Grabbing life with both hands

The previous week to surgery on the Wednesday (my surgery was booked for Thursday 11th May)  I had a CT scan and on the way home had a call from a nurse at Wythenshawe hospital where I was due to have surgery the next week.  Some confusion over who was actually doing the surgery I asked her to check and she came back saying yes I am booked in with Mark Jones.  It was rather late to find out that it may have been with someone else and I would have had to have another consultation with them before my op!  Anyway I had advised I had a scan as she rang to also check that.

So the week after the scan which all went ok and STABLE!!!  YAY!

G advised that there was a crack in my sternum.  Yes you heard right… a CRACK in my new sternum.  This was Tuesday and I was due to have surgery in 2 days!

Shit.  My initial thought was “is it horizontal or vertical” as if it is vertical then this is a big problem and may have to have a new one…

I had a big lump at the top of the sternum which was causing side effects

Confirmation that it was horizontal (phew) so my thoughts are that what I have already seen with the lump at my neck is that it’s slipped away from the original sternum and the top bit had migrated up and left this crack in the middle.

Mark the surgeon wasn’t available and not back till the Wednesday so I had to ring the secretary, told her about the stable scan but there is a crack and could he review this urgently as I will be having surgery the day after on the Thursday.

Mark rang me the day after he confirmed that all was ok and he didn’t think that the crack would be an issue at all.  Said he didn’t need to correct it and it would be ok and won’t cause me any problems.  Worried… but obviously he wouldn’t risk anything so I’m in his very capable hands.

I was due to have surgery 10am on the Thursday but they then rang me and asked me to come in at 7am – rather worrying thinking that perhaps they now think it’s a longer job and had to then ring my friend to have the kids early as Jeff was coming to hospital with me.  People don’t think about the childcare issue when you are having surgery or treatment.  Thankfully it was sorted.

Preop drink – cheers!

Wednesday night I did the usual Nordic walking with the group and took my pre op drink with me.

You get supplied 6 drinks now from hospital to take for what is seems like any surgery so that you are not hydrated due to not being able to eat or drink from the night before.  So was able to hydrate with the lovely lemon and lime drink yuk… well down the hatch!

I had 5 days of Hibi scrub prior and the Thursday morning I got up and showered with it again just to make sure I didn’t have any problems with hospital infections or bugs.

Compression socks



I knew the procedure and as it was a shorter procedure than my original sternotomy.  Jeff had to leave before I got ready and changed into the hospital gown, nice paper knickers and NHS lovely green compression socks.  With the usual checks (this is getting all too familiar?) BP, heart rate checked, bloods to be done once the anaesthetist had access to my veins in surgery due to my crap chemo knackered veins.  Anaesthetist run through the issues and procedure and if I needed another spinal block or whatever for pain (now I was getting worried, surely it isn’t going to be that long?) well they have to cover all issues as they really didn’t know how long it was going to take.

Mark popped down to see me and have a chat about the surgery again and commented how well I looked (suntan) yes I was trying to match his (he’d just come back from holidays) so he didn’t expect any complication just a case of reducing the top of the sternum.

Subliminal message?

Another wait and was sat in a room with a woman hyperventilating blowing into a paper bag… not great to sit and watch before an op… They called my name and I was led to the room outside the OT to lie on the bed and get the first IV in my vein.  The bed was like an air bed, warm, and I lay there took my shoulders out of the top and the 2 anaesthetists were on hand to help me relax with some drugs pushed through the IV and then the oxygen mask was put on, mild panic… and chatting away to me I soon drifted off to sleep.

