Keeping Abreast

Keeping A-Breast

When starting this blog I had initially intended to write about what life is like living without breasts.  The   physical implications, the restrictions, reactions from others, finding clothes, prosthesis and all the other stuff that comes with this life choice. However, as is usual for me, I became distracted and wandered off on another tangent.  Hopefully though, those meanderings have given you an insight to me, my life and where my thoughts are coming from which, may help you understand my perspective and the life choices that I have made.

You may have read on my earlier posts that I had fully intended to have a mastectomy and breast reconstruction and that nothing and nobody was going to get in my way.  I never for one moment imagined that the person who would put a stop to my perky new boobies would of all people, be me!  I was desperate to rid my body of the breasts that, despite my life long love and care of them, had become my enemy, intent on seeing me off. I wanted to rid myself of the risk and the worry and replace them with a pair of pert, perfectly formed and most importantly, benign boobies.

Prior to having breast cancer I would have never, in a million years, imagined myself living without breasts.  Obviously, it’s not something any of us consider for ourselves and though I was aware that there were women out there happily living their lives with prosthesis, I hadn’t really processed that in my mind or given it any real thought.  It wasn’t until I looked inside my hospital gown at my freshly modified body that I suddenly realised that maybe I didn’t need breasts after all.  During that first, scary peep I had expected to see a bad butchery job, like when you see a side of pork all sewn up with big string stitches, I thought that was going to be what my body looked like. I fully expected my stomach to churn and my heart to break. Yet through the scars and the drains that were taking the blood and fluids from my wounds, I could see a nice, smooth, well-proportioned chest. In a strange way, it looked youthful and cute, not at all grotesque and definitely not in need of cosmetic surgery.  I didn’t look a freak and in comparison to what I was expecting, I looked and felt, positively lovely!!

My choice to refuse the option of breast reconstruction must be difficult for many to imagine or understand. IImage got quite a few shocked reactions from some of the ladies I told of  my decision and  I’m sure that I would have been equally shocked had somebody  told me that they were happy to live with a breast-less, nipple-less, chest. I can imagine the thoughts that would have gone through my own mind, ‘She’s obviously putting on a brave face. She can’t really be happy like that. She must feel weird, a freak. She’s so brave putting up such a show.’  Ironically, you could say it was all a front!

Had anyone suggested to me that I needn’t bother with re-construction, that I could be perfectly happy without any breasts, I would have smiled kindly at them and said “I don’t think so, no way, no thanks, nada!”  It quite simply was not an option. But now?  Well now I feel like I have a special secret that I want to share, to spread the word, breast free is problem free. You may think me ridiculous and you may be right. On the other hand, it could be that these feelings of elation are actually those of relief. Relief that I don’t have to go through yet more surgery, relief that I have found myself to be happy with my body just the way it is, relief that my husband loves me with or without a pair of boobs, relief that I don’t wake up every morning worrying that the cancer is still lurking.

Having reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy is nothing like a regular cosmetic boob job. It involves cutting and repositioning muscles from your back, taking fat from your belly or your bum to form the new boobs. There are uncomfortable expanders that you would have to contend with for months, numerous hospital visits over a long¸ long period of time while your skin stretches enough to allow room for your  implants (be they your own fat or a silicone implant) Whatever option you chose,  it’s no walk in the park.  If it had been a quick snip, shove a chicken fillet in there, job done, have a nice day, I may have given it some consideration.  Or if, when I had peeped inside my gown, I had been repulsed by what I saw, then I would have probably gone ahead with whatever surgery I needed, regardless of the enormity of it all but a breast-less body is not weird or repulsive. My breasts do not define who I am, they won’t add any extra points to my IQ score and they certainly couldn’t contribute anything else of note to my life so the decision was a quick and easy one for me.

I should also mention that, after the chemotherapy the tumour in my right breast had shrunk from 3.2 cms to virtually nothing. This resulted in the doctors suggesting a less invasive lumpectomy but being the proactive kind of person that I am, I had already made the decision to have my offending right breast removed and also requested the removal of my more innocent left breast.  For anybody going through breast cancer and thinking about lumpectomies, mastectomies and reconstruction, there is a lot to think about, for themselves, their family and their relationships. Thankfully, the NHS allow you lots of time and options, giving every person the information they need to decide what’s best for them and their future. As a Breast cancer patient, you don’t have to make a decision there and then nor do you have to stick by that first decision.  You can refuse reconstruction and then in 5, 10, 20 or however many years, change your mind and the NHS will give you the reconstruction or surgery that you feel you want or need so there is no need to worry that this is the only chance to make what is a huge decision in your life.

