Monday, February 28, 2011

Relaxing and recuperating

It's amazing how you can get used to pain.  This has now been over two weeks of constant pain, and all I can think about are the poor people who experience constant pain on a daily basis year in and year out.  Pain is wearying and slows you down.  I don't know how those poor people do it.  It can definitely get you down, that's for sure.  But, I am still determined not to take painkillers and just let my body do its thing by itself.  My last mastectomy I remember being completely zonked out on painkillers and I took so long to recover and eventually ended up being sent off for respite care and being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.  So this time I'm leaving it up to my mind and my body, and throwing away the drugs.  Hopefully, this little experiment will work.
At least it gives me a clear mind to work on my different book projects!  I wouldn't be able to do that if I was zonked out on drugs!

The backyard at the Hermanus house at dusk.
 After the U2 concert, I decided I needed to retreat to a quiet place to let my mind and body do their work.  Although I love my Mom to death, she is a little manic, racing here and there and when you stay with her you get caught up in her jetstream.  I swear she has more energy and life in her than someone in their twenties.  It can be exhausting being around her.  So as my folks were staying in their Cape Town flat while my Mom organised the redecorating and renovating of my sister's house, their beautiful house in Hermanus was unoccupied.  Kerri, my eldest daughter, and I decided to flee there and just relax.
The good thing, is when the pain gets too much or I get tired, I can lie on the couch and just read a book or watch TV.  I don't have to rush off anywhere at any particular time.  I haven't been able to do this for a very long time.  There are always things that need to be done and deadlines which have to be met.  Life can be hectic.
View from the lounge in the morning.
Despite all the relaxing I have managed to get a lot of work done.  I've completed the first draft of my novel Defective; completed the research for How to say NO to sex and other survival tips for the suddenly single; and worked on the Diet chapter of Redesigning Yourself for the Multitasking Generation, the book I'm writing with the esteemed and reknowned homeopath, Jeremy Sherr.  The good thing, is I can just work on them throughout the day when I feel like it.  I wish everyday of my life could be like this and I can work full-time on my books.  However, with a child still at school and a son at Hotel School I have to keep on working.
Kerri and I leave Hermanus on Thursday, and head back to Cape Town.  I plan on taking Tony and his girlfriend to watch the Stormers play rugby at Newlands on Saturday.  Kerri is not interested in seeing buffed men run around in tight shorts.  Poor girl doesn't know what she's missing!  Then a week of spending time visiting family and friends in Cape Town and then heading back to Tanzania.  So in effect I have four more days to get as much work done on these books as possible.  So what am I updating this blog for?  Got to go!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Flying from the wheelchair to see U2

Everybody has a bucket list, things they want to do before they die; I'm no exception. Near the top of my bucket list was to see U2 live in concert. I have to admit, I've been a die-hard fan ever since I saw Bono with his mullet, dressed in his Little Drummer Boy outfit strut his stuff on stage in the late eighties at the Free Mandela Concert they had at Wembley. I think it was that concert, I remember I was living in Swakopmund, Namibia, at that time. Wherever I've lived in the world, I've always just missed out on seeing U2.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, my always missing U2 was set to change. They were going to be performing in Cape Town a week after my scheduled mastectomy. As I live in Tanzania, if it wasn't for the mastectomy I was having in Cape Town, I would have missed them again. As it was, it would be touch and go whether I'd be out of the hospital and in a fit enough condition to attend the concert.

Being a somewhat positive person, I purchased three tickets for General Admission Standing. I thought my son Tony and eldest daughter Kerri could accompany me, and stand on either side of me to block my new breast from getting bumped and squashed in the mosh-pit area. To top it all, I still had my drain attached, which I cleverly disguised under a loose-fitting shirt. It did make me look as if I had a tumour on the belly which wobbled from side to side when I walked, but nobody seemed to notice as I never caught anybody staring at me. Friends in Tanzania had suggested I hire a wheelchair, which I jokingly agreed to; but after only leaving the hospital on the Tuesday and the concert being on the Friday, I was starting to think it might be a good idea.

