I've been back and forth about whether to write this blog post. I'm endeavouring to keep my ramblings 'on brand'. I'm striving to give an interesting insight into launching this brand, and now (hopefully) telling you all about us up rooting from London and moving to California!
I decided to go ahead with this blog post for a few reasons:
1) I wrote about this experience before on a Just Giving page. I managed to somehow raise some cash for Cancer Research. My story also helped motivate some friends into getting moles they were worried about checked out by their GP.
2) I now have a semi-respectable level of followers on social media, so I can reach a few more peeps. If writing this helps to raise a few more quid for Cancer Research, and prompts even just 1 person to go get themselves checked out if they are concerned about something, then it has been worth me 'going off topic' a little bit.
3) I'm doing the Pretty Muddy 5K run in a couple of weeks! Me and exercise have not really happened in a few years, so this is a kick up the bum to get moving and raise some cash for a good cause. I've also designed some 'Let's Get Muddy' T-shirts, and I'll be donating the proceeds to Cancer research.
I'll give you a heads up that this post mentions boobs quite a bit! It also gets a little bit 'Walking Dead' graphic a little while later, but hang in there it has a happy ending!
So, I've got to be totally honest with you about breastfeeding (yep straight to the boob talk!). I have a bit of a (mostly) love, (slightly) loath relationship with breastfeeding. I love it when it works. You're sat in front of a 'Parenthood' box set marathon, with a pack of hob knobs, a cute fuzzy baby attached to your honkers. I loath it when said fuzzy baby refuses to take a bottle in the dead of night. That bottle of painstakingly pumped milk you created so someone else could do the graveyard shift so you could get more than a stretch of 38 minutes sleep!
It was so refreshing to read the chapter on breastfeeding in Cherry Healey's book Letters to my Fanny. You know what, sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes it does hurt. It hurts so much that you have to bite down on the nearest teething toy whilst you hand express blocked milk ducts, and swear like a trucker. But, like I said, for the most part, I like breastfeeding. I like that it saves on washing up, sterilising, and heating/ cooling the milk to optimum temperature every few hours (am also lazy as having a low pain thresh hold).
Rewind to 2013. I'm 5 months pregnant with my 2nd little boy. All's going well, when I suddenly start to notice a mole on my leg get bigger, start to itch, and then bleed over the period of a few weeks. When it came to my 5 month check up I decided to mention it to my GP, who straight away referred me to the skin clinic down at our local hospital; St Georges in Tooting.
2 weeks later I was being examined by the experts, and low and behold they decided my mole looked on the dodgy side. They recommended I have it cut out then and there! Now, being pregnant you're not really allowed any of the good pain relieving drugs. They're reserved for child birth. So, at 5 months pregnant I found myself on a gurney being distracted by a lovely Doctor talking about the state of the Nhs whilst her colleague chopped out a grape sized lump out of my leg.
It's at this point I would highly recommend Yoga! I love Yoga. I particularly love pre-natal yoga as you not only get to stretch out your weary body, but you also learn the 'golden breath'. It's a visualisation of blowing out a golden thread which focuses your mind, and works quite effectively at getting you through tough encounters - like a sh*t tonne of pain!
A few weeks later I was back to the clinic for the results. I'd gone on my own because I didn't think it was going to be a big deal. I thought I'd just get told it was benign, and advised to make sure I used factor 50 from then on. Unfortunately it didn't quite happen like that. I knew something was up when I walked into the doctors office and I was followed by a Macmillan nurse. I was told I had a Malignant Melanoma, and that it was a grade 2, meaning that they were unsure if the cancer had spread any further. I would need an additional operation to remove more tissue form my leg, and also have some lymph nodes removed. I was told I had an 85% chance of survival in 5 years time.
Within half an hour my husband was by my side as I blubbed that I was too young to die. I had a family now, I needed to be around to see them grow up. My husband is an amazing Yang to my Ying. Whereas I freak out, and tend to be an (occasional) stress head, he is a pretty chilled out dude. His stock response to most big announcements is: "Don't worry about it". Diagnosed with Cancer = "Don't worry about it". World's about to implode = "Don't worry about it!". He also reminded me that I didn't know anything for definite yet, and he was right. I decided then to ban myself from googling anything skin cancer related. It was useless speculating if the cancer has spread, and guessing what the outcome might be. I could only deal with definates. And I definatly knew I had a baby growing inside me that I needed to keep safe and healthy. Mummy freaking out was probably not going to do either of us any good.
