Category Archives: surgery

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!

Advertisements

5 Comments

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.

2 Comments

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.

3 Comments

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.

4 Comments

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

Busy Busy

But I have an appointment tomorrow to discuss my last surgery. Now is when all that shopping for breasts that Del and I have done for two years now will come in handy. He might be disappointed to no longer hear, “Honey, what do you think of that girl’s? Look, look! They’re nice, right?”, but perhaps I can carry on just for nostaligia’s sake.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the word from work that I can get started. Cross your fingers – it’s been a long radio silence so far.

2 Comments

Filed under breast cancer, humor, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), surgery, this time THIS year, what's it like for him?

Scar Wars

When I was 20 I moved to France for 8 months. My best friend and I went to London for our Spring Break. While there, she pierced her nose and I pierced my belly-button. It was big drama in the family, as someone leaked word to my father, who detests piercings of any sort and thus thought I was rebelling. To this day I contend that it wasn’t rebellion; we had a great relationship. Simply, I was in college and in London and it was just something that college kids in London do. Anyhow, a falling out ensued that eventually healed. The ring eventually grew out. All the way out, as if it were a splinter or something. And it left a scar detailing the path it had taken. I remember someone saying, “Aren’t you sorry you got that now? All that fuss and now you have a scar.” I merely retorted back, “What does it matter? It’s not like I’m a belly-button model.”

It wasn’t pretty, but I just grew accustomed, ignored it. (After all, I wasn’t a belly-button model!) But then yesterday, here I was looking at my new, underwhelming navel, again suspiciously wondering how in the world it could be my old one. And then I saw it.

A part of the old scar! And I loved it! It was me! It was mine! I never knew I could have such affection for an imperfection. And now, it still doesn’t look like it did, but I have a new found respect for the navel I have, knowing my old one is in there, even if it has gone through some transitions (like the rest of me). And that made me think about my new scars…

When I was struggling with which type of reconstruction to choose, the expected scars were no small matter. My chest was already going to be heavily scarred, did I want my stomach to be cut up too? I liked my tummy. I didn’t need a “tummy tuck”! I’d rather have he scars above my bum where – frankly – I could ignore/forget about them.

But if I chose the bum-scar option (SGAP) I’d have to have 2 major surgeries 6 months apart. There’s only one place in the world (that I know of) that does both sides all at once for SGAP and, besides requiring me to go to New Orleans, I wasn’t all that hot on that idea either. (Props to the women who do it all at once. You’re some motivated, tough cookies!) I was also told that recovery from SGAP is tougher than from DIEP and that belly fat gives a better result (in terms of mimicking the original breast tissue). So, while I dreaded the belly scar, I chose it. I wasn’t happy about it, but I just tried not to think about it, to keep life in perspective.

And guess what? Since having the surgery, I’ve felt proud of the big ol’ stomach scar! It shows what I’ve come through. And it might sound wierd but, there’s something “right” about a physical marker that parallels the mental and emotional healing I’ve gone through: closed, discreet, but never to disappear completely. I never would have expected it (and of course I’d prefer not to have to have had to get the scar), but just like my old piercing scar, it tells a story about me. It’s a story that might not be pretty, but it’s a story I survived, and it’s mine all mine. They always will be and, for that, they have earned my affection.

P.S. For those interested, the hair has reached another stage and there’s a new picture in the photo “flow chart” to the right. 

7 Comments

Filed under breast cancer, if I'd known than what I know now, life, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), surgery, this time THIS year

Picks and Pans

First I’d like to give a big thumbs-up to the newly up and running breastreconstruction.org. A woman I “know” vis the discussion boards of breastcancer.org – a spitfire named Beth – has been working tireless in her new job to get the site going. And I must say I think they’ve done a wonderful job. If you have any questions about reconstruction, start there.

Meanwhile, there is one thing I have been underwhelmed by from my surgery. That is my belly-button.

I did have quite a nice one, if I do say so myself. Technically, the one I have now is supposed to be my original one. I’ve heard some doctors “make new” ones. My plastic surgeon seemed to think this was a horrifying idea when I asked him how the whole belly-button part would go down. He said, “Um, no. Your navel is attached to all sorts of organs inside. There is no making you a new one.” What he would do, is cut around the original one in order to use that skin for the surgery, then resew the belly-button into the skin that would be pulled down (from higher up) to cover my tummy. Fair enough.

But it doesn’t look like my old belly-button. I’m sure it is. I don’t doubt him. But instead of a sunken dime-shaped dimple, it looks like a slash now. And oddly the stitches go around in a three-quarter moon shape. Strange. Oh well. I’m sure it will be more dapper as it heals. And I’m sure I can sacrifice my “classic” navel style for a new one and breasts. I’ll let you know how it shapes up.

I wrote the second part of the above about 2 weeks ago and never posted it. Tomorrow, I’ll let you know how it’s coming along.

1 Comment

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