Friday surgery retraction statement

You know… I probably jinxed it by telling you all it was happening…

But I got a call earlier in the week saying they ‘couldn’t find a consultant’ for Friday.

I don’t really understand what that means, I thought it was meant to be my surgeon, Mr K who did it. But I guess maybe not? Maybe it’s just a lucky-dip, nab an unlucky intern who can consult.

Jokes.

Though I wonder why they are so cagey about giving me details about things.

So I’ve now cancelled a few things I was planning on doing and the like, which is a bit of a pain but I guess I can’t really complain, I guess these things happen.

I’m grateful to have a date, but I do feel a bit deflated that it’s now been moved… But what can you do. On the plus side my recovery will now be during the week as opposed to over the weekend, so I’ll have to have a few days off work. I guess that’s something!

In other news, I was asked to speak a few weeks ago to the ‘Airway Management Hub’ at UCLH (pic below) about my experience with the dreaded tracheostomy (post surgery breathing tube, for any of you who aren’t familiar with the terminology). I had a great time (at the talk, not with the trachy), and was able to provide some input about the patient perspective. The tracheostomy is a pretty scary thing and I would like to be able to help make the process better for the people going through it, so hopefully more will come from this, I think there are some important conversations to be had.

Anyway, happy Friday, friends. Looking forward to sleeping all day tomorrow!

Off we go again…

Hello everyone, I know I’ve been quiet for a bit, it’s been cold, I’ve been busy and my parents have been visiting for a few weeks. I’ve been ticking along as usual, a few things you would probably appreciate an update on.

I had my clinic appointment a couple of weeks ago to get my MRI results and the day before I got a call asking if some of my blood could be collected for research. Yes yes yes yes research! Always yes! So I went along early to get my blood taken. There was a new staff member who was being supervised by another, but she assured me she was very experienced. Not that it bothered me too much but I gave my usual disclaimer that my veins are difficult. They assured me there would be no issue. Cool. We’ll see.

She tried one arm and found the vein but my blood didn’t want to leave me. Aww my blood has separation anxiety. Cute. She asked if she could try again. Of course. Better luck this time. She got the needle in my hand and it started slowly filling the tube but then it stopped flowing and started hurting quite a bit.

‘The vein is going to blow!’ She announced with a wavering voice. I looked at the other nurse and she looked at me with what looked like a slightly worried face. I looked down to see my vein bulging.

Wait, did she say it’s going to… ‘Blow…?’

‘It’s bleeding under the skin… I need get it out…’

Ya… safe to say the blood rushed away from my head then. Or to it? Either way I felt very hot and faint. I’m sure that’s a perfectly normal thing to happen but it’s just not what you need to be told when you’re already in pain and stressed. So she stopped and I lay down.

Then of course I was annoyed because I had failed at helping with research. Lots of apologising from them, from me, good fun. I went and had a little cry in the bathroom, stressed by the situation and frustrated that I couldn’t help. I went back out to wait for my clinic appointment and a little while later the nurse came and apologised again (as did I) and she gave me a haematology pin to say thanks. That was sweet, I like pins.

I made a friend while waiting to see my Oncologist, he had also had a face sarcoma. Twice. We were laughing about all the random body parts we have in our face. It’s a strange club to be in. You know you’re with people who get it when you can call someone ‘greedy’ for having cancer twice and have a laugh about it.

Everything went smoothly with Mr Onc. ‘Nothing in your lungs’
‘Oh that’s good! But I thought you said…’
‘It looked like something but it wasn’t. Or at least if it is, I don’t know what it is yet so I’ll see you in 3 months and we’ll look again’
Ha. Good. Bye.  ‘I like not seeing you very often’ I said as I shook his hand and scurried out.

He also said to me ‘this summer will be two years since diagnosis, won’t it!!’ I didn’t believe him and said ‘No surgery was only a year ago’. He looked at me weirdly and was like ‘yes…… And you had treatment before that……’  LOL yes he’s right.

Well apart from that, I’ve got the first of my teeth surgeries on April 12th. We’ll find out then what will be possible (I think? It sounds likely…) and then hopefully if I’m lucky and everything goes quickly and according to plan, by the end of the year I might be ready to look at some sort of teeth thing! Though that’s probably being a bit hopeful, these things usually take a lot longer, mainly because it takes so long to hand write, print and send letters in order for any process to get moving.

