My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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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?

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Life After Breast Cancer: The Other Side Of Pink

 

This post was written for an organization that I am a part of, 5 Under 40.  5 Under 40 helps breast cancer survivors and those with the BRCA mutation age 40 and under with beauty and wellness services.  In addition, they host support groups and meet ups.  They have helped me in so many ways so when they asked if I could write something for them, I jumped at the opportunity.  I want to thank 5 Under 40 for all of their support and for giving me a voice in their community.  Please check them out at 5under40.org and if you are in the NY/Tri-state area and would like to be connected to 5 Under 40, please let me know

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            I know what I was told.  I was told that it was going to be a hard year; a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.   I was told that I was going to lose my hair but it would come back and while it did, I’d get to wear cute hairstyles.  I was told that I’d lose some energy and might feel sick but once it was done, I’d return back to normal.  Normal.  That’s a word that I heard a lot referring to what would happen when I finished treatment.  I found “normal” to be far from the truth.

I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer in my right breast and lymph nodes at age 37.  My son was 19 months old and we had just weaned from breastfeeding.  I was working full time as a teaching artist, my passion, and beginning to consider ways I might advance in my career.  Secretly, I was also beginning to think about what life might be like with another child.  Originally I had said, “one and done,” but, as Mother Nature tends to do so well, I forgot about the lack of sleep, the spit-up and the aching raw nipples.  I remembered the cuddles, the first giggles…the first everything.  But when you are diagnosed with cancer, many of your plans for the future get put on hold or changed forever.

I endured my treatment like a trooper.  I made jokes, smiled (and cried and threw a few temper tantrums) through the tough days and created a mantra to get me through the hellish days, “a blip in time,” to remind myself that all pain and discomfort would pass.  Through my six months of chemotherapy and 15 sessions of radiation, I checked each treatment off my calendar until the end, when my life would go back to normal.  I looked forward to spending long days with my son without feeling completely warn out.  I was excited to work and not be afraid that my chemobrain would completely derail or ruin me professionally.  I wanted to hang out with my friends, drink wine, eat sushi…hell, I just wanted to be able to taste my food again!!!!!!  I was excited to not spend time every week at the cancer center and to get back some time for myself.  I was ready to look normal again, to not look like a cancer patient and to get my body back.

When you are going through cancer treatment, you are surrounded with support; support from your medical team, family, friends and, if you are lucky like me, colleagues and bosses.  But, when treatment ends, a lot of that support goes away.  At one point you are seeing your oncologist every 2 or 3 weeks and suddenly, it’s every three months.  Of course you can call whenever you need something but, in their eyes, they have done their job.  Now your job is to get back to living life.

Or now that your hair has grown back, your colleagues figure that the worst is over and that you are feeling better and can return to work as you did before.  What they don’t know is that cancer related fatigue can last for years.

The offers for home cooked meals, laundry help, childcare also start to dissipate.  When treatment ends, so does a lot of the help that came with it.

It wasn’t long after treatment ended that I realized returning back to my normal life was unrealistic.  I no longer looked like myself, even with my hair growing back.  I developed major body image issues (remember sixth grade people?) because of treatment related weight gain and the whole one boob thing.  I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman staring back at me.  This was disconcerting.

I didn’t feel like myself.  I remember one-month post chemo, I tried to take a bike ride for exercise.  My husband encouraged me to go for a long ride.  I almost didn’t make it home.  My body was no longer capable of doing what it had done just six months prior.  This included exercise or for daily endurance which was for things like raising my son, grocery shopping, scrubbing the bathroom…whatever.

I can go on and on about why life wasn’t normal.  But I think the hardest thing for me after cancer was dealing with the trauma of what had happened to me.  I fought so hard for so long and suddenly, it was over.  I didn’t know what to do next.  I didn’t know what was supposed to come next.  I kept thinking I would feel the same, think the same and look the same as I did before cancer.  None of those things happened.  Instead, I felt like I was living in a body that wasn’t my own and having thoughts and feelings that were different than what was normal for me.

Depression post-cancer is very common and it was happening to me.  I was afraid every day about recurrence.  I was afraid every day that I couldn’t live up to everyone’s expectations of me or the expectations I had for myself.  And managing post-treatment side effects like lymphedema and fatigue were more difficult than I anticipated.

I don’t write all of this to scare people.  I write about it because it is the truth for many of us.  I think what is hard is that breast cancer is depicted as this “happy” cancer or “party” cancer.  I mean, what other cancer is celebrated with pink feather boas and t-shirts that read, “fight like a girl” or “breast cancer warrior?”  We see images all of the time bald women surrounded by their friends, covered head to toe in pink and smiling and cheering.   We hear stories about women who say that cancer was a gift and has changed them for the better.  We see these images and hear these stories but that is not everyone’s reality.

