Tag Archive | health

November 28th

The cloud from when I arrived at the hospital this morning has dissipated into wisps of high cloud.  It’s breezy but, for Wellington, quite a glorious day, especially for the Hobbit premiere, and altogether far too good to be in hospital recuperating from an operation

Ive had to many surgeries over the past 10 years. The pre-op procedure is almost becoming routine.  With that done I was wheeled off at 9am this morning. They told me they were inserting a needle with a ‘light’ sedative and that was the last thing I remember till I woke up in Recovery. The surgeon is confident he has clean tissue all around the chick pea so that is good news. As for the node biopsy that will have to be put through all the tests and I will find out next Thursday what the results are from that.

i haven’t shed a tear since Peter left this morning.

So here I am in my hospital room writing a blog.  There’s a little pain but the policy here seems to be to keep me well dosed up with painkillers to keep me as comfortable as possible. I am a wuss so I am quite grateful for that.

It’s actually altogether far too hot to be in hospital.  Must be a good sign that I can sit here and complain about the sunshine rather than pain or the disfigurement that I can’t really see yet. (I am still in one of those horribly fashionable hospital gowns.

From Senior Moments to Cancer Brain

As young mothers, when the constant company of babies and toddlers and the endless chores associated with bringing up a young family, and when things start to go slightly awry, it’s often attributed to ‘Baby Brain’.

At my age when I start forgetting people’s names or where I put things, Baby Brain becomes a “Senior Moment’.  Now that I have that dreaded diagnosis of Cancer, I think my senior moments are metamorphosing in to periods of Cancer Brain.  I know I’m doing things that are just not me, but I feel almost powerless to change the particular chain of events I’m caught up in at a given time. And I know I would have behaved completely differently had I been faced with similar situations prior to diagnosis.

One of the comments made during my early morning Facebook chat with my friend in USA about her sister bursting into tears at her inability to do up a bra strap made me think twice. I know that at present, and before my diagnosis I can be irritable about not being able to find the right hook behind my back even without the extra bother of an incision and stitches in a wound under my arm to contend with.  Forewarned is forearmed, I thought, so I set off to Masterton to purchase a front closing bra without underwiring, to tide me over the recovery period after surgery.

I thought I could be strong, walk into the Lingerie shop, and tell the shop assistant I had been recently diagnosed with Breast Cancer and did they have a bra suitable for recovery after surgery.  I might add that this particular store is on the Cancer Society list of recommended stockists of specialist lingerie for women with breast cancer.  Well I walked into the lingerie shop, but then the strength I thought I had mustered together completely deserted me and I was in tears before I had even uttered my first sentence. Cheryl, the shop assistant was absolutely lovely.  I’m sure she probably has a few idiots like me walking through her door on a moderately regular basis, and tissues were quickly produced along with hugs.  Then she told me she completely understood as she has been in my shoes just last year.  She had had breast cancer, radiotherapy and even chemotherapy as she had another medical condition which complicated the choice of drugs for her treatment. And there she was looking lovely and able to relate her tale with complete equanimity a year or so later.  We chatted some more and she persuaded me that I should make contact with the people at the local Cancer Society, particularly the nurse.  So with my purchase made I went back to my car and tried to follow her directions to the Cancer Society.

I eventually found the Cancer Society premises at the end of a short lane of purpose built office units occupied by various businesses.  The Cancer Society Offices occupied an L shaped formation right at the far end from the street entrance. I parked the car and walked towards an office labelled ‘Information and Support’ or something similar.  The other one was labelled ‘Office’, and with the two separate labels I thought perhaps one shouldn’t be bothering the office people and that the Information and support one was definitely where I should be going. But the door was closed, as in locked with no one visible behind the glass façade. If my normal presence of mind had been with me I would have just gone and knocked on the door of the Office.  But I didn’t.  The tears welled up and flowed again.  I couldn’t even move myself to go back to the car.  I just stood in front of the door reading and re-reading an out of date poster with all of their programmes for 2012 listed on it.  The slightly logical part of my mind thought that at mid November perhaps a 2013 list of events should have been promulgated by now.  But all I could do was walk up and down past that closed door.  I don’t know now, whether it was fear, shame, shyness, all of the above or more factors that I can’t even recall now, just a few days later, but I was rooted to the spot, well almost, and felt powerless to go anywhere else, even back to my car and down the driveway again.    What was I thinking?  I don’t know.  Was I even thinking?  Cancer brain, I can’t remember anything but being unable to move away from that door.  Eventually someone from the office saw me and opened the ‘Office” door and invited me in.  Even then I was still rooted to the spot.