Yes this is good news, and I’m so glad to have some progress! But I’d rather avoid comments of ‘that’s amazing, soon you’ll look all better’ and the like. Or ‘wow teeth in April!’ Because it will still be a while until I actually get them, whatever they may be. I don’t know how I will look, I don’t know how much they can do (if anything), and although I am optimistic for the best, I need to manage expectations, both yours and mine. So we’ll see. Progress is good. Let’s see what happens next in this crazy adventure shall we?

Hilariously, I went along to my ‘pre-assessment clinic’, which I thought would be when I’d find out what they’re going to do in this surgery I’ve got coming up next week. But the nurse and anaesthetist who were running the meeting were asking me questions like: ‘Who is doing your surgery? Are you staying in overnight? What are they planning on doing?’
The anaesthetist even asked how long my surgery was meant to go for! Ummmmm………. You’re asking ME? Well that’s reassuring.

No one has told me anything about this surgery, I was kind of hoping that they were going to at this meeting. I hope by the time I get there on Friday they’ve worked out the answers to those questions because if not, well… I might end up with an amputated leg, or less one kidney or something. I guess I don’t really need two kidneys if it comes to that.

What I have pieced together from talking to random (non medical) people around the place is that they’re just going to drill in a bit and cover it back over for 6 months. But I guess I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks if that’s the case. I have no idea how disruptive it will be, how long I’ll be in hospital (I think just the one day?), or what the recovery will be like. I hear it will be swollen and sore but obviously nothing like what I’ve already been through so I’m not too bothered.

I’ll keep you all posted! Until we next speak, have a great week!

Teeth talk time

I thought it really was about time I did a teeth update.

So I’ve been going in to trial some teeth to see how they will look. A couple of weeks ago I went in ready to try some teeth on for size, I sat in the chair, and I put the teeth in. Now they don’t stay in on their own, I can’t talk or anything with them, but if I keep my teeth together then they stay in place. They gave me a hand-held mirror, which I sat on my lap as I put the teeth in, eventually putting it up in front of my face once they were in place and… well… I think watching this clip will give you an idea of how it went. This is an actual, exact re-enactment of how it went (must watch this before reading on)…


Yep. OK so they weren’t quite that bad, I slightly jest. But they were big. I felt quite strange. Actually it was quite demoralising, not going to lie. You pin all your hopes and dreams on looking a bit more normal with teeth and you see them and all you can think is ‘they’re not my teeth… Who’s teeth are they?’

Dwayne’s apparently.

I was clearly unhappy and the dentist and her assistant were telling me they looked good but I just didn’t feel right. She said ‘it’s probably just been so long that you’re used to seeing yourself without teeth and now having them there again seems weird. You’ve probably forgot what they looked like.’ Not a damn chance. ‘You’ve never had your teeth out and your face rebuilt’ snapped petulant teenage Jen who was lurking somewhere inside me. I felt bad saying it, but it’s true. It maybe seemed like the right thing for her to say but no, I don’t forget exactly what the teeth I have had for 30 years looked like just because I’ve been 9 months without them.

It was hard to tell how much of my dissatisfaction was just in general with the fact I’m going to look different now anyway no matter what, or whether they really were too big. But it felt like something worth fighting for. Although they told me big teeth are beautiful and they look fine, I was adamant that I needed smaller teeth. Well… I say adamant, if they were to tell me that smaller teeth wouldn’t work, I would learn to live with whatever I had to. But they agreed to try again and we booked in for me to go back the following week to try a size smaller. I didn’t feel great when I left the dentist surgery that day.

I worried of course that I wouldn’t like the smaller teeth either and I would have wasted their time and made a nuisance of myself. I almost feel like they’re a private practice and I’m a charity case (i.e. NHS), like they’re doing me a favour for treating me and I should just be grateful and do as I’m told. They don’t make me feel like that in any way, but I can’t help but have that thought in the back of my mind. I am so grateful to them for treating me, I know how lucky I am.

Anyway, cut to a week later. The weather had taken a turn for the worst, the day was cold, dark and rainy. The previous week had been sunny. Was London feeling my worries too? Mirroring my apprehension?

I sat in the chair again, held the mirror, put the teeth in, tentatively pulled the mirror up in front of me and smiled. Like… Smiled. Not just moved my lips back to reveal my teeth, I really smiled. They were my teeth. I felt relief wash over me. The dentist and assistant agreed, these were the ones. In fact the dentist said she was glad that we went for smaller teeth and that she has to remember that they’re my teeth. It’s a good point. Maybe the big teeth do look better on paper but it’s important for them to look good on me. That I feel comfortable.