Some people hate the color pink (who me?) and don’t feel empowered by pink glitter and cosmopolitans.  Some of us don’t like to walk with Komen with every girlfriend we’ve met since Kindergarten.  And some of us think cancer was a curse and feel that it didn’t change us for the better.  Some of us are angry about what happened to us.  Some of us, instead of not sweating the small stuff (we aren’t supposed to sweat the small stuff anymore, we’ve been through worse) feel that each wound, no matter how small, cuts more deeply.  And some of us, after cancer, have a hard time.

This is not true for everyone.  I have met so many people who have gone back to living their lives and living them well soon after treatment was done.  We read about these stories in the papers and the breast cancer websites and blogs all the time. Many of the stories we hear are the ones where there is a happily ever after.  But, if you are not living happily ever after, after having cancer…you are not alone.

Here’s what I will say.  I am two years post diagnosis.  As of just two months ago, I stopped crying every day.  I still think about cancer every day but I’m not crying.  That’s a big step.  I am also finally starting to think about my future and with the help of a therapist, I am defining my new normal.  It’s hard work to redefine yourself but I’m finding the effort worth it.

Life after cancer might not be what you expect. Know that whatever you are feeling, thousands of others feel the same way.  Know that there’s no right or wrong way to do cancer or to feel after breast cancer.  Also know that there is help for you if what you feel isn’t like a “warrior” but like you have been defeated.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

 


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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.

 

 


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What Lies Beneath

“In an art form that deliberately conceals the enormity of effort that goes into its creation, we are not meant to see behind the curtain.  But I think that this does a great disservice to the dancers, and that having a sense of what lies beneath both enhances our experience of the performance and leads to a more profound appreciation of the dancer’s essential being.” -Rick Guest, photographer

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The thing I admire most about ballet dancers are their ability to make the super human look effortless.  The leaps, the spins, the balancing on toes from movement to movement…it’s as if their bodies are being carried by the wind.  Or their spines are jelly rather than bone.  Their legs are pulled up straight by a string controlled by an invisible puppeteer.  But what is not often known to, or considered by the audience are the hours upon hours of grueling rehearsal.  We don’t see the bruises or see the winces from the sore muscles.  We never see the sweat wiped from faces and chests backstage between entrances and exits.  We never see the blistered or broken toes that are hidden by the delicate, pale pink pointe shoes.

It is the job of the dancer to dance through and in spite of the pain.  Just like an athlete who must still get a goal, a touchdown, or land solidly, without faltering from the uneven parallel bars despite sprained and broken bones.  The show must always go on and it is the job of the artist to hide the hard work and the pain beneath the costume.

After six weeks of taking a medical leave of absence to recover from my DIEP Flap reconstruction surgery, I will be going back to work.  While I love my job and can’t wait to see my students again, I’m feeling trepidatious about getting back to normal life.  I have recovered well, without much incident, but I feel like I’m still recovering.  I can get around and move normally if I’m careful but I don’t have the same energy or endurance as I did before my surgery.  I get really tired in the middle of the day and find it hard to focus or get my energy back without resting.  Each week I experience dramatic improvements and I have every reason to believe that within the next few weeks my engery and endurance will return.But for now, I feel like I have to hide what I feel.

I am always saying, “fake it ’til you make it.”  I say it to students who tell me that their too tired to get up from their seats to play a game or perform a scene.  I tell them that if they fake having energy, that soon they really will be energized.  It’s mind over matter.  If you put on a smile, eventually, you will feel happier than you did a few minutes ago.

I did this throughout chemo and radiation.  I had to hide my fatigue under the costume of smiles and exuberance.  It ended up working for me.  And now I need to do it again.  I must put on my costume and conceal the awful scars that lie beneath; the scar from hip bone to hip bone, that show all of the hard work and healing I have had to endure these last six weeks.  My students don’t care if I was cut in half on January 8th.  And they shouldn’t care.  I’m there to do a job and the show must always go on.

So, on Monday, the alarm clock will go off.  I’ll groan and complain as I walk to my shower.  But by the time I get off the train and walk into school, I’ll have a smile on my face.  I will teach effortlessly, with grace.  No one will see the work it’s taking for me to keep going.  And maybe I’ll get so lost in the moments, the laughter and stories, that I’ll forget for a little while myself.  No one will see what lies beneath.


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Awesome Breastforms

I was at my physical therapist’s office today and as I was getting undressed, I noticed that she had a little knit boobie on her desk.  “What is that,” I asked?  I thought it was one of those little beanies you put on babies when you’re breastfeeding.  But no, that’s not what it was.  It is a breast form, by Awesome Breastforms, for women who find a traditional prosthesis uncomfortable or too heavy.

