105: Nippletastic

On the 17th January at my visit with Mr X I had dressed the toob with googly eyes and pink ears, I drew on two nostrils – I was ready for school and then my appointments – to review the medication and surgical review.

Both Mr X and Sue were thrilled with the result of the toob (though not entirely surprised to see it dressed as a pig) and how well my tummy scar is healing.  As the impatient patient I thought it should be completely healed not red and livid still.  The toob was one of the best that Mr X had seen and it felt/feels so much better than the wretched cannonball.  The next stage would be to have a nipple and Mr X said he’d add me to the list and in a few months I’d hear and have an appointment.

Now the NHS has many naysayers but not I.  I’d had my appointment on Friday and the following Monday just before year 9 were going to be ushered into my classroom my phone went and as I was on the threshold I took the call.  It was the plastics team, there had been a cancellation and could I come up for a nipple reconstruction the next day.  I thought I could, the boss said I could and so I got prepped by viewing a you tube reconstruction that evening.  Nipple surgery (a bit graphic)

Tuesday morning, school as usual and at 11.30 Nick took me up to Derriford to the Freedom Unit.. only I could buy some lunch first at M&S as this was a local anesthetic procedure.   I made my way past the smokers, some who appeared to be on drips, through the concourse and followed the signs to the Freedom Unit.  I paused to eat my sandwich and then got a bit lost – so I asked for directions and was asked if I was a Doctor or Patient, how funny, must have been the school uniform and lanyards.

Once in the Freedom Unit I was booked in quickly and given a gown, but could keep my bottom half on.  Mr X, the young South African registrar (who’d helped with the DIEP) and a trainee (but not work experience person) came through and I was invited to be marked up in an office.  A submarine shape drawing was added to the pig’s snout – the wings were going to make the edges of the nipple and the conning tower the top.  I was very insistent this must not be as big as a malteser or Lindt chocolate.  I asked if I was allowed to talk during the op and the answer was yes! I had to wait an hour or so as there was a lady ahead of me so I got my marking out, completed marking year 9 assessments, checked my emails and did a bit of planning as I’d brought my chrome book.  No point in wasting time.

I was called in… final checks and I was in the theatre.  I was introduced to everyone including the student nurse, former fitness instructor, who had a job as a theatre nurse on finishing her studies.  My bag and marking were deposited, I reclined on the theatre bed, was scrubbed up with some form of iodine solution and covered in a blue theatre sheet which was stuck on allowing free access to my chest.  Mr X injected the snout with lidocaine  – but I couldn’t feel the injection on the toob and then he made incisions around the submarine and stitched up a new nipple for me.  I chuntered on to anyone who’d talk to me, we talked about the cost of training to be a doctor to what it was like to teach and how well my year 9’s had done… not that well, I blame their teacher!  I was amazed at the size of the theatre and all the equipment around, the light was not as good as the one at the dentist as I couldn’t see my reflection in it to check the nipple was not malteser sized.  A big dressing on the wound to finish it and then… into a wheelchair to go to recovery.  I told them all I could walk to recovery but they were insistent on the wheelchair.  A cup of fruity tea and a couple of biscuits later Nick came to pick me up – had arrived with one nipple and left 6 hours later with two.  Another step on the path to looking more “normal”.

The dressing was to stay on for a week to ten days and then it was back to the Primrose clinic to have it removed and the stitches out.  What a result! Perfect.  Sue cut the stitches and used tweezers to remove them.  No malteser, definitely not a Lindt chocolate but a really good match for the original one. Phew! Next stage a tattoo in 4 months or so for an areola.  Thank you Primrose, Onco-Plastics and Derriford.

105: £10,027 for a plastics clinical fellow

On the 17th January I was back at Derriford Hospital for a post surgery check with Mr X and Sue the BCN.  The free flap DIEP reconstruction had taken place in the previous July and despite thinking I would never stand up straight again, would never bend, lie on my side or be “normal”… 7 months on I could do all of the above and more.  I was able to go to pilates, spin, was back at work full time.  When I caught sight of myself getting changed or dried the toob looked pretty good – there was no nipple and the circular scar made of my tummy which might be an areola eventually did remind me slightly of a pig’s snout minus the nostrils.