So what are the pros and cons? Well for me the pros have been many and the cons very few but here goes.

Cons

  1. Due to the standard tailoring of ladies clothing, there are occasions when I have to wear my prosthesis when I would have preferred not to.
  2. I have to choose well-constructed styles of clothes to avoid flashing my scars/prosthesis.
  3. Bikini’s that will fit and flatter a totally flat chest  are not that easy to find though not impossible, when I find one I buy several and hang on to them!.
  4. Er, I’ll come back to this as I can’t think of another at the moment….

Pros

  1. A feeling of freedom and easier arm movement across the chest, which is especially useful when taking part in any form of sport.
  2. No jiggling boob pain (or embarrassment) when running.
  3. I can squeeze through much smaller spaces, which has on occasion, come in very handy.
  4. I can choose my boob size for the outfit and/ or occasion.
  5. I can achieve various looks from willowy and interesting  (flat chest, no prosthesis) to curvaceous siren (my large prosthesis also known as The Big Guns)
  6. The star pro for me though is that I have (fingers crossed) reduced my chances of a recurrence of breast cancer by a whopping  90%.

With Christmas approaching I have quite a few parties to attend and each of my styles will be getting a festive outing at some point or other. Being an outdoor, horsey type, I never used to care much for fashion but my newly modelled body has given me a fresh interest in all things fashion and   when the New Year sales start, I will be at the front of the queue, elbows sharpened, vying for the best of the bargains from a 32A to 36DD. Image

Banjo

Every year during the lull that comes between Christmas and new year I am full of anticipation and excitement for what the coming year will bring.  I love the feeling of a fresh start, putting any negatives of the past year behind me and making positive plans for the future, “Off with the old, on with the new!”  And every year I hear myself say, “This is going to be my year” and every year, guess what…I’m wrong!

Now don’t misunderstand  me, I don’t mean that my life is full of bad luck and unhappiness year on year, quite the opposite.  I am happy to say that I have enjoyed a rich and fulfilling life with nothing more than the usual ups and downs that life can unexpectedly throw at us once in a while but I have yet to have that feeling of accomplishment, success, to feel  fulfilled through my own personal achievements.

Horses have played a big part in my life and in more recent years I began breeding competition horses. This is a long-term plan and it can take several years before you see any results from your hard work and financial investment. Everything was bumbling along quite nicely  until my plans were seriously hindered when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This  resulted in my having to undergo months of treatment and three sets of debilitating surgery.  Even when I was fit I had found it a struggle to get through the work that is  involved in taking care of six young horses so I found it nigh on impossible while I was ill. My husband took on most of the responsibility, getting up at 4.30 am to do the backbone of the hard work and proved to be a really difficult time for both of us. Any sane person would have had all the horses on a wagon and off to the sales, ridding themselves of the stress and financial burden. It should be noted here that the words ‘Sane’ and ‘Horses’ are rarely, if ever, used in the same sentence. This is because a certain amount of insanity is required when dealing with over half a tonne of muscle and flesh that can inflict serious damage on you, in a variety of ways and none of them pleasant. Then there is the insanity of the financial outlay. There’s a well-known saying,  “The way to make a small fortune from horses is to start with a large one.” and in the majority of cases, this is absolutely true.  But finances and physical hard work aside, I couldn’t send them to the sales or sell them to the first person that made me an offer, these were my babies, I could never risk them falling into the wrong hands. Finding the right home for each and every one of them was of paramount importance to me.

Over the ensuing three years I slowly but surely found nice new homes for them, allowing me to sleep well at night knowing that I had done my very best for them. Eventually, I was left with just one horse, Banjo, he was the last of my babies and out of all of them, he was my favourite.

I was mid chemo when he was born, being weak and permanently tired made it easy for the horses to jump about, spooking at butterflies and frequently knocking me to the floor but  Banjo was different, from the day he was born he was always very quiet around me and he was very easy to deal with.  I am convinced that he knew that I was ill and that he understood that he needed to be gentle around me. Banjo’s attitude towards my husband however, was another matter! He saw John as his play- mate, nipping him, pulling his hat off or ripping the pockets from his coat. Banjo endeavoured to find new and different ways to annoy  John, all of which were hilarious to watch and made all the funnier by the sound of John’s cursing echoing across the field. He insisted that Banjo was deliberately standing on his toes to which I pointed out that it was more likely to be his own ridiculously large clown feet that were getting in Banjo’s way. Though truth be told, I  think Banjo knew exactly what he was doing and  both he and I  got a good deal of enjoyment from it!.

