Category Archives: reconstruction (“upgrade”!)

Finishing Touches

I’ve been moving nonstop for weeks it seems. Del and I were in England for a week or so doing wedding stuff, then I had to go to Belgium to get some finishing touches done with my plastic surgeon. I’m not going to go into great detail as, at this point, my natural instinct is to treat my revamped body parts with the same modesty as I did my old ones. If you know me well, you might be laughing now. But, yes, I do have some modesty. But yes, the thresh hold always was pretty low.

But this got me thinking…A close friend once asked me what it felt like to be reconstructed. “Would you be embarrassed to take your shirt off in public, or no? Is that instinct different now?” It is a brave question, but one that I might have secretly wondered myself, were our positions reversed. Well, having said that I never quite understood the idea of embarrassment over ones body (OK, at least not since I was indoctrinated to the topless beach scene in Europe back in college. After that, I was never able to think anything more than, “We all have the same parts, what’s the big secret?”), it’s still an interesting question. Is it different? Well yes and no.

It is different for a couple of reasons:
1) By the time you’ve finished breast cancer treatment, you’ve undressed in front of an army of people. Simply, you get used to it. Especially in Europe where doctors don’t do the “modesty gown” thing. I’m so accustomed to just stripping down with the doctor sitting there at his/her desk that in my recent American medical visits, I find it more awkward to use the gown while they step politely out. Now I just sit there in my skivvies, the gown left sitting there folded and sterile on the bench instead of pretending like they’re not going to just come back and move it aside. I mean, what’s the point? Doctors find that pretty funny.

2) It’s true – at least initially – that I didn’t feel the reflex to “hide” my top after surgery in the same way you do your “original” parts. Like the rest of my treatment, I considered my new body from a sort of scientific perspective. It was something I observed more than felt. We are taught to cover certain parts, and then those parts are gone…and replaced. Then of course you’re so amazed at the results that you do get that urge to become one of those BC survivors who’s notorious for flashing everyone she knows. (You know her.)

However, it is the same too in that:
1) For a long time, I felt modesty with my changed body more akin to what I would assume is normal (American) modesty. You might remember that the first time I went to Turkey, I was extremely reluctant to go to the hammam because one is usually naked. I was suddenly, extremely uncomfortable with that idea, and when a friend pressed me on this I once even teared up. This modesty, however, was a about the fact that suddenly we didn’t “all have the same parts”. And that’s not embarrassing in itself, but one look at me and people – perfect strangers – would be privy to information about a huge part of my life. They would suddenly know one of the most traumatic things that ever happened to me. They could see my emotional scars. Most people at least have to buy me dinner first. But suddenly being topless meant having no control over strangers’ access to my most private struggles. That just didn’t feel right. Talk about feeling naked. (Eventually that feeling faded, however, and my 2nd time to the hammam I went au natural and it felt awesome to not give a damn.)

1) As I have sat with my body changes, they come to feel more and more natural. So whereas I might have once felt like I had new parts built to resemble natural ones, I no longer feel that way. They are mine now, they are more and more “natural” to me. And my instinct to treat them equally to my original ones has grown with time.

Actually, I have this crazy fantasy where I leave my mark on the world by producing the first BC-survivor pin-up calendar. One the one hand it perhaps sounds terribly inappropriate. But to me, the thought of introducing to the world “sexy cancer survivors” is awesome. The idea isn’t to be an exhibitionist nor promote objectification. It’s to put it out there that cancer is not the end. That your life can come full circle. To break the remaining attitudes and taboos. To show that cancer doesn’t define you forever. To show the world that breast cancer doesn’t make you any less of a woman. It sure tries. But these days? It fails with a capitol F. I’d just love to pin that on the wall in all its glory!

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Filed under breast cancer, humor, life, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), surgery, this time THIS year

Quick Changes

So 48 hours ago I thought I might never move again unaided. 24 hours ago I decided to stop taking my pain meds and see how it goes. I took one regular Tylenol yesterday evening and that’s been sufficient. Movement is of course still limited. I still have to be majorly careful and controlled, but ability returns in leaps and bounds. Generally I move like a weeble-wobble: when I need to get up from the bed or sofa I manage by sort of rolling onto my side and up from there in one smooth motion, hands clasped to my torso just to be sure everything feels supported. I’ve got the hang of this! Last night I tentatively slept on each side for a little while.

