I’m wounded and can’t get my bra off.

Standard

Anyone tired of pain and angst and wimmen’s stuff can go home right now. But I can’t get off this bus and writing’s a distraction, so I’m gonna stay right here and bore y’all to death.

I’ve taken the muscle relaxers (the ones that cause 6 hour crying jags). And the lorazepam (goody, now I get to wake up feeling like the world’s going to end). I’ve got one NSAID pain patch plastered to my front, another to my back, and my husband nearly broke his thumb trying to push the muscle spasm or rib or whatever it is that hurts like hell back to where it came from.

Ain't it cute? Don't it look nice and soft and squishy? Nawp. They lie. And where's the stud-finder, dammit?

Ain’t it cute? Don’t it look nice and soft and squishy? Nawp. They lie. And where’s the stud-finder, dammit?

So I lie on the “Miracle Ball” for the requisite minutes and then do it again out of sheer desperation. Now I’m sitting against a yogic torture device called a Spoonk that’s advertised as the Western answer to acupuncture. All this because I’ve got what feel like armadillo plates riding against my ribs and the suckers are pulling my back out of joint.

And I still don’t have to do chemo. Yay! That heads up my gratitude list every day of the week. But tonight I’m doing my best imitation of British whinging, just for fun.

Actually, the anatomic explanation above isn’t quite right. I quizzed my plastic surgeon about exactly where these tissue expanders live and learned they aren’t just lying quietly on top of my ribs “under the muscle,” as I so casually assumed. During surgery the pectorals are actually butterflied lengthwise, their points of insertion left intact, and the expanders jimmied between the layers like stuffing in mock duck.

All’s quiet for awhile (or else surgical pain overrides awareness of anything else), but a couple weeks later, when they whip out the stud-finder to start filling the expanders (see previous post), the muscles stretch and spasm. And in my case have pretty much never stopped. I wake in the morning with the equivalent of tennis balls stuck under my skin. That’s if I slept at all overnight. I don’t remember having any dreams at all during these last two months. Once things quiet down I should have quite the cinema line-up for REM sleep.

So maybe the surgeon’s right and I have what he calls “reactive” pectorals (he is a pretty smart guy). You mess with them, they kick back. Like the frogs’ legs my mother once made me watch her cook. I see this fairly often during cesarean section; we’re not anywhere near the pecs, but similar slabs of muscle in the abdomen can do the same thing. It’s usually handling the peritoneal membrane underneath them that causes spasm and vomiting even with adequate anesthesia, but in some folks “just” pulling apart the abdominal muscles produces the same effect.

Trouble is, these suckers are STRONG. There is no denying a pissed off pectoral. Because of where they are, they pull on the ribs and yank those circumferential items slightly off-kilter, causing spasm in other, unforeseen areas. Which has been my problem lately.

This is more like it. The deflated inflater. More like what I just got at Petco--a dog toy with "squeakless technology." Yep, that's what this thing is.

This is more like it. The deflated inflater. More like what I just got at Petco–a dog toy with “squeakless technology.” Yep, that’s what this thing is.

My husband was horrified to find thumb-shaped bruises where he’d been pressing on my back. I assured him I’d not complain to authorities, as this was likely due to my using twice the recommended number of non-steroidal patches (along with a handful of naproxen, if truth be told). This all messes with blood clotting abilities. Whereupon he’s horrified I exceeded the recommended dosage. Whereupon I’m amazed that we’ve been married lo these 23 years and my MO still surprises him.

Now something I forgot to mention is the saving grace of having a physical therapist who really knows her wimmin’s business. Also high on the gratitude list. Every whining complaint I’ve thrown at her has been no surprise. She’s heard it all before. Thank heavens.

Thank heavens I’m not the only one who feels these plastic things getting hot against my chest wall. That the saline ports are hard, and hurt. That tissue I’m told has been denervated may be numb-ish to the touch on the outside, but has plenty of sensation pushing through from the inside.

But hey, Dr. Susan Love says says most women don’t even finish their pain meds. Must be true, right? She’s written a fat book about everything breast. If Marcus Welby, Dr. Quinn, and Hawkeye Pierce joined her for a focus group and came to the same conclusion, well, maybe I’d suspend disbelief. We’ll just not consult Dr. House.