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By the time he was three years old Banjo had grown into a beautiful, 17 hand black stunner. As a young thoroughbred colt, you would expect him to be a handful but he remained my gentle giant. Throughout the latter end of 2013 I began to do the preliminary work required for his introduction to being broken for riding. Taking to this with his usual laid back manner he remained kind and tolerant  towards me,  I could not have wished for a kinder more patient horse.

Banjo enjoyed my company and he was soon ready to progress with his training. I was really looking forward to devoting myself to one special horse, rather than the usual mad rush of spreading myself between six or more horses.   I enjoyed teaching him new things and it was clear that he was enjoying the attention, our bond grew stronger every day. As I busied myself around, washing his mane and tail, singing along to the radio, he would stand quietly munching on his hay and occasionally looking round at me as though he were the kindly grown-up, patiently letting his little owner play with him.  Snuggling up to his  soft, gleaming  coat that shone a beautiful mahogany black I would gently rub his forehead making him drop off to sleep, the full weight of his head resting in my arms.  Holding my cheek to his velvety muzzle, he would blow his warm breath into my hair, he made me feel that he loved me and I certainly loved him.

It had taken me a long time to get over the chemo, surgery and the mental games that breast cancer plagues you with, but now I had begun to feel like my old self.  I was stronger, fitter and best of all, I could get through a whole day without feeling the need to take a two-hour nap in the middle of the afternoon!  So this year, when Christmas had passed and I was looking forward to the new year and what 2014 was going to bring,  all my thoughts were on Banjo and his future. 2014 was going to mean ‘Out with my poor health and in with renewed energy and producing a beautiful dressage horse, 2014 was going to be our year!

Usually it takes me until about October before I concede that the year isn’t going to be all  that I had hoped for but this year I wasn’t allowed that indulgence.  2014 wasn’t going to let me have any hope for the year and on Sunday January 12th  my dreams were shattered and my heart-broken.

It was the usual Sunday routine for me, up at 7am and straight down to the stables to give Banjo his breakfast.  I was surprised not to see his big black head and dark chocolate eyes looking for me from over his stable door. Rushing over I found him lying down with a sad and pained expression on his face,  I knew instinctively that this was not a simple case of feeling ‘a bit off it’ or a common colic,  it was something far more serious.

The 40 minutes that it took for the vet to get to my house felt like forty torturous hours and with every minute that passed, Banjo was deteriorating before my eyes. I rubbed his forehead the way he liked, trying to sooth and reassure him but all the while, he looked at me with those beautiful eyes, imploring me to make the pain stop.

At 8am my hopes and dreams for 2014 were wiped out. There was nothing we could do to save him and the only kind thing I could do for him was put an end to his horrendous pain.  My beautiful, kind, generous,  Banjo went to sleep forever while I rubbed his forehead and told him how sorry I was and how much I loved him.  I said goodbye to Banjo and goodbye to my life with horses, it was the end of a great friendship and the end of an era.

I’m heart broken, disappointed and really f*****g angry but at least I had him in my life for a little while and for that I consider myself to be very, very lucky.

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Three Strikes and You’re Out

Three years ago I started a blog, the first post of which is here. I’d had breast cancer and wanted to do something to help others suffering the same ordeal I had been through. The first post was to introduce myself and qualify some of my understanding of what people go through. For various reasons, taking longer than I expected to get my head in the right place, for a time wanting to distance myself from the world of cancer and the frustrations of not knowing where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do meant that after just a few posts and the death of my beloved horse, I gave up.  Now I find myself in a new place and once again wanting to share my views which, I hope will be of interest to at least a few of you.

By way of introduction (again) I have reposted one of my earlier blogs and will begin again writing about the stuff of life – well my life!

You can find this and my other blogs at Life In The Pink but please come back here for the posts from the current me.

Three Strikes and your Out!

Well, this is my “entry” into the world of Blogging.  I’m a bit of a twitterer and often wonder if anybody is actually taking a blind bit of notice of anything I have to say, so rather than be ignored for 140 characters, I thought I may as well be ignored for several thousand.

First and fore-most I need you to understand that I am not and could never be, a writer.  So don’t expect to be bowled over by my poetic ramblings or profound insights and you definitely won’t be needing the dictionary. I was born in Yorkshire, very close to the birth-place of the Bronte sisters and I spent many years filling my lungs with the same moorland air. Regrettably, it is a sad yet true fact that I have not been infused with their talent.