I’m a trustee of the Primrose Foundation and I take my responsibilities seriously. I read the papers sent to me and I look carefully at the applications for funding.  One such application was for a bursary for training for a fellow to join the oncoplastics team.  The application was for £10,000.  I spoke to the D2 ladies and we agreed that we would like our fundraising to support.  This is what was on the the Primrose Foundation web site wrote:

A new £10,000 bursary for the newly appointed Plastic Clinical fellow with a specialist interest in Breast reconstruction which has recently been developed within the Plastic & reconstructive surgical directorate at University Hospitals Plymouth. 

This post will play a vital role to anyone who requires breast reconstruction after breast cancer and means that patients will now be offered free flap breast reconstruction as an option.

So when I saw Mr X with the pigs snout I told him that the D2 ladies would like to ensure that the money we raised at the second D2 ball would support the fellowship to ensure that more women in the Plymouth area would have access to a free flap/DIEP reconstruction.  The next step was to arrange the cheque presentation.  This was arranged at the Duke of Cornwall – afternoon tea with a variety of options from vegan to full fat.  It was a lovely afternoon, jolly, fun and a way to celebrate how we had managed to work together over two years to raise over £23,000 – something quite extraordinary for 9 women who’d never raised money like this before. The funds also support.. a new quiet room refurbishment and a clinical psychologist to help women who are thinking of a reconstruction.

4 pigs snout

104: The Jar of Joy

January 2020… new year, new decade, new term and revitalised after a couple of weeks off.  Many things to be grateful for and not a time for resolutions… except… I follow Liz O’Riordan on Twitter.  Liz is a Breast Surgeon with recurrent breast cancer who has written the complete guide to breast cancer and has a really interesting take on this disease as she has been both sides of the desk and diagnosis.  I saw her Ted Talk  about her “jar of joy”… a brilliant and simple idea to help keep life in perspective and to find something positive everyday.  This is it:  Ted Talk

So I have adopted her idea and have two jars.. one for home and one for school.  The jars once held huge olives from Lidl… something to be joyful for straight away as the olives had to be eaten first.   A very simple premise… all you require is one jar, one set of post it notes and a positive frame of mind. Even on the darkest days there will be something that I can find joy in.  Some days are harder than others… but a good cup of coffee, finishing a piece of work, a cracking NQT observation or just getting to the weekend. 3 Jan 2020

103: Christmas & New Year so be of good cheer.

A picture paints a thousand words…reportedly first used by Frederick R. Barnard in Printer’s Ink (December, 1921), while commenting that graphics can tell a story as effectively as a large amount of descriptive text.  So these images sum up Christmas and New Year with family and friends – lots of smiles and laughter, a large Sandy shaped hole and a new family dynamic but great to have everyone home.   These photos don’t include visits to the movies to see Cats (I enjoyed it!), Little Women (enjoyed this more), trips to Totnes on the train, mince pies and mulled wine party and a letter saying the mammogram was clear.  It was all good.

102. The run up to 2020

Today life is in perspective, the hail has stopped and the sun is out.

The run up to the new decade had highs and lows.  Family highs, when we got together, and family lows when relatives had to return home.  Dad’s funeral was over, it had been a cracking send off and he’d have been proud.  There was about a month between the funeral and Christmas so it was back to work and start a new normal – I was a single parent person now.

The run up to Christmas in school is wearisome if you are in your mid 50s, grieving and trying to pretend everything is fine.  There is the excitement about the forthcoming holiday, the anticipation of getting the right or best presents for everyone, ensuring the feast is suitably festive and ensuring that lessons are still being taught, students are engaged, colleagues are well.  It is exhausting and everyone looks and feels a bit run down by the end of term.  I was running on empty, trying to be the most efficient woman at school, attempting to fit in pilates and spin, busy, busy, busy… not time to think, no time to process. The human body can take a lot… mine had had enough as I had a huge cold sore and looked ghastly.   I’d also had my second annual mammogram care of the Primrose Breast Care Centre… always a time of unease, not the mammogram itself but waiting for the results.  The clinic was not too busy, it was efficient, the radiographer friendly and recognised me as a trustee.  It was all perfunctory and the right boob was in place soon enough, the radiographer wasn’t happy with the first set of images and so we repeated the process… better to be safe than sorry.  I chatted away about the Primrose charity, the ball, la la la la la la… not about being squished and wondered… if breast cancer comes back where will the make a new boob from.. nothing left on my tummy! (I’ve decided it won’t come back… if it does it will be a secondary form and it won’t manifest it self in my right boob… but it won’t… come on, cut me some slack… it won’t – despite that little voice at 3am saying “actually it is just lying in wait and when you’ve finished the drugs in 7.5 years it will pounce”.  It had better not or I really will be cross.

