Blog Header

Blog Header

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Abdominoperineal Resection surgery - one year on

I was in a hospital the other day visiting a friend who has just undergone a Triple Heart Bypass, and that reminded me how close his surgery date was to the anniversary of mine a year ago today.  I was sad that he had had to undergo the knife, but from a purely selfish point of view how nice it was that the patient was not me! What a refreshing change that was. In fact I have not had a hospital appointment at all yet this year....

Visiting Dave in the hospital.

I would like to chronicle how I am getting on as if anything, it serves as a reminder to me - when I feel fed up by slow progress I can look back and see what has changed and how far I've come. However I never thought I would have to do this as, although at the time I didn't even look forward a whole year, I had imagined that I would be hunky dory and back in rude health (surgery wise at least) after about three months, maybe six at the very most! Perhaps it is a good thing really to be naive and not know as you don't then worry about it, which is especially important when you are dealing with chemotherapy at the same time.

The major problem I've been left with is nerve damage from my perineal wound which is affecting my buttocks and hence the need to still have donut cushions to sit on. There has been a definite improvement after starting to take the drug Lyrica, but although my dose was recently upped from 150mg a day to 225mg, there has been no marked difference by taking a higher dose, although as with everything, it is getting a little easier as time goes by. I can sit on one or the other of the cushions now (one is foam, the other a kid's plastic swimming ring). The foam cushion is less comfortable and I still feel an 'oof' moment in my bum when I get up from either cushion or even both, which is usually how I sit. However I can sit without donuts on my kitchen or dining room chairs as they are both that rustic style with the straw type seating which has a slope down towards the middle, so when I sit on them there is no pressure right where obviously the pressure points are. But if I put the kitchen chair cushion down I can't sit on it at all! Experimenting with different chairs shows me that the most uncomfortable seat for me is actually my beloved sofa, which is a shame.

Foam donuts have other uses...
...they make perfect cat beds.

I no longer have the feeling that my body is rearranging itself when I get up now. I can bend over no problem but squatting or kneeling down is less easy and I have to do either slowly; even slower when I get up! But some of that may be to do with lack of muscle, and some is to do with the neuropathy in my legs (more about that later as that's a chemo induced problem). I can finally sit normally on the toilet seat to have a pee, because that position spreads your buttocks open and was too uncomfortable before! I was sort of sitting with all my weight just on one thigh and one hand on the toilet seat to balance myself (not recommended in public loos).

I found a video on YouTube of my exact operation and finally felt able to watch it all the way through (it was condensed down to 20 mins). I'd recently watched videos of having chemo ports both inserted and removed as well. It's always better to watch these things after the event! But with the main surgery, seeing how much flesh is removed around the anus just confirmed what I had thought - I had lost a lot of depth of skin between my buttocks and of course that has had to stretch over time to get comfortable again.

I'm really happy that the nerve damage to my bladder got better over time so that is one big hurdle sorted! However down near that department I have perineal skin in the area that previously was between vagina and anus that was fried by the radiotherapy and which is still tender sometimes; around this area was also where the end of the tunnel that the non-abscess formed which healed badly, leaving a couple of odd looking scars on the skin, which are tender to the touch. That may also be part of what causes discomfort upon sitting. In case I didn't mention, my perineal scar runs from nearly the top of my buttocks to about one inch behind the vagina! So it's kind of understandable that it would be a hard one to heal and would be jolly uncomfortable along the way.

The third thing causing butt/perineal pain and discomfort is a bacterial skin infection between my buttocks which started around October/November. I spoke to my surgeon about it when I saw him back in December, and he took a photo of it with his phone (!!) to take down the corridor to show to my proctologist. A swab was done and it turned out to be a bacteria called Streptococcus dysgalactiae ssp equisimilis (haha that's more of a mouthful than the latin names of most insects!). I took a two week course of antibiotics which made no difference, which confounded the surgeon. He consulted a dermatologist who said that this bacteria is present in the anal/perineal/vaginal area naturally but occasionally for some people can flare up into an infection (which is normally treated by the broad spectrum antibiotic that I took). They agreed the best course of action was to do nothing (unless it got worse), rather than give me more antibiotics. It seems to be getting better - slowly, with time, just like everything else. But it's still painful and a bit oozy at the top of my butt crack. 