Fast forward 4 months and along came our 2nd little dude. I'd opted for a kinda elective c-section. Our first was born emergency c-section, so I said I'd give it a whirl naturally if he came before the scheduled c-section date - which he did. But my Momma instincts made me think something was up, as a couple of the Midwifes had queried his lack of movement. That was enough for me to dig my heals in and insist on a C-section. Turned out I chose well as he was born with a knot in his umbilical cord.
The operation on my thigh had been scheduled for 2 weeks after the birth. This gave me 2 weeks to try and get as well rested (a-ha ha ha!) and repaired from my C-Section, ready to be spliced and diced again. I'd also decided through all of this I was going to breast feed. It may have also been my extreme stubborn streak, but this was my way of saying "Screw you Cancer. You may have come to challenge me, but I'm darn well not going to let you stop me feeding my child."
Now, breastfeeding through this kind of operation is a bit of a mission! To start with you are injected with radio active dye to discover which lymph nodes the cancerous cells had drained to. You can't breastfeed whilst that radioactive dye is in your system. You need to leave a couple of days for it to clear. During this time you gotta 'pump and dump'. Here's where the glamorous bit starts! There is also the issue of stock piling your milk to cover you during the 'dumping' period. Now, I'm not one of those Mommas who was blessed with an abundance of the Mamma juice. Sometimes getting milk out of me is literally like getting blood out of a stone! So, 2 weeks in and having to stock pile enough milk to cover 2-3 days was.... interesting shall we say!
Then there is the matter of being unconscious whilst you go through surgery. Any breastfeeding Momma will know that if you skip a few feeds, them suckers are gonna explode. So waking up from the surgery I woke up feeling like an 'unglamorous hospital smocked Pamela Anderson in a wet t-shirt competition'!
When you have lymph nodes and a chunk out of your leg removed, it's pretty painful, and you have to hobble around on crutches for a bit. Thankfully the Bugaboo made for a trendy stand in for a zimmer! You're also supposed to wear compression leggings to encourage your lymph fluid to drain where it's supposed to. It's now end of August, hot, I'm wrapped up like a undercooked sausage in spanx, and I'm still trying to ensure my C-section scar gets some love and time for healing as well (it didn't take too kindly to being squashed under 20% of lycra pantaloon!
2 weeks later I'm back for the results. Of course babies don't give a crap if it's a convenient time for breakfast, brunch or lunch. So I found myself with the wee man attached to the boob when my name was called to go in and see the specialist. Not wanting to draw attention to myself, and also not wanting a screaming baby whilst I was delivered the news of my fate I decided to keep him attached to boobage as I went in to the Doctors office.
"The Cancer hasn't spread, you're ok". Thank F**k for that (I said in my head), and promptly leaned over my suckling babe to give the Doctor a high five! I would however need to come back every 3 months for regular check ups, but they were happy that they had caught it in time.
Unfortunately for me, the aftermath of the operation wasn't quite done with me, and a few days later I got a nasty infection. (Skip ahead a paragraph if you're of a weak disposition!) One of my incision sites opened up, and kind of started leaking lymph fluid all over the shop - blurgh! I happened to be down in Winchester at the time visiting my family, so was rushed to their GP who promptly sent me to the nearest A&E with a 'do not pass go' get her straight in to see a Doctor ASAP card.
The A&E Doctor confirmed I did indeed had a very nasty infection as the lymph fluid had built up in my groin. He advised my Mum to leave immediately with my baby as it wasn't safe for either of us. He told me he needed to operate that instant. My first reaction was to tell him that I was breastfeeding, and I wasn't sure how my baby was going to get fed without me. He wasn't particularly interested at that point, to be fair in hindsight I think I may have been a few bacteria away from being a very very poorly lady. He said there wasn't time for any aesthetic, so again I had to call on some serious Mo-foo-ing Golden Breath as him and his team set about tending to the now tennis ball sized hole in my leg!
I ended being in hospital for over a week. With no baby initially to feed from the ever increasing bazongas I realised I had to relieve the pressure somehow. So a couple of hours after having hard core surgery with bugger all pain relief I found myself having to self milk like a human dairy cow! Who said Motherhood wasn't glamorous?!
