Getting to know Annet - 8. Reconstruction & Rehabilitation

I feel guilty admitting that I have found it very difficult to write Annet's story. She is the one who has to live through the trauma of what has taken place from the moment she was diagnosed with cancer. But reading her story not only gives you a better understanding of what those in Annet's shoes has to live through, it gives you a chance to walk beside her. Even though it's an emotional journey, Annet says that having her loved one's beside her while having to go through it all, makes all the difference... 

Annet has taught me to stay positive in difficult times and instead of wanting to simply give up or allow your emotions to swallow you whole, you need to adjust your mindset! Thank you for sharing all of this with us Annet! 

Annet's story is intended to give others an understanding of what someone in Annet's position is faced with on a daily basis. It's not intended to cause any upset. If you would like to show your support to Annet or ask her any questions, then you can do so at the end of this post. 

Here follows Part 8 of Annet's story. If you would like to read more about her journey from the beginning, then you can do so here: 

Getting to Know Annet

Following her mastectomy, Annet needed time to recover prior to starting the reconstruction process. These were her next steps: 

NEXT STEPS

During her surgery, a breast tissue expander was fitted. A breast tissue expander is an inflatable breast implant designed to stretch the skin and muscle to make room for a future, more permanent implant.

Annet's was to start radiation therapy and the filling of the expander next, until it reached the desired size and before reconstruction could begin. 

EXPANDER

The filling of Annet's expander, started quite quickly and before the radiation therapy, Annet had already had two sessions in which the expander was filled. 

I asked Annet how she felt about all the different treatments that needed to be done following her surgery. She told me that she did not mind the filling of the expander and that it was not painful at all, but that it was time consuming, driving the 45-50 minute journey to and from the hospital each time as well as waiting for and receiving the treatment.

I can imagine that your day will be consumed with preparing to go to hospital, arriving early and waiting in waiting rooms and of course the drive there and back for you and your loved one's who go with you. 

Once Annet started with radiation therapy the expander could not be filled as the exact position where the radiation is to take place was measured out quite precisely and this position could not change due to the breast expanding.... So all sessions of filling the expander had to be halted. 

RADIATION

In total, Annet had 16 sessions of radiation which took place every day of the week... except for the weekends. 

Other than the filling of the expander, the radiation therapy was more difficult to bear... Not only was travelling the distance to and from Leeuwarden day after day quite tiring, but she had to lie very still in a difficult position and could not move the whole time that the radiation took place. 

I was allowed to make a quick few images prior to the radiation starting. As I stood there with Annet's husband, the room was painfully quiet as the nurses were focussing on getting the lasers on the EXACT right location. Apart from the squeaking of the machinery when moving fractions of millimeters at a time to be perfectly lined up.... you could literally hear a pin drop! 

Luckily, Annet has a lot of knowledge of skin care products having worked for Nutrimetrics for many years, so she had her own special 'after care routine'. She applied some aftersun directly following the radiation to cool the skin down and at night, she massaged the special apricot kernel oil that the brand is known for (which she also used on her scars following the surgery) onto the area where the radiation took place. Annet feels that doing so, has really aided the healing process. She said that she did not suffer from burn wounds, red skin or eczema. 

Annet also said that her scars have healed really well and that her skin turned brown during the radiation and then giggled when she told me that her armpits turned brown too :)

TIME TO REFLECT

Once the radiation was complete, Annet had a period of rest prior to starting with rehabilitation. She was relieved that there was a little bit of time where she did not have to do anything... The filling of the expander still continued but that was all. 

One thing that Annet did find  difficult, was that now that all the treatments were over... she had time to reflect and the reality of all that had happened to her... now started to sink in. This is something she had great difficulty with but was also something that could be treated. 

For the first time in years, Annet went on holiday with her family to France. It was important for her to get away and take a break from all that has happened. She enjoyed some sun... relaxation and beautiful views... She met some great people and had a few wonderful days with her son and his girlfriend. 

RECONSTRUCTION

Following their holiday... it was time to get back to reality... The day after she returned, Annet had to go to the hospital in Groningen to discuss if and how it could be possible to reconstruct her breast. It's important to Annet to use her own tissue in the reconstruction process (this can be done using tissue from your abdominal area). Unfortunately, it seemed that Annet didn't have the 'good blood vessels' needed to make this possible (blood vessels with good circulation providing the certainty that the tissue will not die once transplanted), which is why her plastic surgeon was not able to do the operation herself and she referred Annet to a specialist hospital in Groningen. 

