real life

'Mum, I don’t know how you did it.' A diary of a preventative mastectomy.

I’d said goodbye, while you slept a sleep you’d never wake from. In that lullaby between life and death, I told you it was OK to leave. It was a lie. How could it be your time, if I still needed you? 

When you were still alive, still cooking roast chicken with crispy skin and dishing me up crackers with cheese and thick slices of tomato, we discussed preventative mastectomies. 

You told me, in our sun-dappled kitchen, "do it darling, when you are ready, please do it".

Back then your words were a lifetime away. I had parties and fun ahead of me, not a chest slashed with scars. 

That time came quickly though. It tumbled into my world after your granddaughter was born. All of a sudden I knew I was breastfeeding my last and approaching 40. 

You, with your blue eyes and long brown hair, were told you had malignant breast cancer at 43. That age has been a little bane bobbing over my soul. 

Watch: Dear Mum...post continues after video.


Video via Instagram/@nurse.merowyn.

I had to have the surgery before I turned 40. So I made moves. I was a train in a tunnel, no deviating. 

Remember your breast surgeon, Mum? How lovely he was? My breast surgeon is the same.

I had seen him once, a couple of years earlier, when I was still breastfeeding. We made plans to meet the following year and to have a mammogram prior. 

Time came and went and two years later, I pulled up around the corner. I knew I was ready to discuss a mastectomy, or at least something to start being proactive. 

My surgeon approached my history with empathy and genuine kindness. He suggested I try Tamoxifen and consult with an oncologist. 

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I can feel you laughing at Tamoxifen, the overheating and restless nights? I get it now. 

My temperature soared at random times and I had to fan myself to stay cool. Regulating my heat was nonexistent. 

I met up with the most incredible oncologist and we mapped out a plan for genetic testing, continuing the Tamoxifen and then meeting again in six months. 

I mentioned the mastectomy at my consult and she unequivocally said she’d support me. In the six months between visits, I spent a lot of time thinking, debating in my head, but the cards always dealt the same hand. 

When I saw my surgeon again, it tumbled out so easily: "I want to have a preventative mastectomy". I had done the genetic testing, I’d been on Tamoxifen, the surgeon was satisfied I had ticked all the boxes. 

The next few months went quickly. I met with my amazing plastic surgeon, who explained so carefully the benefits of having tissue expanders over immediate implants. 

The expanders would sit under my muscle and promote gentle expansion of the skin. This would facilitate vascular supply and help prevent tissue necrosis. 

Back and forth I went, for further consults. It was overwhelming, but I felt completely empowered.

On the day of the surgery it was sunny, Mum. I know you would have been gardening. I couldn’t stop thinking about you, and how you must have felt on the day of your surgery. 

Merowyn and her mum. Image: Supplied. 

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I couldn’t for the life of me remember what we did that day. 

I do remember dropping you at the hospital and squishing my head into your chest, one last time. When I was taken to the hospital I cried. Of course I cried. 

You were never, ever far from my mind. I took a selfie and got changed into my hospital gown.

I remember getting back to the ward, to my room and I was good. Dopey, but good. 

I have no idea how long it took but I think it was rapid. I’d made plans to Zoom the kids but then the nausea started and no matter how much medication I was given, nothing worked. 

My breast was pouring blood into the drain and my blood pressure was dropping. There’s so much I can’t remember. I know my plastic surgeon returned, he said he may need to operate, then came back again and said an operation was necessary. 

I remember signing a consent form but I’m not even sure if I used the correct hand. I’ve never, ever been so incredibly sick in my life. Nausea, dizziness and faint like I wanted to lay down, but I already was. 

When they were wheeling me back to theatre I started shaking. I was freezing, I think my body was going into shock. As my anaesthetist was putting me under, I remember thinking 'please, just do it, make this stop’.

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The first thing I said when I woke up was, "oh, I feel so much better". I was a new person, minus a litre or so of blood. 

It was close to midnight and I was exhausted but not anywhere near as critically ill as before. The next week in hospital was a mixture of flowers and visits. 

The girls would bring me coffees, cakes and sushi. I cried lots - the emotional toll of emergency surgery, a mastectomy and then the drugs made me so weepy. I don’t know how you did it. 

The tissue expanders remain the most cumbersome, sharp-edged, heavy, painful things and not conducive to sleep. I can’t wait to get them out. 

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I have my final surgery to have the soft, squidgy implants put in on November 23.

Your anniversary is November, and this year it will be 22 years without you. Can you make sure you’re there for my surgery, Mum? This will be it, the final piece of our breast cancer journey together.

I miss you too much and will always need you more than you’ll ever know. See you one day, Mum. See you in my dreams. I love you. 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. Breast cancer remains the most common cancer among Australian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). Take the time this month to find out what you need to know about breast awareness and share this important information with your family, friends and colleagues. 

Feature Image: Instagram / @nurse.merowyn

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