My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


7 Comments

The Droopy Boob

droopy

“Droopy boob.”  This is not the title of my new book, my rock band or my porn name.  It is what was described to me this week about my remaining original breast.  The good breast.  The one not sliced off and then fried.  The one with the nipple.  The one that still has feeling and sensation.  The one that, while imperfect, is perfect to me because it’s mine.

When I first started seeing my plastic surgeon two years ago, I remember that after my mastectomy and we starting talking reconstruction, he mentioned that he would like to do a lift on my left breast to make it symmetrical.  He said that my breast was, “a little droopy,” to which I responded, “well, that’s because it’s sad because it misses his friend.” Funny, right?  I thought so.  He didn’t get it.  Or doesn’t have a great sense of humor.  Or both.  I never thought more about it.  The DIEP Flap was such a big surgery I told him that I didn’t want him to touch any other part of my body.  Slicing me in half was quite enough, thank you!

Before breast cancer, I liked my breasts.  They weren’t too big and while they weren’t quite as high as they were when I was 18 (I had just finished breast feeding for 17 months, after all), I thought they still looked pretty good.  It never occurred to me to do anything to my breasts to enhance them in any way.

This past week, almost a year after my DEIP Flap, I went back to my plastic surgeon to discuss a follow-up surgery to make my right breast, the one that was chopped off and reconstructed, look more like, well, a breast!  Because isn’t that the point?  My surgeon did a great job of matching the size and the symmetry is pretty good.  But the top of the breast is flat.  I described it to him as a blown up pancake.  There’s no cone shape.  I want that changed.

He’s not sure that he can get it exactly like that but he suggested that if I want more symmetry, that I do a lift on the other breast because, “it’s a little bit droopy.”  He called my breast droopy again!!!!!!!  For real!

Now, when I think of a droopy breast, I think back to when I was 9 years old and my mom sent me to a babysitter after school.  She was a mom with three children.  She was overweight and had large breasts.  I remember (I’ll never, ever forget this), one day I was at her house after school.  She was in the kitchen cleaning.  I asked her something and when she turned around, I could see her nipples hanging out from the bottom of her shirt. I remember being completely shocked.  I had NO IDEA boobs could do that!!!!!  I remember thinking, “how are her breasts at the bottom of her shirt?”  It didn’t make sense to me!  So, when I hear the term, “droopy boobs,” that’s exactly what I think of.

In comparison to my babysitter, my left breast is alert and perky.  It’s still in the chest area and that’s pretty good.  But according to my plastic surgeon, if I want true symmetry, I’ll have to do some work on the good breast.  He said he could try to get some droop on the right one but “why would I want to do that?”  Really?????

I asked what the lift would entail.  He said he’d have to cut a crescent above the nipple and would do a lift from there.  Another scar.  In a very noticeable place.  I forgot to ask but it seems that if he made this surgical cut, I’d lose some sensation in the nipple.

I want nothing more than to look like myself again.  I thought that was the whole point of reconstruction.  But as I go on and move closer to the end of this cancer experience, I’m reminded that, once again, I’ll never be like I was.  My rebuilt breast will never look like the original.  It’s a fraud.  And now it’s likely that one nipple will be pointing straight while the other a little more south.  I’ll be like a Picasso.

I know that my surgeon kept mentioning this because he is a perfectionist.  As well he should be.  I get it.  But my body is not my own anymore.  I still look in the mirror and don’t recognize the reflection.  I think that another major scar would break me.  What would it be for, really?  Symmetry when naked?  What if I still can’t look at myself without being disgusted?  Then what’s the point of that symmetry?  What’s the point if it’s at the expense of my peace of mind and my self worth?

I am taking into consideration everything he said but my gut is telling me to keep the cutting to a minimum.  I have been through enough.  I have done enough.  It will have to be enough.

My next surgery is scheduled for February 16.  It will be much easier that my DIEP Flap.  He said that there’s even a possibility that I won’t have to be put under general anesthesia.  That would be great.  And barring any complications, I’ll be ready to go back to work in a week.

How many reconstruction surgeries did you have?

Did you have a lift on your breast to match the reconstructed breast?  Are you happy you did it?  Do you regret it?


2 Comments

Two Year Mastectaversary

It’s hard to believe that two years ago, at this moment, doctors were standing over me and saving my life by amputating my breast.  I still remember the fear I felt that morning like it was yesterday.  It might as well have been yesterday.  But it’s been two whole years and it’s hard to wrap my brain around that.

Even though it’s been two years and I have had my initial DIEP Flap reconstruction, I still have more “tweaking” surgeries to go.  I want my plastic surgeon to fix the shape of my breast.  The symmetry is good and I even think the size but it’s still round and flat instead of cone shaped.  I also have to have nipple put on and I’m trying to decide if I want a realistic nipple tattoo or something a little more artsy and decorative.