Harry on my typing chair. A half deflated rubber ring is more comfortable for me.

My belly scar is fine and the bag, well, it has its moments and sure, it is a bit of a hassle at times, but overall it's one of the easiest things I've had to deal with post surgery (or compared to chemo and its after effects)! It's smelly changing it but thankfully at home we have good extractor fans in the bathrooms - it is going to be interesting in the tiny motorhome bathroom! I guess the skylight will come in very handy. 

Poo bag.

Other people with stomas do this so I thought I'd be brave and give it a go... but using the selfie thing on my phone is really hard and when I point it at my face I see a haggard witch looking back at me. Not nice. I'll leave the facial selfies for the teenagers!

I'm really pleased with my nice clean belly scar.

So, onto the after effects of chemo. I don't get any blood tests done relating to that apart from cancer markers, which is unfair as personally I want to know when my blood is back to normal so I can feel that the horrible chemo drugs have finally left my system. But hoorah! I have a blood test for my thyroid condition - it used to be once a month but is now every two months and the next one is due in about three weeks. It shows full bloodwork for red and white blood cells and platelets, plus a few other thing like liver function tests. The last one was the healthiest I have seen in a long time with only ONE thing in bold (bold meaning it's not in the normal healthy zone) - Lymphocytes which are a type of white blood cell are still low. I'm really hoping this next one will show no bold. Amazingly, despite still having a slightly suppressed immune system, I didn't catch Keith's recent cold - that has to be a first!

I see my Oncologist mid April and need to organise an ultrasound before that. I can't believe how the time has gone by since I saw him last in October when I got the all clear.

I still have the neuropathy but I had about five days recently where it got markedly better - I suddenly found that I could feel my toes! I could get my feet into my slippers without needing my hands to get them on at the back. My knees stopped being painful coming down the stairs. I had more feeling in my hands and whilst still having tingling in my fingertips I could feel through it. But no sooner had I told Keith, then announced it to everyone on facebook, than it got worse again! Next time I'm saying nothing! However I feel that it is nowhere near as bad as it was. The numb patches on my feet have gone and although they still feel like stiff blocks (especially my ankles) I do have more feeling overall. It changes a bit too which may be a good sign with some days being better than others; this is a recent thing as months back all it did was gradually get worse then stay the same. The most important thing is that I am not aware of it every bloody second of the day like I was before. So partly I have got used to it, and partly it is (I really hope) getting better, but like everything else, very, very, slowly.

However possibly as a result of Lyrica for which it is a noted side effect, possibly due to the fact that I ate an inordinate amount of sweet things over the Christmas/New Year period and got very little exercise, I have got fat! Yes I know, fat is a relative thing and I jest, but I no longer fit any of my jeans or trousers and have put on a whopping 2 stone/28 pounds/13kg since I was at my skinniest. However that skinny look was ugly, vile, disgusting, quite frankly downright hideous, so the fact that I can now pinch about 3 inches in certain places is not so bad (I keep telling myself). I've cut out the sweet things now and my weight seems to have stabilised, but I did have to buy some new jeans. I've just got to force myself to do more exercise which I always find hard to do, because muscle tone and strength is more important now than weight.

Overall, between the surgery and the neuropathy which makes my knee and ankle joints stiff, I feel like I've aged 20 years in mobility at times. I know what it feels like now to have to use furniture to heave yourself up off chairs or the floor; to no longer be able to walk quickly; to generally be slow in most movements, particularly after sitting or lying for a while and being really stiff when first getting up. It's not always as bad as I've described though and the more active I am, the easier it gets.