She took a couple of photos and showed them to me. They were difficult to look at because it showed me how little of my face the teeth would actually fix, and how snarly I’m going to look, but hey. I’m going to have to come to terms with that eventually.

I should just interject here, someone said to me the other day ‘please don’t think I’m being an idiot, but didn’t they take moulds before surgery so that they would have something to base your teeth on?’ Not being an idiot, though I can see why you might think so for asking, you would think it would be the obvious thing to have done, but no. The dentists wanted moulds, but I guess it wasn’t something my surgeons had thought was an important thing to do before knocking my teeth out. I think in future it would be a bit better if somehow that process could be ironed out for any others going through a similar thing. It only takes a few minutes and would make such difference for the process later.

Now they’re starting to think about implants. They’re not confident they’ll be able to give me many, maybe a couple. But fingers crossed they’ll be able to get at least one in, because that will mean they’ll have something to anchor some dentures to. Otherwise they said they can look at implanting a piece of metal in my new top jaw and holding some dentures in using magnets. They’re aiming for surgery in Jan/Feb.

So here we are – angled and smiling, so it doesn’t look too bad…

I give you my trial teeth!

The next page in the teeth story…

I had another appointment with the teeth man today. Actually at the moment it’s the teeth woman. She’s working with me to see if we can make a temporary denture-type thing for the time being, before we start looking at implants.

Today it was to see if something will fit in my mouth and to see how far we can build it out to hopefully make my nose and face less collapsed. The answer is not very far. I still have this bit of scar tissue right across the inside of my lip which means that when teeth go in there, instead of pulling my lip into my mouth as it does now, it pulls my lip up into a super attractive snarl and I can’t close my lips. Which leaves me looking rather ridiculous. My nose is still collapsed, my face still sunken and I’m snarling with open lips.

So…

I’m not sure where to go with that. Also as it will all be held in place by the few teeth left on the left hand side of my mouth, I think it will be rather loose and might not make talking or eating very easy.

I was holding out hope for this next step to make things a bit better, but being hopeful does tempt fate and I should really have known better. I guess I was prepared for this… It’s still a bit disheartening. But on the way home I discovered that Bowie narrated Peter and the Wolf and it’s on Spotify. So… I feel like that’s some sort of consolation.

They’ve made some super cool moulds of my mouth, which are fun to look at. They were less fun to make. As I can’t breathe through my nose, it’s a bit of a nightmare to have your mouth filled with the gooey stuff they make moulds from. At one point she covered up my teeth completely and I couldn’t breathe at all. Oh well, I survived, still breathing! Two more weeks until my next appointment, and another appointment two weeks after that. No idea what each is for specifically, or what sort of timeline we’re looking at for what. But we are moving, so that’s something.

Monday Monday Monday

And not just any Monday, but one that had the potential to hold news about small white things that go in your mouth and help with things like talking, eating and generally living.

Yes.

Teeth.

After weeks (months overall!!! 7 in fact!) of waiting and chasing, I finally got the call I had been waiting for: a referral to the seemingly elusive teeth man.

Let me try to explain the things riding on this appointment.

Firstly I was hopeful to find a timeline and course of action for teeth and hopefully get some information about the process because I have less than no understanding what happens or how it works. In fact the only things I know about it were from a chat with the CFO at work who seemed to have some very basic knowledge about implants.

I went in and had an x-ray first before seeing the teeth man. The machine played a strange digital rendition of Fur Elise by Beethoven. Which coincidentally is also the sound my doorbell makes. I tried to stay still and not giggle.

The waiting room was fancy. This place was fancy. The dental nurses wear white and the dentists blue.

My dentist Dr Dawood is my new best friend (yes I’m well aware I’ve got a few of them now). He was so nice, really easy to talk to, and also realistic. He looked at my teeth and asked if I ate a lot of fruit. Um… Not particularly… Then he asked if I’m vegetarian. No… Then he said ‘how have you been surviving?!’ I said brilliantly! I munch on everything!

So, we start on Wednesday (omgomgomgomg), taking moulds first. They will get the ones that Deepti took before surgery and make my new teeth just like my old ones! Cooooool.

First they will look at making a denture and see how it fits (if it even fits after everything that has changed in there) and then later consider implants.

Until we start trying we don’t know if it will work. If it doesn’t work, it’ll be back to my surgical team and back into surgery to look into more reconstruction from another body part. Yay for being plunged back into March.

