Dates at Last

1 November, and it’s Booby Tuesday again. Today, I will get the results of the biopsy on the second lump and the plan for treatment. After a lot of uncertainty, this is what I want.

After a fair bit of sitting around in the waiting room, the appointment starts. And it starts with some good news: the second lump is not cancerous. Hurrah. It seems that MRIs are so powerful that they sometimes picks up random little bits of flesh and make them look like horrible little lumps. Hang on, I asked, you put a little metal flag in that lump-that’s-not-a-lump-after-all – are you going to dig it out again? No, came the reply: that’s yours to keep, it’s totally harmless. See – don’t say the government doesn’t ever give you anything for nothing. As I already have titanium in my right eye socket, I am now one tiny step further on to becoming a robot.

The less good news was that the treatment itself will be more severe and take longer than I expected. I will have surgery on 14 November, and then after a few weeks recovery time, 3-4 weeks of radiotherapy. I can expect to be off work for 6-12 months, though I’m hopefully of being able to lighter work a lot sooner than that!

Surgery day will involve going to a hospital I’ve never heard of before (the London Independent) to get some radioactive dye injected into my breast, then making my own way to Homerton Hospital for the surgery. Said dye may possibly hang around after the op and look like a tattoo. I don’t have any tats, and have never wanted one, but the prospect of having one anyway is quite intriguing.

The surgery will remove the lump and also take out a couple of lymph nodes. Although they are pretty sure that the cancer has not spread to the mymph nodes, they want to be absolutely certain so will remove a couple of nodes to check them. Morevover, removing the nodes that are closest to the breast will close a door to the cancer coming back and spreading in the future. As the surgeon explained, “I’ll remove the ground floor lymph nodes so that the penthouse ones will be safe.”

The surgeon said that the enormous size of my boobs makes her job a lot easier. Actually, I’m not sure she used the word ‘enormous’, but that was the gist. She offered two options for the surgery, both of which are lumpectomy to my right breast – or, to give it its proper name: wide local excision / segmental mastectomy.

Option 1 – Remove the lump. My boob will lose some of its size, and the nipple will point downwards. It will not look much different from my viewpoint above, or to the general viewer who sees me with clothes (or a swimsuit) on. It will look significantly different from the front unclothed.

Option 2 – A surgical lift of the boob as well as the lump removal. The nipple will point in the right direction, but the boob will lose significant size, and I would have further surgery next year to reduce the size of my left breast to match.

I don’t have to decide until the day of the surgery, but I am leaning heavily towards option 1. I really don’t like the idea of surgery on my left breast when there is nothing wrong with it. My breasts have always been a, ahem, very large part of me, and if one of them can come out of this unscathed then that would be great. There is the option (2a?) of doing the surgical lift but not reducing my left breast, but that would leave me with a big one and a little one. I already lean far to the left politically, and have no desire to do so physically as well. Medically, there is no difference between the two options. If there had been, there is no way that any other considerations would have come into it!

It’s possible that I may be kept in overnight after the operation, but more likely that they will turf my out on my uppers and send me home for my family to take care of me. Lots of lounging around and being waited on will follow. Business as usual, then.

Around three weeks after the surgery, I will have a follow-up appointment to look at how my recovery is going and what they found out from the surgery, and set the way forward. This may or may not involve chemotherapy, and will definitely involve radiotherapy. That will not be at my local hospital (Homerton), but will involved attending Bart’s Hospital every weekday for three or four weeks in the run-up to, and possibly during, Christmas. Although it is neither painful nor invasive, radiotherapy will be time-consuming and tiring, and has various possible side-effects. 

After all this information, there was a pre-op questionnaire, in which it was quite hard to fit in the answers to “any previous surgery” in the space provided, and various tests – height, weight, blood pressure (an impressive 108/75) and a blood test. And some forms to sign – including permission to store my lump after it has been removed for scientists to poke around in their efforts to better understand cancer (presumably at a future time when we have a government willing to fund such research). Happy to oblige.

So, I came away from the hospital pleased that we are progressing, but a little shell-shocked that the treatment will be more severe and last longer than I expected. I spent the rest of the day doing two things: cancelling my poetry tour, which made me very sad; and buying/collecting stuff for refugees for my long drive to Calais the next day, which helped me put things in perspective.

Download Page Content (.pdf)