The next morning team family arrived with supplies, and they'd managed to pick up a hand pump at Tesco on the way over! The hand pump was fine for a bit of occasional use, but used every few hours I quickly felt I was developing RSI, and over-tucked nipple syndrome. It wasn't the kindest to the knockers.
I decided to get hold of the maternity ward and see if they had any spare electric pumps. The response I got was that they were usually used for the Mothers on their ward, but they could see what they could do. Thankfully a few hours later a double pump Medela showed up, and suddenly my slightly (!!!) epic introduction to Motherhood 2nd time round got just that little bit easier!
I was in hospital for nearly 2 weeks. During that time I would pump and store my milk in the hospital fridge. My husband would come pick it up like a Dairy Crest Milkman (sort of?!!). I'd also get to see team Family during visiting hours and also get to breastfeed properly. Having a newborn baby through all of this helped get me through it. It gave me a focus, a reminder that life carries on, regardless of whether you've been diagnosed with Cancer or not. Having to focus on breastfeeding, and sometimes having to fight to keep doing it gave me something to strive for. It focused my energy away from the absurdity of mending my infected holey, scared body whilst looking after a newborn baby.
As I was breastfeeding I still wasn't allowed the good pain drugs, and I had to be very careful with what antibiotics they gave me. I also needed to be on quite powerful drugs (I'd also managed to get MRSA in the process). One Doctor mistakingly prescribed an antibiotic that could have turned my babie's teeth blue! Luckily a nurse spotted the mistake before any harm was done.
Over a week later and I was desperate to leave. My poor husband had been trapped at his in-laws looking after a new born baby and a 3 year old whilst carting everyone back and forth the hospital every day to see Mummy! I was receiving treatment a number of times a day which involved cleaning out my tennis ball sized hole with Hydrogen Peroxide, them filling it with gauze and dressed. I managed to watch it maybe twice before deciding I would either throw up or pass out if I look at it ever again! The Doctors were very nice to me, and I was well looked after by the nurses. They closed their ears to my profound language I'd spout each time it came to having the treatment.
They decided they would allow me home if I promised to visit my GP or local A&E department twice a day to have the cleaning & stuffing treatment done twice a day. To cut this now very long story short, that's what I did for the next few weeks. Back and forth twice a day, sometimes with one or both boys with me. All this time still breastfeeding, because that's what I'd promised myself I was gonna do, and stuff Cancer I was gonna stick with it, through A&E departments, car parks, nurses offices and even on the treatment table!
I'm not telling you this rather gory story not to seek some sort of sympathy, there are women that have been through, and are going through a heck of a tougher time. I'm telling you this story to say that life throws some major stuff at you sometimes. And you know what? You have the strength, and in my case the bloody mindedness to get through it. And you know another thing? It'll make you stronger. It's a great leveller, and makes you realise what's important in life. I realise that life is a gift, children are a gift, my ever patient enduring husband is a gift. Boy, that was pretty epic for us to get through as a family, new born babies, Cancer, no sleep, endless hospital visits, but we got through it, and came out the other side.
Breastfeeding and our baby (and our big baby!) got me through surviving Cancer. It shifted my focus from the very scary possibilities, and made me focus on the treasured realities.
On July 13th I'm doing Pretty Muddy 5K with a bunch of my mates. We've called ourselves 'Laura's Muklet's' because it felt quite appropriate. We all have our reasons for running (sauntering in my case). I've obviously experienced Cancer, but I also lost my Dad to Pancreatic and Liver Cancer 2 years ago. All my friends have their reasons too, whether it be in memory of a loved one, or just to shut me up so I stop bothering them to join the team!
If you'd like to sponsor us here's the link
I've also designed some 'Let's get Muddy' T-shirts for Kids & Womens. All proceeds will go to Cancer Research:
Thanks for reading. If you're worried about a mole, here's the things to look out for:
Asymmetry - The two halves of a melanoma may not look the same
Border - Edges of a melanoma may be irregular, blurred or jagged
Colour - The colour of a melanoma may be uneven, with more than one shade
Diameter - Many melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter, the size of a pencil eraser
Go see your GP if you have any concerns. I told my GP and within 2 weeks I got to see a specialist.
Check yourself, protect your self in the sun. Now, Let's Get Muddy and kick Cancer's butt! x