So, the journey (I know some of you hate that word, I’m ok with it) is not over.  Far from it.  But look how far I’ve come?

Here is my mastectomy story.

This is why I chose a single over a double mastectomy.

A hospital packing list for your mastectomy.

How long did it take for you to finish all of your reconstruction surgeries?

Did you opt to go for a natural tattoo of the aureola or for something artsy and decorative?  How did you make that decision.

 

 


6 Comments

Getting Into The Spring Of Things

There’s nothing like starting to exercise again after a long hiatus to make you feel like a total and utter failure.  In your mind, you can sprint for miles while in reality, your body will only take you to the next tree, or car, or lamppost.  It’s discouraging to say the very least.

I know that I should be forgiving and kind to myself.  Not that long ago I underwent a huge surgery and this is after 6 months of chemo and radiation.  That’s not a small thing.  And the recovery from this particular surgery, the DIEP Flap, was especially rigorous and intense.  I couldn’t move for weeks.  Exercise was out of the question.  I mostly lay on my couch and binge watched Scandal, The Good Wife and How To Get Away With Murder.

I did all of this without caring much for what I was putting into my body.  I didn’t go crazy or anything but I certainly didn’t measure the amount of ice cream that I was ingesting.  Well, I guess I could measure it but in pints rather than small measuring cups.  I did try to eat a balanced diet with lots of veggies, though.  But when you’re not moving it doesn’t matter so much.  Between being a couch potato and the side effects of the tamoxifen, I have gained a little weight and I’m really unhappy about it.

Getting out and exercising is really hard.  For starters, between work and raising my son, I don’t have a lot of time left over to exercise.  I would love to take a class but my husband works long hours so he’s not home in time for me to get to a class.  I also don’t know what kind of exercise I can do without hurting myself.  The last time I tried to exercise in a slightly vigorous way was during chemo.  I put on The 30 Day Shred on my dvd player and somehow, despite low hemoglobin counts, got through the video.  But it wasn’t long after that my cording and lymphedema developed.  I’m positive that this vigorous exercise is what triggered the issues.  I was told by doctors to exercise.  I was told to take it easy.  So I modified the pushups and did some of the exercises with light or no weights.  But that wasn’t careful enough.

I didn’t have any guidance when it came to how I should exercise.  When I am told to take it slow or easy, what does that look like?  When can I get back to the things I love to do, like boxing?  I love the idea of punching something but I can just imagine swinging my right arm out for a hard jab and feeling that awful pull of the cord that begins in my breast and goes all the way down into the pit of my arm and to the webs of my hands.  I don’t need more cords and I don’t need my lymphedema to worsen.

So, that leaves me with running.  I hate running.  No.  You don’t understand me.  I HATE RUNNING!!!!!  But, my husband loves running.  He loves it so much that he runs half and full marathons.  He makes me come out and watch him.  He talks about running constantly.  CONSTANTLY!!!!!  If you know and love a runner, I know you know what I’m talking about. A runner has a myopic view of life…running is great and everybody should love it.  They can not, in their egocentric state, imagine how one can not love running.  They live for the euphoria that comes from pushing through the pain.

Me?  I never hit that euphoria.  My endorphins don’t kick in.  They never have after a run or workout.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  I get pissed of when I run.  Like, really angry!  I curse, I cry, I hate it.  Does this happen to anyone else?

But here’s what I do love.  I love being outside.  I love watching all of the people in the park with their babies, children, friends….I love seeing the trees bloom in the spring and the leaves turn bright oranges and yellows in the fall.  I love it more than I can express.

Today, I went out and ran for the second time since my surgery.  It was awful.  I barely made it through.  But as I huffed and puffed through Prospect Park, I noticed some of the trees were pink with flowers that must have just bloomed.

It’s spring.  It’s time for a fresh start.  It’s time for things to begin their cycle toward life and beauty again.  Some of the trees are still bare, with not a bud in sight.  They are lagging behind.  I know how they feel.  But inevitably, in their own time, they too will bud and grow leaves.  If all of these things in nature can grow and have their fresh start, why can’t I?  So I will go out again soon.  I will do my best.  I will try to be kind and loving to myself.  Even when I’m running.IMG_5586IMG_5587


2 Comments

Bits of Happiness #23

I survived my first week back at work after my DIEP Flap.  It went pretty well.  All of the students that I was seeing previously were really happy to see me.  They all told me how much they missed me and loved having me back.  For the most part, they were really well behaved, too!  I wonder how long that will last?