I woke and it was only just over an hour later.  “Joanne can you hear me? Joanne you’re in the operating recovery room, Joanne can you wake up” and as quick as that you open your eyes to consciousness after losing an hour of your life that you will never ever know about.  I felt ok, the throat was ok, not really painful and I woke up to a couple of lovely nurses fussing over me.  Terrible to say I have forgotten their names but I won’t ever forget our chats as we just didn’t stop.  The reason why I was there and what I did they seemed intrigued and chatted about issues in and around breast cancer.  We had to wait for a bed to be available on the ward so I guess I was there around a couple of hours.  Strong builders brew tea and brown toast with butter and jam was perfect and I was so hungry but my throat was very sore after the breathing tube down my throat so the toast stuck.  Another cup of tea and two bottles of water later it was a little better.  Morphine took the edge off anything.  The porter took me and my drain to the ward F2 where I had a lovely room on my own.  The nurse on duty came into see me and looked puzzled as she said “you’ve just come out of surgery?” I said yes why? “Well you look too well to have had surgery!” Seemed to be the general consensus about me – I’m too well, how could I be ill, have had surgery and look like I do? Questions all the time.  I guess I have to be thankful.  It does make me smile.  Drip attached I had a bag of fluid.  The nurse took the IV out in the side of my arm and I said I hoped the hand IV worked as I had rubbish veins.  She hooked up another bag of fluid and after a bit of messing about the drip started to work.  1/2 later I looked at my hand and had to call the nurse as vein had stopped working and the fluid had gone under my skin in the wrist causing it to swell.  IV line out so no more fluid.  I told Jeff not to bother coming into see me in the evening. It was a 2 hour round trip so I was fine on my own (and the kids would be bored) I had my phone and iPad and a whole community to talk to on social media.  I caught up with work and emails so that was a bonus.  I realised 12 hours after the op that I hadn’t had any further painkillers.  In fact I wasn’t really that sore just the cut along the previous cut on my chest which was around 2 inches long.  I asked for some paracetamol and the nurse came and gave me a stronger painkiller and said maybe it would be good to have that so I didn’t wake with pain in the night.  I had a poor night sleep as I forgot to take my eye mask and ear plugs and didn’t ask the nurses for any.  Anyway morning came and had breakfast freshened myself up and then the nurse came around to take my drain out which was in my neck.  I lay down on the bed and she cut the stitches away which held it in place and at a count of 3 pulled the drain and oh my god it felt like the drain was up around my shoulder! A bit queezy I said it felt like it was further in than expected and she showed me the drain it was about 5 inches long! She took the dressing off my sternum and I was all ok.  There were dissolvable stiches in the wound so I didn’t need a follow up with any nurse to take any out.

I didn’t need any take home medication either so I just waited to be signed off.  Before I left one of the anaesthetists came to see me to wish me well.  He told me he had worked with Mark for around 25 years and he was also retiring in around 6 weeks.  They seemed despondent about the NHS and the systems and barriers that they had to deal with on a day to day basis.  Extra and more forms and computer work to complete more details and not letting them get on with the job they were supposed to do.  Problems with management not understanding what they do.  It really does worry me that the NHS are losing great and valuable people like this who cannot be replaced overnight, it takes years and years of work to get to their level.  The NHS really need to sit down and listen to their valued employees to help reduce their stress and workload so that they don’t at the first instance maybe decide to retire.  Some are on complete burn out and that isn’t healthy for employee or employer.  They are passionate people who want to help make people better.

Anyway, Mark popped into see me, it was a lovely chat and something I won’t forget, he told me how he understands patients and he has been one himself so knows the worry and the fear and everything that goes with it.  He told me I was a very rare person, that I was like gold dust and he was very impressed and to continue what I was doing.  He could tell how passionate I was for making a difference and patient advocacy.  We had a long chat and it was obvious he had given his working life to cardio thoracic surgery and to the NHS.  I was the first of two people he had operated on performing a sternotomy for secondary breast cancer and I hope he knows that he has given more years to our lives by doing this.  This is what surgery and being a surgeon or oncologist or nurse is about, giving someone the best opportunity to live a good longer life.

Mr Mark Jones my cardio thoracic surgeon

Mark left and one of the staff popped in with a survey and I asked if she thought Mark would mind if he has a photo with me (as I really didn’t think it would be his thing and of course he was too important to want a photo with little old me) anyway yes he was quite happy to do this! We had a lovely photo together and he had just been away on holiday and we both had matching tans to the point where we had to stand near the light as we blended into the background.

Photo done it was time for the nurses as it was International Nurses Day so I told them we needed a photo as I was going to tweet it.  So Lauren, Eleishia, Sarah (who I had to do the photo again for due to FOMO – lol), Becky and Dan.  My student nurse was Ally who was working with Becky and we had some lovely chats when they both came to check on me every so often.  Lovely nurses that the NHS should be very proud of.

Ally and Becky


Eleishia, Ally, Becky and Dan


Lauren, Eleishia, Sarah & Becky








The effects of the surgery I already felt had lessened the side effects I was having and felt I could breathe better and just didn’t constantly have this pressure on my throat.  So from my own perspective the surgery was and has been very successful.  I was one of the last people that day that Mark would operate on.  The end of an era and his colleagues all spoke so highly of him.  I knew when I met him he was a very caring and considerate man and I am so pleased he was able to do this surgery for me.  I have been very lucky with the amazing team that support me and help me live longer with this disease.  Any surgery is risky so it’s something I don’t take lightly but if it can give me a better outcome then I will grab it with both hands.

after surgery

drain out


going home

Home and back to usual walking again the day i was out of surgery