typing, I wish I could show you the surgeon's miraculous handiwork but you'll have to take it from me that there's no complaints from me on the result. It's do-able, ladies and gents and like pretty much everything else, the thought was worse than the deed.

Lots of love to you all xxxx

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Making the.. uh hum...'breast' of it

"This isn't you,"said a forlorn looking Child 2 at bedtime last night. Her brows were furrowed and the tinge of disappointment in her voice seemed vastly more grown up than the little figure whose legs were dangling off the toilet, not tall enough yet to reach the floor below.
Her pigtail plaits wilted at the side of her head after a day's worth of play, while her big eyes for once,  met mine; a rare thing for a girl who is always so busy in her own imagination.
Never one to miss a beat, she was absolutely right. The patient mummy whose children often ask why she is so silly was for once replaced with a hoarse banshee, half nagging, half braying at my daughters to tidy up, to follow orders, to listen.
Child 1 was in the bath, quietly accepting that mummy was in one of her grumps which soon passes. As I washed her hair, I began thinking of how for the past six months I have tried to capture and value the essence of every moment I have with my girls, understanding so well how these bubbles of time are beautiful and fragile all at once. There's nothing more clarifying than facing your own mortality to understand how valuable life is. And it's not even the big events like birthdays and weddings, although of course they're special too. It's the moments when your 4-year-old stop to pick you a flower, or your 7-year-old is asked to draw a saint in school and illustrates St. Mummy- these are, I guarantee you, the moments to value above all else.
Yet here I was last night, behaving like 'normal', or at least how normal once was, rushing through our nightly routine, stressing about having to read a bedtime story while a stack of work and cleaning were competing for my time.
I raced through the story, no time for the usual songs and silliness that is much a part of our bedtime ritual as going to sleep itself and hastily retreated to the silence of the kitchen. As soon as I made it there I was consumed with guilt for taking my girls for granted and ran back up the stairs with a plan to give them both a big kiss and say sorry for being bad tempered. It had been seconds since I had said goodnight the  first time- such is the beauty of living in a small house- and they were both still awake in their bunks.
I got onto Child 2's bed where she was sucking her thumb and sleepily twiddling the nightcap on her favourite dolly. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"I came to see you. I'm sorry I was cross earlier and I love you very much," I said.
"That's ok but can you go now because I am trying to sleep," she said matter of factly and closely followed up with a gentle push to the face to reinforce her point. Not quite the tender moment I was going for so I moved to Child 1.
"Hello, chops," I said. "I also wanted to say sorry to you for being grumpy and that I love you very much."
"That's alright," she said in a tone suggesting she's completely unphased by it all. "We know you have a lot to do sometimes. You've been really poorly but you've still managed to look after us," she added before turning over to sleep.
I made my way back downstairs more slowly this time, realising as I went how much has changed in the past six months- more than anything my priorities on having things versus having time.

Apparently the girls had nits this week

Anyway, this week I was on This Morning and I'm telling you this not for any real reason other than to say my disembodied voice was on a phone-in and I actually got to speak to Holly and Phil, Ok. so it wasn't quite on the sofa with them but it's close enough. That's one for the bucket list ticked! I was calling in to say I thought childless women were no more entitled to 'me-ternity' leave than asking for time off if a colleague broke a leg and that maternity leave isn't some jolly holiday.
Talking of jolly holidays, its only a few days now until what I have termed the 'double off' and today I took myself off into town for some bits. Essentially I raided Select for cheap baggy t-shirts and leggings and the travel toiletries in Superdrug (exotic as I am). With a couple of trash mags and a bag of Jelly Babies to complete my spree, I don't mind telling you I'm ridiculously excited for Friday. Some would say 'gleeful' even and they'd be right. It feels like a milestone albeit alternative.
Things I am blaming cancer for today: something in my eye (damn you eyelashes!), my head hurting after I banged it while cleaning out the rabbits (I didn't realise my ridiculously thick hair had acted as a force field for all these years), my left thumb nail entirely falling off, and shutting a cupboard on my own arm (technically half down to my own clumsiness but cancer still gets the blame because I was reeling from my other injuries when it happened).