Nearly five weeks ago I underwent a diep flap reconstruction. This is quite a big operation involving the creation of a new breast (the old (new) one was withering on the vine) using skin and fat from my tummy. Wait for it, please, before you throw the ‘Ooh, a tummy tuck AND a boob job!’ comment at me. This is not something I would have chosen.
So, the radiotherapy buggered up the implant which meant the implant had to come out, but because of the long-term effects of the radiotherapy I couldn’t have another implant because the same thing would happen. I was given two choices.
‘Mrs Gibson, you can either be flat on one side, or we can make you a new boob with your stomach. Which is it to be?’
So it’s not that I didn’t have a choice; I had two choices. Neither of which I found particularly appealing. Neither of which sounded a lot of fun. Neither of which I had ever considered before.
Now, dear reader, I am (only) 48. 48! Hasn’t life just begun? Isn’t life nearly over? I suppose it depends on who you talk to. Myself, I prefer to go with the former. Especially as I am currently in remission, mentally and physically much stronger than I have been for years, and – dare I say it – feeling positive, healthy and happy. Ah, time to go fuck it all up again, then?
The waiting list was a year and a half long. I put my name on it, tried to forget about it looming in the distance and got on with my life, my safe, oftentimes happy, cancer free, inconsequential little life. Then I got the letter. The date was set. And the walls fell in.
If you have lived with cancer there are no rules. No one can tell you how to think, feel or be. No one has any business ‘understanding’ how you feel because they do not know. No one knew getting THAT letter telling me I was going to have THAT operation would fling me right back into the mire of five years ago when my cancer was diagnosed. Not to mention how it would make my husband and my now teenage boys feel.
So, referring back to my previous point, while this is elective surgery, it is no vanity project. It’s not a boob job, it’s not a tummy tuck, it’s an invasive operation to try to put right what cancer and its treatment fucked up. And in the process it’ll damn well make you remember how cancer fucked you up.
For six weeks I was in some sort of peculiar denial. The most everyday of things made me cry; the warm up routine at my Clubbercise class, walking the dog, cooking the dinner, going shopping. All of these run of the mill things put me into an unhappy place because the shadow of cancer hung thickly over me again having seeped its way back into the things I’d managed to scrape it away from.
It was association, of course it was association. The last time I’d taken a length of time off work was for cancer, the last time I’d been bed bound and unable to walk the dog or cook the dinner was because of cancer. All I could focus on was this list of things I wouldn’t be able to do because of this bloody operation and its three month recovery programme. I had lost all the positives.
And then the whole world stopped.
I was lucky, if my operation date had been one week later it would have been cancelled and all that stress would have been for nothing. I came round, after a six hour operation, in a recovery room at Southmead Hospital and my first question was whether Bristol had been decimated by the Coronavirus. Not yet, they told me, not yet. But lockdown came pretty soon after.
My fitness (for my age) helped me begin to recover but I absolutely hated being in hospital. I was on the Plastic Surgery ward. No, not like when people choose their boob/bum/tummy whatever enhancement in a private hospital more akin to a hotel, but a proper NHS one with people far worse off than me. People with burns all over their bodies or lost limbs or terrible, terrible life-changing injuries. That put things into perspective for me, I can tell you.
On Day 5, when my husband wheeled me out to take me home, I didn’t just think I was one of the lucky ones, I knew I was.
I took to reading Twitter again (my only social media footprint) after a couple of years of absence and was reminded of the incredible people – virtual friends – who afforded me so much care, consideration and support in some of my darkest times. I lurked in the shadows and read blogs, remembered conversations, engaged in new ones and stumbled upon little nuggets of kindness which I have endeavoured to put into practice myself. Especially ones about being kind to ourselves. So often we are not.
One of the things I have really noticed about this Coronavirus, pandemic stricken time is the way so many people are trying to fill their time with supposedly worthy things. Or at least trying to look like they’re filling their time with supposedly worthy things.
‘I think she should use the time to write.’ Someone once said just before I was going to start chemo. Obviously they only said it about me because it is a universally accepted notion that anyone with cancer or about to start chemo is, in fact, deaf.
Why though? Why should she use the time to write? Because suddenly I’d have all this time on my hands. All this time, give or take the days I couldn’t get out of bed because I felt so rough, or the days I did manage to get out of bed but could only make it downstairs, or the days I could get out of the house for a walk or a run but certainly wouldn’t be able to turn my chemo fogged brain to anything other than a self-deprecating status change on (my long since deactivated) Facebook.
And this awful, horrible, Coronavirus is the same. You might feel like you’ve got time on your hands, you might not. You might feel utterly paralysed or you might feel like you’re climbing the walls. You might be able to bake or you might struggle to pour hot water into a Pot Noodle. You might swing between none or all these.
So if you don’t write the novel, if you don’t bake the cake, if you don’t build the six pack? Who cares? Sometimes, like when you’re diagnosed with cancer, or when a vicious pandemic pushes its way through life as we know it, rules become obsolete.
Me? I’m still recovering, I bounce between being tearful and hysterical. And I’m eating quite a lot of chocolate.
Stay safe. Fx