Laugh Your Tits Off

I’m having a mastectomy tomorrow.  My second one for this year.  That will be more mastectomies than Coq au Vin’s for 2013.

Tonight, on the eve of getting my second breast removed, we have come to the big smoke to see a comedy show called “Laugh Your Tits Off”.   If only it was as simple as laughing uncontrollably for a few hours.   The show is at a theatre a few blocks from my surgical theatre.  How could I not attend?  Mr Cool and I booked a swanky hotel in the city, left the kids with the Grandies, and rallied 14 awesome friends to come to have dinner with us on a cold Monday evening in Melbourne.

I couldn’t think of a better group of people to share this night with. All of them have been key features in supporting me through this story. There are my “sole sisters” who came and ran a 10km fun run with me in the 14 days between my lumpectomy and before my mastectomy back in Feb. They have been incredible sources of inspiration to me this year as I have continued to watch them aim higher with their running achievements.  This makes me want to get off my arse when my treatment is complete and work hard to getting fit and healthy again despite my starting place being a little different and the new hurdles that await me. Breast cancer with all of the changes that it creates is not going to defeat me.

There are my dearest and longest high school friends who have been with me right from the beginning. They were the first people I contacted when I got news of my diagnosis and they have offered so much emotional and practical support I am wary of wearing them out. There is so much love and meaning in our friendships dating back to 1987.  I tear up just thinking about this group of people. Although we don’t catch up a huge amount throughout each year we have shared some wonderful and not so wonderful times and when we see each other it really counts.  Our group has grown as we have met partners and had children. These people know me so well and respect me with all of my oddities unconditionally.

There is the sister I only became acquainted with last year before my diagnosis who turns up at my house with her humour and a week of home cooked meals.  Sometimes she brings coffee. Sometimes she arrives with a 15 year old fruitcake that she has claimed from helping someone else organise their pantry. You know when you meet someone who just ‘gets you’? She is one of those. Often we Facebook comment when watching creepy body part shows and gross everyone else out. We connected before my diagnosis. She oddly has been in this position before, connecting a few years ago with another young mother who shortly after they met was diagnosed with cancer and was taken far too young by it. So the timing of us connecting and me being diagnosed with cancer is a little weird to her.

Strange how we are drawn to particular souls at various times in our lives. I am so grateful that these individuals were available on this night. The universe works in mysterious ways indeed.

So, there is nothing like a bit of laughing your tits off with awesome friends the night before a prophylactic mastectomy. Six months to the day between these two surgeries yet the first was filled with fear and was a hurried race towards the urgent removal of a fast growing cancerous tumour. The night before was sleepless, stressful and filled with worry.  This time, it’s a meaningful celebration, shared with great people and great food. Tomorrow, breast tissue shall be gone!

So Mr Cool and I are walking to a pre show dinner to meet great friends when Mr Cool’s phone rings. It is my breast surgeon who has been trying to contact me. I had a missed call minutes earlier but had not been able to answer my phone as I had just painted my fingernails and couldn’t reach into my pocket for it. Mr Cool put on his best voice for the woman his wife has an intense one way relationship with and he hands me his phone.

I apologised for not answering the call the first time and my breast surgeon said “Oh it’s okay you were putting nail polish on. You know Lise, I always say to my patients if I can wear nail polish during surgery then they can too, but only if it is red.”

I looked down at my fingernails and my nail polish wasn’t red, it was mint green. I contemplated finding a late night chemist to purchase some red nail polish in preparation for our meeting in the surgical theatre tomorrow and then told myself to stop being ridiculous and listen to the point of the call. I would be taking my nail polish off in the morning as per the hospital pre surgical instruction pamphlet. The breast surgeon was still on the line and she continued… “Has your plastic surgeon called and spoken to you in previous days?”

“No, no he hasn’t.” I answered.

“Well, he was going to call you and discuss the prospect of not exchanging your first tissue expander in tomorrows surgery.  After looking at the research literature,  speaking with other plastic surgeons and considering your particular case he has decided it is better to radiate the tissue expander and then exchange it at least 6 months to give your tissue and skin time to heal from the radiotherapy.”

I had suspected this would happen. I too had been researching and there are not many cases of radiating silicone implants because of the risk of scar tissue complications so I was kind of relieved that they finally got around to making a decision. The damage to the skin and tissue from radiotherapy will be the same for expander or implant, the effectiveness of the radiotherapy will be the same regardless of whether a tissue expander or silicone implant is radiated. But it will be better to preserve the integrity of the implant if capsular contraction is to occur.

Of course, this now means a fourth surgery next year or whenever the public list calls my number to exchange the two expanders for implants. Damn these awful expanders. Tomorrow, I’ll have two and I hoped to have none.