Also there’s a good chance my lip won’t be able to fit over teeth anymore, especially with my sunken face, collapsed nose and the scar tissue from the stitches. So there might be issues there with actually fitting teeth in my mouth. And even if I can get the teeth in, they won’t fix these things so I’ll always look a bit odd. Better get used to being told by new people I meet that I have a cleft palate… Eye roll

But still, teeth is better than no teeth. And we’re aiming to have something temporary by the end of November! GUESS WHAT THAT WOULD BE IN TIME FOR?!! BIRTHDAYBIRTHDAYBIRTHDAYBIRTHDAY!

I was bouncing around manically and smiling rather widely as we booked in appointments over the next month or so. The receptionist who booked me in was lovely but I had to laugh. She asked me if I’d had an accident and I said no, cancer, and they cut my jaw out and now I’m just waiting for teeth.

‘Oh so your mum or dad has it too?’ She asked.

‘No, there’s no genetic link for bone cancer’ I replied.

‘And you didn’t smoke or anything?’

‘Lol no…’

The old what-did-you-do-to-cause-it-so-I-can-check-I-won’t-get-it job. Sorry love, you’re just as likely to get cancer as I was. Most cancers don’t have a genetic, environmental or lifestyle cause, we didn’t do anything wrong to bring it on ourselves…

So I finally met with my surgeon…

It was a busy day actually. I had to go in first for a chest x-ray. This is one of those things I have to have every two months. You see, the most common mets for osteosarcoma (look at me with my cancer vernacular. Mets = metastasis = spread) is to the lungs. So we keep monitoring. Monitoring is good. That was all quick and easy.

Made a new friend in The Living Room in the Macmillan centre, standard. Hi friend! Originally from NZ, we had some chats about that side of the world, as well as people, society, cancer and the cancer gene (Which fascinates me). It would be nice to catch up with her again one day.

When you’re in the head and neck clinic, you see all sorts of people who have clearly had head and neck surgery (or are waiting to). Head and neck people, I’m not judging you, I’m not pitying you, but wow. When I see what some of you have clearly gone through/are going through, gee do I feel lucky. I mean I don’t compare these sorts of things, not really. Everyone has their different struggles and everyone can find things about their own case that they are grateful for (I’ve written about this before). But I just want to give them a hug. I mean that would be terribly patronising if I did, but I give them a smile. And I hope they can see in my eyes that I mean it, and in some ways I get it. And please to all you who are struggling out there too, in whatever way, I want to give you a hug. Next time you see me/if we ever meet, let’s hug. It won’t cure any illnesses, but it’ll be a reminder that we’re never alone. And I care deeply about every one of you. I have a lot of love to go around.

Anyway, Deepti wasn’t in which was super sad because I was excited to see her! But I’m pretty sure she said she would be on holiday around now, so bloody good for her. She has earned that, she deserves that. Hope you’re enjoying yourself, girl!

So. Down to it.

Mr K: So you’ve spoken to the dentist?
Me: no…
Mr K: you haven’t?
Me: well… No…
Mr K: No dentists at all?
Me: ….

I mean I don’t know why he didn’t believe it, he has to refer me to see the dentist… And when I saw him a month ago he said today would be the day…

Anyway, I should be referred in the next couple of weeks. MRI results not in yet but once they are then I should hear about my referral. Apparently it’s not for their normal dentist guy because what I need is too difficult, though I didn’t really understand why. When I asked he said ‘because you can see the bone there and the soft tissue’. Ok… Were you not expecting bone? I mean you put it in there… I think… I was napping at the time so can’t verify but it is the commonly held belief.

I wish I’d had Deepti there to explain things to me properly. Mr K said ‘you know how we were waiting for it to shrink? Well now it’s shrunk too much. We need to get teeth in asap’. Do teeth stop it shrinking further? In which case… It’s going to shrink a lot more before I get teeth because they’re going to take a while… When I asked what he meant about it shrinking too much and that I had been concerned about that he said ‘teeth will help a little bit’. And that was the end of discussion.

It was all a bit confusing (standard). So he was surprised I hadn’t seen the dentist yet, but he can’t refer me to the dentist until he’s got MRI confirmation next week. And it’s been left too long and it’s shrunk too much. But when I saw him a month ago it was too soon and he said he would refer me now. And he glossed over the ‘shrunk too much thing’. And when I said I had been worried about that and worried that I would always look odd because of it and he said ‘teeth will help a bit’.

I mean I guess I knew that teeth wouldn’t really fix it. My face has sunken a lot, my nose has pretty much collapsed in on the right hand side of my face because it’s so sunken. So is that my life now? Deepti said previously never to say that, though is this the one time I should?

I love how seeing your surgeon leaves you with more questions than you had before.

