Tag Archives: reconstruction

Reconstruction, Health, and The End is in Sight!

Well, it really has been a minute – or more like a few – since my last post!  In February, I promised an update as well as a blog featuring my chef friend’s new spring menu – and failed on both counts!  I know, I suck.  But sometimes life just, well, is life.  And every day comes, whether we are ready for it or not, huh?  So let’s go back and do some catching up, shall we?

As my readers know, last July, I began the reconstruction journey, even after I adamantly declared that I wouldn’t do it.  Most days I regret starting the process, but it is what it is and all I can do now is look forward, rather than behind.  I had implants, very small implants, put in, just so that I wouldn’t be caved in anymore and could wear a swimsuit without embarassment – to me AND my family!  Well, unfortunately, the implant on my left side – my radiated side – developed a staff infection, and by September I was pretty sick and the plastic surgeon had to go back in and remove it.  When THOSE bandages came off, I was devestated to see that I was now even MORE caved-in than I had been before starting reconstruction.  Deeply depressed, I cried a LOT; and upon return to the plastic surgeon post-op, he promised me that he could and WOULD make it look better, that it could be done (because I seriously, at that point, had my doubts).  He said we would have to wait several months for things to heal again before we started over, but that there was an option that did not entail putting anything else foreign into my body that could be rejected again.  He told me about a procedure called “Fat Grafting.”  This is where he first goes in and liposuctions fat from whatever area of my body that I want him to (and PLENTY of people graciously offered theirs to me as well), and then in the operating room they spin the fat to separate it from liquid.  Once they do this, the liquid is discarded, and the fat is then injected into the breast area and molded into a breast.  The only catch about this, however, is that some of the fat may not stay in place and take on the blood vessels around it, but rather just dissolve back into the body; and it would take several procedures, because only so much can be transferred at one time.  So I was in – I didn’t care how many times we had to do it (or so I thought), because hell, liposuction AND build-a-boob??  Let’s do it!

My first procedure was January 29th, and I was not at ALL prepared for what I would wake up to physically – neither the severe pain nor the huge, shocking purple bruising that came with the liposuction.  The pain from THAT surgery was way worse than even the initial double mastectomy, and the recovery time was about twice as long.  He harvested fat from my belly and my sides (ie: love handles), and after the bruising went away, I WAS rather pleased with having a smaller gut, despite all of the pain it took to get it.  I was a little disappointed, as was the doctor, in the outcome once again on my left breast (if you can call it that).  He had had trouble, when injecting the fat during surgery, in getting the large scar to loosen and expand.  It had been opened and closed four or five times previously, so it is pretty tight.  Our plan was, in between that procedure and the next, for me to try a fairly new system called the Brava – a sports bra of sorts with a suction device, designed to pull the skin out naturally through suction, rather than inserting an expander under the skin (which, as a foreign object, I wasn’t willing to do).  The wait-time in between procedures had to be at least three months, the surgeon told me, so that the fat had a chance to take on blood supply.  About two months after the first fat transfer, my nurse called to tell me that my insurance wouldn’t cover the Brava system, because it is so new and considered “experimental.”  If I wanted to do it anyway, it would cost me about a thousand bucks.  Um, no thanks.  So now what???  They told me I could proceed and do the same procedure as before, and he would work on getting the scar out a little more this time.  So surgery was scheduled and I prepared for round two.

The second procedure was April 30th, and this time I was prepared for what was coming – but I really wasn’t.  This time, he said he only had a little that he could take from my belly, so I told him to take from my thighs.  Dear God.  He got most of the fat from my thighs, he later told me, and that was a whole ‘nother kind of pain.  I woke up in a compression garment that went from just above my knees all the way up to my ribs.  Whoa.  Then on top of that, my chest was tightly wrapped in ace bandage, and between the two things, I could barely breathe!  I used my cane for a couple of days due to the thigh pain when standing, sitting, walking – pretty much moving in any form or fashion!  But I’m almost three weeks out, and have been up and about for almost a week now – much sooner than after the last time.  Last time I didn’t drive until I was two weeks out; this time, I drove myself one time after about five days, but then waiting until my 1 week (and a day) follow up appointment with the plastic surgeon.  We were both a bit more hopeful this time when we unwrapped my chest, as there is definite movements outwards of the big, main scar, and the semblance of the beginnings of a tiny breast or pec even.  We are hoping that one more procedure will do the trick, two at the most – and that is a huge improvement over what he initially predicted with EIGHT procedures!  So yeah, I am finally seeing an end to this whole ordeal, and I’m looking forward to being able to wear a swimsuit this summer without too much embarrassment, as well as on our family cruise at the beginning of October.  Now I want to focus on my health, and toning up after weight loss and liposuction…and hopefully this whole cancer nightmare will be behind me forever, never to return!

bitch slap cancer

The Mourning

Sept. 22, 2014

I came to a harsh realization today.

