There just is no other way to describe the past few years. Only Afrikaans will do. It has been a ‘hare op jou tande en vere in jou hol’ kind of time.
A whirlwind time where life has shown itself for its beauty, its sadness, its depth, its complexity & at the same time its stunning simplicity. Dickens comes to mind; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
I’m writing to you from my hospital bed to the rhythmic snoring (and farting haha!) of my neighbor and I must start by stating that I keep on surprising myself by how totally not boring my life is. How can I explain what I mean by this? I have a very eventful life? I seem to be a massive magnet for the weird & the wonderful? Plainly put; I say what the actual fuck A LOT.
I don’t know anyone else for example, who has been bitten by spiders on the forehead. Twice in one year. That’s just one random example. I also don’t know anyone else who has had inner leg skin grafted onto her forearm. Yup. Won’t blame you if you need to read THAT sentence again. Let me give you a short summary….
It’s fitting that I tell this tale now as I approach the anniversary of my knowing of George. George was my cancer. On 13 May 2017 I got a call from the best GP anyone could ever imagine, I really love my Doctors. (As in really. Last night when I was admitted I was given laughing gas and according to Kev I sat there with a stupid grin, zonked out, unable to stop telling the Dr how amazing he is. Morning rounds today was rather awkward). Anyway, that knowing came in the message that I have stage 4 breast cancer. We cried, my darling Dr and I. I called Kev. We cried. I called Idelé and we cried. Thankfully it turned out to be stage 3, and looking back now over the weekend where not-knowing became frail and slipped into knowing, it still feels like a blur. It happened so fast, whooshing past like a speeding train, leaving one with hair blown up straight and your skirt in your face. Perhaps with a few specks of saliva in the air as you try to shout “What the actual….?!!!!”
Fast forward through the mastectomy and chemo and randomly vomiting all over Durban and radiation and losing my hair and growing them back and tasting iron in everything and hormone therapy and first hand experiencing the genuine goodness and kindness of family & friends who all just rallied around us…. my #FGeorgeArmy local peeps and all around the world.
Enter lymphoedema (eerie background music playing).
It’s a big word for what happens to a small percentage of people when lymph nodes are removed. Eventful life right, I’m definitely a minority kind of person, like I just somehow manage to squeeze my way into that small percentage! These nodes, such tiny things that are so very powerful and that we hardly ever give a thought to, are right under the skin and they do a mighty job of removing toxins. Without this ‘drainage’ for lack of a better word, my right arm has become rather large and swollen. I’ve been angry-sad about my #FatArm, frustrated about not being able to fit it through clothes, hospitalized a few times for cellulitis and also able to knock a kid out for not listening by simply dropping my arm, had I wanted to. I had to learn to love #FatArm though, as we grew together, literally as well as figuratively. It brought so many lessons with it. It honestly opened up a whole world I never knew before.
Mid 2019 we started the slow process of my breast reconstruction with the help of another amazing Dr – I seem to collect these doctors like precious gems or rare stamps. Because my breast was completely removed (as in cut down to the bone), the skin has to be stretched before reconstruction can be done. So my super incredible Dr did liposuction on my stomach and injected the fat under the skin in the area where my new breast would be. Stomach boob. Hang on, it gets much weirder.
After the third liposuction we chatted about options for moving forward. Did you know that stick on nipples are a thing? Choking hazard! But I digress… Kev and I told said amazing Dr that my arm is a number one priority and more important than a new breast so ADR (amazing Dr) did some research. And after about 6 months of reading up and finding a microvascular surgeon to assist him ADR did THIS; he took skin from my groin area – just inside the fold of my leg – binne boud pienk as we’d say in Afrikaans, and he grafted that onto my forearm.
Told you it would get weird.
This precious piece of skin that ADR and I refer to as our baby, had two lymph nodes in it. In an almost 7 hour operation the blood flow of this skin was attached to the blood flow in my arm. We’re talking about connecting veins smaller than 1mm in size. Just wow. I can’t even thread the needle in Bailey’s toy sewing machine.
Step one was for the veins to hold. Tick. Step two was for the skin to live. Tick. Step three will be to see a decrease in swelling.
Where am I going with this? Today I want to remind you that it’s the small things that matter. Like lymph nodes, they form a golden thread that lights up and connect us like a bezillion small sparks. It’s the in between moments that will get us there. That detoxes us. That keep us real and that grounds us. A quick heart over WhatsApp to show you care. A smile. That special rock or leaf your kid put in your bag for you.
It is also to spread this story as so many people don’t know that lymphoedema can be treated in this way and that there is so much hope.
And it is a tribute to a beautiful soul who left us this morning. I want to celebrate her for how she made the in between moments memorable. Small things like comfy pool loungers and the intricate beauty of an orchid. She embodied the words of Haruki Murikami when he spoke of the “Unbearable Lightness of Being.”
Lastly it’s to tell you to love your doctors like you love your lymph nodes. Or your lymph nodes like your Doctors! Either way, treat them well.
We did our hard ugly crying this weekend. Now we celebrate you. Love you Lee x