I don’t know what eventually made me move but I did.  The lady gave me a glass of water while I explained why I was there.  She was savvy enough to realise that I already had information overload and just gave a bare minimum one slip of paper an the card of the nurse I had supposed would have been behind that closed door.  And after I had, again, regained a modicum of equilibrium again I drove home.

I look back now, only days later, and can’t imagine myself being so stupid and acting so illogically and I can only put it down to the inner turmoil that I attribute to Cancer Brain.

Diagnosis part 2

On November 8th, it was another trip to Lower Hutt.  This time Peter came with me so that we could both hear the results of those awful biopsies from the week before. Talk about good news and bad news, well there was bad, good news and bad news.  The bad news was that the frozen pea was definitely cancerous, Invasive Ductal Cancer of the Breast, apparently the most common and the easiest to treat, if caught early, as are they all.  The good news was that the area of calcification they had taken biopsies from had all turned out to be non-cancerous.  However, that in itself, while a relief, was immediately tarnished by the fact that having established that, they wanted, now, to make sure that the other area of calcification was also not cancerous, or otherwise.

With the official notification that I had cancer, Robyn, Carl’s Specialist Breast Nurse, who sits in on all the consultations, handed me a ‘Cancer pack’.  On top of Carl’s detailed explanations of diagnosis, prognosis and treatment there was a whole heap of paper to read as well, just to make sure that we were fully informed, in case one or other of us had glazed over during all the verbal explanations. One part that I didn’t glaze over for was the fact that now there was a non-cancerous part to the equation with one part still unknown the treatment could change from a straight out Mastectomy to a chance that there could be a Lumpectomy, or in their terms a Wide Local Excision, accompanied by a Sentinel Node Biopsy and followed up next year by 6 weeks of radio-therapy.  And the bad news on that possibility was that, because the frozen pea was right on the edge of my aureola, I would have to lose the nipple.

To me that is almost as bad as losing the whole breast.  That’s still quite a disfigurement that will be with me for the rest of whatever life I have left after all this.  When Carl talked about the Mastectomy he talked in terms of an immediate re-construction being available if I wanted it, because of the unlikelihood of the cancer having spread into the lymph nodes.  But with the lumpectomy and losing the nipple with it there is no talk of reconstruction, even though the disfigurement is almost as great I would have thought.  In fact, I do think.  OK, there will still be something to put in a bra, but it will be smaller and misshapen.  In the cancer pack I read, somewhere, that the NZ government provides subsidies for prostheses in cases such as I imagine mine would be. That’s not what I want to define the rest of my life either.

Something I shall have to enquire more about on the next visit.

But meanwhile, back to November 8th. An appointment was made for me to go down to Lower Hutt again, the next day (9th) to have the extra biopsy on the ‘hard to find’ area of calcification.  And, oh dear, was it hard to find.  That day, I think I must have had the most photographed boob in the country.  It was one of those nasty ones where I had to firstly stand up for a lengthy series of mammograms till they found a picture they thought they could work with.  I think there must have been nearly 15 mammograms trying to get that far.  Having obtained the right sort of picture, I was then put on the gurney again, on my side, with boob clamped into the mammogram machine while what seemed like another 15 mammograms were taken while they positioned me exactly, so that the Dr could reach the area of concern with all his needles to take the required samples.  I ended up with my hips downward on the gurney, my arms over my head, and my whole top half almost completely off the gurney with my head between my arms, all but eating the mammogram plates and with one of the radiologists having to support my top half so that I didn’t fall off.  And though all this I had to remain so still, so that they could do their positioning and eventually stick all the needles in.

I might add that all of this was taking place on a boob that was already showing a bright rainbow of colouring from the bruising of the previous week.  plus there were two incision marks healing.  (The biopsy needles were wide enough that they had to make small incisions to get them into my boob.)  The incision from this biopsy was under my armpit and in the ensuing days both it and the new lot of bruising made for quite an uncomfortable time. The bra-less 60s beckoned, but I didn’t back then and nor did I that week.

I had had the foresight to bring a little lunch with me this time and ate in the car park before driving home over the hill again.

