Breast cancer lesson number seven: Cake is good for the soul and great for the boob!

Ok, so this isn’t an official medical recommendation. But, for someone who has a rather unhealthy obsession with hundreds and thousands and Green and Black’s vanilla white chocolate, it’s nice to know that the sweet stuff does have its uses!

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As you’ve probably guessed, I did pass the ‘fat’ test. But, in the words of my plastic surgeon, it is ‘tight’. That means, a week on Friday, I will be having a mastectomy (right boob off), axillary clearance (lymph nodes out) and immediate reconstruction (boob job) with, you guessed it, my tummy fat (a DIEP flap). I have always wanted to know what a flat stomach would look like. Now, for six weeks at least (post-op), I’ll know.

Today was an odd day to say the least. I did, however, learn two interesting things. Firstly, wear good knickers at all times because you never know when you are going to be asked to flash them. Secondly, don’t let anyone book your appointments the wrong way round – even if they say it won’t matter.

I started the day with the cancer surgeon, who revealed that the second biopsy confirmed the presence of even more cancer. At first he said: ‘I think it’s benign.’ Then he checked the notes and said: ‘ah, actually it’s more cancer.’ Interesting fact though, it doesn’t matter how many tumours you have in your boob, the treatment is based on attacking the largest one! So, no change then – just more cancer (nice).

The trouble is, because I hadn’t yet had the results of the ‘fat’ test, it was very hard to discuss the planned surgery. So, a completely hypothetical ‘what-happens-if-I-am-not-fat-enough-this-afternoon?’ discussion followed. One implant-measuring session and one consent form later and talk turned to surgery dates. ‘If we can’t use your fat, we can squeeze you in this week,’ the surgeon added. I am ashamed to admit, my immediate panic was more due to the fact I have conference calls, meetings, presentations and dinners planned for next week – not the fact I’d be starting to kick those cancer cells even earlier!

Thankfully, after spending lunch counting all the people that would be affected by this date change, I was relieved to discover that my commitment to cake eating had paid off. The most amusing part of all of this is that apparently tummy fat never forgets its origins. So, if I don’t cut back on the white chocolate and Cadbury’s Heroes after surgery, my right boob will make a rather ‘large’ statement. Almost worth trying just to see if it’s true.

Nothing if not obedient, I now have exactly 10 days to bake like Mary Berry before I am sentenced to six weeks of no exercise. I can’t even lift a supermarket shopping bag (he was quite specific, so that must mean other shopping is just fine). Every cloud… If only there was a way of bypassing the thighs and just channelling those calories into the abdomen.

One small aside before I finish. I have a first contender for Cancer Room 101 – people who moan in waiting rooms. There should be a big sign that says: ‘rejoice when there are long queues. It means the people caring for you are taking time to look after you and other people.’ Loud huffing and audible sighing is not cool. Next time, when you’re waiting and that clock is ticking, smile and say thank you for the dedication of the care team working tirelessly to fix you.

So let’s all raise a glass to flour, water, sugar and butter (preferably mixed and baked). It’s only taken a decade in the kitchen to realise just how important a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon are when your life is on the line! 

Breast cancer lesson number three: Good things do not always come in small packages!

As a pint-sized person, I have always been an advocate of the little things in life – Cadbury’s Heroes being a particularly good example (why would you eat a full-sized chocolate bar again?!). My breasts were no exception – until now!

It pains me to say it, but small is not always beautiful. In fact, in breast cancer land, small is pretty annoying.

My world view was crushed on what I truly believe to be the weirdest and most surreal day of my entire life. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone this time – although I think my amazing mum (hello mum!) could have been forgiven for wanting to go and lie down in darkened room about half way through. Massive credit to her for laughing along with me throughout – even without lunch.

It was supposed to be one 10am meeting with a surgeon and a breast nurse to discuss the MRI results and plan what I thought would be a wide local excision or lumpectomy (in other words, chop it out, move on to chemo). I thought I’d be back at work within the hour.

Here’s what happened:

1)   Surgeon (who is hilariously funny and witty for a surgeon) explains that the tumour is more like 40mm than 28mm and there are two other suspicious areas that need investigating (just to qualify, this part was not funny or witty). Still smiling though!

2)   Surgeon examines me – and brings mum in too for a quick feel – and confirms that my breast is just too small to save (thanks nature). Bit scared and annoyed with nature!

3)   Surgeon explains the two ‘reconstruction’ routes, one of which involves taking out my tummy tissue to give me a new mound. Has a feel of my tummy and thinks they might just be able to use it. Laughing now at fact tummy is being squeezed!

4)   Surgeon refers for second biopsy to investigate findings and my kind breast care nurse loads me up with breast reconstruction literature. Still smiling… just!

5)   Care staff at biopsy number two turn out to be very entertaining and lovely. Smiling lots to block out fact my boob is yet again being explored – trying not to laugh otherwise might disturb procedure.

6)   Lovely breast care nurse points us in direction of secret staff bus to whizz us to another hospital. Mum and I laugh while trying to look like serious hospital staff.

7)   Meet nurse quickly and get weighed! Best weight in three years (yay for dry January and losing my Christmas podge). Feeling pretty smug!

8)   Meet next nurse who makes us tea and explains that the Dutch only put milk in their children’s tea. Smiling at having discovered something new!

9)   Meet plastic surgeon, three nurses and a doctor who explain tummy procedure and give me a quick squeeze. Check leg and bum and confirm just too tight (oh yes!). Feeling pretty smug again at weight loss.

10)  Plastic surgeon thinks tummy might have enough fat to go ahead with procedure, but needs to do a CT scan to check. Feeling less smug and starting to regret losing Christmas weight. Maybe need to make a batch of mince pies!

11)  Surgeon refers me to pre op assessment (why not, while I’m here)!

12)  Behind door number one, nurse one takes blood pressure. It’s high (I would say this wasn’t surprising)! Second time round, I pass and move on to MRSA testing. Smiling due to the fact I like passing tests!

13)  Behind door number two, nurse two (who told us a lovely story about buying herself a dressing gown for Christmas and wrapping it up under the tree because she’d always wanted one and never got one) talks me through op day. Smiling lots at having met a friendly lady who would have otherwise remained a stranger!

14)  Behind door number three, nurse three takes blood. Uneventful. Smiling at fact needle went in vein and was uneventful!

15)  Op date confirmed: 21 February. Phew! Bit tired of smiling now.

So three waiting rooms, two surgeons, 15 care staff, six appointment rooms and six and a half HOURS later, and my mum and I are hugging and laughing at the tube station as we say goodbye.

While neither the day nor the results were what I was expecting when I woke up that morning, I was a) humbled and inspired by the amazing hospital staff and the way they fast-tracked me and b) happy to have spent the day experiencing and laughing through it all with my mum. Every cloud…

Tune in on Monday to find out if I passed the ‘fat’ test…