Treat your children well…


I don’t know what I was expecting going into this Angelina Jolie-breast-preservation-mastectomy thing. Or maybe I do, if I get honest. I think I was expecting to look and feel pretty much like I did before the two, Two, TWO surgeries in one. Yeah, the Wrigley’s gum commercial dates me. I’m speaking of mastectomy followed immediately by “reconstruction.”

I’m feeling stupid because I let myself believe reconstruction meant restoration. They’re not the same. I’ve got what pass for breasts (very nicely, under clothes), but are really nothing but foobs (fake boobs, previously discussed). Kinda awful to look at without the clothes. They’re shaped by triangular-ish plastic inserts with a port for sequential infusions of saline. They could be made really, really big if I was into that sort of thing and wanted to lose the use of my right arm. More on that in another post.

And you know how they find the port to do the infusions? (Boy, what an education this has been.) With a stud-finder. Now that got my husband’s attention. He has mostly averted his eyes from the foobs, but pull out that stud-finder and he’s Johnny on the spot. It is kind of interesting. The expanders can shift, and they do, so the ports have metal in them to help with detection. Out comes the stud finder, for every infusion. First to “X” the spot, and again to check right before they stick the needle in. My doctor’s stud-finder is blue.  Hmmm.

Wall sculpture

Does she, or doesn’t she?

Weird as it is, the process works, even if the result doesn’t look quite right and the “foreign body sensation” means they’re always on my mind. Always. It’s like having something in my eye. I feel them moving against my chest wall, and I can’t keep my hands off them. I’ve had to tell my husband to poke me if he sees me holding my chest in public. The edges of the expanders wrinkle and flex just like an IV bag. Or a flattened beach ball. The ports feel exactly like the squeaker in a dog toy, only harder, and the right one hurts from the inside when I lift something and my pecs flex. You wouldn’t believe all the little things we do without thinking that require pectoral muscles. Opening a mayonnaise jar, for one.

In the mirror (and I’m always looking in the mirror), I’ve got mounds. And that’s what they’re called in surgical parlance. “Breast mounds”. Don’t know how I feel about that. I get the mental image of a bunch of men in lab coats thoughtfully considering the desirability (in one way or another) of various breast shapes and how to achieve them. I joke with the nurses that in terms of shape, my left one is Mt. Ranier and the right one, the one that gives me trouble pain-wise, is Sugarloaf. I actually like Sugarloaf better when I look down and compare the two, but they’re certainly not the breasts I’d grown to know over time. The ones the surgeon frowned at for their degree of ptosis (read sagging).

I was never taught to appreciate what I had while I had it, as I imagine many of us find, plodding through life. In the words of that gawdawful song, “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” I’ve got old photos that catch half of me sitting naked on our porch in California (because that’s what we did in California), and wonder why the hell I ever hated my little booblets. Or my not-quite-flat stomach. Or my skin that wouldn’t tan. They were fine. They were lovely. But nobody told me so because that’s not what’s done in our world.

In our world–the world of women anyhow–there’s always room for a lot of improvement. And when I was  kid, I was one of the many victims of the depression-era hangover that said children shouldn’t be encouraged. Certainly not about body-related stuff. The closest I ever got to a compliment from my mother was, “there’s nothing wrong with you–you’re not deformed.” This in response to my teenaged despair about never finding pants long enough outside the boys’ section of the store.

My dad was better, always ready with a “don’t you look nice” at odd times and when I got dressed up. Much of his life was spent around female models, and he did them the favor of always being professional, never making comparisons, and as I mentioned in another post, never “improving” on them in paint or bronze. He also didn’t make the mistake of being afraid to include me in his life or touch me once I reached puberty.

I’m glad I took photos of myself before surgery, because even at 53, even with “ptosis,” my breasts were still lovely. Not because they met media criteria, but because they were mine, they were intact, and I was used to them. And for most of my life they weren’t diseased.

These new things, these foobs, aren’t mine yet. I’m reminded every time I lift something that they aren’t breasts, they’re pectoral muscles. They clench. They spasm. They can be seen doing so under the skin. My skin is stuck to them. But only just. Skin without fat under it is thin. Transparent, really. Foobs are a constant reminder that man cannot improve on divine intent, evolution, or whatever it was that got us here.

But I’m going to have to develop some affection for these poor, benighted things, as they’re being asked to do what muscles were never meant to do–masquerade as fat. And I’m going to have to do all the exercises the physical therapist prescribed if I hope to get strong enough to stay up all night and catch babies.

