What to do when your boob explodes at 35,000 feet…

8 min readAug 31, 2017


The ruin of my chest

<Disclaimer: if you’ve made it past that picture then you’ve probably gathered this is a gorey one. If you fancy something different, but recent, try my take on counselling>

“I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do, what should I do, what should I do????” was my super helpful reaction to realising that I was sitting in about half a litre of pus, in the middle of a row of seats on an aeroplane, a good two hours from landing.

I could a. Stand up and all the fluid that had pooled in in my t-shirt would spill down my legs and on to the floor b. Try and shimmy out of the seat in that half seated thing you do if you get stuck in a booth seat at a restaurant or c. sing Hotel California in my head until I blissfully pass out from some sort of stress-induced brain embolism. Oh, I should say, my toddler daughter is also sat on my lap watching cartoons (Sarah & Duck, if you must know, it’s great and there’s a talking umbrella who is afraid of rain), so I’m trying not to freak her out or cover her in gack. Anyway, in the end, I went for bonus option d. Look panick-stricken at husband, who will take your child, point to the muslin in your hand (permanent fixture of the parent) and herd you to the plane toilets.

Which are occupied.

At this point, the three of us (me, husband and baby sidekick) are huddled at the front of the plane and I think most people are assuming we are having an argument about who packed the baby milk and why I am covered in it. We are definitely still Entertaining at this point. We press the button you basically never press and one of the flight crew pops her head over Alex’s shoulder, no doubt expecting a bit of baby sick or perhaps a spilled food pouch. Bless her, she was not expecting this shit show.

As soon as the bathroom was clear I locked myself in and stripped off. Every movement forced another wave of fluid to flood out of what I could now see was my broken skin. When the flow finally slowed, you could see my chest muscle wall (dark purple, a bit venison-y) through the ruin of my body. To be clear, this is not my scar that has split, but a new bonus door into my internal organs.

How did we get in this literal and figurative mess?Well, we’d been on holidays for just 5 days (5 days ffs) and I’d spent the whole time on IV antibiotics for a severe infection. I’d called my surgical team in the UK when I suspected something was up and they’d said that there was no need to come home, but to get the antibiotics and head in to the surgical clinic the day after we got back. Needless to say, we never made it that far.

The original mastectomy, back in March, had left me with a portion of thin skin (this is normal as the surgeons strive to remove as much tissue as possible) and, stretched and weakened by the infection (I was the Harvey Twoface of boobs that holiday, one perfect reconstruction, one raw, stretched out horror) it had ruptured on our flight home. Ruptured is a nice word for it. Imagine trying to hold water in a wet piece of kitchen roll between two hands. Everything is ok for a short time but, sooner or later, your going to be left holding two pieces of sad soggy papier maché.

Luckily I had packed some surgical dressings that I had left over from months ago in my hand luggage. But I didn’t know whether I should put them on, squish out all the goo, wait, or go back to singing Hotel California. At this point the air crew are starting to lose their shit and I can hear my husband marshalling them in to something resembling coherence, with our daughter on one hip and a stern look in his eye. Under his direction, they found me a nurse on board who works with post natal women (breast feeding problems and such), Paula. Paula squeezed in to the cubicle, let me have a little snot cry and then sorted me out. In between, we were also visited by a couple of people who wanted to offer their help: a dentist (I mean, seriously, what did she think I needed that she could offer? <disclaimer to US readers: UK dentists are not doctors> and a bloke who, to this day, I think just wanted a nose. You know the type. The kind of person who, if you are opening a jar goes “let me try”, even if their hands a full. Even if he had no hands.

After Entertaining, we had moved to Inconvenient, as we blocked one (of two) bathroom on a full plane, and then we swiftly upgraded to ‘Christ-at-least-were-not-them’ status.

Pretty quickly my new dressing became overwhelmed with the yellow liquid that was running out of me and, yet again, my husband was on to a solution. After realising that there is next to nothing useful in the massive sack of first aid stuff on a flight. We fashioned a make shift half bra-half bandage from a nappy and a roll of plaster. I taped it on over the manky dressing which was still technically clean where it was touching me, and we just needed something to catch all the gore that spilled through it.

My clothes were now in a bin bag and I was dressed in my husband’s over-sized shirt. I like to think I looked like an Olsen twin but I think it was more like when I was a kid and I wore my big brother's trousers to school by mistake (true story).

We made our way back to our seats that were still covered in gack and tissues, did our best to clear up and sat back down. The incredible British will power of my fellow passengers meant that, despite their curiousity, not one person asked us what had happened. We got a few closed mouth smiles and the odd head incline, the true show of support from strangers. The teenager who occupied the third seat in our trio (our daughter didn’t have her own seat) was so incredibly teenage that she didn’t look up from her phone for any of this. What a winner, she’ll got far. I’m thinking customer services or retail.

90 of the longest minutes later, we landed and I witnessed something I don’t think I’ll ever again see in my life time. The air crew explained that a passenger (me) needed to get off first (my husband had explained that last wasn’t good enough, we needed to be first) and could everyone please stay in their seats. And they did. They actually did.

The usual sorry-not-sorry bun fight for overhead bags, stand up, sit down, bang your head on the air con bit? Didn’t happen. Everyone just waited while we quickly got our stuff together and got off the plane into the ambulance. It was a thing of beauty. But also a bit scary.

A quick once over in the ambulance only strengthened my desire to get to my surgeons ASAP and we headed off to the train station to get the quickest route in to London.

All the trains were cancelled and I had a bit of an argument with a woman with Parkinson’s on the one train that eventually did turn up, so it was not a great start. But a stranger also gave Milla a banana and a massive chap helped me with the case as my husband manhandled the pram so things sort of worked out.

I made it to the hospital 2 and a half hours after landing. I’m being admitted for a series of surgeries over a fortnight. I’ve just had the first surgery. A tube goes in to a special dressing that constantly washes out my chest and sucks the gunk away – it’s exactly the same as the Vaxx carpet cleaner my mother used to use on our cream carpets at home (why the hell my parents had cream carpets with three kids and two gardens is beyond me). As I’ve got an infection, I have a room to myself, a Jamaican chap called Kevin brings me lunch and I have lined up American Gods for my internment. Things could be a lot, lot worse.

What a difference two days make – a quick dip in the pool on holiday vs the gunk sucking machine in the UK

Worried that the holiday could be my last in a while (maybe my last) and with the begrudging say so of my Bulgarian doctors, I went in the sea and the pool (I was on mega doses of IV antibiotics so protected on that front). But if this had happened in the sea, or even on dry land but on holiday, things could have been a lot, lot, worse.

As it stands, my surgeons may still have to go back through my chest muscle to fix all this. That’ll mean major recovery, no picking things up, no swimming, no yoga, no work (did I mention I was back in work. I was). The full crappy shebang. Well know more after my second operation in a few days and the results of my swabs. Until then we just wait.

I’m in almost no pain, I slept well and I’m lucky in lots of ways. The care I’ve received, and continue to receive, on the NHS is indescribable. I’m more grateful than they can know.

But I’m sad and a bit broken and I can’t help but think “I’m back here, again”.

Did someone just press rewind on my life? Because, if that’s a thing, can we please just got back to before the cancer? Please? That would be nice.

Want to here something funny? It’s my 33rd birthday tomorrow.

I’m in hospital again, as the world goes by, let me know that you like hearing from me by giving me a little ‘clap’.

If not, I’ll have to go back to calling people and that is just downright inconvenient.




Ex-scientist, stalled writer, current mammy. Went on #maternityleave, ended up with #breastcancer. Not mutually exclusive, it turns out. Views my own.