51: En route to reconstruction

Over the summer holidays I’d received a letter inviting me to meet Mr X to discuss the results of the CT/Angiogram scan.  This had taken place to see if the blood vessels in were my tummy were suitable to be plumbed into my chest once the cannonball had been removed.

The appointment had been re-arranged by a couple of days by the hospital and this meant that Nick would now be away and I’d be going to the appointment on my own on 14th September at 9.15am.  I’d mentioned this to my geography colleagues and asked which one was going to come with me to pretend to be the new Mr O (both colleagues are considerably younger than me so I’d be a bit of a cougar!).  We’d laughed about it but one of our super support staff had overheard this “banter” and gone to our Head of HR as she was worried about me going on my own. You see – you couldn’t wish for kinder, more thoughtful colleagues.  Later on I received an email inviting me up to see the Head of HR so up I popped, expecting a conversation about a staffing issue earlier in the week.  Instead I was the staffing issue.  She explained that she knew I was going to the hospital, on my own, and she would make arrangements to come with me….  oh my goodness I wasn’t prepared for this conversation and all that stuff about breast cancer which I thought I had locked in a box, at the back of a cupboard, down at the end of a distant hallway, in a disused wing of the school came screeching out and I cried at her desk.  It was so kind but I was able to go on my own.  We agreed that I could phone her after the consultation and we’d meet for a coffee before I came back to school.  I’d booked cover for 9-1 to build in decompression time.  Later that day the Headteacher called me in and we had a similar conversation.  I mentioned that I was 53 and quite a big unit so I would manage this one.  They were being compassionate.

So different from a previous employer who would have asked “Are you going to die, if so when, if you are… get an advert out for your job and do the interview”.  I still have friends who work in that institution and the difference between that one and mine is as wide as distance from Earth to the Moon.  Staff wellbeing is key to a successful place of work.

The roadworks to Derriford Hospital were finished (at least on the northern side).  I drove to the impossible carpark and on impulse when down instead of up… what a surprise… a different way to drive in.  I parked with ease and had time to have a coconut flat white from the Costa coffee shop before walking past the smokers in their PJs and dressing gowns, through the concourse, up the stairs and over the primrose sign and into the clinic.  I was well prepared with my Breast Cancer folder including an interesting journal article about blood vessels – whether they were singular, bifurcated or trifurcated.  This seemed to have a big overlap with river patterns so I printed out a sheet with fluvial options on too to compare.

As I waited in the clinic I cracked on with two pieces of work.  One was a guide to looking after newly qualified teachers from the local authority and the other a guide to looking after teacher trainees.  Before I was called in I had drawn up an action plan for both, sorted out training sessions and an observation schedule.

I was called in by the lovely plastics breast care nurse, we went straight to the examination room but I didn’t have to take my kit off there were a few technical difficulties in the office so the consultation would happen here.  Mr X perched on the bed, I sat with my folder and she sat ready to take notes.  I’d heard that Mr X had got married over the summer so it was congratulations then down to business.  I asked… so are my blood vessels singular, bifurcated or trifurcated?  Are they in the subcutaneous region or in the muscle.. if so how deep – I had my questions on a big orange post it note. He looked at the article… interesting… then I showed him the A level fluvial patterns… which was I most like – dentrictic, rectangular, parallel?  He drew me a picture.  One set of usable vessels were 14mm north and 17mm west of my tummy button and another set about the same east of my tummy button.  They were good to go.

I had a further set of questions:  What were my options if the Diep failed (answer: I’d keep my skin and have a different implant).  What was the best/worst case scenario for recovery (answer: 12-14 weeks minimum before a phased return, gulp – no planking, no PE, lifting nothing heavier than a mug of tea for 4 weeks, expect to sit up the day after the op and sit up on the side of the bed on day 2, catheter, drains…) What happened about fat necrosis (Answer: hopefully the fat from my tummy wouldn’t be lumpy and die so it wouldn’t be a problem)  What were “dog ears” along the stomach scar and would I have them (where the skin from above your belly button gets pulled down to the skin about your pubic bone and where it isn’t a perfect fit you get flappy bits near your hips).

I didn’t get on to the question about leaches.  Mr X told me that I would be done in the next couple of months… oh no…. so I got my school calendar out and said that Easter was a better time for me.  It would allow me to get through the syllabus with my exam classes so they’d be in a place to revise and practice for their exams.  The NQTs and trainee teachers would have only one assessment left to do to complete their year and that would be overseen by a colleague currently on maternity leave.  If I could be done at Easter it meant I could recover in the Spring and Summer – hopefully have a phased return in July and then the school summer holidays to recover and be ready to return in full fettle in September 2019.  Mr X looked at the calendar and said the 20th or 27th March 2019.  This will give me 6 months to get really fit, get school completely sorted and …. have a fit and healthy Christmas with the family.  So it was a step back onto the NHS conveyor belt and a step closer to drawing a line under the breast cancer interlude.  I didn’t rush straight back to school.  I stopped for a coffee on the way, decompressed, got my head straight and then went in to teach new year 7s.  It is all going to be okay – not immediately, there is a plan, a timeline and this gives me something to work towards.

Tip:  visiting the hospital, even for a good news appointment still takes an emotional toll, take time to digest what you’ve been told, don’t rush straight back to work as you need to decompress and think.  

mr x questions


Author: fionaosmaston

I live in Plymouth, Devon with my husband Nick and near my parents Sandy and Sheena. Our three children, Marcus, Phoebe and Miles are grown up. I am a geographer and love teaching Geography. My current role is as an Assistant Vice Principal in an inner city comprehensive school where I lead on coaching and initial teacher training. In August 2017 I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma and following a skin sparing mastectomy and endrocrine/hormone treatment I am now awaiting a final reconstruction. These views are my own and writing this story has helped me come to terms with where I am in this interlude of life which has been dominated by breast cancer.

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