The plastic surgeon tells me I’m not a “high needs” patient–the kind we health care providers all know and dread because they can’t be helped–yet I certainly feel like one. I’d kind of like to be one. I have no reason to keep going to his office,  but the support from the nurses there makes me miss having an appointment every week. What a catch-22. Something helps, yet availing myself of it feels wrong, or weak, or…well, just weak.

Foobs aren’t exactly trouble-free. I still have pain when I first wake up and the continental plates shift across my chest. Then there’s the end of the day when I just can’t stand myself any more. Fatigue hits like a ton of bricks when I’ve simply pushed a cart around the grocery store. My brain functions like Swiss cheese. Honestly, NOBODY would want me delivering their baby right now. But I feel like I should be better than this. I just know my friends would be stronger–they’d be done with it all and probably back at work again, ignoring the fatigue. Like midwives always do. Like women always do.

It scares the hell out of me, but I’m going to do the polar opposite of what my work ethic wants. I’m staying home until all this is over with. You’re all invited to join me.

12 responses »

  1. Thanks so much for your honesty. I have to make some big decisions and choices in the next month or so for after I finish chemo, so it’s really helpful to hear what mastectomy and construction is like from the inside. I am also struggling with the rest thing and work ethic. Rest up and hope it all feels better and gets easier for you soon.

    • Thanks, stemgir1. But don’t take anything I say as gospel. Please make the decisions that feel right to you. I’m just reacting to the experience of not looking like or feeling like myself (at the moment? yet? anymore?). The process of getting back to “normal” is waaaay different than I supposed. Writing about it is a return to my roots–before being a midwife I toyed with writing as a profession–and it’s been incredibly helpful during a time when I’ve sometimes felt nothing but bad. Part of that “bad” has been feeling silly that I really thought what I’d end up with were breasts with implants like the ones I’ve examined time after time in my practice–the ones that actually have breast tissue over them and so, feel like breasts. I’m told the exchange from tissue expander to silicone will make things enormously better, and that’s what I’m going by. But I’m not counting on it anymore 😉 . I’m getting to the point where I just want to be functional again.

      • Thanks. Yes, making decisions that are right for us is always the tricky part. It’s just good to hear the thoughts and experience of someone.

  2. Wonderful piece, Kay. As I made note in sharing it at Facebook that the message within is mportant even for those who don’t have these particular “children.” You have such a way of putting things, a visceral, sense-memory touch that makes the reader feel as if they can…. well, FEEL what you’re experiencing.

    I empathize with you as a woman, I sympathize as a human being; as a fellow writer I applaud.

    • Thanks Lorraine, I live for praise 😉 . But seriously, writing helps, in the dark of the night when the continental plates get hot underneath themselves (nobody tells you this stuff) and make me wonder what the hell I was thinking…then I remember my mom’s decision not to reconstruct and am grudgingly grateful for our misogynist society insisting women have services that allow them presentable breasts .

  3. And function again you will. I, just today put you in the computer: D4KJ …..Hope. Excitement. It is just around the bend. You will be back……babies are in the womb now growing, awaiting their day to be caught by the awesome midwife….Kathryn B. Jackson! Onward…..

    • Well, reading that didn’t send me into a meltdown–that’s progress, I suppose. Just hope I’m ready :-/ (you sense I’m not eager, yet, right? Still have another surgery to get through. Hoping that one will “cure” me).

  4. Reblogged this on Situational Midwifery and commented:
    Oy vey. So confused now. The Wicked Step-Mother (family joke folks, no harm), reassures me it was Wrigley’s, not Certs. I’d been corrected by a kind reader, earlier. You’d think I’d know, as I wrote a lengthy report on gum and the Wrigley’s empire in 2nd grade, but my mushy mind isn’t allowing me to remember, or even figure out how to look it up. Maybe both of them used it? Maybe Certs is part of the Wrigley’s empire? Maybe I don’t much are? (especially with my “C” key not working half the time).

  5. Hi Kay, on the off chance that you still care…you can see the Cert’s commercial on You Tube at this location. At the end of the commercial, they do indeed use the “two, two, two mints in one” line.

    • Wonder what the proper etiquette is — worry about it and change it and make apologies all ’round (thereby boring folks to death), or just let it go. I lean toward the latter. But hey, thanks for finding the spot!

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