I was having problems with accepting my new body. I never knew I was ill, so I don’t see myself with an illness. And they’d repaired it. So surely, I was fine.

An impatient patient

I’m not a patient person, which made me not a great patient.

If I’m stopped from doing something I want to do, I want to do it more.

The road to recovery was slow.  My childhood nickname was Tigger, and like my namesake, I wanted to bounce back. But I had limitations.

For starters, I had a broken sternum that was being held together by wires! I couldn’t lift, I couldn’t pull, I couldn’t push, I couldn’t stretch. The heart was repairing quickly, but my bones and my scar would take longer.

I discussed all this with my counsellor. He made me realise that my scar is just that – a scar. And it was healing quickly due to my age. He made me look to the future, rather than the now.

My scar was proof that I am still here. Without it, life would have been uncertain. The immediate look was all I could think about.

Retail therapy

He sent me on a shopping trip – to find something that I would wear on a night out that was similar to my style as a young adult. My style was low cut, which now appalled me. But I jumped at the chance of being given a reason to shop.

I spent hours trawling the shops, trying to find something fashionable that I would feel comfortable with. I bought several roll necks and other jumpers – but no going out top 🤣

In the last random independent shop I went into, I found my perfect top. It was a vest top, with a chiffon type top that went over it. The pattern distracted from the scar, and you couldn’t see it! It was perfect!

When taking it into my next session, I think I shocked my Counsellor. He was expecting me to be mentally cured by a shopping trip and thought I’d have brought loads of different types of clothes to show him – rather than 1, quite conservative top.

So, we investigated other options.

Sisterly love

My sister was getting married 3 months after the surgery and had asked me to be maid of honour. I was ecstatic but concerned. And when I saw what she’d chosen for me to wear, I wanted to back out.

My sister lives in Cambodia and was marrying a lovely Khmer man at an English/Khmer wedding in our hometown. She wanted me to wear a skirt and shirt combo – no problem I hear you think. But the shirt was a mandarin style collar with a V-neck. A V-neck to me was like a massive arrow highlighting my bumpy, bright purple scar. I hated it.

So, with the help of my counsellor and the hospital, I was seen by the cosmetic recovery team. They managed to match my skin colour perfectly and produced a wonderful make up and cover up that made my scar virtually disappear.

It was the thing that got me through.

I wore my bridesmaid outfit with pride, and although you could see my scar slightly, it wasn’t as in your face as it could have been.

Finding me

I started wearing more “me” clothes, but it was a long process. Once the scar had lessened, the inflammation had gone down, and my chest was settling into its new state of normal I began to fix on another reason not to wear certain tops.

I was a very skinny size 6. And the wires in my chest that were helping fuse my sternum back together were beginning to show. 6 little bumps from the top of the scar to the bottom. One of them being right in the middle on my bra line. It would rub, and bruise easily with the underwired bras I wore. I tried non wired – but being so small chested it made me completely flat chested and I hated it. I’d already given up so much of myself to this, and I wasn’t prepared to wear horrible (20 years ago they really were nasty) underwear for the rest of my life!!

On discussing my issues at a cardiology appointment, they decided that as I was so young, they would take my wires out. A year after my surgery, I underwent more surgery to remove the wires – my unsightly lumps.

Recovery was a lot quicker. I was unable to lift and move again, but it repaired beautifully and I began to feel more like myself.

Not a coincidence

I don’t believe in coincidences. Looking back, I can see a thread.

Why did I take trumpet lessons? If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have fuller than expected function in my left lung.

Why did I have that car accident? It was the resulting MRI scan that led me on the path of investigations.

Why Leicester? There were only five hospitals in the country at the time who did this type of operation, and Leicester was in the top three. As I was an adult, the top consultant in the country undertook my reconstruction surgery herself.

Just a coincidence?