Every Friday my friend Claire brings her daughter to flute, and instead of watching her ‘kack-handed attempts to play’ (Claire’s words not mine) she sneaks off round the corner to her friend Mad Lucy’s house for gin. Another neighbouring friend pops in too, and by the time I get there with my little pupil, they are all getting rather merry. Hence my answer to the oncologist’s question:
‘Ooh, no!’ I say disapprovingly. A pause. ‘Well, only on Fridays with my gin group.’
The medical student blinks and smiles on the bed. I suspect that he understands alcohol.
‘Once a week, gin group’ the Thessalonikian writes on his pad. I hope he will not ask for units. The fact is, bottles might be a better measure for the night. He doesn’t, phew. The fact is, no one really wants to accept that their crappy choices mean they are wholly responsible for their illness. But hey, at least I don’t smoke.
So, two weeks before all this cancer thing kicked off, Mad Lucy was telling us, at gin group, all about her boobs. Thing is, they are gorgeous and they are very much fake. After she had finished breastfeeding her babies, they had completely shrunk away to nothing. Bin bags with ping-pong balls in em, as my friend Cheryl used to say. Mad Lucy put up with it for a year, feeling very sad and depressed about it, and then decided to have them enhanced. She enjoyed her new boobs very, very much. (BTW don’t feel sorry for Mad Lucy for having such an epithet: she earned it. Besides which, she calls me Mad Hester.)
Thing is, a few weeks ago she went to the surgeon to talk about replacements as it’s been thirteen years; you are meant to have implants replaced after ten. She also wanted to know if she had the PIP implants, because, being defective, you can get them replaced for free. They told her she didn’t have PIP ones. This was annoying because she had promised me her lovely old sofa as she was planning to buy a new posh one (I know, but Mad Lucy is just like that.) But the implant replacement op was now going to cost her a few grand. No new sofa, no old sofa for me.
However, the other day, the breast people phoned her up and told her the Government had announced the night before that they were using the industrial grade silicon implants in this country four years before the date they had previously admitted to. Another 7,000 women in this country are affected. This means that Mad Lucy gets the op for free, and I get the sofa! Result.
Not all good though, as she has a dodgy lymph node, maybe caused by the low-grade silicon. So she feels sheepish now, and quite bizarrely apologised to me, for having brought this upon herself. It was maybe a bit daft to make a choice that puts your appearance over your health. She now thinks that she made a mistake. She also would like to tell young people out there, that ‘tits are for life, not just for Christmas.’ She means that you do have to think ahead if you get a boob job, to the future necessary ops, the replacements, the risks, the cost. I would just say ‘Don’t go there’ but I am a bit square and have never understood the how-tos of enhancing beauty, so don’t ask me.
Thinking about all this later in the evening, I realised that no way am I to judge Mad Lucy. The fact that I am considering reconstruction using abdominal tissue is just as weird as Lucy having bits of silicon popped in. And aesthetic considerations are what’s driving me to that, as you basically do end up with boobs that still look like boobs and can pretend for maybe the next thirty years that the whole nightmare never happened. The only scars are around the nipples.
I will recap for you: either you choose a two hour op, a plain mastectomy, where you have the breasts removed with a lot of the skin and you are left with two scars across a flat chest. Or, (if you are squeamish please shut your eyes now) they cut off the nipples, scoop out all the breast tissue from both sides, fill the skin with tissue from the tummy along with a blood vessel for each side, reconnect the blood vessels at the top of the boobs, and put on two round bits of skin from the tummy to replace the nipples. Later some people have the new nipples made to look more like real nipples with tattoos and tweaked bits. Either way you lose the real nipples as they are very likely to get or have cancer.
This is all very clever, and they are apparently very good at it. The breast care nurse told me that even though it is a big op, it is all surface stuff: it does not involve going in to any body cavity. However, it can take 12 hours. My friends all say ‘Well, you have to have an op anyway. It doesn’t matter how long you are out for. You won’t know any difference.’
True, but I think things can go wrong. The longer the op, the more risk of that. My friends say ‘Look, people opt to have tummy tucks all the time at the drop of a hat.’
Maybe in LA they do. But I initially felt I was just not the type, having always tried to reject false in favour of natural. And I was confused as to one thing: why would the NHS pay for these ops? Is it because groups pressured them into it? Fred rather cynically said that it was probably because an £8000 reconstruction will save them roughly the same amount on mental health for the woman who has the more brutal, cheaper op.
I consulted my kids. Bash said she would definitely prefer to have a mum with boobs. Alfie did too. Interesting. Fred also prefers that option. So it’s not all about me. Tabby said that if I don’t go for the reconstruction I might regret it after: some people do. You can opt for a later reconstruction, but the scar goes all the way across the new breast and seeing as how some of the skin has been removed, you then have to stretch the skin to fit a bulge in.
Of course, in 5 to 10 percent of cases, the tummy tissue does not ‘take’. So you end up with the flat chest and the scar instead, or maybe inplants, not sure. Anyway, have not seen the plastic guy yet, since the op has been delayed til after chemo, September probably. (Best to avoid ops in August in case everyone is on holiday and you are left to rot and die.) He might say I have not got enough tummy fat to remake me a DD. Jokes! I’ve got loads. Luckily. And how often do you get to feel happy that you have a fat tum? This is a definite silver lining.
There is another breast cancer blog which is called The Silver Pen, by Hollye Jacobs. It is wonderfully funny. She keeps putting ‘(SL)’ after every good thing that she can find in whatever is happening to her. You could read her amazing post about PAIN. She has been through the lot.
Have had a few comments about positive thinking since the last post. My sister reminded me of a fantastic example of it: when Chloe was two, we went into a supermarket in St Hilaire and she looked at a chicken in a cellophane wrapper. ‘What is that?’ she asked.
‘It’s a chicken’ said my sister.
Chloe stroked it through the wrapper. ‘Aahh, never mind,’ she said tenderly. ‘It will get better.’
I guess there is a point where positive thinking slips into denial?
Anyway, going back to whether anyone should be judging Mad Lucy for ‘having brought it upon herself’, I have to conclude that no, of course no one should. (This brings up the whole question of people judging others at all.) Mad Lucy was in a place where she needed those boobs in order to feel like herself. Why would she have put herself through an op otherwise? Mad Hester is putting herself in the same basket as Mad Lucy. There. Here I am. You are not alone, Mad Lucy.