Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Sometimes less is more... Ole !

Let's leave the frivolous world of fashion and beauty for a while and concentrate on more serious issues... This week I've mostly been visiting doctors. I had an appointment recently with the surgeon who will be removing my sternum. I'm told that the best way of erradicating the affected area is to remove it completely. Apparently it's uncommon for surgery to be offered for metastatic breast cancer, and of course there's no guarantee that the dreaded disease won't rear it's persistent head again. But at least, I still have this as an option. Even though the thought of parting company with a part of my body that I've barely given a second thought to is in itself, strange.

At first, I was aghast to hear this news. I found myself considering my sternum. I decided that I quite liked having a breastbone. It felt sturdy and comfortable, rather like a favourite old armchair that's always been around.  In the past I was told that in addition to the sternum, he'd also need to remove the surrounding fatty tissue and a small part of my lung. Now it seems that less is more and I'll only need to have sternum and brown fats removed - which apparently serve no real function at all. He'll also need to remove some more lymph nodes, but apparently there's no risk of lymphodema. The body just finds another way of draining fluids.

During my regular visits to Cancerland I'm constantly learning new weird and wonderful things. Like how many parts there are in my body that apparently don't do very much. Being the naturally curious (or some might argue, nosy) person that I am, I ask this simple question. If the fats are of no use to my body, then why the hell are they there ? Given, (according to my old biology books) that the parts of the body are so tightly packed inside us that they're constantly jostling for space. Why have items that are surplus to requirement ? The surgeon tells me that when we're babies, our bodies need more fats than humans to stop them from getting too cold, this carries on into infancy but by the time we get into adulthood we have no need for this tissue, so it just sits there. When I still look unconvinced he reminds me that there are plenty of people that have a lung or kidney removed and the body learns to adapt to these changes. So the bottom line is that the human body is a wonderfully adaptive machine, capable of still functioning even when more and more of its contents are taken away. I still find the thought of going under the knife daunting but the surgeon's confidence is so contagious that by the time I leave, you'd think I was only having a tooth pulled.

But there's also the issue of the liver. I need to squeeze this in if I'm to make a much needed holiday (er, I mean work trip) to Madrid at the end of the month. Obviously and boringly my health of course comes first. But what better way of getting over two reluctant hospital stays than the thought of later sipping Sangria under the Spanish sun ? A few days later I find myself sitting in front of an emminent liver specialist. He shows me a scan of my liver. It looks like any other scan I've seen; a few blobs here and there together with some light and dark bits. But he tells me that it looks like a liver that has had chemo.  I interpret this to mean that it looks like a liver that has seen better days. He recommends radio frequency ablation (RFA) for me - a relatively new procedure that uses targeted electrical currents to cook the tumours from the inside. Considering how nervous I am about going under the knife, I now find myself wishing that I was having part of my liver removed. Psychologically speaking, there's something more reassuring about knowing that the offended area has been taken away completely - even if there's no guarantee that it won't recur again. But he explains that surgery is best kept as a possible future weapon at a later date. For now, RFA is the way to go. So, my challenge is to figure out a way of squeezing in both surgeries so that I'm well enough by the end of the month to jet off to the land of the Toros. At the moment, given the two bank holidays (thanks Wills and Kate !) that we've had back to back, it seems like an impossible task. But, never say never...

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