The week wasn’t without incident.  I started a new residency.  The students in this class are fantastic!  We had a really great time and I think they will end up creating a fantastic piece of theatre by the time June rolls around.  But the principal of the school…well…I think she might be crazy.  She yelled at me because I was OVER-prepared!!!!!  The group I’m teaching are ELLs (English Language Learners) and I was told that their level was very low.  When I hear this, I prepare a lot of visuals with vocabulary words I will be using.  I got yelled at by the principal that they knew all of this stuff and shouldn’t be doing it.

I let her know that it was my first day and since I never met them, I was just trying to be prepared.  My mistake, obviously.  Next time, I won’t prepare anything and maybe that will be better!!!  (I lie, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing because what I did ending up being fucking awesome so take that stupid, crazy principal!!!)

But the long days and the commuting have really exhausted me.  I feel a little something like this.

exhausted

At least I’ll sleep well tonight.


7 Comments

Mommy Mondays: Preparing a Toddler For Mommy Having Surgery

mother child

Painting by Gustav Klimt

It seems at every stage of the breast cancer experience, I’ve come upon a time where I have had to prepare Oliver for a major physical change due to surgery or treatment or side effect.  When I was diagnosed, Oliver was only 19 months old.  There was no way he could understand cancer but he did understand that something was different when I came back from my mastectomy.  His intuition let him know that I needed to be treated carefully and he was sweet and gentle with me.  When it came time for me to lose my hair, I had to find a creative way of explaining to him that my hair was going away.  I had no idea how to do it and, evidently, neither did anyone else.  There’s no information out there on how to speak to a child so young about these issues.  We had to invent the wheel.

Now Oliver is 3 years old and much more aware about his world.  He’s curious about everything and is very verbal.  His favorite thing to ask is, “What would happen if…” and asks the funniest questions.  Here’s our latest “what if..” conversation.

Oliver:  What would happen if I didn’t have any feet to walk on?

Me:  Then you’d have to walk on your hands.

Oliver:  What would happen if I didn’t have any hands?

Me:  Then you’d need to scoot on your tush.

Oliver: What would happen if I did have a tush?

Me: Then you’d have to spin on your head.

Oliver: What if I didn’t have a  head?

Me:  Then you’d have to roll on your belly.

Oliver:  What would happen if I had no body?

Me: I don’t know….

As you can see, Oliver wants to know about how the world works, about action and reaction and consequences.  Along with that, he studies everything.  He’s always been an observer and this is what fuels his curiosity.  I knew that the trauma and changes that I experienced from surgery could not be hidden from him.  My parenting philosophy is also that I should treat Oliver as an intelligent human being who deserves honesty and respect.  The challenge for me was how could I possibly explain surgery, especially one that is so extreme in a way that wouldn’t frighten him.  I thought it over for a very long time.  This is what I came up with.

About a month before my surgery, Oliver asked to be picked up, which was always hard because of my cording and lymphedema.  But that day, I picked him up and I said, “You know, Oliver, soon I won’t be able to pick you up anymore because I’m having a surgery.”  “What is surgery,” he asked?   “Do you remember how mommy has a boo-boo on her breast?  And you know how my arm sometimes hurts?  Well, a doctor has to give me a new boo-boo that will help me with my arm and the boo-boo on my breast.”  I saw the wheels turning in his head.  He asked some more questions, which I do not remember and then changed the subject.

I kept doing this and having similar conversations.  Not every single time I picked him up but as time got closer to the surgery, more and more often.  Or sometimes I would say to Oliver, after he asked me to pick him up?  “Will mommy be able to pick you up when she has surgery?”  He would say, “no.”

I know that he had no concept of what surgery really was but he did know the word and he did know some of the consequences.  Soon he began to ask if the boo-boo will hurt.  I said that it would hurt at first but like all boo-boos, it would get better.  I started to show him where the incisions would be so he wouldn’t be surprised when he saw them on me.

Then, the week before my surgery, we discussed the topic every day.  I prepared him for the fact that he wouldn’t be seeing me for several days and that I would be spending time in the hospital.  Every day he’d ask me, “Mommy, did you have your surgery already?”  “No,” I said.  “I’m having my surgery on Friday.”  We also counted down the days.

I also tried to get him excited about his time away from me.  I told him he could bring all of his favorite toys with him to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and he loved that.  Also, his uncle Jesse was coming up from D.C. to help out my parents and Oliver was over the moon about that.  So each day, he was reminded of the upcoming surgery, what changes he would see in me, where my boo-boo would be and who would be taking care of him.  He never showed too much concern.

