Silver linings … and more girl talk

"Soar high" by my sister, Paula

“Soar high” by my sister, Paula

I received a lovely email yesterday from an old friend, in which he said:  “I’m sure you’ll look back in a few years and reflect on this time as one of enormous growth and a period which has given you such a different and important way of thinking. I guess that’s often the beauty of challenging times and this silver lining comes to us all a bit later on. Life is an interesting old journey isn’t it?”

Well, it sure is! I think I have learned more in the last two years about how life works than I have in the previous fifty! And yes, one of my learnings is that in hard times there is always a reason for them, and a lesson (or two or three or more!) to be learned.

I guess I’ve not ever thought “why me?” about this operation. Clearly we have some kind of unidentified genetic predisposition in our family to breast cancer, with Mum having had it twice, her dear departed sister Marg had it too, and of course our lovely Martha was diagnosed at 36 with a particularly aggressive form and battled it for ten years. I have to tell you, I am in VERY good company with my breast condition, with all three of those women being special kind of people!


Mum, me and Martha – April 2001, only weeks post their respective mastectomies

If I have to share this ordeal with anyone, then I couldn’t be in better company than with Mum and Martha (just wish it wasn’t so painful!). Mum and Martha are both so kind and loving with big soft hearts. Good with people, chatty, fun, compassionate, wise …. just the kind of people that you’d WANT to be more like and have things in common with. So if I have to be in the breast surgery club, I am glad it is with them, even if it is a pretty dreadful club to be in, in so many ways!

And of course, I am so, so thankful NOT to have endured the cancer treatment that Mum and Martha both went through. Mum had a mastectomy in 2001 (hope you don’t mind me sharing that Mum!) in her second battle with breast cancer, and had radiation treatment. Martha had multiple surgeries, including her mastectomy IN THE SAME WEEK AS MUM!! (what are the chances? – yes they are inextricably linked those two! And all three of us had the cancer- or in my case, markers – discovered in the left breast!). Martha also endured chemotherapy and all sorts of drug treatments including Tamoxafen and Herceptin, in her decade long journey with breast cancer. She was never allowed to have a reconstruction, because back then they felt that it would obscure any new cancers that may have appeared. Having witnessed her journey up close and personal, and now having been through a big surgery myself, I am just in awe of how Martha ever did what she did for TEN YEARS, on her own for the most part up in Noosa. She never wanted us to come up for the surgeries, but I spent time with her in Noosa lots of other times. Martha and I had always had close communication, especially in those early days, with long phone calls every night for the first twelve months, and then often and regularly thereafter as she stepped her way through the long and challenging process.

This is my favorite photo of Martha during her treatment: colourful, cheerful and out in nature, whilst the chemo drugs are being pumped in at Noosa Hospital. This photo is so very Martha – brave, happy and making the best of it. I went and sat with her one time as she was having the treatment, and of course Martha had befriended every patient and nurse in there, listening to their stories and sharing a few laughs! Martha was not perfect (who of us is?!) but she was very, very special ( and still is to me!)

Martha having chemotherapy, Noosa - July 2001

Martha having chemotherapy, Noosa – July 2001

For me, one of the biggest learnings from the challenges of the last few years is just to SLOW DOWN, stop and enjoy life. Such a cliché but so true.  In fact, stop and find out what it is you DO enjoy in life, and do more of it. (Clearly I haven’t been going slowly enough, because the challenges have just kept coming and this year my life has been on hold while I get this breast thing sorted!) I think up until Martha died, I was just too busy to even be clear on exactly what it is I do love about life. When Martha and my business, pink zebra, departed at the same time almost two years ago now, it really knocked me off my feet. And as I slowly worked my way through my grief and got back up again the following year, it was with a whole new viewpoint on life. Too many stories to tell in just one post, but yes, an amazing period of change and growth for me, which still continues. Always more to learn! Thanks Marts for the gifts. Wish you didn’t have to die for me to receive them, but I’m so glad I have.

And now for me, with tomorrow being four weeks post surgery, how am I faring? Well everything is healing up – and I’m assured by the nurses who come every second morning to change my wound dressings that it is all headed in the right direction. My breasts are totally numb. It feels like someone has created some sort of heavy rubber mounds and stuck them on my chest, so I can feel the weight of them. I can’t feel any touch on the skin at all, but inside they feel sore and achy, as I suppose they will when they are healing. The breast wounds, especially on the right side, are still quite leaky, oozy and bloody (sorry, but they are!) which I don’t like at all. Yesterday was a milestone in that the steri strip (sort of like a light paper tape) was removed from the big scar across my stomach, from hip to hip. I haven’t examined the scar too closely yet (I HATE blood and scars and it makes me quite sad for myself!) but it is looking clean and neat, and, well, pretty okay, if you have to have one! I suppose I will get braver as the weeks go by and I will come to terms with it. But it is a pretty big battle scar, and feels a bit sting-y and tight as the healing process continues.

I’m still really tired. Long heavy sleeps at night (sometimes up to 12 hours!) and another 2 to 3 hour nap each afternoon. Another good development is that I can finally sleep on my side, propped up with pillows, which I love, as I’ve never been one to sleep on my back. Since I move in slow motion these days, by the time I’ve showered, dressed, and eaten meals, it doesn’t leave time for much else in the day. Only a few hours at most. But my head is a bit clearer than it was and I’m now trying to get some creative work going in that time. That’s been another gift of this past few months – my younger sister Paula and I have been exchanging pics of our creative works via iphone, encouraging each other along. Paula is a very talented artist, with much more experience than me (such as her work at the top of this post). While my creative thing is colour and flowers, Paula’s is drawing people. Last month we (Paula, Martha and I!) entered some art works in an art show and Paula sold this one – we are so proud of her! Go Popsy!

"Girl in shallows" by Paula

“Girl in shallows” by Paula Bailey

So that’s me. Slowly coming back to myself, but still a long way to go. This surgery and recovery has been WAY bigger than I’d anticipated, but, a bit like child birth, you can’t really fathom it until you have been through it!

Sending love to all – and continuing gratitude for all of the love being sent my way



PS and many happy returns to our big sister Megan on her birthday today – sending lots of love to you!

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