My charming caretaker Ed left just a while ago to return to England. He thoughtfully got down anything I might need from high kitchen shelves after he’d gone, all done even before I woke (with the aid of a lovely cup of coffee delivered to me). I told you he was good at this.

Now it’s quiet here, the way a house is when all of the souls suddenly leave, save one. It’s strange and still again in a snap, in a way that makes you the tiniest bit sad even if you’re happy enough to be alone. But a day of readjustment will shake the normal texture back into my afternoons. And in just 12 days (or so) I’ll be living in another country. I’ll be busy until then; I’ll take this little rest where I can.

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Filed under breast cancer, life, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), recovery, surgery, this time THIS year

I have an update for you

And that is to say, well…come closer. A little closer. This should be right in your ear. Ready?…

OOOOOuch!

First of all, remember that little bit of nausea that took me away yesterday? Well, I have been reminded of a great trick I learned during chemo: if you’re gonna’ get sick, head for the tub, not the toilet. Having my head in the toilet only makes me want to be MORE sick. And with the tub, you’ve got a fresh supply of cold water right there. Handy!

That has passed as the anesthesia and its effects have faded away. My night was otherwise fine. I slept well, but when I woke up this morning needing a bathroom break I thought I might never manage to get out of bed again. Wow does it hurt! But I did manage and I’m making my way through the day with the help of my BIL Ed really has the knack for taking care and is good company to boot.

It feels like….imagine the worst, most painful deep bruise you’ve ever had (because I guess that’s essentially what this is!). It feels like that, being pressed, from my belly button to just below my shoulders. Front and back. When I sit still it doesn’t really hurt, but then my muscles get cold and it seems to hurt more once I move again (like regular old sore muscles after a workout).

Still, I’m happy and managing. So happy to have the movement that I didn’t after the last surgery. I think this hurts as much, but freedom makes a difference. And every day will get better.

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Filed under breast cancer, life, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), recovery, surgery, this time THIS year

They’re Here!

Today was my surgery and “they” have finally been received! It’s all very exciting. I’ll jump up and down when…well, once I’m able to. Right now I can barely stand up and down. For a preview, look above. (Ha – I wish! 🙂 )

I won’t stay here long as I’m pretty sore and tired, but I just wanted to drop an update for all the wonderful people waiting to hear and following the final result.

The surgery went smoothly. In an unusual move for me, I went in pretty ignorant. I figure after my last surgery, what’s the fuss? I’d go in, go to sleep, wake up in pain, which will eventually go away. And that’s pretty much how it happened. It does hurt quite a lot, but at least I can move around, which I couldn’t do after the big surgery.

Anyhow, for the moment I really must go (a little nausea, a little fatigue, etc.) but I’ll be back when I can. Hopefully tomorrow. See you then.

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Filed under breast cancer, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), recovery, surgery, this time THIS year

Hectic Days

Oh hi there. Have you been waiting long? Nice to see you.

Since getting my work clearances, I have been going nonstop. Joy at the knowledge that I can work next month means no more watching the bleak economic reports on the TV, wondering if I will get to join the global economy again before sinking all the way to the (currently very populated) bottom. No more bad dreams that I am headed for one of those refuge camps! (ha) That little pep-me-up, plus an affordable last-minute deal and the knowledge that I no longer had to wait by the phone for work to call until my surgery, all inspired a spur of the moment little trip to Greece – where I could geek-out in archeology museums and climbing on ruins for as long as I liked. (Hence,  the reason why I ultimately went alone!)

No, I (apparently) didn’t have the time to do this, but the fact that I have spent months twiddling my fingers, waiting for work to let me re-start my life has been hard. Particularly post-cancer, I am hyper aware of the folly in wasting so much time. I am so grateful I’ve had a generous time off work, but I never expected it to be so difficult to get back. The wait had turned into “killing time”, which seems like such a shame when we all know that – at the end of the day – there never seems to have been enough. Don’t get me wrong. I can relax for hours or days with the best of them. But having stretched into months was intolerable. So I went to Greece to reclaim this period of downtime, which felt important. I have wanted to go see some of this stuff for years – now this dead time was an opportunity, not a waste! And I loved every minute.

