Newly-weds on the farm at Whangaehu 1988
Retirees in Palmerston North 2023
“That’s a very big breast. Would you like me to make it smaller?”, my surgeon asked during my recent surgical follow-up appointment. His inquiring eyes looked straight into mine. “It’s been 2 years since your mastectomy. It’s up to you …. is that something you’d like me to do for you?”
“This one’s too big. I think you would be much more comfortable if we did an equalizing mammoplasty”, he added. I was caught by surprise by his very frank statement and offer.
“Well …. yes I guess …. but aren’t surgical resources stretched?”, I answered. “Aren’t there lots of other women with breast cancer who should get priority over this … this … cosmetic sort of thing? I’m a bit ethically conflicted”.
He seemed startled. “Don’t you want to take this opportunity I’m offering you?”
“Well yes of course I would love to …. but ….” I felt guilty about denying someone else valuable theatre time.
“OK, go away and think about it and we’ll talk about it in 6 months at your next appointment”, he said as he swept cheerfully out of the room.
Ironically it has taken a completely different set of circumstances to convince me to accept his offer of a breast reduction (left equalising mammoplasty). A defibrillator generator recently implanted in my left chest wall to manage cardiac arrhythmias moves alarmingly towards my right side when I roll over. My remaining “very big breast” as he described it, flops into the vacant space left by the right radical mastectomy 2 years ago. The stability of the defibrillator anchor inside my heart may be at risk because of this excessive movement of the generator. Ethical issue resolved, I have a sound reason to accept his offer.
I have experienced cardiac arrhythmias all my life. For the last 45 years medications, electric shocks and 2 very detailed ablations inside my heart had not been able to control them. The last 10 years have seen a significant increase in the frequency and severity of arrhythmias and ambulance transfers to hospital. Ten weeks ago the critical care paramedics finally captured long runs of lethal ventricular tachycardia on my ECG and suddenly everything got very serious. They shocked my heart back into a normal rhythm at home and …. long story cut very short …. I fulfilled every criteria on specialist cardiac tests for an inherited genetic cardiac condition called “Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy” (ARVC), otherwise known as “Sudden Death Syndrome”. I have been carrying this all my life and have so avoided the “sudden death” ending. I now have the ultimate in BYO … my very own cardiac defibrillator and pacemaker installed in my heart to take with me wherever I go. And a change in anti-arrhythmic medication has made a huge difference by maintaining my heart beat in a normal sinus rhythm. It is such a blessing to have been comprehensively diagnosed and treated effectively resulting in increased energy levels and hope for a healthier future.
From generation to generation.
Yeshua … a stone I painted for a friend recently.
As a regular reader of my blog you’ll be aware how much I treasure the gifts that have come with my breast cancer journey. But as the TV advertorials say, there’s more! Yes, much more …. there are more gifts and blessings emerging through my ongoing breast cancer journey and crazy cardiac arrhythmias. This diagnosis of a serious genetic cardiac condition is going to offer protection for future generations in my family. My blood sample has gone to Norway for genetic testing … yes NORWAY. Because I am proven to have ARVC which has an inheritance rate of 50% for siblings and offspring, my immediate family are entitled to genetic testing and a whole raft of cardiac investigations to establish whether they too need a defibrillator implanted and preventative management of arrhythmias and cardiomyopathy. The positive benefits of this are brilliant.
Click on “The Gift” below to read about the gifts Marie has identified…
Say Yes Please
Friends’ roster for Jim’s meals
“Do you know if I’ll be going to Wellington today or tomorrow?”, I asked my nurses hopefully every day. “My husband is at home with dementia and it would really help if I had some idea of how long to organise care for him at home”.
It was frustrating waiting in Palmerston North Hospital for 2 weeks not being able to support Jim at home myself. But the defibrillator or ICD (internal cardiac device) that I needed had to be implanted by cardiac specialists in Wellington and I needed constant monitoring for arrhythmias in the meantime. There is normally a waiting period for patients transferring from outlying hospitals of about two weeks. I was fortunate to be transferred out by air with one of my ex-ICU flight-nurse colleagues from Whanganui. We had a wonderful catch up during the flight.
Air transfer to Wellington Hospital for ICD implant
At the moment our biggest challenge is that the New Zealand Transport Authority (Waka Kotahi) bans people from driving for 6 months after ICD (intra-cardiac device) implantation. It’ll be the 20th March 2024 before I can drive again! It is really inconvenient. However I am beginning to see a gift emerging from this enforced driving ban.
The driving ban has forced our very independent selves to say “Please could you help me with …” and “Yes please, I would love it if you could do that”. Being a giver is so much easier than being a receiver. I find it hard to ask for help. But I need help. Now when someone says, “If there is anything we can do, just ask”, I make myself say, “Oh yes please … could you (for example)
• take Jim to Marion Kennedy Centre at 9.30am and bring him home at 2.45pm
• take us to the railway station at 5.30am to catch the 6.15am train for my/Jim’s appointment in Wellington
• let us rest at your place in Wellington until we catch the train home at 5.15pm
• drive me in my motorhome to Robertson Prestige or to Graham’s Autocare to (do whatever is needed) …. and home again
• help me with shopping errands I need to do all around town today
• mow the lawns
• take the garden waste to the landfill
• put Jim’s eye drops in 4 times every day & make sure he is OK when I am not at home
• or whatever the pressing need is
The list of names above shows one of the cooking rosters for Jim’s meals created by friends when I was in hospital. Our friends dropped off meals at home, or took Jim out somewhere, or came to our home to cook and eat with him. They drove our motorhome to rallies and events for us. One couple has offered to drive our motorhome so that we can go away and enjoy a summer holiday with them over January. They cleaned our windows, toilets and floors and helped clear out our garage and dump rubbish. They drive us regularly to church and other gatherings. Friends and family have given advice and encouragement, visited us and cheered us up, bought books to read, and even snuck the occasional delicious meal to me in hospital. Two friends drove all the way to Wellington to bring me home from Wellington Hospital in their car so that I could travel in comfort after my ICD insertion. Such has been and still is the love and care we are receiving from our friends and family. Yesterday a friend, in response to my request for help said, “We are so glad that you asked because when we offered to help we really meant it.”.
This is a big learning curve and a gift to us both … we are now much more able to ask for support and say “yes please”. In doing so I hope we are allowing others to express their love and/or appreciation to us, knowing that they are significantly contributing to our wellbeing and being a blessing to us. Our ongoing challenge is to gratefully and graciously receive the help and support being offered.
Acts 20:35 in the Bible says that a person is more blessed by giving. But in order for this to happen, someone must be willing to be blessed by receiving. We are very grateful to be recipients of all this giving, and are learning to be grace-filled askers and receivers. To all of you out there who have or are supporting us, THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts. You are God’s gift to us and we are so grateful.
Enjoying our daughter-in-law Gillian in Wellington Hospital
Just a thought to leave you with. Like me, you might find yourself happy and eager to help others any way you can, but reluctant to ask for help for yourself. Think of it this way. In asking for help, you are giving someone the joy and opportunity to acknowledge and bless you. Let them bless you. You’ll be surprised at how liberating it feels.