The euphoria of going home after six days in the hospital didn’t last long. The nurse came into my room with a scalpel, plasters and large scissors. The tubes and packets of blood that had been joined to my body since the operation, were to come off and a feeling of fear and panic set in again. What they don’t tell you before the lymphnode and lumpectomy operation is how annoying and awkward these plastic sacks and tubes are that poke out of your boob and underarm. Some women had to carry two sacks around with them, I had three. Every day the doctor would check the bleeding and you would feel and see your warm squidgy blood joggling around in the bags that became your closest friend in the hospital.
The euphoria of going home after six days in the hospital didn’t last long. The nurse came into my room with a scalpel, plasters and large scissors. The tubes and packets of blood that had been joined to my body since the operation, were to come off and a feeling of fear and panic set in again.
What they don’t tell you before the lymphnode and lumpectomy operation is how annoying and awkward these plastic sacks and tubes are that poke out of your boob and underarm. Some women had to carry two sacks around with them, I had three. Every day the doctor would check the bleeding and you would feel and see your warm squidgy blood joggling around in the bags that became your closest friend in the hospital.
Now that they were to be removed, I realised I would finally see my boob. 10 cm was a lot. I started measuring out 10 cm in my mind and images of my boob as a weapon of mass destruction sprung vividly in my mind.
I could feel the nurse breathing over me, as she said, “this will hurt”. I immediately tensed up in fear and then tried to breathe again as I knew the breathing would stop the pain. I looked at her, wondering if she was enjoying this and suddenly I felt a deep hatred for the nurse. I shook my head in guilt as she was only doing her job, but like a flash of jealousy, aggression and anger clouded me.
Just as I could feel myself getting redder and angrier at this teenage nurse she pulled out the tube under my arm. I screamed in agony. The tube was long, I saw the blood splatter out as she pulled it and for the first time felt a tiny bit of feeling in my underarm but lots of excruciating pain spanning just below my elbow.
Tears swelled in my eyes and before I knew it she pulled out the back tube and the front tube. I was tense and rigid. If felt that people were using me as a hot poker or putting out cigars on my underarm and back. I wanted to fight her, but before I could even move – she sprung away from me.
I wriggled in the pain as the nurse smiled and left. There was a little chill and I realised that the bandages were off. My top half was naked apart from a couple of bandages and my grey (with a touch of blood) and haggard sports bra was cupping my breasts together.
This was it. The unveiling of my boobs. Was I a monster? Could I ever go swimming again? What about the Sauna? It had taken me ten years of living in Germany to finally go naked in the Sauna – were those days already over so soon?
I was desperate to look. Shivers went up my spine and I slowly picked myself off the bed and trotted wearily to the bathroom.
The lights in the bathroom were not only bright, they were glaring evil. They were the lights that you find in a nightclub when you think you look great and then you realise you have more hair than necessary on your upper lip – or you spent the whole night talking with a chilli in between your teeth.
But for me the bright electric light was perfect. I was ready.
Scared. But ready.
I stood on the small stool near the basin and tried to move my hands behind my back to remove my bra. I couldn’t. The bandages might be off, but my arm wasn’t healed and I couldn’t move or feel anything.
Plan B. I folded down the top of my bra so the straps hung on my shoulders. I lifted my head up from my chin and after closing my eyes tight shut and praying, “oh God, please let my boobs be OK”. I opened my eyes.
There was a 7cm scar on my left boob. It looked bloody and the stitches holding it together looked brutal.
I took a deeper breath and carried on looking. To my surprise, my boob looked fine. The scar was evident and significantly larger than the first one. But that was all, the boob was maybe just slightly smaller than the right one, but you could hardly notice any real difference.
My head spun in fear and comprehending that my boob didn’t look bad after a major operation was too much for me. I knew that suddenly that private health care was a joke and this was no better than the NHS. They had either given me the wrong operation or just not done the job properly.
I hit the panic bell and after about 3 minutes the nurse fought her way through a hidden door into the bathroom. She quizzically asked me what was wrong and I said, “they didn’t do the lumpectomy right – by boob is still there”.
I started crying and screaming and getting hysterical. The thought of another operation was so scary, I knew that I wouldn’t cope and perhaps would die on the operating theatre. The thought of more bloody tubes, hospital, drugs and narcotics made me nearly faint.
The nurse grabbed me and helped me back to the bed. I cried. I wailed. I howled. She got me some “calm down” medicine and said she would find out what happened to my boobs. She asked me what the doctor had said about the operation, I said, “it has been an overwhelming success and we removed 17 lymph nodes without any problems”.
She said, “if the doctor said that then, I had nothing to worry about”.
But worry I did. Images of the Youtube videos of boob operations gone wrong and the other bad stuff I had read online prior to my operation dogged me. I had had a bodged operation and no one had cut out my 10cm and the cancer was going to spread and I was dead.
I must have fallen asleep. I woke by the doctor coming to the side of my bed and putting her hand on my arm. I knew the drugs they had given me were quite strong, as hysterical women were not allowed in the gyno ward.
In the best German that I could muster, I asked her if she had forgotten to cut the rest of my boob. She smiled at me warmly, and I don’t know why but for the first time in a long time, I felt safe. She said, “in America lots of women have mastectomy’s. In Germany, we think that a lumpectomy is sufficient in many cases. We believe in breast preservation and you are very very young. When you were in theatre, I took the fat from you back and you neck and restructured your boob instantly”.
My mouth dropped as she demonstrated with her hands how she pushed and shoved the fat around my body to make my boob look normal.
I couldn’t speak. Tears came out of my eyes and she stood up to leave. I wanted to shout thank-you or I love you or something like that at her – but I could only cry.