Because I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, I decided a while ago that I would have further surgery to remove my breasts and my ovaries after finishing chemo. I have roughly a 50% chance of getting breast cancer again, and up to a 30% chance of developing ovarian cancer, and I don’t much like those odds. So as chemo was coming to an end, I had various conversations with my oncologist and breast surgeons about the plan for my remaining treatment.
My oncologist was in favour of me finishing chemo, having radiotherapy and waiting a year or so before undergoing the preventative surgeries. He felt that having a lumpectomy, giving birth and having chemotherapy were quite enough for one body for one year. And he was right. But I wanted to get on with things, and if I had the surgeries straight away, I could avoid having radiotherapy, so I pushed for that.
Getting a consultation to see the gynaecologists about having my oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) was easier said than done. They hadn’t been involved in my case so far, and despite my oncologist asking them to see me as soon as possible, they kept telling me on the phone that it was being treated as a routine appointment, and they had a backlog, and they’d see me in December. In the end, my oncologist stepped in and they offered me an appointment in two days’ time. And then the operation itself very shortly afterwards.
With less than a week to go until the surgery, I took Joseph to a friend’s third birthday party. It was a small gathering at their house, and Joseph was a bit subdued, which I put down to shyness. After a while, another little boy his age turned up and started to play with a train track, and Joseph went over to join him. And then he vomited, very suddenly, over his clothes and mine, and over every piece of the train track. My friend and her sister kindly sorted us out with spare clothes and we went home.
That evening, my parents came round for dinner and we planned out the next couple of weeks. What with childcare, and visits to Rach, and appointments my parents had back at home, everyone was pretty much accounted for at all times, and we were banking on Joseph being well enough to go to nursery. But the next day, he was sick all over me, and the day after that, all over the sofa. And then he started doing what he likes to call ‘wee wee poos’. It was clear that he wouldn’t be going to nursery for a few days. And then my brother-in-law got ill, and then my dad, and then Paul. We called in reinforcements in the shape of Paul’s mum. She’s the equivalent of three people in terms of helpfulness.
It was a miserable few days. Elodie doesn’t poo very often, and when she does, it usually results in a full outfit change. Every day, there were poo, urine and vomit-stained sheets and clothes to wash. One load after another. But against all the odds, I managed to avoid the bug. When the day of my surgery arrived, a not-very-well Paul drove me to the hospital. I had to be there for 11.30am, but I was told the doctors wouldn’t come round until at least 12.30pm, so I went downstairs to see Rach for a bit. It was the first time we’d both been in the same hospital for treatment. I sent my parents a message to say I was at the hospital and with Rachel, and Dad replied saying it was nice that I had my big sister with me. And it was.
I spent most of the afternoon trying to read in an armchair on a cold ward. There was a problem with the heating, and I was wearing a thin hospital gown and paper underwear. I was fifth on the list. I watched as the women were taken down to theatre, one by one. And then, at 4.30pm, it was my turn. I walked down the corridors with a nurse by my side and my pillow in my arms. I confirmed my name and date of birth for the hundredth time, and then I was led into theatre and I laid down on the bed.
Since some of my lymph nodes were removed, I’m not supposed to have anything done to my right arm. I’d told a nurse this earlier, and she’d drawn an arrow on my left wrist. There was something pleasing about the simplicity of this system, like when I’d had my lumpectomy and they’d drawn a big cross above the right breast to ensure they didn’t cut the wrong one. But in theatre, they couldn’t get a cannula into my left arm after several attempts, so they had to switch to my right. Before I was even knocked out, I felt a bit battered.
I woke up in recovery and was quickly wheeled back to a ward. The day ward I’d come from had closed, so I was taken to a different one, and it was quickly decided that I’d be staying overnight. I felt sick and sore, with terrible pain in my shoulders. I’d been warned about that, and I was glad, since it seems like such an unlikely symptom. It’s something to do with the gas they pump you up with when they do keyhole surgery.
Paul came to visit me that evening, but I was very sleepy. I slept on and off, waking up in pain every few hours. At 1am, I went to the toilet and when I got back to bed, I threw up a couple of times. I remember thinking about how much worse it’s going to be when I have my next operation, which is a much bigger one. But by morning, the nausea had passed, and I managed to eat breakfast. By lunchtime, I was home.
I’m not allowed to lift the children for at least a week, which is difficult. Joseph forgets and asks me to pick him up all the time. And when Paul’s busy doing something else, and Elodie is crying, I feel useless. This morning, Joseph came up to see me in bed and brought his doctor’s kit. He checked my heart with his stethoscope, cut off all my fingers with his scissors and told me I was fine. And despite ongoing pain, it felt really good to be back with my family.