The double mastectomy

A few days before my surgery, I had to go to the hospital for my pre-op assessment. Paul was doing his final work trip to London for about a month and my parents were looking after Joseph and Elodie, so I went on my own. I didn’t have any qualms about it. But then I saw the breast care nurse who I saw just before my lumpectomy, and she asked me to fill her in on what had happened since. And somewhere in the middle of telling her all of it, about finding out I was BRCA2, about Elodie’s birth and how close we came to losing her, about the chemotherapy, about Rachel’s stroke, I just fell apart. And I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

I don’t know how much of it was the recapping of what’s happened, and how much was the dawning realisation of what was about to happen, but I think I needed to break like that, and I’m glad it happened there. The nurse did so many important things for me that afternoon. She listened to it all. She got my surgeon to agree to keep me in hospital for a few days after the operation so I could rest. She phoned my GP and made me an appointment to talk about whether I would be a good candidate for counselling or anti-depressants. And she told the car parking team that they mustn’t give me a ticket, despite me going over my allotted time by three hours.

There followed a rough couple of days, in which we were all ill. Joseph was sent home from nursery; Elodie wasn’t sleeping. I longed for the surgery day to come, because all I wanted to do was lie down. And when it did come, Paul and I got in the car at 6.30am as Joseph and my mum used a torch to investigate all the dark corners in the house and my dad held Elodie in his arms. I was strangely calm.

I was shown to my own room, which I didn’t expect, and we were looked after by a health care assistant. When we were talking about our children, she said ‘My gran used to say, when they’re little, you could eat them, and when they get to eighteen, you wish you had.’ She measured me for surgical stockings, brought me a gown. And then the surgeon came and drew all over my chest with a marker pen. I was first on the list, he told me. I wouldn’t have long to wait.

Despite it being a much bigger operation, I wasn’t as scared as I’d been last May, when I had my lumpectomy. I was getting used to this, to how it worked. I was no longer worried about waking up mid-surgery. I expected to be sick after I came round. The unknowns were fewer. I was wheeled down to the operating theatre on my bed and I had to say goodbye to Paul in the exact same spot at the first time, and I barely cried.

The next thing I remember is being violently sick and unable to move. I think there were a lot of people around me. They wiped my skin and fetched bowls for the vomit. I remember being told I was soaked with sweat, that my skin marked very easily. And then nothing. And when I woke up properly, I carried on vomiting for hours, every time I moved. I felt like there was a very heavy piece of furniture sitting on my chest. It was worse than I’d imagined. Harder. Paul came to see me and the surgeon called by to tell us it had all gone well, and I couldn’t summon the energy to look at him. In the middle of the night, a nurse helped me to clean my teeth. I remember thinking that I couldn’t imagine recovering from this, couldn’t imagine feeling normal again.

My operation was on a Thursday, and I was kept in until the following Monday, but I had to move to a different ward because the breast ward closed at weekends. I spent the weekend on a ward with two other women, and Paul brought Joseph to see me one day and Elodie the next, and I remembered that I had so much to get better for. But I was in a lot of pain, and I couldn’t sleep, and I still felt that I was being slowly crushed and I had four drains to carry around with me and I was on strong painkillers that made it almost impossible for me to read or concentrate on the TV.

And then on the Monday evening, I was sent home. I sat beside Joseph on the sofa while he watched Paw Patrol. We held hands and he told me he’d missed me. ‘I have to be very careful with you,’ he said, his voice serious. ‘But you’re not too poorly, are you?’ I assured him that I wasn’t. ‘Can I see your poorly?’ he asked, and I pulled my top down to show him my dressings, but he’d already forgotten and was looking at something else.

Elodie’s still poorly, still not sleeping. And it’s awful to lie in bed at night hearing her cry, feeling completely helpless while Paul or his mum try to soothe her. This morning, I felt inside her mouth and her first tooth had broken through, so I’m hoping there might be a little more peace now. As I write this, the house is quiet. Paul’s mum has taken Joseph to a farm park; she’s sent us a photo of him holding a guinea pig that he wanted to call Horse. Paul and Elodie are having a nap together upstairs.

And I’m free to read or write, I have the time I’m always desperately wishing for, and I don’t really want it. There’s still some pain, and I still can’t get comfortable to sleep, and I feel pretty miserable about it all. But I shouldn’t, because the post lady keeps bringing thoughtful gifts from kind friends, and Paul’s mum bought me an enormous tub of pick and mix and Paul keeps bringing Elodie to me for cuddles. And because I’ve done it. I’ve taken the final difficult step. And now I just have to get better.

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