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No-one told me about ‘after the operation’ – Part 2

18 December 2011

Ok, that’s not completely true. Yes, they told me the nuts and bolts of the operation and what to expect from a biological view. However, no-one mentioned the emotional stress that Cat and I would face.

I got the call from the hospital to say the operation had been completed successfully and that I could come to visit Cat. She had a lovely private room in the new wing of Kettering Hospital, quite plain but all self-contained and clean. They said not to expect too much conversation as she was still receiving a morphine painkiller – not much conversation? I recevied loads. None of it made much sense as we since discovered that any natural morphene-based drug made Cat trip into la-la-land.

The next day Nathaniel and I went to visit and I was asked by Cat to see if the nurses could bring the TV back in to her room. She had spent the night before watching some film on a huge 50″ LCD TV. I had to break it to her gently that no, there was no TV and the whole film was in her trippy mind. I wonder if Odeon cinemas use the same method – the food is laced with morphine and we only think we’ve gone to see a film? It would explain why the popcorn is so expensive.

I’ve seen hospital dramas on TV (Casualty, Holby City etc) so I knew what to expect. Wrong. In the land of TV once the operation is done, up gets the patient and off home they go. In real life, major surgery usually means that a drain will be in place for a week or so after the operation. Of course, you don’t get to spend a week languishing in hospital. No no. Off home you go with drain tubes and bag still attached – The scar is still under loads of gauze. Stress number one is keeping a 2 year-old, who hasn’t seen his mother in days, off her to prevent re-opening the scar or yanking out the drain.

She didn’t look good either. Bollocks to TV drama – It’s a load of tosh. She was physically wiped out, battered and bruised. Emotionally she was in a dark place. This was the first person close to me to undergo surgery, since my mum went for a spine operation back when I was in my early teens, so I had no real idea of how long she would be like this – Physically. Emotionally I knew she may never recover.

Being at home was almost surreal – As far as I was concerned the operation was successful and now life could continue. Cat, on the other hand, was more focussed about the pathology reports on the tumors that were removed. I didn’t give it a second thought – to me it was over and done with, a little bit of Chemotherapy etc and we’d be back to the way we were.

A few days later we went back to have the drain removed and the dressing changed. That was the first time that Cat got to see, as she described, her mutilated body. Even with reconstruction there would always be the scar as a reminder that she was no longer a whole woman. I still thank my lucky stars that we had Nathaniel before the diagnosis – she could always look at him and know deep down that she was a woman and mother.

Cat began to grow distant from me – she would shrink away from my touch. I knew that she still loved me and it would take time for her to be comfortable about her body but I couldn’t understand why things had changed. The more I tried the more I got rejected so in the end I just stopped trying. I would be there for Cat always, whatever she needed whenever she needed it – but I knew we’d never have the same relationship again. I think this is the point where some men leave as they “can’t cope with the situation”. That’s just weak and gutless – I signed with Cat for a relationship and then a family knowing that things would never be easy, but to cut and run at the first sign of trouble would have been unthinkable.

We went together to see the consultant about the pathology report and proposed on-going treatment. The news wasn’t good. 21 out of the 24 lymph nodes removed were cancerous – placing her cancer firmly in the 3c category – and that her cancers were HER2+ (fast growing). In other words, it was highly likely that cancer cells had used the lymphatic system to drift off around the body. The consultant proposed a standard set of Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy and Hormone Therapy drugs to be started as soon as possible. Cat never takes the first offer and asked for a second opinion from The Royal Marsden – the foremost cancer hospital in the UK. We were referred directly to Professor Smith who recommended the same course of action.

At the same time Professor Smiths’ registrar asked if we would like to see the statistics that they had compiled over the past 20 years. Forewarned is forearmed – we said yes. Was it the right choice? Yes, because we knew where we stood. No, because it was heartbreaking. The statistics said she had a 50/50 chance of surviving 2 years and only a 1 in 20 chance for 10 year survival. I think that was when the cold light of day hit me. But then again, as Benjamin Disraeli said “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

I’d make a very good ostrich – I still wanted to believe that Chemotherapy would take care of everything and life would go on as normal…


One Comment leave one →
  1. 19 December 2011 5:29 am

    Dear James, I will not tell you things will get better or that your will or will not manage to go forward, (although in my heart, I hope you will in time only smile when you see an old show you saw together), but what my heart whats to tell you is how wonderful it is that you are expressing to us (your readers) how you feel and how much you love Cat. As I deal with my own double mastectomy (her2+) I have been on edge for years. My husband dealing with many of the same feelings and courage you had to deal with. My own self image changing our relationship changing (but growing from it) and just dealing with what comes along. In my reading of your story I want to share with my husband that he is not alone. I feel at times he feels as you did, he feels I am healed, but I am the one who goes every few months to get it checked. You are truely brave to share and encourage other husbands to understand what is important and I hope from the bottom of my heart your testiment of your love for your wife not only helps others but yourself. On a personal note, if my own cancer ever got the better of me, I hope my husband is able to express his feelings as well as you do, your wife would be proud. I am hoping for you a happy holiday season that your son will remember as the one “Dad did great that year”. Hugs

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