Thank heavens the therapist knew to insist I request a reduction in the bigness of these things before I had more trouble with an already compromised right hand (that would be from the heartbreak of thoracic outlet syndrome, which is a wastebasket diagnosis and doesn’t really exist, as we all know). As soon as they let a little–a measly 2 ounces–of fluid out of the right breast my hand stopped its neurogenic tingling, my breasts regained just the eensiest bit of squishiness, and I felt like a new person. This is what I’m told will happen when the expanders are exchanged for “real” implants. We’ll stick with the smaller size, thanks very much.

But now the pecs have caught on and decided to take up the slack. Hence the new muscle spasms and this new-ish rant of mine. Bear with me and I’ll apologize (again) next I see you.

What follows is something not for the faint of heart: placement of the expander within the muscle.

I really don’t want to freak anyone out, but can’t seem to post the link without opening the graphics.

Treat your children well…

Standard

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.

Genesis, revisited.

Standard

Genesis, revisitedAn interesting thing happened today. I found a baby garter snake curled around a fallen apple (did a double-take). Took it (the snake, not the apple) to show the spouse, because he’s into that sort of thing. Told him where I’d found it and we both shuddered in the grip of an old, old story. Even though he’s the epitome of what was once politely called “unchurched,” and I’m politely imperfect in my own spirituality. Returned the snake to the ground. Enamored of it’s beauty, shared the apple. (With the spouse, not the snake.)

I’m officially menopausal, so baby-having curses don’t apply. Still have the ovaries though, and a cousin who died of ovarian cancer. But I got a call from my oncologist, who says I’m free of the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations. Guess I’m stuck with schlepping a living by the sweat of my brow. As it ever was.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (Northern Renaissance German painter, 1472–1553) Adam and Eve 1526So what’s it all about, Mikey? I’ve occasionally experienced sacred texts as explanatory fictions made so by some soul wonderfully able to relate past arcana to present questions.

The thought that passed between my husband and I felt old as life itself, though we ultimately ignored the warning and ate the apple. Who can resist anything grown on one’s own land?

Maybe that’s the point. It often is in my business, where couples go to endless, painful lengths to have children even when their bodies refuse to cooperate. And women like me insist on replacing parts that betray them with parts that don’t look right, or feel right, or create problems of their own. Remember, that first couple didn’t eat from the tree of life, but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Go figure.

P. S. The snake shat on me. It’s a defense mechanism and stinks like the devil. Poor Adam & Eve. Poor us.

Ode to a Bereft Doe

Standard

Robert Burns' famous poem might just as well apply to the wild rabbit--our local cottontail. Lagomorph, not rodent. Full text, in more modern language, follows later.

Robert Burns’ famous poem might just as well apply to the wild rabbit–our local cottontail. Lagomorph, not rodent (look it up, or read on). Full text, in more modern language, follows later.

They do say no matter our own troubles, someone else has more. I stumbled over three of them this morning. Yes, they were only bunnies, but all were dead, scattered across the kitchen floor like so many dominos. Newly born, cords still wet. Joey the Hun of Facebook fame, is a cat familiar to many as marauder of rabbit nests. I know how he brings in the babies, and they’re not dead and never damaged like the ones on my floor today. Joey was bottlefed–with human milk no less–so wasn’t taught to hunt by a “real” mother. He’s somehow a stalker par excellence (they’re not supposed to be when raised by people), but he’s never perfected the killing blow. He brings his catches indoors, alive unless they’re bitty mice, with a few puncture wounds that can sometimes be mended. So far I’ve managed to raise and release three of these. But today’s babies were mangled. A crushed head, a rear leg torn nearly off, skin surgically sliced. None had the punctures associated with animal attacks. And cold as ice. They’d been dead awhile, but not eaten. Those Joey brings in are warm and screaming and can be counted on to wake me. I’m supposing he found these others when their nest was destroyed. Attracted by their flailing, he brought them inside, going back for more when each disappointed him by expiring. Cats and others going about their animal business don’t upset me (too much). Animal behavior can be brutal, but it is the natural course of things, and when observed respectfully, quite instructive. While I won’t sit around and watch Joey decimate a nest I know he’s found, it’s interesting to stalk him and see him find one, watching just the once: seeing him lay over it, wrap himself around it until the babies sense his heat and start moving, thinking it must be mum come to feed them. At that point I grab the damned cat and ground him for a month.