However, the point of this blog is not to impress you with my literary prowess but simply to talk about and discuss the ‘stuff’ of life. Mainly the ‘stuff’ that revolves around and pertains to Cancer, as that has been an incidental, yet in many ways,  significant part of my life.

It will mainly, though not exclusively, be about Breast Cancer. Not the usual help and information that you can get on the many dedicated web sites and forums etc. but instead a place where you will find some down to earth tips and facts and where you will find up lifting, feel good stories and some humour. There is enough doom and gloom to be found on-line, I want to present a happier, more positive haven and I hope that you will join me by offering your own upbeat and inspirational stories. Hopefully, between us we can in some way help, not only ourselves but others who are looking for guidance, information, inspiration or just a good laugh.

We are all touched, brushed or slapped in the face by cancer at some time or other. For me, I was first punched in the stomach when at twenty years old, it took my Mum.  Prior to this, when I was ten years old, my seventeen year old sister Lindsay, was taken seriously ill by some mystery disease. At the 11th hour she was grabbed back from death when it was discovered she had suffered kidney failure. This was many years ago when dialysis and kidney transplants were not the norm and definitely not the success they are today. My mother spent 6 years taking care of my sister until eventually a donor was found bringing about a successful transplant and a whole new life for my sister.

Our family life began to settle back into what is considered normal and I got my mum back. One day, feeling bloated and suffering from continuing indigestion, which she put down to the stress and worry of the last few years, she went to the doctors. The diagnosis was not what any of us had expected and eight months later my beautiful, vibrant and funny Mum was dead.  Cancer had claimed its first victim of our family.

Strike one!

My sister, though having had a very successful kidney transplant had been told that it would be unwise for her to consider having children as carrying a child would be too risky with her medical history. True to the form of our family and its stubborn resolve, she ignored all advice and within a couple of years of being married she became pregnant.  Under close monitoring, everything seemed to be going well,  until her  27th week of pregnancy when  she went into labour.  Again, this was many years ago in the 80’s and a baby born so prematurely had little or no chance of survival but both mother and daughter fought the odds and went on to enjoy a full and happy life (except for the bit where the daughter, Kelli, had kidney failure and her Dad had to give her one of his kidneys but that’s another story for another day)

Once again life settled into a form of normality and the tiny premature baby turned into a bright twelve year old. One day, after dropping Kelli off at school, my sister  went on her way to do some shopping. Ten minutes down the road she crashed head on into a forty tonne tipper truck. The combined impact speed was 110 miles an hour and her tiny, five foot one frame was squashed like a bug. Several months in a coma and being kept alive in ICU with little chance of survival couldn’t see her off though. Us Yorkshire lasses are made of tougher stuff!  She fought all the odds (again!) and after waking from her coma, spent the next seven years slowly mending and learning to walk again. I was deliriously happy and proud when, on my wedding day, she walked me down the aisle. It took us ages and they had to keep restarting the music but she did it!

After skidding past death from kidney failure, putting her life at risk with child birth and clawing her way back from the grip of the grim reaper in a massive car accident, Cancer had all the while been planning its stealth attack and seven years after waking from her coma , without any warning for us, she was snatched away.

Strike two!

Both my mum and my sister were in their early 50’s when Cancer walked in and devastated our family. Now here I was, in my early 50’s and thankful that my whole life I had carried out all the advice given to avoid the risk of Breast Cancer –

Keep fit, check Don’t smoke, check. Don’t drink excessively, (slightly smaller) check Healthy BMI check   Exercise check   I have, overall, kept myself in pretty good shape.  During a medical I had for a job, my doctor had commented that I had the fitness levels of a twenty five year old athlete. I have to admit that I felt pretty smug about that.  So, when I discovered a lump in my breast, I wasn’t worried. My mum and sister had died from bowel/ovarian/liver cancer and though I often worried about getting cancer in my ‘nether’ regions, I had no fears of developing breast cancer. Plus, let’s not forget, I have the body of a twenty five year old athlete, we don’t get cancer!   However, the Cancers stealth tactics had worked again and I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer.

Strike three!

Well Cancer had obviously never heard the saying “Strike three and you’re out” I was strike three and I was not going to allow Cancer to grip me with fear and dissolve my zest for life like pouring salt on a slug. Strike three and YOU Cancer, are out!  And so began my regime of kicking the butt of cancer with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. But I also mounted my own stealth attack with a diet rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants, exercise, fresh air and most importantly, laughter.

You can find me blogging here and occassional snippets on my Facebook page Life In The Pink  and on twitter @Life-In-The-Pink

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