When I got back – exhausted and covered with a satisfying/disgusting layer of salt from sweating in the 100 degree weather – I had to go almost directly to a bachelorette party in Holland, as I will miss her wedding this weekend due to my surgery. Also, my furniture sold wildly and all at once after posting an ad in the right place and I have been hectically wading through enquiring emails and viewing appointments. (Yeay – most of it is sold!)

Whew! But now I can hopefully rest just a bit before the big day on Thursday (the surgery, you know!). Tomorrow my dear brother-in-law (to be) comes to look after me for a few days since Del will be in America. (Please cross your fingers on a job he will hear about this week.) I am really touched that BIL’s coming to help out. I always enjoy an excuse to hang out with him anyway. (I told you – my FIL rocks!)

So, that’s where I’ve been. Now for the next couple of days I’ll just be here, itching my eyes out from the bleeping pollen, wishing for them to stop swelling and anxious for Thursday so [*ahem*] other things can start. 🙂

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People are Starting to Notice

…that I’m not back to work YET.

Once again, just like in December/January, I’m waiting for the powers-that-be at my company to clear my return to work. My doctors sent their letters in about 3 weeks ago. Then (over 2 weeks ago) my Airline X faxed back about 20 pages of detailed paperwork. When I saw Dr. Fab last week he apologized for it taking him so long to finish. “There’s a lot of work they ask for, and I only have time to work on it here and there in between appointments.”

Honestly, if there were ever a time to pull the old God-complex routine, this is when I would expect it. If I were him, I’d likely say, “Listen, Airline X, I’m the specialist here. I am in charge of her care. If I say she can return to work, then she can return to work. Now buzz off.” And honestly, I’m quite sure they would think it over and then say, “well…okay.”

But, it just so happens that my doc’s a super-nice guy. So…we’ll all play the game. I hope it ends soon.

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Filed under breast cancer, life, rant, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), this time THIS year, work

And the verdict is…

So the anxiously-awaited appointment today went…not quite like I (surely, we) had hoped, but more like I had harbored suspicion it would. Which is fine too.

Dr. Fabu had told me to bring a bra and fitted T-shirt. I envisioned walking in, pulling out my favorite shirt and cutest polka-dot camisole (which I purchased optimistically). They’d say, “What size are you shopping for?” and I’d say, “The size that will make me look like this was made for me.” [*cue wolf whistle*]

What actually happened was more like this: “So, I asked you to bring…yeah. Those won’t work.” (Turns to the rep from the implant company.) “Do you have something better?” (Sales rep pulls out some orthopedic bandage-looking contraption.) “Ah, there we go.”

Clearly I had misunderstood the purpose of bringing a bra/shirt. They were tools, not choices for dress-up. I put on the one she offers and she asks the magic question, “What size are you looking to be?” But before I can open the floor to discussion, the convo began in Dutch. “We don’t have a lot of fat to work with, and she’s had radiation on the left side…”, adds Dr. F. The choice was between getting the smallest implant or…well, that was it really. In the end the bras and T-shirts were not necessary as the decision came down to technical limitations, not auditions for size. Given my history, this was no shocker.

Dr. Fabulous appeared to feel that there was one “right” answer. And there’s nothing worse than not making the “right” decision, so that makes it easy. (Know what I mean? There’s this natural tendency to feel that there is a “right” and a “wrong” decision to make, but rarely in life is that true. Or am I getting a little too philosophical?) It’s all a little less “fun” than my imagination had predicted, but I’m actually not disappointed to have the decision made for me.

While I fancy myself too smart to be fooled into thinking that being super voluptuous would suit my body (or my personality), the superficial (and curious) side of me would find it hard to pass up the chance to try something completely different than what I have been before. I might dream of looking like Stephanie Seymore, but I also fear getting what I “want” and hating it. It’s all too easy to say, “maybe just a little more” until…you wake up and say, “Holy crap, how did I end up with these?!”

So, it’s out of my hands and that’s (surprisingly) okay by me. Dr. Fabulous did say that if I had my heart set, it would be possible to “upgrade” again in a year or two. It’s great to be told that there are always options, but I’m confident this will feel just right!

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Filed under breast cancer, humor, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), this time THIS year