However, there was a lot to look forward to as my eldest son Marcus and his wife, Marie were flying in on the last day of term and they were going to be here for a week to ten days.  Our Aussie friends – my great “fiend” Antonia, were going to be over for Christmas with their family and down here for New Year.  Usually, I would have said “stay with us” but I didn’t know how long the kids were going to be home for and other friends had offered to have them to stay and do New Year’s Eve.

The 20th December was the end of term, it was Christmas Jumper day at my school and I was resplendent in a completely hideous, polyester red jacket with Santa plastered all over it.  Most of the staff and many of the students also dressed up and the feeling was festive.  The deal was that lessons were to be taught as usual for most of the morning and then the final period was spent with tutors.  Whist Christmas is a time of celebration for most it is also a time of high anxiety for other students.  School offers sanctuary, it ensures there is a meal and warmth, friendship, someone to talk to if there is a problem who might be able to solve that issue and make going home just a bit better. The students finished at lunchtime and we had a staff get together to say farewell to those leaving, to  say “we’ve made it” to the end of term.  This was a bit rich from me as I’d only been back at school since 1st November so had done less than 50% compared to my colleagues – I didn’t have the right to be as run down as them.

As soon as decent I packed up and rushed home… the house was empty, this was not right as Marcus and Marie should have been there.  Their bags were here but they had gone for a walk to get a breath of air after their overnight flight from Seattle and journey from Heathrow.    I was a bit disappointed but got over myself when I saw them.  Phoebe was home too and later that afternoon mum was coming round so that we could go to the Primrose Carol Service.

The year before I had been one of the speakers at the service and this year I was part of the congregation or audience.  Just as well as we arrived late due to my inability to read the time on the web site.  Parking was an interesting experience and we snuck into the back of the church.  This comes from the Primrose Facebook site “The Stanborough Chorus and both the choirs from Holy Cross & The Cathedral school who brought the Christmas magic to the Cathedral and made the whole evening a truly festive and beautiful event. In total we raised over £1,000”.  It was lovely and made Christmas seem real.  Mr X was one of the readers, my lovely friend Joy who now works at the Primrose Breast Care Centre also read, the school choirs were great, the Stanborough Choir amazing, the church was beautiful (and the heating was on!) and mum, Phoebe and I sang with great gusto – we are on the right of the photo on the back row.  The holiday had begun.Xmas Service Primrose

1 m christmas jacket



101. A Fair Isle Cardigan (an emotional bomb)

It is half term, the weather is dreich, there have been huge storms, large parts of the UK are under water and last night a lightening strike hit a house a couple of miles away and the roof caught fire.  Locusts in Africa, fires in Australia, flooding here… it feels a bit apocalyptic..

I haven’t written about Christmas, New Year or my new nipple yet and I suppose a blog doesn’t have to be chronological although for my ordered, non blue sky, way of thinking it should be.

Today I helped my mum (Sheena) sort out my dad’s (Sandy) belongings.  It was a family affair, Nick brought his tool kit to do some minor repairs to  a bathroom cabinet, Phoebe came to for support, Sheena had bought chocolate biscuits and I was supposed to bring bags for life (odd really given today’s job) to help sort Sandy’s clothes and I’d forgotten them.  When we arrived at the flat mum had already made a start and was a little distressed.  When I saw dad’s Fair Isle cardigan hanging up in the wardrobe I too became distressed.  This red, white and blue cardi, which was one of his favourites had become an “emotional bomb”.  I have stolen this term for a lady on Twitter who has just cleared her dad’s garage.  The morning was punctuated by rain outside and a tsunami of tears in, all I could say was “oh dear….”