These healthy babies were brought in by Joey with hardly a scratch. The difficulty is in feeding them  with their peculiar digestive requirements.

These healthy babies were brought in by Joey with hardly a scratch. They required only a bit of antibiotic for having been in a cat’s mouth. The difficulty is in their peculiar digestive requirements.

But this tragedy, I’m sure, was born of human ego–a homeowner’s association gone berserk trying to “eradicate” Scotch broom. As though one could. And this does upset me. It led to a resident with a John Deere and too much time on his hands mowing down what passes for hedgerow all along the greenbelts. Fine. Keep the place presentable, but know that cottontails choose exactly these areas for their nests from June to August. And they’re not the deep, protective burrows famous in England and other places, but shallow scrapings lined with a bit of fluff and covered with a flap of moss. Nearly impossible to see. Impossible unless you’re a cat with endless patience and a knowledge of cottontail habitat. Certainly impossible from the height of a riding mower. Garden tools are notorious for ripping nests open and mutilating mothers, babies, or both.

Small, sleek cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With hurrying scamper!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering plough-staff…
“To a Mouse,” Robert Burns, 1759-1796
 

Even in the 1700s, Burns thought to grieve the harm farming activities could do these “timorous beasties,” even though mice in particular were known to contaminate food stores, overrun granaries, and nest in the thatched roofs overhead. Rabbits, likewise, have been viewed as pests simply for reproducing as quickly as the moon goes from new to full. That they patiently serve as nature’s pantry for the entire world is largely ignored. They are, however, a species of creature unlike almost any other. Not rodents, they are lagomorphs. Which means they’ve a double set of incisors and a gut that digests hard fiber by means of fermentation. Like hooved animals–like deer. In fact, wild rabbits most resemble deer in their sleek facies and graceful forelegs, not to mention their habits. They are crepuscular rather than nocturnal animals; most active at dawn and dusk, when they emerge to feed in the half-light their peculiar eyes use best for seeing. They don’t abandon their babies, but protect them by leaving the nest between feedings, just as do deer: the doe who parks her fawn behind a log, or deadfall, or bush, and instructs it to be utterly still and silent until she returns. A mother rabbit is also a doe–as her mate is a buck–and leaves her nest to wait and feed nearby so her own mature scent won’t betray her offspring.

Far from ready for release, these bunnies are attached to their human foster mother, but will become wild the moment they don't need her any longer.

Far from ready for release, these bunnies are attached to their human foster mother, but will become wild the moment they don’t need her any longer.

Private creatures, they are yet social, especially within the family. Thought to separate from their kits as soon as they leave the nest, observers are only now learning the bond is not so early severed. The worst thing I may have ever seen was a mother racing to and fro after a crow that had clearly stolen one of her half-grown babies.Too big for the bird to actually lift away, it flapped from one end of our yard to the other, with the doe running after it, frantically trying to rescue her child. When the crow tired and dropped it, the baby was recovered. It had been thoroughly mutilated–the job of some hours. In all that time the mother hadn’t forgotten about, or given up on, her kit. These are only little lives, these bunnies–whom the lawnmower man points out live here in their thousands–but these little lives are the ones they’re given–certainly as important to them as ours are to us. They are the very image of the meek who will inherit, and we have as much to learn from them as from our cat and dog friends. Sister Rabbit, Brother Dog, as Saint Francis would have said. And as some say in other parts of the world: “Namaste–I bow to the spark of God in you.” https://www.facebook.com/kay.jackson.904/videos/1494604578959/?l=7832060970311559415

In the manner of my people…

Standard

OK. So I said I wasn’t angry. I’ll take that back now. But being pissed off has got nothing to do with breast cancer. At least nothing wherein I can prove causation and sue people, anyhow.

Those of you close enough to hear me whine have heard about my second (yes, second) IRS audit. The Word came down just about the time I learned the breasts were history, so aside from falling apart that day, I didn’t pay much attention. Kinda like with a second pregnancy. You know what’s coming, that it’s gonna hurt like hell, cost a lot of money, and not necessarily turn out well.

