Bald Barren And Boobless

An honest and comical reflection of my journey through breast cancer

Month: September 2014 (page 2 of 2)

Shaving down for battle

safety_razor

Wednesday the 18th December 2013

It’s my day to go to the hairdresser.  A sweet piece of normality.  After years of struggle to find a good hairdresser, one that cares, that wants to know me and my needs, that is not into the hair “up sell.” That’s Luisa.  I found her through my sister in law and she is just great. She works on the basis that it is a small boutique salon where you are always the only client! It’s so personal and private I love it.

She is honest, about my crowning glory or not. I have always had fine hair with far too many cowlicks, but she is great, she shows me ways to make it do what I would like within reason. If I pick a picture and say I want that she gently brings me back to earth.

I book in ahead each time my hair is done so I had this appointment booked in for 7 weeks. So since the last appointment I have been diagnosed with breast cancer and had the right mastectomy. Without any planning or foresight.

So I walk in and sit and she says “so how have you been?” I take a slow deep breath and say “well a fair bit has happened since I last saw you.”  She looks at me puzzled but realises something big has happened.  I tell her “I have breast cancer and have had a mastectomy 3 weeks ago.”  I planned on keeping it together but of course I did not and consequently I ugly cry all over her.  She cries with me, we hug, and then when we can speak I answer all of her questions.

I explain that I have been recommended chemotherapy and that I will definitely lose my hair so I would like it cut short in preparation.   So we look at some pictures and I explain what I want, she cuts my hair really short and I love it!!!

I asked her if I can come to her when I need to shave my head?  She is so supportive and says “of course.”  I had read of some women trying to make losing their hair as gentle as possible so they arranged to have champagne, food and their best girlfriends and to make it as special as they can.  You see there is something about losing your hair that many men don’t get.

Your hair is not often seen as particularly feminine but it really is. Perhaps less so for me, because I have never really had that amazing head of hair, I’ve just had hair. However, the prospect of being as bald as a badger makes me feel somewhat challenged, and certainly less feminine or beautiful.

Marc wants me to let him do the shaving, he has the shaver and does his own scone every few weeks. But I think I want it to be feminine, gentle and safe in case I lose it all together.  Even if you are a woman like me who has never had luscious locks, it is still a large part of me as a woman.

Luisa is so open to this option and we begin to strategise.  I explain that I have been told that my hair will fall out anywhere between 14-21 days after chemo starts, there is little warning it just comes out like it was never attached. Luisa says “call me whenever”, I agree and I leave with my sharp new hair do and my hairdresser on speed dial.

 

Life begins to move on

road w quote

After the Oncologist, my big sister arrives for a bit over a week. Her and her Husband fly in from interstate. This trip was planned before the diagnosis; we don’t get to see each other often so I did not wish to change it.

My big sister has many health problems of her own, she has been to hell and back and this continues on a daily basis. She is resilient and takes each day as it comes. Her husband is an amazing support and they have the most wonderful relationship. They have been married and divorced before and finally found each other. It is so lovely to see how they do married life together.

It is hard for all of my sisters having me diagnosed with breast cancer I don’t think anyone expected the youngest sister to be diagnosed. It brings up all of the questions around genetics and family history. It makes each of them think, “will it happen to me, when will my body defy me?” We don’t have great genes honestly. Cancer, heart disease, weird blood disorders. But in our favour we are strong and resilient.

We spend lots of time sitting about talking and reminiscing. My sister closest in age to me stays for the week to see her big sister too, and to help out me after surgery. So we laugh, we cry, we talk, we disagree, it is a big week.

It has been an interesting journey for my big sister as her illness is obvious as she is on oxygen 24 hours per day. She also needs to use a walker or wheel chair to be mobile as she is so weak and is so much pain. She cannot avoid but explain what is going on with her health.

However, for the moment I have blessed anonymity, which I am treasuring. Soon enough I will be ‘bald, barren and boobless’ and obviously look like something is not right so I will have ‘the looks’, the inevitable questions. So for now I am not keen to even bring up my health with people outside the inner circle.

As we catch up with some distant family members over the week, my sister talks about her health and is quite puzzled when I don’t bring mine up. Again it’s me making the most of this window of opportunity when my health does not need to be the foremost topic of conversation.

Particularly when you don’t know how different people respond. Some are supportive and encouraging (excellent!), while others can be fear mongering, can blame you and then of course there’s those who open with “oh yeah I knew someone who died from that last month.” That’s always a helpful conversation. No I don’t have enough of my own fear and doubts that I wrestle with every moment, please give me more!  Once I explain to my big sister why I don’t wish to tell people she understands, again different people different journey.

It’s a full week, my second oldest sister visits from the Hunter Valley, which is lovely. I haven’t seen her since the mastectomy. She is my sister who has also had Breast cancer, so I feel like she understands so much more. She’s been there, she knows the “what if’s” the mind games we play, the pain, the body image issues, the grieving for normality, the realisation of ones own mortality.