I had Cancer.  shutterstock_92336032

Breast Cancer.

Aggressive, invasive, triple-negative non-hormone driven stage 3 breast cancer.

Yeah sure, I know it was February of last year that I found the lump.  And I’m aware that the multiple biopsy results came on Noah’s 13th birthday in March of last year.  On April 10, 2013 my body was altered forever when a surgeon removed both of my breasts, all the way to the chest wall.  Chemo took my hair shortly thereafter, and by the end made it difficult to walk, even with a cane.  Radiation burned my skin, forever making that area slow to heal.  Scars were left, after several surgeries, from mid-sternum to underarm, on both sides.

Through all of that, I tried to stay positive.  I tried to keep smiling.  I tried to keep going and not think about anything but getting through the treatments and get it over with.  And I did it!  My PET scan was clear, showing no signs of cancer in November 2013.  Radiation ended February 19, 2014 – ending all treatments, and that was it.  I was done!  And every day since it ended, I woke up with an exquisite realization – I BEAT Cancer! breast_cancer_by_moydh-d4izagk

Time passed, strength returned, health returned.  I started working out again!  I started eating better again!  I started losing the 27 pounds that I gained during treatments!  Then, despite having said from the very beginning that I would have no part of reconstruction, I entertained the option for two reasons:  I did not like what I saw in the mirror, and some of my clothes were not fitting right.  Small implants should do the trick, I thought, to fill in the caved-in areas of my chest, fill my swimsuit, yet still omit the need for a bra. Sounded like a win-win to me!

I had my surgery on July 24th.  Within a week or two I felt great, and back to normal – despite the fact that you couldn’t even tell that I had gotten implants.  Five weeks after surgery, my skin split open on the radiated side, and turned into an infection that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics.  So last week, on September 18th, I was back in surgery to un-do all that had been done in July, remove the implant, and get rid of all of the infection.

Yesterday, I removed the bandages for the first time so that I could shower.  It was like someone had punched me in the gut.  It took my breath away.  The damage was worse now than way back after the double mastectomy last year.  I obviously was NOT prepared for what I saw, and I stood for what seemed like forever, mouth agape, staring at even worse caved-in scars than existed before.  There are no words, but the sense of loss overwhelmed me at that moment – and I believe that it was then that the mourning began.

The aftermath of multiple surgeries, implants, and infection
The aftermath of multiple surgeries, implants, and infection

Today, I can’t stop crying.  I have no way to explain it, except for an overwhelming sense of grief.  It isn’t about not being grateful that I beat cancer.  It isn’t about not being thankful that the staph infection didn’t get into my bloodstream and kill me.  I mean, truly, I hated my large breasts before cancer; but I never hated them enough to disfigure myself.  But it is a very odd place to be where I don’t look like a woman when topless; nor do I look like a guy when topless.  I feel like some androgynous person who gets called sir in the check-out line, and then called ma’am when they hear my voice.  I know that there is the option, after a while, to start over with something else that can be made from my own tissue, but that doesn’t take away from what I have to see today, and every day until maybe it can be repaired.  But truthfully, the more I see these scars, the less hope that I have for a repair that will look remotely like a breast.

I don’t know how to mourn.  I don’t know how to grieve a major loss and then let it go.  I know how to shove down feelings, sometimes to the point of omitting them from my memories.  I know how to stifle tears that start to choke me, for fear that if I let them go, they won’t stop and will overtake me.  When death has touched my family on rare occasions, I will usually cry at the intital news but then keep it together from that point forward.  I did fall apart after the loss of a baby and again when my oldest moved out, and that was enough for me.  To me, it doesn’t seem to be productive to fall apart, when I would much rather just face things, deal with it, and keep smiling and cracking jokes in order to cope.  So for whatever reason, now, all of these months and months and surgery scars later, my psyche has decided that THIS surgery was the one.  The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.  Floodgates are being pressed hard by weird, foreign, emotion-type things like the levees in New Orleans during hurricane season.

No matter how much I downplay it, no matter how much I laugh it off – body parts are gone forever.  No matter how many more procedures it takes to rebuild some semblance of a chest – they will never be the real thing or look like the real thing.  I know that my physical appearance doesn’t define me, and never has – so why in the holy f&*k is this driving me mad NOW???  I just don’t get it.  And this whole piece is NOT for advice on how to deal with things, or for great words of wisdom, or for anyone to tell me to “buck up, Buttercup” – because I’m telling myself that one plenty, thank you very much.  This piece was just how I know how to process things, and that is through writing.  I only share in hopes that if there is one person out there who goes through something remotely similar, that they will know that they are not alone, and that they can, should, and will go through a mourning of their own.

But, I came to a harsh realization today.

I had Cancer.