Two days after my surgery, I was ready to talk to Oliver on FaceTime.  I hoped to do it the day after my surgery but I was in too much pain and couldn’t muster the strength to even hold up my iPhone.  But on day two, I called.  He looked at me over the phone.  “Mommy, is that you?”  “Yes, it’s me.  It’s Mommy,” I said.  “Mommy, is that you?”  He seemed confused.  I guess I looked a little different.  Battered.  “Yes, it’s me baby.”  “Did you have your surgery,” he asked?  I explained that I did.  I explained that I had a boo-boo but I was getting better.  Then he saw the IV in my hand.  “You have a big band-aid?”  “Yes, I do.  It’s how the doctors give me medicine to make me feel better.”  “I want to see it,” he said. He was really curious about the band-aid.  Then he was done talking.

The next day when I called to talk to him, he didn’t want to speak to me.  We tried to get him to the phone but he refused.  We didn’t push him.

When I came home from the hospital, he came back home to sleep over because he had school the next morning.  At first, all I could hear was, “I don’t want to see Mommy!  I don’t want to see Mommy!”  He sounded scared and nervous.  But then he agreed to let my husband pick him up and he came into my bedroom.  He didn’t want to be put down at first but I told him that I’d show him where he could sit so he wouldn’t hurt me.  I had him sit on my husband’s side of the bed.  He looked so scared and nervous.  I’ve never seen his face like that.  It broke my heart.  “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said.  “You won’t hurt me,” I said.  “Just take my hand.  Hold my hand.”  He did.  “Oh, that feels so nice,” I exclaimed!!!!  He began to smile.  Then he said, “I’m going to hug you.”  He took his two hands and wrapped them around my cheeks and rubbed them gently.  And then he leaned into me and began kissing me gently around my face.

This is what heaven feels like.

Each day since has had it’s ups and downs.  He definitely tries to take care of me.  He insists on holding my hand as I walk to and from the bathroom and he reminds me to walk slowly.  Other times he says to me, “I don’t like your boo-boos.”  I don’t like them either.  He’s suddenly dropped his naps.  It can be because of a growth or cognitive spurt.  It could be the stress and changes.  Who knows?

It seems that we’re getting through it all.  I was so afraid of traumatizing Oliver, especially at this critical time when memories are being made.  I know he’ll remember some of this.  How can he not?  But I hope the thing he remembers the most is the love.  There has been so much love.

 

 


5 Comments

A Quick Update

I think some of you might have warned me that the first week after getting the DIEP Flap would be hard.  You are the tellers of truth.  Holy Shit!  This pain is real.  The tightness, the discomfort.  THE DRAINS!!!!!!!  The first day post-op was really the worst.  I didn’t think I was going to make it through.  But each day is getting better.  I do at least 3 laps around the apartment every few hours, which is good but mostly, I sleep.  I sleep a lot.  I get pretty loopy from the drugs but I’m already weaning off the oxyocdon, which I only take at night to help me sleep.  I take valium twice a day because, why not?  But that seriously knocks me out.

I guess, all in all, I’m doing as well or even better than expected.  That doesn’t feel like much right now.  I’ll update you all on the full story of my reconstruction experience shortly.  As soon as I can keep my eyes open for more than ten minutes.

This is the last step, right?


5 Comments

The Whatifs

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song.

-Shel Silverstein

what if 1

I might be freaking out a little bit.  Just a tad.  My DIEP Flap is in just a few short hours and well…I want to run away.  Far, far away.  I’m questioning every decision I have made, every bit of research I have amassed over the last three months and every piece of advice I have gotten from numerous doctors.  They mean nothing to me right now.  Fear is the supreme ruler and I have a serious case of the Whatifs.

What if I can’t walk into the O.R.?

What if my knees give out?

What if I throw up?

What if I wake up in the middle of the surgery?

What if I never wake up from the surgery?

What if it hurts so, so, so, so, so much?

What if there are complications?

What if I have to stay in the hospital longer than expected?

What if I get an infection?

What if my surgeon fucks up?

What if I don’t like my new breast?

What if it takes months or years to heal and get back to normal again?

What if I can’t hold my son for a long period of time?

What if my son throws temper tantrums and I can’t do anything about it because I can’t lift him?

What if my son hurts himself and I can’t do anything about it because I can’t lift him?

What if my son forgets about my “boo-boos” and jumps on me and tears my scars?

What if my son is afraid to hurt me and then doesn’t let me snuggle him?

What if I don’t see my son for days and I miss him so much it hurts?  There’s no pain medication for that.

What if I can’t get back to work when I planned?

What if I physically can’t work the way I hope to in a few weeks?

What if this surgery doesn’t help my lymphedema?

What if the surgery makes my lymphedema worse?

What if I die?

What if I regret it all?

What if I made the wrong decision?

What if, what if, what if, what if, what if?

 

Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!

-Shel Silverstein

what if 2