The first time, being rank amateurs, we hired a tax attorney. Ended up paying him $4,000 to prove we didn’t owe the gov $8,000. The thing dragged on forever, and the attorney drove me f*ing nuts. I drove my husband likewise, I’m sure.

After dis- and reassembling the entire tax return (my work, not the $4,000 attorney’s), the man had a 5 inch thick binder stuffed with every bit of documentation I could find. He was very proud. And we ended up proving we hadn’t shorted the government a dime, though the woman reviewing us made noises about attaching a penalty for “messiness.”

Yeah. I’m a midwife, not an accountant, and I’m the daughter of both an artist and a mathematician. That’s a messy combination right there, so maybe the woman had a point. But she couldn’t make it stick.

Since then, I quit using “tax professionals” for the annual sacrifice. I knew it would come to another audit, someday, since the stuff we claim hasn’t had a reason to change. I also knew it wouldn’t make any difference to involve a third party in the deal. Instead, I bought the “audit defense” service that’s optional with most of the computerized tax programs. These guarantee you won’t get fined for messiness because they type things nicely and their math is perfect. And the poor sod being audited never has to come face to face with the nasty IRS. That’s the REAL deal. Especially when you’re post-mastectomy with a funny looking chest nobody can stop trying not to look at.

So far, so good, except when I couldn’t answer the phone & talk to the audit defender right after surgery, he got feeling sorry for me. Which means he didn’t call again. Which means that a couple days ago he did call, in a panic because his manager noticed there’d been no activity on my account. So now, suddenly, there’s a five day deadline. Not an IRS deadline, but a third party deadline (as they’d surely love it if I default and they can keep our $79.00, avoid the work, and say they’ve discontinued service for noncompliance).

What to do, what to do?

The gov’ment says they want $10,000 this time. Roughly $6,000 of that is what they say I underpaid. The rest is interest and penalties. Some of which are for–you guessed it–messiness.

Yanno, I think I’m just gonna pay the so-and-so’s. Via a payment plan. Over two or three or four years. I’d be nuts to ruin my recovery (some people go to ANY lengths for time off, doncha know). And nuttier still to go through the next surgery with this Great Matter unresolved. Or miss the impromptu family reunion my Canadian cousins have put together in the next little while.

If I get feeling better, and feistier, I can always re-submit the whole damn return. Which is basically what I did during the first audit.

Maybe Zoro will come to my rescue.

Maybe the letter I wrote President Obama (like he’ll ever see it) will bear fruit.

Nah. I don’t need to prove anything. I can pay yet another bill. Or not. Think they’d try to extradite me over $10,000? I’m just not going to worry my poor little head about it. The spouse will get on the phone tomorrow morning & use his best spouse voice to snag the best pay-the-IRS-$10,000-over-time deal.

My dad, looking on from above, will approve. And that’s what’s really important.

P.S. My parents were audited 7 times. And my dad, being an artist, had a messy room.

P.P.S. My mother, my dad’s sister, and my mom’s sister (twice), had breast cancer.

These things I do in the manner of my people.

The Heartbreak of Phantom Bra Pain

Standard

One of the more irritating features of this breast-building business is the tissue expander stage. Folks who have augmentation without mastectomy will have smaller implants placed either behind the existing breast tissue (fat & glands we associate with breast shape), or behind both breast tissue and pectorals (the large chest muscles so popularized by Jack LaLane). It’s a choice they make with the help of their plastic surgeon.

Folks like me, who have breast and underarm tissue removed in any of the various mastectomy surgeries, have a couple of reasons for needing to go the tissue expander route. If their own skin is spared, there’s no support for the implant within that empty pocket, so space must be created behind the pectorals to both support and hold it in place. It needs to be a larger space, for a larger implant, as there’s no more breast tissue to help shape it. Those who have a complete mastectomy that includes removal of skin and nipple will also need tissue expanders to stretch not only muscle, but the overlying skin as well.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is NOT a comfortable process. Aside from the requisite stretching and burning, I have this sense of something foreign–something large and foreign–strapped to my chest wall. All the time. It’s uncannily like wearing a too-tight bra every waking moment. And every other one, too. I’m constantly reaching up to tug on the elastic, pull at the underwire, or actually unhook the back. But nothing’s there.

