A Startling Realization

A Startling Realization

The story linked above concerns contemplating suicide, which I have NEVER given more than the most passing of thoughts. One, I’m too “cowardly”; two, I could never do that to my family (I’ve had at least one family member who did, and it’s still devastating over 20 years later); and three, I’m one of those people who has to stay to the end of the movie, no matter how bad it is. 🙂 A friend sent the story to me after I told the following tale on Facebook, and it touched me deeply.

Yesterday, I went for a haircut. I have an interview, for a JOB, today, and wanted to look nice for it. I’ve been letting my hair grow, basically because one of my best friends dared me to. It’s been short, REALLY short, for over 10 years and I thought, “Oh, why not? If I don’t like it, I can always cut it off.” But it was at that stage where it looked less like a conscious decision and more like a fashion faux-pas. So, I made an appointment and had it trimmed.

When I walked into the shop and got settled in at my hairdresser’s station, something odd and a little bit wonderful happened. My hairdresser, whom I’ve been going to for 10 years or so, said to me, “You haven’t been in in FOREVER! I was getting worried about you!” The last time I’d been in, apparently, was just before my last surgery, the one where I got new nipples. It was outpatient surgery, not a huge deal (except to the extent that ALL surgery is a big deal), and then I made the decision to let my hair grow. Well, I hadn’t told HER that, and all she knew was that I had surgery and then she didn’t see me for a couple of months. She was concerned, about ME.

I tend to think that I go through life basically invisibly, no one really noticing my passage. But Kelly noticed. She CARED. And she worried about me. That’s a very humbling thing, and it made me realize that maybe I’m more visible than I think. Except for when I become “invisible” for a time. And people notice. Thank you, Kelly, for that revelation.


Under the Red Dress

Under the Red Dress

NOTE: NUDE IMAGES. This article speaks to me, especially, because I’ve had some of the same procedures as Beth. Fortunately, even though I’m on Medicaid, I have one of the best reconstructive surgeons in Kentucky and my scars are not quite as bad as this. But they are there. And they are there for more women than you might think.

I can haz nipples!

So, once again, it’s been too long since I’ve written here. I really should do it more often. Yesterday, I had my second surgery, mostly nipple reconstruction, but with other things thrown in. Dr. Rinker also ‘revised’ my belly scar, to make it more pretty. I had had one spot sort of pop open during the healing from the first surgery, and it made for about an inch of bigger, less pretty scarring. He also trimmed off the ‘dog ears’ at either end of the belly scar so that the little bumps there will be gone. As part of that, which I didn’t know was gonna happen until he started the sharpie art on my torso, was BONUS LIPO on both hips. Now my butt and hips look like I’ve been beaten. I bruise more easily than most people, I think, but the bruises generally heal faster, too. Sleeping on my side, my favorite position, has been a bit tender, but nothing I and the drugs can’t handle.

And the nipples. I can’t wait for the bandages to come off so I can see what they’re gonna look like. I go in Monday for a followup, which seems soon, but I’m cool with that. At least maybe I won’t have to wear the surgical bra until it stinks, like last time. I did take a peek at my breasts, even though I can’t actually take the bra off. The bandages are the weirdest I’ve ever seen. It actually looks like they’ve sewn the bandage to the nipple area. It kinda freaked me out at first because I thought at first glance that that WAS my nipple, and it was huge! I guess that’s all to keep everything in the proper shape while they heal.

I had also asked Dr. Rinker, since he was ‘under the hood’, if he could lipo my left breast a bit to make it the same size as the right. The right is just the right size, but the left was ‘running over’ in my bras. I think he actually might have done a bit of lipo on both sides, since I’m sore under both armpits. All these questions will be answered Monday, I guess.

Once again, my church family and friends have come through for me. My pastor and his wife were my drivers, staying in tag-team fashion during the surgery. Poor Trudi got the ‘full monty’, as she was there while Dr. Rinker did his pre-op artwork. She was a real trooper, though, and took it all with her usual humor. It’s a real friend who will offer to take a nekkid picture of you and post it on the Internet for you. (She didn’t, actually. Just offered.)

Oh, while he was at it, Dr. Rinker also did a ‘lift’, yet another thing I’ve wanted for some time. When he was explaining that part to me, I told him not to go crazy with that, because at 53, there’s only so much lift that people will believe anyway. I actually got a “that’s funny” out of him at that. 🙂

I’m restricted from driving for the next week, which puts a bit of a cramp in my job search, but it’s just in time for an ice storm anyway, so I suppose it all evens out. Also, I can do freelance from the couch, so maybe I’ll get some of that to carry me through. I got a big jewelry commission, for Christmas gifts, so that will fill my days (well, a couple of them) as well.

I’m Not Dead Yet…

I knew it had been a while since I’d posted, but I didn’t realize it’s been THIS long. I should bring things up to date. SO MUCH has happened since the last post!

First, I’m single. Again. The “wonderful boyfriend” who had been so supportive decided, a week before the surgery, that he couldn’t handle the thought of me going through what I was about to, so he broke up with me. Via text. I suppose it’s for the best, in the long run, that I know now whether I could actually depend on him, but damn if it doesn’t STILL hurt, two months later.

