Strength after Surgery

Posted in News

I realised yesterday that 2 years ago to this very day I came out of hospital after having shoulder surgery, which was required after I was hit by a car on my bike and very nearly killed.  Someone saved my life that day and if it wasn’t for a fellow triathlete calling out to warn me, things could be very different.  I am forever grateful for her ability to spot the car turning illegally.

Since my shoulder surgery and in unrelated incidents, I broke a bone in my foot, had a bilateral mastectomy and finally a full breast reconstruction.  It’s been 2 years of surgery – recovery, surgery – recovery, surgery – recovery, surgery and recovery.

It’s been a busy 2 years health wise for me.

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Today I finished an 8 week challenge at Kosama Fitness, Fortitude Valley and I am celebrating my strength after surgery, actually, I’m celebrating my strength after surgery 4 times over.

It has been a real battle for me to get through this challenge.  Physically, I have aimed to be strong and fast, each challenge has required both of these elements.   It hasn’t been easy and for someone who gets a little anxious about times, nervous about performance and isn’t a fan of public posting of numbers on a whiteboard, it has been tough.  Thankfully, the energy in the gym, the positive vibes and support from fellow challengers, and the unconditional motivation from the Kosama trainers, has absolutely made the journey possible.  For me though, this challenge has been as much of a mental battle as it has a physical one. Finding strength after surgery hasn’t been smooth sailing.

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I realised after we were a few weeks into the challenge, that I have really struggled emotionally this past 12 months.  It’s almost exactly a year since I rode my bike (along with 49 other cyclists) from Brisbane to Townsville.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you would remember the incredibly personal story I shared of my struggle with this ride.  It hurt!!  It hurt a LOT!!  Physically (my legs and cycling ability to make the distance) I was OK, yes there were up and down days, but mentally it was a different story.  I battled each and every single day, fighting the indescribable pain of a torn up bum from severe chaffing, which started on DAY 1 and got progressively worse for the 8 day journey.  It felt like this…..truly, like sitting on razor blades for 10-12 hours a day.  I spent the first 5-6 hours of every single day working to trick my mind into overcoming the excruciating pain of sitting on open wounds all day long.

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I wrote about it in my Mind over Matter blog (click on the link if you’re game – but beware of the butt images) and after sharing the blog, which included some graphic images and a conversation I had with someone I thought was my ‘friend’, I have barely written any blogs since.  In fact, I went from writing almost weekly, to writing just 5 articles in the past 12 months, 2 of those inspired and dedicated to my beautiful sister.

I feel disappointed in myself for letting the bully win!!

This guy literally said that “he felt my blog was written for attention, that I’m not about the ‘cancer cause’, that what I share makes people uncomfortable and it’s not appropriate to share on the internet to the world”.  He also said that I wasn’t invited to share my story in this forum and that he doesn’t like it.  Presumably he was offended by the pictures, the nudity, the openness, the honesty, he didn’t like it and I began to feel like he was making sure that he could ‘take me down’ to others behind my back like a teenage boy.

These two images below were reported on Facebook, which thankfully never got removed, because Facebook is mature enough to know that mastectomy images are not considered pornographic.

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The magnets have since been removed and I now have ‘normal’ implants, rather than tissue expanders – so there’s no more magnet party tricks!!

You see, he did this to others in the 5 years I called him my ‘friend’.  He had this knack of bringing people down with his strong opinion and in his leadership role he had the power and influence to steer even my thoughts and opinions about people that I didn’t really know.  He wasn’t right at all, I now know that, the people I love know that, the tens of thousands of readers who visit my blogs each month know that – so why did I stop writing?

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I’m not sure I can answer that question right now, other than saying that I let the bully win and I am here now today making a comeback.  I am committed to sharing my journey, it’s been inspiring to others and I am proud to have helped many women travelling the same road.  I know there are thousands more who are contemplating their own surgery and I am standing up to my bully and no longer going to let him stop me from letting my light shine.

One of my favourite quotes is this one…..

Dr Suess

The Kosama Fitness 8 week challenge has reminded me that ‘What you believe, you achieve’.  It has reminded me of the value of true friendship.  It has inspired me to start being less judgmental of myself and more appreciative of what my body and my mind is capable of.  It has reminded me that people are good and it has given me the chance to redirect my thoughts to a more positive light.  What I LOVE most about the challenge is that it helped me see through the dark cloud which I’ve let cover my light this past 12 months.  I have admired my fellow 8 week challengers and their individual strengths, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. I seriously love the energy I have been able to experience while being surrounded by such amazing people this past 8 weeks!!  I found this quote on the Kosama Fitness Facebook page and I think it sums it up perfectly…..