Oh boo hoo. There are waaay worse things that could be happening right now.

But it is really strange. It’s exactly the sort of deja vu experience I’ve had ever since my parents died. Where I think before my brain stops itself: “Dad’s gotta see this…” or “let me just call Mom…”

I suppose in addition to grooves in my brain that track to the Mom and Dad thoughts, I’ve got another groove that tracks to the “gotta get this bra off” thought. And not just the thought, but the actual motor impulse that has me reaching up to find the thing. They’re the kind of impulse pathways that plague amputees with phantom sensations they’d swear were coming from the missing limb. Or the missing breast.

So if I’d gone with my health ed teacher’s advice and worn better fitting bras all my life–bras that didn’t create the need to reach up and yank down–would I still be doing this? Maybe some PhD-type will do a study. And give us a new ICD-9 code: phantom bra pain. I want my name on it.

“They’re heeere…”

Standard

Foobs.

Fake boobs.

Rising out of nothingness…Suddenly. In Biblical fashion.

The surgeons very kindly took me seriously when I said the prospect of traditional dual mastectomy horrified me. They inflated temporary tissue expanders to about half capacity before I left the operating room. So when I explored my chest in the recovery room there were these little convexities–booblets–complete with my very own nipples, right where I’d expect to find them. Mightily encouraged (this is all hearsay, mind you–I’ve no memory of it), I am said to have gleefully exposed them to anyone who’d look–the spouse, my dear friend Peggy, and whatever nurses & techs were trying to keep me breathing instead of flashing the entire floor.

So I’ve discovered an inner extrovert. If it only emerges after anesthesia, I’m good.

I was apparently good that day, as the spouse was heard to say, “Gee–it looks like you’re nineteen again!” Bless him. We won’t talk about how he knew what I looked like at 19, except to say that it involved a communal swimming pool and some self-conscious skinny dipping. There are those who will remember the ’70s & how that used to be OK. Nowadays, if I’d been much younger, there’d have been arrests.

But, nobody gets to stay 19 forever, even a second time ’round. I left the hospital with the medical equivalent of saran wrap holding my chest together. This would stay on an additional two weeks, providing increased heat within really thin skin that needed to establish new circulation, and a way to peer at the nipples–which until the surgeon told me, I didn’t realize might dry up and blow away.

So now, three weeks out from the original surgery and with regular infusions of saline, foobs have emerged from the primordial booblets. Given my profession and the profound effect words have on women’s sense of self, I’ve always been careful to give body parts their correct names–at least with patients of a certain age  and comfort level. But special circumstances create the need for new vocabulary. An email friend who’s been through the same process tells me this stage is the “foob” stage. From the Latin, of course: fake boob.

Seems entirely appropriate to me, as these have certainly passed up my 19 year old booblet moment. Booblets are cute and unassuming. Foobs, well, foobs make their own way in the world. Anyone who accidentally runs into me won’t hurt me, but might come away with some serious bruises right about foob height. Which means we’re not talking “real” breasts yet.

I’ve got another one or two infusions to go before the tissue expanders reach their limit. Or I reach mine (this is not a comfortable process). A couple months after that, once things have stretched and settled to the extent they will, the expanders are exchanged for implants that feel much more like “real” breasts. And with any luck, I’ll start feeling real again, too.

Now what?

Standard

Wrote this about a week ago and thought I’d lost it in the ether…far be it from me to waste words, so I’ll just go ahead and post it.

June 27, 2013:  OK, something has shifted in the last 48 hours. I’m not holding my breath, but I think things are on the mend. Everybody (read health care professionals) said this would happen. Being a health care professional myself, I was skeptical. But given my own evidence–an actual good night’s sleep, waking up with a headache instead of fire in the chest, and less awareness of the verdammt drains–I am forced to say I might actually feel better. Kind of all of a sudden.

So now what? A friend suggests I won’t have anything to write about once my fear and anger fade. Oh well. But that brings up an interesting question: what anger? I wasn’t aware of it. Sure, I can say “screw cancer” with the best of them (after all, my dad died of it), and as y’all know, I’d rather say that than wax on about the “cancer journey.”