I think my face is fatter,
anyway I hate this pic of me (as usual)!
Dave looks amazing 5 days after major surgery.

That leaves the last thing - the depression. It is lifting but not entirely gone - I see and hear things which make me happy but it's like it's at a lower level of happiness than before. It's too hard to explain. I now have huge sympathy for anyone suffering from this debilitating condition which previously I took little notice of. 

So, that was my crap year and now my new year begins! I am trying to get back my zest for life and Project Motorhome is helping hugely as I have much to look forward to. I haven't been taking many photos lately but want to get back into that soon. With spring having arrived early there are flowers, birds singing and much going on in what still looks like a wintery landscape. I will be back to normal blogging soon I hope. But we pick up the van on Friday so I may be a bit side tracked for a while.... :-) 

Monday, 8 February 2016

My grand plan revealed, and will someone please tell spring to slow down?

I've never been a spendthrift - I was brought up to save money "for a rainy day" or "for my old age". Credit cards were only to be used when you could afford to pay them off at the end of the month. I've had the odd splurge here and there; who hasn't, but I was always fearful of the thought of being broke in my old age and only having a tiny pension to try to live off. K on the other hand was a bit of a spender when I first met him, but over the years I have got that under control ;-) although I do sometimes question his spending! He'll be reading this so I can't say too much!

However things have changed. Around the time that my chemo was ending my elderly uncle suddenly died (peacefully and painlessly) and I learned that some money was coming my way. Now in recent years we have been noticing motorhomes more and more on our travels and thinking that would be a rather useful way to holiday. We have always had touring types of holidays together and as we take everything but the kitchen sink with us (picnic gear, travel kettle, lots of books - bird ID, where to go to find said birds and guide books etc etc, not to mention photography equipment) it has been a tiring pain in the you know what with all the loading and unloading of the car at hotels and motels. OK buying a motorhome for the occasional holiday is very expensive but the idea of being able to take off for a couple of days here and there and exploring more of our local patch i.e. Brittany and the other regions around us, particularly out of the holiday season here, sounds divine. And so it was that I announced that I was going to buy a motorhome out of the money I was getting from my Uncle (reasoning that K couldn't complain cos it was my money!). I have been researching the subject for months - however there were two problems. We couldn't keep the van at home due to our steep sloping drive (and nowhere to park it anyway), and even if we found somewhere to keep it there was the small matter of the chickens and cats. Now this was a part of the reason for thinking about moving house because we could have found somewhere with large enough hard standing/parking and we wouldn't have carried on keeping poultry.

Those who read my post a few weeks back know that we decided to stay here after all and that decision was made partly after having a chat with our English neighbours about ways we could help each other out when we (each) went away. For us we will always get in housesitters when we are away for a couple of weeks, but it's the 1-3 nighters that we would like to do regularly that would have been the problem. My lovely neighbour has said she is happy to pop round and see to the chickens (and cats) as she rather likes them and that it is no problem (and if you are reading this there will be plenty of free eggs coming your way!). We also need a place to park the van the night before setting off somewhere - we can park outside our gates for loading and unloading but it's a bit big to leave there overnight so they don't mind us parking it in their flat parking area then.

And so we went shopping. By this time my OH was starting to get cold feet because of the cost, which isn't helped by the fact that there are lots of optional extras which all cost loads more money - the cheeky manufacturers charge huge amounts for certain things, many of which you can get yourself elsewhere (like TVs!) for a fraction of the cost. But many things need to be fitted into or onto the van and some of those things need to be done in the factory whilst the van is being built, although some can be done afterwards by the dealer if they have a workshop.

