“An appointment has been arranged for you to see Mr X, consultant plastic surgeon, please allow additional time to get to Derriford Hospital as roadworks can cause delays”.
Back on the conveyor belt, next stop Primrose Breast Care clinic. I had been into school, taught a couple of lessons, walked home and then given myself an hour to drive the three miles to the hospital and find a parking space. Soon enough we were scouring the Birchfield car park for a space, once we’d negotiated the 45 degree slope to get the yellow parking token. Who designed this? Did it win an award for worst designed car park in Plymouth? Who thought it was a great idea to have to drive up a 45 degree slope, apply the hand break and faff about to get the token.
Onwards past the smokers under the don’t smoke sign, many wearing pyjamas and dressing gowns, past Marks and Spencer’s food hall, though the concourse of the hospital, up the stairs to the clinic, where once again we signed in and sat down on one of the lime or orange chairs. There is an eclectic mix of reading materials available, women’s magazines such as Grazia and Hello and a huge number of journals about steam engines – presumably to help put all the husbands and partners at ease.
We were called in by the Breast care nurse who we met on 29th August, into the same office as previously where a very young looking consultant met us. Mr X explained I was a good potential candidate for an immediate reconstruction following mastectomy. He asked to examine me and Nick and I trotted next door where I was given a purple cape to wear once my top and bra came off. As the Strictly season had started I announced I was ready for the Paso d’oble so Nick and I were laughing at least not least as he acted out like a bull whilst I swished the cape. Only my breasts were examined, not my mental health.
Once again, I had to lie down, top off, my breasts were prodded, ummm no lumps and no bumps (were they really sure I had cancer?). Mr X then measured the distance from sternum to each nipple – my goodness my breasts were amazingly symmetrical, 24cms from sternum to nipple on both sides, base width 16cms on both sides, height 13cms on both sides – not bad I for an old bird. He then asked if he could take photos… fortunately not for his Facebook page as I asked but for the before and after. Once I was dressed he then explained a variety of options and gave us a lot of information to think about which was all seemed very positive – I really did have cancer though as the MRI had confirmed it (as if the punch biopsy and ultrasound hadn’t).
I’d read, highlighted and put post it notes in the reconstruction booklet I’d previously been given and although I was listening I’d already decided that a reconstruction using acellular dermal matrix would be the best option for me. This is where material from cows or pigs is used as a sling to support the implant and the pectoral muscle is placed over the top to make a secure pocket. We agreed to meet in a couple of weeks after I’d had time to think about it, I informed him and the breast care nurse that I’d be unavailable during half term as I was going to Prague for my “mental wellbeing” – for goodness sake! We were going to Prague as it had been booked before all this breast cancer nonsense and we wanted to go, stay in a nice hotel, eat some interesting food, drink beer* stooge about and have some fun with our friends from Italy who were coming to meet us. I didn’t appreciate that there is a timeline – it is the NHS timeline and if the patient goes over a certain number of weeks there are consequences. I volunteered to write to someone in authority if it helped and attend the multidisciplinary team meeting the next day to argue my case but I wasn’t required.
*No alcohol and no dairy as the cancer is oestrogen positive so I cut both out of my diet.
Tip: Take notes or get your friend, partner, husband to take notes to ensure things are not lost in translation and to help you hear as well as listen.