The great thing about these breast forms are that they are hand knit or crocheted by volunteers.  These volunteers not only custom make a breast form but they pay for the yarn and the shipping!!!  That means that there are many women (and men, maybe) who not only give their time but there money to make a difference in the life of a woman who has gone through breast cancer surgery.

I’ll be adding the link to my Freebies section (see above) but I wanted to share this resource with you now.  If I knew about this before my reconstruction, I would have gotten one for myself.  Wanting a little boobie pillow isn’t a good enough reason for one, unfortunately.

Let me know if you get one!!!!


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Swimwear Post Mastectomy, Pre-Reconstruction

In less than two weeks, I am going away with my family to Martha’s Vineyard.  While it’s not the private, luxury Caribbean escape I was hoping for, I really can’t complain.  There are beaches, lobster shacks, bike trails…everything I need.

It occurred to me as I was looking through my summer wardrobe that my old bathing suits might not fit me anymore.  They are mostly halter tops with deep plunging v-necks with little support.  They were great for my small breasts and also wonderful for when I was breast feeding on the beach.

But now that I have had a mastectomy and have a tissue expander in one breast, fitting into a bathing suit is tricky.  For starters, one breast is bigger than the other due to the tissue expander.  The left hangs much lower than my right which is now unnaturally high up.  So when I put on my bathing suit and looked in the mirror, I looked like a Pablo Picasso painting (not in the good way).

Notice one breast is higher than the other.  That's kind of what I look like right now.

Notice one breast is higher than the other. That’s kind of what I look like right now.

My budget right now is limited but I wanted to get a bathing suit that was cute and functional, but not a mastectomy bathing suit (I don’t want to wear the cutlets to the beach, or anywhere for that matter).  After scouring the internet and falling in love with suits that cost $100+, I decided to go to Target.  Lo and behold, I found a large selection of tops and bottoms that would work.  But I settled on these two pieces.

I got the top in "Animal Print."  It has a retro feel with the twist tie full cups and the thick straps.  The straps and the light padding provide a lift and shape.  Unless you are staring, you can't tell that one breast is larger or higher than the other.  And at $22.99, the price can't be beat!

I got the top in “Animal Print.” It has a retro feel with the twist tie full cups and the thick straps. The straps and the light padding provide a lift and shape. Unless you are staring, you can’t tell that one breast is larger or higher than the other. And at $22.99, the price can’t be beat!

I love this little swim skirt.  It provides coverage but gives a sexy, retro feel.

I love this little swim skirt. It provides coverage but gives a sexy, retro feel.

I also loved this swimsuit from Target but I prefer tankinis (one pieces are a pain in the ass to deal with when you have to pee!)

Retro, fun, simple.  I love the full coverage cups with the sweetheart neckline to elongate the neck.

Retro, fun, simple. I love the full coverage cups with the sweetheart neckline to elongate the neck.

If money is no object or you just want to get the suit you love because you deserve it, I think these are great choices.

I love this one shoulder number.  It's sexy but still has full breast coverage.  Anthropologie.com

I love this one shoulder number. It’s sexy but still has full breast coverage. Anthropologie.com

I think the print on this suit could detract from any breast inconsistencies.  I love the shape and the colors. Anthropologie.com

I think the print on this suit could detract from any breast inconsistencies. I love the shape and the colors.
Anthropologie.com

I've never seen anything like this.  It's conservative yet smoking hot at the same time.

I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s conservative yet smoking hot at the same time. Anthropologie.com

I love the colors and the print on this.  It's a bikini that's still sexy but not too revealing.  Less is more sometimes, right?  modcloth.com

I love the colors and the print on this. It’s a bikini that’s still sexy but not too revealing. Less is more sometimes, right? modcloth.com

While this suit isn't my personal style, I think this top is a great option since it's built a bit like a sports bra.  modcloth.com

While this suit isn’t my personal style, I think this top is a great option since it’s built a bit like a sports bra. modcloth.com

This rash guard is great option since it has UVA and UVB protection which is important for skin protection post radiation.  It comes in an array of colors.  bodenusa.com

This rash guard is great option since it has UVA and UVB protection which is important for skin protection post radiation. It comes in an array of colors. bodenusa.com

Another sexy number that has support and coverage.  And that color is killer!  neimanmarcus.com

Another sexy number that has support and coverage. And that color is killer! neimanmarcus.com

Finally, isn't this the cutest thing to cover your bald head with?  I need it!!!!!!  nordstrom.com

Finally, isn’t this the cutest thing to cover your bald head with? I need it!!!!!! nordstrom.com