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I made a mistake and believed that others felt the same way as the bully, I let it crush me, I let it stop me from being who I really am and I suffered from some serious self doubt in all areas of my life.  It has impacted my friendships and my relationships and most importantly it has impacted me.

I’ve graduated today from an 8 week strength challenge and who would have thought that the end result wouldn’t really be about the speed, the numbers or the improvements along the way.  It has been far more enjoyable to learn that the challenge has been a journey of re-discovering myself and being comfortable with who I am.  I am strong and I am proud of myself for all of the amazing things I contribute to life!! This is my new motto……..

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When I started this blog back in late 2013, I described myself in the About Me page and just as I stated then, I’ve always said that “I’m not for everyone” – well it’s true and I am NOT for my bully and I’m not letting him crush me any more!!

Thank you to the whole team (trainers and members inclusive) at Kosama for helping me break through!!

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My super sister is doing it tough; her rough ride to recovery is far from pretty…….

Posted in News

Sometimes in life, things go perfectly to plan.

(WARNING: Some may find images in this blog disturbing)

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I look back at my own personal journey with my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and am grateful for the smooth ride.  You see, everything – and I mean EVERYTHING went exactly how I expected it to.   Get fit – check!  Surgery – check!  Recovery – check!  Return to normal range of movement – check!  Then repeat for the reconstruction stage of my surgery 6 months later – check!  Check, check, check!!  I look back and realise what a dream run it was, even with the unexpected broken foot 10 days prior to my mastectomy, then the little ‘mishap’ during my recovery.  After re-reading the two blog post links myself, I realise just how lucky I was to not stumble really along the way.

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Let me tell you this though…..My super sister is doing it tough!

I would trade my own personal dream run right now if it meant that my super sister Elle could have the same experience.   Elle’s surgery was in March, almost a year to the day after mine.  For the past 8 weeks though, Elle has been doing it tough!  Yesterday Elle went in for yet another surgery, her 4th operation in just 8 weeks and her road to recovery has been anything less than ideal.  The Dr’s are happy with the overall outcome of Elle’s initial surgery, her breasts were removed completely (via her nipples, which like me, she chose to not retain).  Elle’s breasts were then reconstructed out of her own body via the Tram-Flap procedure, which basically means they took fat and muscle from Elle’s abdomen to reconstruct her breasts.  As you can see from the image below, other than the blemish on her right breast, Elle’s shape, size and natural looking reconstructed breasts are pretty much PERFECT!  They look and feel (yes, she let me touch them) perfectly real.

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This is where the ‘dream run’ ended for Elle.

Elle’s a tough cookie, she’s the middle sister in our family, which immediately means that she can take pretty much anything and remain strong and determined.  I still wish I could turn back time to our childhood and reverse some of the nasty ‘big sister’ treatment she endured from me.  Elle is kind, caring and probably one of the most generous people I know.  She would give her time (and last dollar) to help others, even if it mean sacrificing herself along the way.  It’s just not fair that she is now suffering so much with her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy recovery.  The ‘blemish’ on her right breast deteriorated and isn’t a blemish at all, nor is it bruising, Elle was suffering from necrosis, which effectively means her cells were dying.

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My unconditional sisterly love may not help Elle recover.  My prayers, hopes and wishes to take away her pain and suffering don’t seem to be working, so I have resorted to writing this blog to share some of Elle’s journey.  It hasn’t been easy, Elle and her ‘childhood sweetheart’ Ben have 3 fantastic children who are surely doing it tough right now too. We’re a close family and her kids (the two boys and the gorgeous little blondie on the right of the image) are absolutely fantastic!  For 8 weeks now they’ve had to watch their usually active and involved mummy suffer and it is surely taking a toll on them too.

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Spare a thought today in your busy life to send Elle and her family some love, thoughts and prayers.  Elle’s going to be in bed for the next few days, recovering from her latest surgery – she’s had yet another skin graft from her leg in the hope to save her reconstructed breast.   While it’s too early to know what Elle’s breast looks like after this particular operation, take a look at the final image in the collage below.  While not likely to win any awards for the prettiest image in the world, it’s raw, it’s real and it’s an honest and open account of what Elle has been through.  The open and incredibly ‘sore’ and raw wound is what the last skin graft looked like after it was complete.