Finding a van to suit two tall people especially one who is 195cm tall when some of the vans have a ceiling height of just that isn't easy. But those with a height of 198cm turned out to be fine. So we looked at various models including the 'gin palace on wheels' (his words) which I really, really liked but was 'rather' expensive. Finally the lady showing us around took us inside to show us a van which was on special offer as it was last year's model, and they were trying to sell it to make space for this year's new models. It was perfect for us and had quite a hefty discount and even without that was actually cheaper than the ones I'd been looking at originally, but I had discounted that range because the website wrongly stated that the ceiling height was 195cms! K was happier seeing the price of this one and so we went back for him to test drive it and to look at it again and make our decision. He was happy with it, the seats are comfy, the beds (it's a twin bed model so no climbing over the other one to get to the loo in the middle of the night) are really comfy and long enough, it has a great big garage area in the back to fit tables, chairs, BBQ etc and loads of storage space inside. Plus the payload is high enough so we should be able to carry all those items without worrying about being overloaded. So we have siged on the dotted line, have ordered some extras that can be fitted in their workshop like a sun awning and we'll pick it up at the end of the month.

We were also dead lucky as we found a lock up garage to keep it in only 20 mins away at a place where people can keep their caravans, motorhomes, boats etc under cover when they can't keep these large vehicles at home. We got the only garage free out of 87 of them!! So that's sorted then.

I know I waffle a lot but I find it difficult to say things in few words but if you will bear with me just a little bit longer I wanted to also explain just WHY I decided to throw caution to the wind and splurge on such an expensive item. Yes I know it will devalue as soon as we buy it (although being a 2015 model possibly less so than a 2016 model?); we also have to pay for insurance, the garaging, the cost of kitting it out (but that's mostly a one off) and as we won't be touring for weeks on end regularly or setting off to the sun in Spain for 3 months during winter we won't be really getting our money's worth out of it that way. (That's mostly due to having cats). 

It's because of having had a brush with death - it makes you look at life in a different light. I want to live for and enjoy NOW. The worst thing in the world that could happen would be if my cancer were to return and all I had done in the intervening years was the same old same old. So I don't care about the money, I don't care if this costs us loads in running costs or if we lose money over it. I don't care about saving for my old age right now. I just want to have some fun and get to GO places after more than 18 months of being mostly stuck at home.* And I feel that with a camping car it's a bit more suited to being less than fit. We can park up, go for a walk then come back, have somewhere comfy to sit and put the kettle on. Then drive off to explore other new places. And camping is a whole new world for me and will be fun and different, albeit in a slightly more comfortable way than the average 'camping'. My only experience is a two man tent sleeping on hard ground in the Australian outback in winter, absolutely freezing because I hadn't realised that the desert would be hot during the day and really cold at night! And I've slept in a static caravan on holiday when I was about 10 which was full of spiders which absolutely terrified me.... I've changed a lot, haven't I? Hahaha! 

* K does feel the same way - this is not me being entirely selfish. At least I hope not.   

The following is a photo from the Burstner website of the kitchen - it will take some getting used to preparing meals in such a small space with so little work surface! Of course the vans are somewhat smaller inside than the glossy website photos would have you believe.

In other news we have finished lopping off branches and raising the canopy on some of the trees to let in more light, or to generally get past without having to duck.

Here we were removing some branches as my little Liquidambar was starting to
reach over towards the light a bit - it's the tree on the right.

Spring is happening much too early and I had my first daffodils starting to open at the beginning of the month which is about a month earlier than what I'd consider the average here. But most strange is my rhododendron starting to flower! I've checked back over several other years' photos and it is definitely April when it blooms normally.

There are more flowers out on it now than when I took this photo last week!

Small flowered narcissus.

More daffies/narcissus.

Pulmonaria, which does flower early.


And of last year's flowers....
the Calendulas are still alive and starting to flower again
although this specimen looks a bit soggy!

There are many more buds waiting to open up on the plant.

Hallie caught asleep with my phone camera.

Harry was asleep with his leg sticking out like this
but I woke him without meaning to so he gave me a filthy look....

...then tucked his leg in and went back to sleep again.
Suffice to say these baskets are in front of the wood burner!

That's it for now - blogging may be intermittent due to many things needing doing re both kitting out the new motorhome and tons more research, so that we don't look like complete and utter idiots when we first get the show on the road. :-)