So it has been a big week, I am slowly recovering, the pain is lessening, I still cannot wear a bra with my soft form prosthesis for long. It’s just too painful. If we go out in public and I feel the need to wear a bra, I almost rip my bra off when I get home. Oh the sweet relief when I do that.

It makes me angry that I feel the need to conform and wear my prosthesis in public. But then again without it I get the looks and questions. I don’t want to have to deal with that, I am still coming to terms with what this means for me. I am sure it will all become easier in time.

 

Kylie’s first Oncology visit

Right Decision, Wrong Decision Road Sign Monday 9th december

I wake up and think I have a seroma. This is the collection of too much fluid in the cavity where your breast tissue once was.   It is a very sad replacement for my breast that is for sure.  It is quite sore and swollen and when I move from side to side it sloshes in my chest. It literally sounds like a hot water bottle being sloshed. How disgusting!  I call the breast care nurse, she says “yeah call the doctor.”

Today I also have my first appointment with my Oncologist.  This is one medical professional I never thought I would say I have.  “I’m seeing my oncologist today.”  I’d much rather be saying Beautician or even Gynaecologist!!

Marc is still away in South Australia so my sister is coming with me. If you read about chronic illness you should always take someone with you to the Doctor. Just to offer support and make sure you ask all of your questions and understand the responses.

Because of the seroma, I call my Breast Surgeon and they ask me to come after the Oncologist. We arrive at the Hospital and my Oncologist is running 45 minutes late, so I think, lets scoot up to the breast surgeon and see if he can fit me in now. This is one part of my nature that I need to explain; I hate waiting around. I love to do things in the most effective way possible. So rather than wait for 45 mins I think let’s get this seroma sorted.

The breast surgeon can see me now, which is great. He says “you do have a seroma but it is not that big.”  “Oh I’m sorry.” I think,  “I did realise it was a competition!”  When I am upright it is very swollen, sore and downright ugly.  When I lay down the fluid disappears.  Not unlike our ageing breast hey girls…..

I ask him to drain it while I am sitting, he won’t do it in case I faint. Personally, I would rather be upright and know all the fluid is gone than lie down and be told there is hardly any fluid there.

So, he makes me lie down and then he says “it is not that big but I will drain it anyway.”   My blood pressure rises in line with my frustration and related directly to my feeling of being a pain in his butt.  He gets a whopping great needle and sticks it into my chest to drain the fluid.  He gets 50 mls and says “see I told you it was not much.”

His mannerisms and tone have such a way of making me feel like a real whiner. I am feeling so uncomfortable and in pain and he was so understanding before the mastectomy, but since he lopped off the boob its like “stop whining please, what more do you expect me to do?”

We leave the breast surgeon, somewhat deflated ( hah hah) and go to the Oncologist with my sister as planned. I am a little nervous, as I am not sure what is ahead.

The Oncologist is lovely, she is my age, down to earth, open to my questions, gentle, supportive, but strong. She says because I had 2 tumors of different grades in one breast and there was lymph node involvement.   I need chemotherapy, then the ovaries stopped and Tamoxifen. This is because the cancer is driven to grow by my female hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

All I hear is chemo! Wow, I did not expect this. She also says that I will definitely lose my hair, due to the type of chemotherapy used. She says I can have my ovaries removed or have my ovaries chemically halted.

Me being Miss efficiency thinks that when I get the second mastectomy and reconstruction in about April 2014, I will plan to have my ovaries removed.  Thats typical me, lets make a list and get it done.

I only need 4 rounds of chemo at this stage, ( I am so lucky compared to many) she says let’s give you Christmas off, allow you to heal from surgery and you can start in early January. Woohoo! I get Christmas off.

It’s funny how stress brings out the best and worst in you, I turn into little miss practical planner, and who knows that a journey like cancer doesn’t always let you play this type of game.

How do I feel?? I don’t know – numb is a great word, I just go into problem solving mode, I’m good at that. I need a blood test as a base line before chemo starts, I go down to the oncology centre to book in for the 3rd of January 2014.  It is very interesting walking into an oncology department.  I’ve never seen so many posters for wig manufacturers and scarves.  The staff also say, you can have Christmas off. Funny, they have the same idea. I don’t feel like it’s a good thing, I sort of want to get into it.

My sister and I go to lunch to digest the information form this morning. She is really supportive but I think she wishes I didn’t say “yes” to chemo. I think that she wishes I would go the complete natural route. I just feel like I need to use the best of both worlds. Use the chemo but use complimentary medicine to support and strengthen my body. The idea that a single cancer cell is roaming my body makes me want to obliterate it and just get as strong as possible.  There is still so much I want and need to do with my life.

Even though I sense that my sister would like me to take a different path, I don’t feel any pressure for her, just love and support. We are both very aware that each journey like this is so individual.

So now I need to tell my family what is ahead and let young Sam know that I will be needing that cool beanie after all…

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