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It’s not pretty and it’s not fun and my super sister Elle deserves a break and she deserves it now.  Please send your positive thoughts her way today.  Everyone choosing to take the journey to proactively remove their breasts needs to know this…..

Things might not always go to plan, but ultimately the end goal is to cheat a disease responsible for taking so many lives prematurely.  Elle has cheated breast cancer and we are all incredibly grateful for that, but my super sister deserves a break from her troubled recovery starting today!!

Thank you for your love and support.

xxxx

My Super Sister

Posted in News

It’s been a while since I have written a new blog post and if I’m to be completely honest, I’ve been a little scared.  Scared and scarred both in about equal amounts. I’ll elaborate more on that at another time.

Most importantly, I’m writing again because tomorrow is the day one of my younger sisters is undergoing her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.  Elle (a truly Super Sister) is 18 months younger than me, she’s a brilliant mother, a wife to Ben (they are childhood sweethearts) and she’s been a loyal follower of this blog since it started in January last year.  I owe it to Elle to start writing again, especially given she is one of the BIG reasons behind me starting it all in the first place. Elle is the super cute blonde one on the right in this photo…..

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As her older sister, I always wanted to ‘be there’ for Elle, so I’m hoping that in some small way, sharing my blog has helped Elle reach this day – the eve of her own surgery.  I know she loves this photo of us all dressed the same, they were our most favourite dresses.  Elle (the middle sister) is in the middle below….

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Elle has always going out of her way for anyone and everyone!  She is the sort of person who would give away her last dollar or her last meal, Elle is the first to put up her hand if you need something and she is forever helping other busy parents when they need a helping hand.  Tomorrow is a BIG day for Elle and I’m excited for her to finally be here.

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Elle doesn’t know I’m writing this blog tonight about her, so I won’t share anything too personal without her permission.  One thing I will share is how proud I am of Elle.  You see, Elle bravely stripped off for me a year ago to reveal her breasts in a family portrait style photo I posted in an earlier blog.  I had this crazy idea to help me when I was nervous about posting my own breasts on the blog and I somehow managed to convince all of the girls in the family to share a photo of their breasts with me for the family portrait.  Check the photo out below…..

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Statistically, 5 or 6 of the 7 women pictured here are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.  With my breasts gone and Elle’s about to go, we are both beating the odds and cheating an almost certain future breast cancer diagnosis.

Tomorrow as Elle undergoes her 8+ hour surgery, we will all be thinking about her and hoping for a smooth and trouble free process.  Elle’s surgery is more complicated than mine, with her having the TRAM Flap procedure.  The TRAM Flap, or Transverse Rectus Abdominous Myocutaneous flap: is a type of reconstructive surgery where fat and muscle from the abdomen are used to recreate breast tissue.

The main advantages of a TRAM flap include:

  • One-stage reconstruction to re-create the breast to its full volume
  • Utilises your own natural tissues
  • Permanent and long lasting reconstruction – does not require change or replacement compared to implants
  • Looks and feels natural
  • Moves and age with your body
  • Provides best symmetry with a natural breast on the other side

Although the operating time and recovery period is longer than my original surgery, it is a one-stage reconstruction that gives an instant permanent result with your own natural tissue.

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I’ll be thinking of Elle tonight and all day tomorrow and sending her all the pain-free vibes I can muster.

She’s an amazing woman and deserves a trouble free, pain free speedy recovery.  We all love you to the moon and back Elle, can’t wait to support you through your journey.  xxxx

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The Breast Reconstruction Process Explained

Posted in News

It’s done!

After almost 10 years of talking about it, pondering it, reading, researching and investigation, I’ve officially finished all surgeries related to preventing an almost certain future breast cancer diagnosis.  This blog explains the breast reconstruction process I’ve just undertaken.

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The process for me has been incredibly smooth, trouble free and in all honesty and at risk of making it sound like a breeze, it’s been ‘easy’ for me.  I don’t share this to annoy people, to brag or to dismiss the seriousness of what I’ve been through, but the reality is that I’ve had a trouble free journey and I’m proud to share my experience.

My PBM (Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy) surgery first involved the full removal of all breast tissue, with tissue expanders being inserted under the muscle during this procedure.  You might remember me sharing the blog called ‘The Tissue Expansion Process Explained’, where I detailed the process involved in the first stage of my surgery.

