Whilst recovering from my very last chemo, I underwent the biggest disappointment and heart-breaking experience in my life. Additionally, that fear of a reoccurrence is something that starts to grow in the back of your mind.
Until this point, I had never felt the need to speak to a psychologist, but under these circumstances I thought I would give it a try.
In early October I had my first check up since July: a lung CT-scan. I knew that these scans every 2 months would dominate my life for the next two years, and there would be always be the fear of a setback. My worst nightmare came true: a big spot was found on my left lung. Why do I not seem to have any luck at all, and every at every single check up something new reveals itself? There was a moment of panicking from all sides, and the doctors urged me to immediately operate and have this “possible metastasis” removed. Hence we started planning the surgery, which we decided to do in Freiburg as this the home to one of the best thorax surgeons.
Stubborn as I can be at times, I insisted to fly to Bangkok before my surgery because I had terminated my apartment lease and had to move out by the end of October. This trip was already planned and booked, and there was nothing in the world that could stop me doing this 6-day trip.
So a year and few months in, I headed onto a plane again on a 11-hours flight towards Asia and for the first time experienced the handicap of wearing a prosthetic leg.
I was nervous on how I would handle things on my own on the flight, but I wanted to do this alone and not accompanied by my mother. I quickly realized that going through security check takes ages with a prosthetic leg, and you got to plan so much more time ahead. That’s definitively something I need to get used to, as I always try to spend as little time in airports as possible, and hence always arrive for check-ins at the very last minute. Definitively not possible anymore!
The next obstacle would then be on the plane, when you decide to take off your prosthetic leg in order to sleep better. You don’t want to pull your pants down in front of all other passengers when you take off your prosthetic leg, no? So before heading to the airport I had the idea to wear shorts underneath my long pants, and I had no issue removing them later on. This sounds all way to bizarre to you, but it’s small little things that you have to adapt to… and simply think a bit ahead in your planning. All this becomes routine with time.
In Bangkok, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions… it was my home for 2 years and it had been a long year since I had left it. I loved being back, and I immediately felt this connection knowing this is actually where I would like to live. My mission, however, was to clear my apartment and put all my belongings into storage with the goal to come back in 2016 when my cancer fight was over and I was declared as cancer free. It was heart-breaking packing up all my things, but I was lucky having two amazing friends helping me. Richard came all the way from Vietnam and Tara who came from Malaysia to help me with the move. On 30 October 2015, I locked the doors of the apartment and with tears in my eyes I had to let go of the beautiful memories I had there.
At least I had 3 more days in Bangkok filled with lots of fun and catching up with old friends and colleagues. Richard, Tara and myself hung out, went on a shopping tour, and went bar hopping. I took them to my favorite places, and ended up clubbing until 4am in the morning. I skip the part where we got really drunk… I finally started feeling like an ordinary woman living and enjoying the independency I had lost since my move to Germany. I returned back to Germany after 6 days in Bangkok filled with more energy than ever and was ready for the next obstacle: my major lung surgery.
On 10 November 2015 I had my lung surgery in Freiburg where they successfully removed the major knot together with an additional three they found during the surgery. In order to remove the bigger metastasis they had to conduct a partial lung resection on the left side, as it was located centrally and next to the bronchia. To reach that metastasis they cut me open – 18cm long below my breast along the rib, and braced my ribs. I didn’t feel any pain at all in my lungs, but my chest hurt badly along where they had made the cut. When I woke up in ICU, I realized a heavy pressure in my chest, which was caused by the drainage going through from my belly all the way up to my chest. The first couple of days I didn’t feel too much pain due to the epidural catheter (same anesthesia procedure as with the amputation) that keeps pumping morphine to release the pain. Every day I had to a lung x-ray to ensure the liquid / blood in the lungs is slowly getting out, and all returns back to normal. After four days they removed the drainage bringing huge relief for me.
On day 5 the doctors decided to remove the epidural catheter and put me on oral painkillers such as Oxycodone, an opioid. It didn’t take very long when the catheter’s painkillers ceased and the pain in my chest became the strongest one I have ever had in my life. I started taking oxycodone tablets every 1-hour until reaching 7 of them plus 4 x 1000mg of paracetamol. By that time I was totally high but they started to help and for the next days I maintained the high doses.
I spent in total 14 days in hospital until I was allowed to go back home and slowly recovered from the surgery. A small damage was done during the surgery where the skin nerves were injured and since then a part of my left breast is numb. It was quite irritating at the beginning but I have got used to it now. So I managed to overcome the next obstacle.