Tuesday to Friday passed in a flash! I seemed to rush from one thing to the next, no time to rest and recuperate. My mother is a bit like the energizer bunny, and staying with her in the small flat behind Tygervalley didn't give me time to take a breath. Wednesday night, Kerri and I went to see a movie - The kids are alright. We loved it! Very different, completely unique story-line, we discussed the movie in-depth for over an hour afterwards. There were some decidedly raunchy bits, which would have been extremely embarassing if we'd gone to see it with my mother. Not that she would have minded. She's a very different kind of seventy year old to the norm. Now I have to tell you, that the whole purpose of going to the movies was to collect a paper coke cup, so that I'd have something to pee in for my 24 hour urine collection. Sounds frighteningly disgusting, I know. But it would have been more discusting if I used something from the kitchen to collect my samples. The paper coke cup was the right size. And it had a lid. So if I was out and about shopping, then I could carry the cup in my bag, and just fill it when needed and decant it into the large collection container when I got home. But I digress, back to U2.

All Thursday night, I had recurring dreams about arriving at the U2 concert only to discover that I'd forgotten to collect the wheelchair. It was a terrible night's sleep, as you would expect with dreams like that. First thing Friday morning, after depositing my container of 24 hour urine samples at the pathology lab, I drove to the wheelchair hire place. The wheelchair they gave me looked old and well-used, but I wasn't going to complain. Hopefully, it would do its job and help protect my breast and the drain still hanging out of me.

There are no words to describe the excitement I was feeling about realising my dream and seeing U2 live on stage. The plan was, for Tony and Kerri to take turns pushing the wheelchair. We'd parked in the Granger Bay Undercover Parking at the Waterfront, and planned to use the Fan Walk to get to the stadium. Crowds of people were already arriving. I don't believe in painkillers and had stopped taking them the Monday. As a result, I could feel something wasn't quite right with the breast by the heat that was emanating from it, and the 'about-to-explode' kind of burning pain. I was going to see U2 live, the breast could wait another day. Neither Tony nor Kerri had ever pushed a wheelchair before. I didn't think that this would be a problem. Until Tony started speed-walking as he pushed the wheelchair, dodging in between the crowds making their way to the stadium. He was going so fast, Kerri was having to trot next to him to keep up, and I was beginning to feel giddy. The first pedestrian crossing we came to, the traffic cop manning the crossing told Tony to slow down and have patience. Tony being Tony picked up speed to get me across the crossing quickly. The kerb does have a flattened section for wheels to cross over. However, it is not completely flush with the road, there is still a small bump. Tony hit that bump at speed and I literally flew out of the wheelchair and landed on the ground. As he was behind me, I couldn't see his face, but did see the expressions of shock on the crowd around me. They probably thought I was paralysed and was wondering how they would help lift the large woman back up onto the wheelchair. I quickly scrambled to my feet and climbed back into the wheelchair. I wasn't sure if the tears flowing copiously down my cheeks were from laughter or pain. Probably a mix of both. It must have been a funny sight - this large woman flying through the air and landing on her bum on the sidewalk. Kerri was furious with Tony for being so careless, but I couldn't stop laughing. It was funny and I still laugh about it while writing this.

The area we were supposed to enter was not wheelchair-friendly. The righthand wheel was wobbling like mad and appeared ready to fall off at any moment. There was no way that Tony would be able to push the wheelchair with the wobbly wheel over the bumpy and rocky gravel path. I stood up and walked through the turnstiles, but the security wouldn't let Tony push the wheelchair through. They must have thought that the wheelchair was just a con, until I lifted my shirt and showed them my drain filled with blood and seroma, still attached to me. When it comes to whether or not I can go in to see U2, I have no shame. We had to wait 45 minutes, while they sent someone to find out what they could do about me and the wheelchair.

I was determined I was going in, one way or the other. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, the security guard returned. We had to go all the way around the stadium to the McDonald's entrance where they had wheelchair access. Tony was not amused. His hands were already covered in blisters from holding the handles so tightly. I have to say, the Fan Walk is not really wheelchair friendly. The cobbled pavement is hell for a wheelchair with a wobbly wheel. However, Tony only nearly sent me flying one more time - I managed to quickly put my feet on the ground before flying off again, before he realised that he had to pull the wheelchair backwards over the bumps.

Once at the wheelchair access ramp, it was a piece of cake. Once we arrived at the stadium, we quickly found a steward and asked how we could get the wheelchair down to the standing area. They said they didn't advise us to take the wheelchair there. Kerri explained that I'd bought the standing room tickets before the op. The stewards were very friendly and helpful! I was moved to a specially-designated wheelchair area with two other people in the wheelchairs, and Kerri and Tony were allowed to stay with me. This area had an unobstructed view of the stage, no people shoving against us as the area was cordoned off. If I'd bought tickets for that level I'd have paid 3x the price I paid for the stranding tickets, so it was a bargain. To make it even better, we had disabled toilets right behind us. When I needed to go, the security would bang on the doors so that the people illegally using them would vacate them in a hurry so that I could enter. Every queue we were moved to the front! By this stage, my breast was very sore, so it was just as well I was in a wheelchair. There was no way I would have survived intact in that mosh-pit!