I went from having relatively ‘normal’ looking breasts (pictured below), to having absolutely nothing, no tissue, no nipples, no feeling or sensation when touched.  I was left with just two Tissue Expanders implanted under my muscle and ready for expansion.

What a visual transformation, but one that hasn’t impacted me negatively in any way at all.

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There’s a short video in that Tissue Expansion Process blog showing my foobs after the first expansion in March this year.  It was so interesting to watch that movie just now, I’m so glad that I’ve kept a record of the key milestones during this journey.  I watched the video and see a happy, confident and comfortable women and it’s wonderful to be able to look back on the process.  I’m really pleased I took a couple of minutes on the morning of my breast reconstruction surgery to shoot this short video, click the image to watch it.

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So where am I at now?  Stage 2 is officially complete!!  Stage 2, the breast reconstruction involved removing the Tissue Expanders which in my case were filled with 230ml of saline. The Tissue Expanders are designed to slowly stretch the skin to form a ‘breast’ like shape and you can pretty much expand to whatever size you like.  I chose to stick with a small size, something that doesn’t ‘stand out’ or look obviously like a ‘boob job’.

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The first step of my breast reconstruction surgery was to have the Dr draw all over my foobs, outlining the proposed shape of my new breasts.  Then before I knew it, I was being wheeled into theatre and chatting to the medical team about the crazy Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride I just finished, which was topped off with me shaving my head at the finale.

We all laughed, joked and I was out for the count.

Less than 2 hours later I was awake and in recovery, ready to head to the ward for my short hospital stay.

During the breast reconstruction surgery, the Dr removed the Tissue Expanders which I understand are discarded and then a range of ‘implants’ are used to determine the best overall shape and size.  The Dr and I had met and agreed months prior on the desired size, my preference to remain small and I learnt at this time that three (3) implants are ordered in each recommended size for the surgical procedure. Why 3 implants?  Well we’re all human, and if one is dropped or damaged, then there’s still 2 implants to insert, which makes perfect sense.

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I did query also why multiple sizes are ordered, and it’s apparently due to the different way each body adapts to the shapes and sizes.  Not every implant looks the same when inserted, so a couple of different options are on hand to ensure the best outcome is achieved during the process.  This all makes perfect sense and put me at ease knowing that I was in great hands.  So it pretty much means that if the implant doesn’t look good inside, then another option is used before everything is sewn up!

So, back to the breast reconstruction process.  Once the original scars are opened up, the Tissue Expanders removed and the best breast implant shape and size determined, everything is put into place, shifted, moved and positioned perfectly, then stitched up and strapped down under that same sticky-tape used during the mastectomy process.

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Before I knew it I was back on the ward and feeling completely ‘normal’.  I was surprised to feel so alert and alive, without any pain, no discomfort and all-in-all from what I could see over the strapping tape, my new foobs looked great.

Strangely, I haven’t been in any pain post breast reconstruction surgery, none at all!! Maybe after 8 days sitting on a bike seat for up to 12 hours a day actually rid me of any ability to feel pain, because I’ve never been to darker, deeper more painful places than I was in for the first few hours of each day on the ride.  It was like sitting on razors and I’ll be sharing a blog about that too, so stay tuned for that one!!

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Moving on from my reconstruction surgery, I’ll be required to do daily breast massage for a few months, I get to wear this sexy crop top for support all-day-every-day, including when I’m sleeping and I have the option to consider a nipple reconstruction in the future.

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What’s a nipple reconstruction?  Well, it means that I can choose to have either a nipple tattoo, or a small nipple built from my own skin, which is pinched and shaped into a hard little lump and then tattooed around to appear like a real nipple.  I’ve shared an image below of someone who has had a nipple tattoo, it looks very realistic, but I’m not sure that I’m going to bother with it to be honest.  I’m very comfortable with no nipples!

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It’s going to take a few weeks, possibly even a couple of months for everything to settle in, but for now I’m really happy with how it all looks and feels and I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things with regular exercise, some swimming, running and despite the darkness on the bike recently, even some cycling again.

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And perhaps a trip down to the beach with my nipple bikini top!  Now these nipples I can cope with!!

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I’m so grateful for the love and support from family, friends and even strangers.  It’s helped me come through what I guess is considered ‘major surgery’ with relative ease.  What an amazing journey I have had and I’ll never EVER be diagnosed with breast cancer, which is the most amazing feeling in a family like mine.