But the main point I suppose is that once they get the MRI results, they are moving on my referral, so… That’s what I wanted I guess… I guess looking ‘a bit better’ is all I could really hope for but it was hard to hear. I guess we’ll wait and find out.

Oh I should probably also say… I had Oncology clinic today too, and the chest x-ray was clear. As expected. So that’s something. I’ll let you all know once I get more news. Bit of an anticlimax, I know.

I had a little cry about it all, but I’m ok. I am. Things are going well, really. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard to hear some things.

Happy 70th birthday NHS

It is the 70th birthday of the NHS.

Where to start? I suppose with something that’s obviously close to me.

Looking at cancer alone – 50% of people get cancer. That means you, and your mum. Or your partner and your dad. Or your sister and your best friend. I know of people in the US who couldn’t afford treatment, or who have gone into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. I wouldn’t be able to afford that, would you? Even in Australia, when my father got an MRI checking his prostate cancer, he had to pay $600/go and that’s on top of private health care.

Even just looking at MRIs… I have to have one every 2 months. No way could I afford like £400 2 months, and that’s just for maintenance scans! Who even knows how much everything else would (have) cost.

Thanks to the NHS, I’m not forced to go into ridiculous amounts of debt just to have a chance of staying alive. The beauty of us all paying that bit of tax to the NHS means that anyone can get the treatment they need regardless of whether they manage to have a job that gives them lots of money. Their fate will not be sealed by their pay check. And it’s there for when the rest of you need it.

And I haven’t had to settle for a sub-par surgeon or someone who isn’t a specialist in my area, I’ve been able to get the surgeon I need, in fact one of the best.

When I was diagnosed, some people asked me if I would move back to Australia for treatment. This confused me a lot. Why would I decide to leave my life and the country I want to live in just because I have cancer? There’s no need to necessarily give up on life just because you have cancer (not for me anyway, I know everyone’s cancer is different)! What a depressing thought that I would suddenly quit everything of the life I have built and want to live.

But that aside, why would I want to go back to a country where you’re not looked after? Where you have to fend for yourself and if you’re not rich you must go into a lot of debt to have a chance of life? I say this with not a lot of knowledge how it would be to have my cancer in Australia, maybe you can get some funding to help and maybe Medicare can help with some. But going off my dad’s experience, it is no NHS.

And the people who work for the NHS… they are the most heroic people. The doctors and surgeons are making miracles happen, the physios, anaesthetists, radiographers, therapists (ok, I’m not going to go on naming all the types of professions in the NHS, if you’re one, you are the best) are irreplaceable, the nurses are absolute angels, even the people cleaning my room when I was in hospital brought me so much joy.

Sure I’ve had moments where things haven’t been great. I’ve had blood work lost, I’ve waited in a room in A&E until 3am waiting for a bed in a ward whilst in the absolute worst of my neutropenia and illness during chemo (but they did manage to find me a private room eventually), I’ve had dentists ignore my cancer (though to be fair they were NHS but made me go on private to get an appointment quickly), I’ve had doctors forget to come around and discharge me from hospital, I’ve had doctors in hospital causing me unnecessary pain and discomfort when they thought they were doing the right thing but didn’t take a moment to think… but it takes time to go through my memory to find bad moments, and they are only a small handful of thousands of fantastic ones.

I feel like people who complain about the NHS are those who haven’t needed it yet. Or even if not, I know there can be bad experiences in anything. But the amount of people I know who the NHS has saved…

The NHS makes me proud to be British. Growing up in Australia, I never felt Australian, I knew I was British. And from the first time I stepped off that plane in London 3 years ago, I knew I was home. I don’t feel like I could ever leave. There are many things that make me proud to be British, and a few things that don’t, but above everything is the NHS. This is something so important, special, necessary to our lives here. It underpins everything, looks after us, and it’s something we’ve helped create. What a fantastic thing. I know it struggles, I know more needs to he done to help it out, I have no suggestions of how to help it, I wish someone did. But I do know we need to protect it, to keep it alive.

Happy birthday NHS. I think everyone who has ever worked for the NHS in any capacity can really take this as their own personal celebration too. From the people who used to drive blood donations around from the donor to the receiver whenever needed before refrigeration existed, to the clinical trials which ended up saving lives, to the doctors working long shifts to make sure everyone gets seen and we all live.

We thank you all. So many of us are here because of what you’ve done over the years.

Happy birthday. Have a champagne, NHS, you deserve it. But don’t let your hair down too much, because we need you, every second of every day.