The surgery was August 21st. I was in surgery for WAY longer that I’d thought, 13 hours total. The cancer surgeon, Dr. Wright, came in and did her part, which was essentially to “melon-ball” my breasts. From what I can tell, she basically scooped out all the insides, leaving the outer skin intact (except for the nipples–those are gone). Then Dr. Rinker, the plastic surgeon came in and made incisions all the way across my lower abdomen, from hip to hip, and moved my belly fat up to my breasts, stuffing them like pimientos in olives. 🙂 Everything is healing up nicely at this point, but that week I spent in the hospital was…well, intense, trying, and humbling. Having to have a nurse take care of your most basic of needs will bring a person to humility really quick. I won’t describe the most humiliating part of that experience, but I wouldn’t ask my closest and dearest of friends to do what was all in a day’s work for the nursing staff at UK Chandler. Bless them, they were AWESOME. All of them.

Once at home, my friend Jill was kind enough to stay with me for the first three days, helping me up and down and fixing me meals and such. I think she rather regarded it as a bit of a writer’s retreat, since we spent a lot of time with our heads in our respective laptops. The people at my church are awesome too, organizing a meal train (www.mealtrain.com) to bring me food each day. I still have a bit of it in the freezer, they brought me that much.

The best news so far is that my cancer was caught early enough that they got all of it, and I don’t have to go through radiation or chemotherapy. That’s the biggest blessing of all! I am on a hormone blocker, though, tamoxifen, for the next 5 years, until they officially declare me cancer free. I’ve only been on it for a week or so, so it’s too early to know what, if any, side effects I’ll have to deal with. I’ve heard that there are mood swings and such, apparently all the side effects of menopause without the “pause” part. Damn. I really want that “pause” part to kick in. Anyway, it’s too early for me to tell whether the mood swings I’m having today are the tamoxifen, the PMS, or the result of having to go off my Prozac (it reacts badly with tamoxifen, I’m told). It could also be just depression at still having no job. My unemployment insurance has run out, and I still don’t have steady work. What money I have is swiftly running out. Even so, I’m in so much better shape than I could be that I just keep reminding myself how very blessed I am. I know God’s got this, but as Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part.

Doctor, Doctor, gimme the news…

On Tuesday, I had an appointment to meet with the surgeon about my breast surgery. What I thought was gonna happen was that I would sit down in an office, much like Dr. Wilson’s in House, and that the doctor, my parents, and I would discuss when surgery would happen and what sort of surgery would be needed. You know, about a half hour in the meeting, then on with my day. But no.

What actually happened was that we got to the CBCC and I signed in, at which point they told me that I was scheduled for another ultrasound session. Apparently, more sites lit up on the MRI I had last week, and the surgeon wanted another look before talking to me about surgery. So, I went back, donned the fashionable gown, and waited to be called back for the ultrasound.

My tech this time was Sheila, a lovely woman with corkscrew hair and a light yet professional attitude. The ultrasound took about an hour (or maybe it just seemed that way), and then I was ushered into an exam room while a nurse went to get my mom to be with me for the consult.

First, though, Amber, a nurse with attitude and sense of humor like mine came in and took my history. Again. Never mind that I’ve given my medical history several times since this whole thing started, we must do it again. Then a resident came in and looked over my history and made sure nothing was left out. Then the surgeon came in to give us the news: due to the additional sites found in the MRI, the best option for me is a bilateral mastectomy, with immediate reconstruction. I was given options for how reconstruction would be done, and the surgeon (Dr. Heather Wright–seems good luck to have a surgeon named Dr. Wright) left to call the plastic surgeon to have his look at me. In the meantime, they sent in a genetic counselor to see about me having the BRCA test. I agreed to the test, even though it seems unlikely that a gene is involved. (NO ONE in our family has had breast cancer before–I’m a trailblazer…) The reason I agreed is that the same genes that, when mutated, increase risk of breast cancer, also increase risk of ovarian cancer. If it should come back with a mutation, they will talk to me about having my ovaries removed. I’m pretty well done with them, so that won’t be much of a hardship for me, but I’d like to know one way or another. Also, I have a niece for whom the information might be useful.

After they drew the two vials of blood for the test, the genetic counselor left, and I waited for the plastic surgeon. At this point, we had been in the clinic for close to four hours, and I knew my dad would be getting antsy. I arranged for someone to come pick me up, and sent my parents home (they live about an hour’s drive away). The plastic surgeon, Dr. Rinker I think his name is, is a nice fellow, gentle yet professional. We talked about the options for reconstruction, implants vs. TRAM flap.  (EDIT: I have since confirmed that it will be a free TRAM flap, which is much less scary-looking than the pedicled TRAM flap.)

After hearing the pros and cons of both procedures, I have decided on the TRAM flap. It is a more natural procedure, and more natural result, and I will leave the hospital with fully reconstructed breasts. It does mean a longer hospital stay (a week instead of one night), but there are fewer follow up visits than with the chest expanders and implants. The only question was, would I have enough excess abdominal tissue to create an adequate reconstruction? I undressed enough for the plastic surgeon to have a look at my abdomen. It is oddly reassuring, and a bit surreal, to have a doctor pinch your belly fat and proclaim, “I think you definitely have enough here for a nice pair of C cups…” I knew I was growing that for a reason…

In all, I was there from about 8:30 am until about 3:30 pm. Seven hours. By the time I left I was hungry (thanks, Andee, for stopping at the drive-thru on the way home), I was tired, but I was strangely energized. Now I have answers. I have a plan. Surgery is set for two weeks from now, so now the game plan is to get all my ducks in a row (get my sh*t together, if you prefer). Housework, outstanding artworks with deadlines, all need to be buttoned up NOW.