72 000 People attended the U2 concert in Cape Town, and I was one of them. It was amazing, brilliant, awe-inspiring, absolutely incredible. The 360 degrees show was the best I'd ever seen and I don't think I'll ever see anything better. The huge 'claw' set was amazing, with the light show it was unbelievable. We sat and watched, completely awe-struck!

With this ticked off the bucket list, I'm ready for the next item. Wonder what that will be? Driving around the coast of Africa!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bedpans, breasts and birthdays

My mother has to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, and this week she celebrated her 70th birthday in style with a fabulous dinner for over 100 guests at the One and Only at the Waterfront in Cape Town.  The ambience was fantastic and it was great to catch up with family and friends not seen for years, all people whose lives my mother had touched in some way.  She is a remarkable woman and I pray that one day I might fit into her very big shoes.
The week flew by so quickly with visits to different doctors each day.  The plastic surgeon on Monday; endocrinologist Tuesday, pre-admission Wednesday, sentinel node mapping and the breast surgeon Thursday; and before I knew it, it was Friday and the day of the op.
There was a slight hiccup when the hospital phoned me and told me that I hadn't come in fo my blood-thinning injection to prevent blood clots.  The plastic surgeon had forgotten to tell me he'd made an appointment for me.  No worries, I popped into the nearest pharmacy, got the doctor on the phone to tell them what |I needed and then administered the injection myself.
I'd be lying if I didn't confess to being nervous.  Even though I'd gone through a mastectomy before, it made no difference.  I hardly slept Thursday night, and of course reading John Grisham's The Confession before I went to sleep, all I could think of was death chambers.  Not good thoughts before going for surgery.  The waiting in the hospital for them to call me for surgery was the worst as I had no books or magazines to read to take my mind off things.  They brought my ballgown and nifty paper panties and I dressed myself for the operating theatre.  Prof Apffelstaedt, whom I always refer to as Apffelschnapps, held my hand lightly stroking it as the anaethetist put me under.  If it wasn't that I was getting a breast chopped off, I might have found it quite romantic.
I can't tell you anything about the surgery.  I was there, that's all.  It's amazing how there's this gap missing, almost as if time stops.  One minute they're staying go to sleep and the next they're saying, wake up.  You sort of wish they'd make up their minds, even though three hours passed unaccounted for in between.
From the top my breast looks normal.  I even kept my nipple which of course, is now just a facade.  As my double chin gets in the way, I can't see the actual operation wound which might be a good thing.
I have to tell the story of the bedpan, embarrassing as it may be.  Just before three pm, when Tony and Thekla had just arrived to visit me, I had to pee.  They brought the bedpan, closed the curtains around me and I did my thing, but not all my thing.  I have difficulty completely voiding my bladder while lying down.  I need a bit of gravity to get things going.  As a result fifteen minutes later, I had to pee again and Tony went to call the nurse to come and assist me.  Once again, it was only the excess that leaked into the bedpan.  Fifteen minutes later, I needed to go again.  As it was ten to four and close to the end of visiting time anyway, they shooed my visitors out, and closed my curtains, put my bed in an upright position, all with very hardcore stern looks on their faces.  They were not impressed, that was obvious.  In a sitting position, my bladder emptied.  They did not come and remove the bedpan, I was in too much pain to move and couldn't reach the bell they had left conveniently far from my grasp.  I was stuck on the bedpan for over an hour.  I think my bladder went quite frequently, because when they finally returned to check on me the bedpan had overflowed.  Their sneaky move had backfired on them, as they had to remake the bed.  However, when you spend an hour on a rubber bedpan, the rubber tends to stick to your bum like a second skin.  It took three of them to pry me off that bedpan.  That served them right!
I did get the most awesome photo of my skeleton from the nuclear physician who did the sentinel node mapping.  It's in 3D and simply amazing to see what I'd look like dead while I'm still alive.
Have an awesome week ahead!  This week, I need to get some serious writing done.  Am working on 3 books at present!