I hung up the phone and Mr Cool and I continued walking.  I was a little confused at the change of plans and took a few minutes to process the conversation. I rattled on to Mr Cool as we crossed major intersections, oblivious of where I was, my mind fixed back with the conversation with the surgeon. I respect my surgeon and plastic surgeon a great deal. They know what they are doing so on we roll. We met with our friends for some great food and then walked to the show.

“Laugh Your Tits Off” was a hilarious comedy show with some of Australia’s most loved comedians. All proceeds from the show were donated to the “Love Your Sister” project to raise money for the Garvin Research Foundation.  Samuel Johnson is a much loved Australian actor, and his sister Connie has stage IV breast cancer and has been given a short prognosis time.  Together they embarked on a journey to raise funds and promote awareness for cancer research. Connie has two little boys like myself and was diagnosed about 3 years ago with breast cancer.  Incredibly, this is not Connie’s first experience with cancer – at age 11 she fought off a very rare and aggressive bone tumour in her leg. Then at 22, she overcame a tumour in her uterus. Then, at 33 Connie was diagnosed with breast cancer and this time it spread to her lungs, liver, pelvis, spine and knee.  At the start of this year when I was diagnosed,  Connie was given a life expectancy of between 6-12 months.

Connie’s legacy will be an incredibly meaningful one.  While I sat in my hospital room a few days after having my first mastectomy, Samuel started his journey to unicycle around Australia departing from Federation Square in Melbourne. I remember watching his departure on my hospital room television screen and wishing I could have gone. Since then he has ridden nearly 10,000 kilometres crossing Australia through desert and past breezy coast, on bitumen and red dirt, past B Double road-trains. As well as riding the distances Samuel is stopping and doing dares along the way.  He has raised over $750,000 so far, with the ultimate goal is to ride 15,000kms and hit the million dollar mark.

Got to http://www.loveyoursister.org/ for all the details.
You can donate at http://www.loveyoursister.org/get-involved

When I met Samuel pre show, he looked at me and with such sincerity asked me how my treatment was going. I blurted out it had been a crazy journey but was made easier in watching his attitude and achievements in spite of the hand that his sister has been dealt, and that the love he has for his sister is inspiring. We embraced and I wiped away some tears and everyone raced off to start the show.

Samuel Johnson from "Love your Sister"  at "Laugh Your Tits off" A bloody Legend.

Samuel Johnson from “Love your Sister” at “Laugh Your Tits off” A bloody Legend.

After a few hours of hilarity Connie and Samuel took to the stage and received a huge standing ovation. There in a very raw moment, the laughter was silenced and I was reminded that through all the laughs and glitz and awareness raising and the “pinkification” of breast cancer, there is this brutal and unforgiving reality that people, mothers, sisters, daughters, lose their fight to this disease every day. In fact, thirty percent of women who get a breast cancer diagnosis will develop metastasis which will shorten and reduce the quality of their lives and this is irrespective of stage, grade, tumour size, hormone status, nodal involvement, or their treatment pathways. This figure has not changed despite all of the fundraising or awareness raising or screening for breast cancer.

Samuel left the stage and Connie cut a solitary figure in the spotlight on that large stage. There was another standing ovation. Once the clapping had settled she began to speak. She explained the aim of “Love Your Sister” was to ensure that “no young children have to lose their Mum’s to breast cancer.”

Tears streamed down my face. I could see some of my friends wiping away their own tears. And I heard my friend Bevan Lemon who was sitting next to me take a really long, slow and deep breath. A few days later he sent me a text…”I mean she just gets up on stage at the end and spoke and I felt all my stuff I was feeling selfish about, like my trip to the dentist where I felt nausea that day, and my cold, the kids feeling like crap, just fade and get normalised. Thanks for the invite.”

No, thank you for coming. Thank you all!


3 Comments on “Laugh Your Tits Off”

  1. stemgir1 says:

    Wow Lisey, this just came up in my notifications. I can see it was written in August but I missed it then. I love the way you write and I’m learning so much from you. This post really moved me. I didn’t know about Samuel Johnson’s sister. I also had bone cancer when I was 15! I’m thinking I want them to rip out my uterus before I start tamoxifen!
    This horrid disease has deprived too many kids of their mothers! This week in our lovely little community and school we lost a dad of 3 girls to bowel cancer. That’s 7 kids in a school of 90-odd who have lost parents to cancer this year. I just want 2013 to be over!

    I’ve been seeing plastic surgeon and breast surgeon this week… got to make the big decision by next week for DIEP flap or implants for double mastectomy. My gut feeling is screaming go for implants (after 3 c-sections I’m not keen for them to slice into my abdomen again ), so I’m really interested to read your inside scoop on this.

    Any word on radiotherapy starting? Hope you’re doing ok.
    Ngaire

    Like

  2. Michelle JL says:

    I think you are getting the hang of this writing thing!

    It was a great night, for lots of reasons

    Like

  3. Michelle JL says:

    That was from me, Bevan not mj

    Like


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