Breast cancer lesson number eighteen: There is no place like home… find new ways to enjoy it!

Everyone has a moment in hospital when they think they will never be able to survive without the supportive smile of a nurse and a syringe of morphine. But, the great thing is, the comforts of home far outweigh the clinical feel of a hospital bay (my stay was lovely though and the nursing staff were amazing – even if they saw a bit too much of my bottom).

On the journey home, my mind was occupied with thoughts of soft duvets, warm pyjamas and fluffy slipper booties. One thing that never crossed my mind, however, was that home looks quite different when you can’t lift your arm properly, you’re a bit stooped and you can’t touch your toes (promise that isn’t just as a result of my mum staying and cleaning in my absence – thanks mum). My world of four walls and five lots of stairs has never felt so big (making it to the lamp post across the road is a big adventure right now)!

Had I done a quick risk assessment before I was treated to a few body enhancements, I could have made life post-surgery that little bit easier. So, here are 10 quick tips and insights to make sure the heart in your home is not dislodged:

1)    Clean before you go in: now, I would say the house was pretty tidy before I left, but there’s nothing like an irritating bit of fluff to make you feel like you’ve ‘missed a bit’. I am thankful that a) I bought a new, lighter hoover in the sale, and b) my mum is excited about using it!

2)    Never go it alone: I am probably the luckiest patient alive in the fact I have a wonderful semi-retired nurse for a mum. She helps me wash, plan my pills, cook, climb the stairs safely and, most importantly, gets me in and out of bed when I am too tired to do it myself. I have one more week of this domestic bliss before Duncan and I will be going solo (wish us luck)!

3)    Look after that bottom: The first thing I did after making it out of the car and over the threshold was head for a chair. Trouble is, every chair in my house is now suddenly too low. After a bit of musical chairs, we now have ‘Jackie-proof’ seats in every room. My favourite is my sofa spot in the living room (less said about the 22-year-old sofa, the better). I have a raised seat, a few pillows, my Tender Cush cushion and my slanket on the coffee table if I need to raise my legs. Only problem now is summoning up the strength to get up.



4)    Surround yourself with what you need: Once you’re sorted on the seating arrangements, make sure you have everything at arm’s length. I have a tray on the sofa next to me for my drinks, phone, diary, lip balm and book. It gives me the illusion of being independent without the feeling I am trying too hard.

5)    Practice the toilet run: When getting to the toilet involves a flight of stairs, you almost need to plan in when you’ll need it. We’ve got a nifty routine now that even allows me a little bit of dignity. I am also delighted to report that I can now pull my knickers up on my own (what a result!).

6)    Get comfy in bed: Now, unlike the gismo-laden hospital beds, my old bed and partially-comfy matress (it was only designed to last a year and that was 10 years ago) don’t help you sit up or bend you legs at the press of a button. With a little bit of creativity, however, and the help of little Tender Cush, I have found the perfect position that gives me hours of much-needed dreamless sleep. I have also worked out a foolproof system with my mum. If I bang on the wall through the headboard in the night, she takes it as a sign to pop in and watch as I trek down the stairs to the loo. She hasn’t missed a knock yet!

7)    Plan your wardrobe: Ok, so pairing tracksuit bottoms and zip-up tops is not like planning a night out, but if you can make piles of your clothes and knickers, it makes choosing what to wear each day really really easy. One thing I did find is that it’s hard to wear a normal coat over a fluffy zip-up top. Enter my friend the soft gilet. Keeps me warm and offers extra boob cushioning.

8)    Be kind to yourself: I have quickly realised that now is not the time to take on the world (as much as I’d like to). My new bedtime is 9.30pm (made 10pm yesterday thanks to a little thing called Jonathan Creek) and the highlights of my daily routine include showering, tea drinking, writing and spending time with mum, Duncan and friends (both in person and via the wonderful world wide web). I am known for living life in the fast lane (I can’t even watch TV without a project on the go), so scaling back to the pace of a snail does involve some adjustment.

9)    Set yourself some targets: I had never really noticed the layout of lamp posts on our street. Now, they are my walking markers. First day I thought to myself, let’s walk to the postbox 400 metres away. After crossing the road and making it to the first lamp post (more like 20 metres), I was done. I have made progress each day (walking to the train station today) and am planning a little circuit tomorrow, so let’s see how I do (I must add, this is all to do with tight tummy and not swollen boob and sore arm).

10) Aim for variety: I love writing, texting, tweeting and, generally, keeping in touch with the wider world. It keeps me grounded. It also keeps me sat in my sofa seat. The key to a good recovery is rest, rehab, reading and not too much of the same repetitive activity. Read the physio booklet and it sounds like a ban on all the things that make me who I am (eg limit the knitting, the computer work and the writing). Seems like I might need an activity overhaul. The only thing I agreed with was limited dusting. Dusting rarely happens when I have full use of my arm!

Home may not be a hive of activity it once was, filled with freshly baked bread, cakes, craft and knitted items. But, with a few handy adjustments, it still has a strong heart – and it’s beating well right now!