We made a start.  Nick retreated to the bathroom then to an electrical shop to buy the bits make good the repair.  Phoebe, mum and I went through the wardrobe and sorted clothes into – charity shop donations, items to be sold and items to be kept or handed to specific people.  It was a hard morning as we sifted through a stack of Orvis shirts, a wide variety of clothes, suits, hats, fleeces.  Five bags were to go to St Lukes hospice shop including two large, green Aran sweaters which weighed a tonne (they may have been bought on a cruise holiday around the British Isles).  A couple of bags were sorted of items which could be sold – this was Phoebe’s domain and already she has photographed them, put them on various sites and had some interest in them. The Fair Isle cardigan has remained in the wardrobe with a favourite shirt and jacket.  It wasn’t hard labour it was the emotional bomb as we remembered dad wearing the cardigan as mum said he had really loved it.  He wore it when he was here for Christmas some 14 months ago, his last Christmas with us.

Once we’d cleared the space we then helped mum by sorting her bits and pieces out, moving summer clothes into the new space – the cardigan is there, nestled up against her summer dresses.

My dad is so much more than a cardigan, there are reminders of him everywhere in the flat, in our house, in our city, in me, my children, my brother and his children.  On Friday we pick up dad’s ashes but he is much more than that – physical remains may have diminished but emotional ones still burn bright.  It has been an emotional bomb of a day.

Christmas 2018

100. Muffled drums and the last post

I haven’t written my blog for quite sometime, not since my dad’s funeral.  I think I have thrown myself back into family life, work, preparations for Christmas and being busy is a great diversion to thinking things through, and I use this blog as a way of drawing a line under events, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this as it seems final. However, it is time to write about Dad’s farewell.

When we arrived at Weston Mill Crem there was a sea of Green Berets to meet us.  One of my dad’s great friends was resplendent in tartan trews took mum by the arm and we walked past friends who had taken time out to celebrate dad’s life.  It was comforting to see my own friends too who gave a tender pat on the arm, a squeeze of the arm, a wan smile.  The chapel was packed, there was standing room only and some the mourners waited in the lobby where they could watch the funeral on a TV.

The coffin was resplendent with the Royal Marine Flag, dad’s beret, medals and bouquet of yellow roses.  As we walked in one of dad’s RM friends was beating a muffled drum which gave us the beat to enter in and make our way, past standard bearers with dipped flags and to the front of the chapel.  Trevor introduced the proceedings and welcomed the mourners, very soon my brother and I were invited up to read the Eulogy.  A deep breath and away we went, we read paragraph by paragraph, raised a few smiles, the odd chuckle and I managed to hold it together until the part where I had to speak about how well loved dad was – fortunately my brother could step in.

It was all very moving – we sang hymns, dad’s friends Trevor and Bob read prayers – one to absent brethren and the Royal Marines prayer.  We listened to Royal Marine music and at the end of the service the last post was played  by a Royal Marine bandsman. It was very poignant and everyone was in tears.  The finale was the Corries playing “To the land of Macleod” – the front two rows.. the family… we all sang between the tears as we walked out.

There is a no mans land being in limbo effect immediately after the service.  We were guided out to a patio area and the congregation came through and spoke to us.  So much kindness shown, so much love and respect for dad.

The next evolution was to go to the New Continental for the Wake.  Back in the fast blacks, a sense of relief that the service was over and that it had gone well.  We felt we’d done right by dad, followed the plan of the O group meeting 6 weeks before.  Dad’s wishes had been executed with military precision.

The driver of the fast black, Sean, told us that he too was a former military man and knew dad through the Royal Marines masonic lodge.  He was very sorry for our loss.

We were all very sorry for our loss and that the fight was over.  Dad was now in the Land of Macleod.

I will go, I will go
When the fighting is over
Tae the land of MacLeod
I left to be a soldier
I will go, I will go

The king’s son came along, he called us all together
Saying, Brave Highland men, you will fight for my father
I will go, I will go

I’ve a buckle tae my belt, a sword in my scabbard
A red coat on my back and a shilling in my pocket
I will go, I will go

When they put us all on board the lassies were singing
The tears came to their eyes when they heard the bells a-ringing
I will go, I will go

When we landed on that shore and saw the foreign heather we
We knew some would die and lie there forever
I will go, I will go

When we came back through the glen winter was turning
Our families in the snow and our homes they were burning
I will go, I will go