From the meeting which Annet had with a Professor in Groningen, it became apparent that he would be albe to do the surgery for her, but Annet was warned that it was major surgery and the Professor urged Annet to reconsider doing the surgery with silicone implants as this was a much easier surgery.... 

After giving it all a lot of thought... and reading up on what the effects of silicone on your body could be... Annet made her decision to opt for the difficult operation, using her own abdominal tissue...  

This difficult operation is planned for June 2017... 

REHABILITATION

During a checkup in September 2016, Annet informed the doctor that she would like to start rehabilitation. Annet explained that she felt emotionally quite fragile and that her feelings of exhaustion were becoming overpowering. 

At the end of October 2016, Annet started with rehabilitation. Apart from physically training under the guide of a physiotherapist, she was given mental aid from an Occupational Therapist who assisted her with processing all that she has been through.

Annet has found that the above has made a very big difference. Annet could feel herself getting fitter and now also has the skills to continue training by herself at the gym.

The Occupational Therapy has taught her how to better understand why she was feeling so tired and has helped her to deal with those feelings in a different manner.

Because of all the progress she has made, her last rehabilitation session was on the 20th of January 2017.  

what next...

Annet now needs to keep up with her fitness (both going to the gym and walking) as her body needs to be at it's strongest before going into the operation. The operation will last between 6 and 8 hours and the fitter her body... the quicker it will recover. 

I asked Annet what her biggest concerns were with going forward and she told me that her greatest concern was that this feeling of being drained and exhausted does not go away. When she feels like this, it affects her emotionally and this is something she is really struggling with. She appreciates that she now has a better understanding of what it is and how to deal with it, but it stays difficult as it limits what she does on a daily basis. She also feels that her memory has been affected and that she struggles to concentrate. 

The fitter she is, the less the above affects her but... she admits that she sometimes struggles to do something as basic as add up 1 + 1. Annet feels that if the exhaustion passes then all the above will be better. 

Annet has however changed the way she does things because she now knows that her concentration and memory is affected. So... she uses a calculator more often and when she has to tally up some orders, then she asks the hostess to double check what she has written down and added up (just to make sure). All of these little changes in approaching day to day matters helps, as Annet disappoints and doubts herself when she makes mistakes. 

I think Annet has been incredibly brave throughout all of this. She is one of the most positive people I have ever met! After going through such a life changing experience and facing daily challenges when doing things which the rest of us deem normal... Annet continuously finds a way in which to adjust so that she doesn't have to feel bad about the changes she is going through. She is a beautiful and positive example to us all... 

I asked Annet if she had any advice to share... and what she said I feel can be applied to everyone!

Annet gave the following advice:

1. Listen to your own body.

It is imperitive to listen to your own body and give it the time it needs to rest and recover. Annet admits that it is hard to do, but that you can learn to do this. 

2. KNOW YOUR LIMITS AND TAKE THE TIME YOU NEED TO REST. 

Annet feels that has no 'reserves' and that she needs to pay careful attention not to go over her body's own limit. She struggles to read where this 'limit' is as it comes without warning and then suddenly... she feels exhausted.  

3. USE ALL THE HELP YOU CAN GET! 

Annet says that the rehabilitation offered is incredibly important to do! Even if you don't feel like doing it (like she did....). The rehabilitation process and the new skills it's taught her, has helped Annet to (almost) continue with her work (and her passions!!!) like normal. 

During rehabilitation, Annet has learnt how to deal with feeling exhausted and to take breaks before she thinks that she needs them. She admits that it still goes wrong sometimes when she suddenly gets tired without warning, but she does her best to give her body what it needs.  

4. ENJOY LIFE! 

This is the most important of all!!! Take time to see the beauty around you in nature, the people you meet, spending time with your family and the celebrations of special occasions with the one's you love! 

Annet glows when she explains just how much she appreciates and values the little and important things in life. She also describes the love and support from her girlfriends as a 'catch net' which has carried her throughout this whole process. 

On behalf of Annet, I would like to thank all who have taken the time to read her story and even more so... to all who (in their own way) on a daily basis show their loved one's that they care. When in good times.... AND ESPECIALLY in bad... Thank you!