So then began another nightmare week of waiting, waiting, waiting, sleep deprivation and so on.  On one of my periods of sleeplessness, in fact, it was November 15th, the day I was due to go back to Lower Hutt for the results of that horrible biopsy, I heard my Ipad ping with a Facebook notification. Not being otherwise occupied, I answered the message back and surprised one of my lovely friends in the USA who thought that all good people in NZ should have been asleep at that hour, 4am.  But I had already been awake since 2.15 so I had no compunctions about picking up the Ipad and writing back, and so began a ‘chat’ that lasted over an hour.  I was so grateful for the company, and the sympathy at that desperate hour of the day, and all this while she was supposed to be working.  You have to love friends who love you like that.  And for her it was a bit of double whammy because her sister in Christchurch had had a Lumpectomy (and the Sentinel Node Biopsy) for an Aggressive Lobular Cancer only a week before.  In a way, I almost felt guilty, unburdening myself on her as I knew full well what her sister’s situation was, but I had no sister but her to ‘listen’.

So the day of my next appointment (November 15th) had dawned, rather early for me, and again we piled into the car and drove over the hill for the news that the second (‘hard to find’) area was benign.  I almost felt that it should have been cancerous or at least pre-cancerous, just because of the ordeal I had been though to get any sort of result at all.  But that result certainly simplified the treatment options.  Although I could still have the Mastectomy if I wanted to, the lumpectomy followed by the radio-therapy sounded like the least invasive option, surgically anyway.  So I have been booked into Boulcott Hospital in Lower Hutt for the surgery on November 28th.  I have to be there at 7am and nil by mouth since midnight on 27th.  That means I shall have to leave home, at the latest, by 5.45am. Ye gods and little fishes.  Another time when good New Zealanders should still be in their beds.

About Me

My name is Sylvia Maunder. I am 63 (just). I live in a lovely rural township in Wairarapa, New Zealand called Carterton.

I have been married for 43 years to my husband, Peter.  We have three fantastic adult children, Simon (married to Keri), Frith (married to Jason) and Maria (about to marry Greg).  There are also six grandchildren, three for both Simon and Frith.  Life should be grand.

In 2006 my life was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease and I had to immediately adopt a gluten free diet.  I was given the diagnosis the day before my 57th birthday – just as well I hadn’t baked myself a birthday cake that year.  I spent my birthday that year going through my pantry tossing out anything that had wheat, rye, barley, triticale or oats in it.  Five big rubbish bags of food and the containers that it had been in went to the tip and what was salvageable went to work to be shared among those whose ordinary lives included those everyday items with no ill effects on their health.

While there are some things from the world of wheat that I really miss, I have pretty well come to terms with it now and can exist quite happily in the gluten free world.  I just wish we weren’t charged so much extra to be able to eat healthily, though.

I was brought up in Christchurch, an only child – something I have rued all my life, but there was nothing I could do about it so I just had to get on with it.  Our neighbourhood, is not and was not flash.  Lower socio-economic it would be tagged today.  My father, for much of my life was ‘the local law’. He was a traffic cop and in that neighbourhood it was pretty dire, growing up as the child of the local cop. I was teased and bullied constantly.

Outwardly I grew up as any normal kid, but inside the house, or rather outside it,  at the local RSA or The Bower Ave pub on his days and evenings off, my father would drink away the family finances and come home, not raving mad but drunk enough so that you shouldn’t cross him. He often used to hit my mother and wasn’t beyond using too much force with me either.  They weren’t the sort of stories you spread about the local cop.  He used drink to bury away his war experiences, and my mother retreated into mental illness as a way of escaping the treatment meted out to her.

I was bright at school but never bothered with a university degree as I was so desperate to leave that life and start a new one where drink and mental illness wouldn’t define me. So I left school at 18, left Christchurch and went to work as a public servant in Wellington.

The going was pretty tough for a basic grade public servant in those days, but I managed to get by and my life grew richer (and I don’t mean monetarily) with the addition of  friends, a husband, children.

Two years ago, as step 1 in the path to retirement Peter and I sold our business, and our Wellington house, and moved to Carterton.

And, why am I writing this blog?  Well I just read an article in Pink magazine about how therapeutic it was to write one, so here’s hoping, and if anyone else finds it helpful to read it,God Bless and I wish you a successful journey.