Breast Cancer Blog - Episode 9 : A Shark Called Janet


Recovery isn’t something I’ve ever had to do before, as I’ve never really been ill. Turns out that:

A. I’m not very good at it

B. it hurts

C. it’s boring

I was sent home from the hospital with a box of strong painkillers, a leaflet on arm exercises and instructions that I couldn’t drive or lift anything heavier than a tea tray with two cups on it. First off, who uses a tea tray? Second, who uses cups? And third, if I’m recovering from anything I have no intention of making my own tea. I expect it to be brought to me at regular intervals when I ring a bell. To be fair, this has pretty much happened, so big brownie points to my husband on that one.

Getting home was fine, anaesthetic is great, but finding a comfortable position to sleep in when you’ve got a very tender armpit and a hole in your chest is a challenge. My heart-shaped pillow was an absolute godsend for under my arm, but the nurse said to try a pillow along my side to keep my arm itself supported. I tried that, it didn’t feel right, so I looked around for an alternative and lo, like an angel sent from the heavens above, I found Janet.

Meet Janet

Janet the Shark has been my bedfellow for a week now and is proving to be invaluable. Not only as an arm support, but also as a draught excluder, cat deterrent and a general badass. So far, my husband hasn’t even flinched at this new 3-in-a-bed scenario, but I suspect it’s not quite lived up to his younger self’s expectations of life. Sleeping on one side only is annoying, but I’ve never been able to sleep sitting up, or on my back, so Janet is the first thing I see at night and the first thing I see in the morning, which is terrifying, until I realise she’s not a real shark.

I’ve been wondering how comes the pain and soreness is all in my armpit, when the lump and scar is about 8 inches away. Turns out (from my new bestie cancer buddy Darcie, name changed to protect her from her own inappropriate comments) that breast cancer surgeons are expert burrowers, and they tunnel along from one site to the next like tiny badgers. So basically, I have an 8 inch tunnel and 2 cavities inside me, which sounds pretty much like a bullet wound to me, in which case I, and anyone who has been through breast cancer surgery, is a bloody battle hero, who should be given a medal, and certificate of honour and a big fuck off pile of lovely presents in fancy paper.

Is that the sound of tiny violins?

Getting around the house is OK, but doing any kind of normal household job is tough, so I have sadly had to step aside from some chores (is that the sound of tiny violins?). I did do 3 lots of washing and emptied the dishwasher yesterday, but my arm quickly decided that hadn’t been a good idea, and I am now sitting on the domestic goddess sidelines, propped up by cushions, taking on a more strategic role. I think the role suits me, I may keep it.

I’m not allowed to have a bath, or shower, or get the dressing wet, so cleanliness has had to take its place next to godliness, in the ‘highly unlikely’ corner. But needs must, so today I ended up in the highly undignified position of sitting on the edge of the bath whilst my husband doused me with bath water using a pasta saucepan. He was wrapping my hair up in a towel when our eyes met and I realised yes, it had finally come to this, but he just said “for better or worse” and everything was okay again.

Not Being Bored

Boredom isn’t something I’m used to. I’m a School Business Leader and we don’t do boredom. We do plate spinning, fire fighting, strategic planning and book balancing, all at the same time, so sitting quietly and watching box sets for 2 weeks isn’t going to cut it. The problem is though, that however much your mind thinks it can still run the equivalent of a small country remotely, the combined effects of some kickarse painkillers and the ravages of a physical attack by a colony of miniature badgers mean that the reality is somewhat lacking. Brain fog and fatigue mean that I’m only capable of a couple of hours of actual work before some bit of me decides that upright is no longer possible, and I’m back on the bed, hugging Janet.

And somehow, that other life, of a bustling busy job, of a hectic daily schedule, the executive conversations and planning meetings, seem life a lifetime away. Or in a parallel universe at least. I love that world, that life, and I want to get back there, but this new place doesn’t care about those things much, it’s full of medical terms, soreness, symptoms, appointments, instructions, and some pretty horrible-sounding treatments looming on the horizon.

But in this new world I have also found huge wells of compassion and kindness, from friends and colleagues, but also from people I hardly know. Gifts have been arriving daily (keep them coming by the way, I’ll never tire of them) along with messages of support and offers of help. I have also found a new set of people who I never really knew existed - the community of cancer patients, survivors, warriors, and supporters, who understand in a way that no one else can.

Bosom Buddies (sorry)

Like Darcie (still not her real name, but she’ll enjoy the pseudonymity enormously), who found me on Twitter and who has become a lifelong friend, instantly. She is 24 hours ahead of me, treatment wise, and we’re like two 4 year olds on the first day of school, holding hands and trying to work out where the toilets are. We share our fears and worries at what might be facing us next, but we also cry with laughter at the ridiculous and undignified crap we’re dealing with, as the reality of trying to be a working mum, with cancer, sinks in. We also pass notes to each other, under the desk, about how to turn an otherwise negative experience into an opportunity - for shopping mainly, and bargaining for more presents. She’s aiming for diamonds, which admittedly is classy and financially strategic. I have already negotiated an agreement in principle for 2 pygmy goats, once treatment is finished, but realising that diamonds are now on the table, I’m thinking I may have undersold myself in the negotiations, and should have gone full out for a jet ski. But this could be a long drawn out process, so there is always time to renegotiate.

Covid doesn’t even matter any more, in this new world, it’s no more of a challenge than putting the bins out, and frankly the bins might have to wait a week. Not that I do the bins, mind you, my husband does them, but he’s a bit busy making tea and doing the laundry.

Bring on the dancing unicorns

So I have another week of waiting, until we find out what the plan is, and I’ve got to try and fill my days with something. This blog is helping enormously, keeping me sane and keeping my brain busy. I have, of course, been researching the practicalities of chemotherapy, and have already started shopping for things to make the awfulness a bit better - like lip balms and fluffy socks and udder cream (yes really, that’s what it’s called) and, of course, bracing myself for life without hair. It might not happen, but if it does, I’ve already decided I’m going full on bald, with the option for a very large collection of outlandish hats and wigs. I’m 30 minutes from Brighton and I can only imagine the utter delights that await me there. Expect rainbow hair, expect animal headbands, expect dancing unicorn hats, and expect sparkle. Lots of it.

#breastcancer #breastcancerblog #breastcancersurvivors #breastcancerawareness #chemotherapy #lumpectomy #breastsurgery #cancer #cancerawareness

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