I’m aware of fear, certainly, and lots of it, for all kinds of reasons. But overall I’ve had a sense of the other shoe dropping. Kind of a resigned “oh shit, here we go,” given my mom, her sister, and my dad’s sister all having had the disease.

I imagine it was either fear or this anger I’m not aware of that led to the incredible case of eczema that erupted shortly before surgery. Heck, take it a step further. Maybe fear and anger I’m not aware of led to the transformation of certain cells into cancer cells. Naaah. If I believe that, I’ll have yet another fear–that things like thoughts suppressed and emotions not felt are waiting to sabotage me in the worst ways imaginable.

Christiane Northrup, an OB/GYN who has parlayed her experience into several really fat books, is on that bandwagon. Thyroid disease? You’ve choked back enough things that bother you to clobber this major organ in your neck. Ovarian cancer? Your creative potential got thwarted and instead of making babies, your ovaries are using their generative powers to kill you. Breast cancer? Same deal.

I’m paraphrasing from memory here, and that memory’s at least 15 years old, but you get the gist. I stopped reading when I got to those parts because while I agree we’re all responsible to some extent for our health, there are plenty of extents for which we aren’t. There are genetics and accidents and just plain bad luck. And there’s cancer. Barring studies that irrefutably link it to a misspent youth and prior bad acts, I am NOT going to blame myself for breast cancer.

Now I’m not dissing the mind’s great powers of persuasion. Even evidence-based medicine recognizes any treatment can be successful a third of the time thanks to the placebo effect alone. In fact, before being declared effective in its own right, said treatment must beat out placebo by greater than that 30% margin.

During my own misspent youth, I took the training & later got myself registered as a hypnotherapist. If that doesn’t put me squarely in the camp of woo-woo science, I don’t know what does. Hypnosis tries to systematically harness the power of the mind (and, dare I say it–the placebo effect), but it’s not a magic wand that can reliably cure cancer or any other problem. If it was, I’d make a mint cleaning up the mess described by Dr. Northrup. Or my dad might still be alive. Which would really be something to write about.

Surgery sucks.

Standard

Except when it saves your life.

But it’s awful in ways having my appendix and gallbladder out 20 years ago weren’t awful. Those surgeries felt like dental procedures in comparison. Of course, there is the thing about being somewhat younger back then. And the thing about once the last stitch is taken out at the two week post-op visit the deal is done. Finito. Fini.

None of that now. I’m already at the two week mark, but listen to me whine. Talk about being blindsided. I went blithely into surgery with my previous experience, expecting more of the same. Oh, maybe I’d use my time off for actual recovery and not plan any camping trips (I mused), but I had no real thought that things would be markedly different. After all, they weren’t even opening a major body cavity. Silly me.

In the be-ribboned world of breast cancer, I’ve won the lottery in several different ways. I don’t need anyone to tell me that. I deeply appreciate having found it in time enough that I’ll likely not be another woman trying to “live” with breast cancer until she can’t any more–often for less than five years.

Because a very experienced and persistent radiologist saw something that could hardly be seen, followed it up in slap-bang fashion with a series of biopsies that proved what he thought was there, leading to an MRI that showed something suspicious in the other breast, the decision to have bilateral mastectomies was a no-brainer. Waste time fishing around on the other side just to prove the “concerning” spot was indeed concerning (and what if it gets missed–the worst of it just micrometers outside the sample, or the real bad spot is just too small to show up…yet?), no thanks.

And because of his persistence and the expertise of his colleagues–the radiologists who nailed the lesions with their fancy x-ray guided biopsies–I get to go ahead with the plan to inflate the tissue expanders that were placed under my chest muscles rather than default to chemo or radiation and let cosmetics be damned. As it turns out, both breasts had cancer, invasive sorts of different types–a veritable smorgasbord of cancers and pre-cancers–but none was in my lymph nodes, nor in the little arteries and veins that course through the breasts, nor near enough to nipple and skin that I’d need those removed as well.

So. Onward. Stiff upper lip and all that.

Waitjustaminute. Not quite yet. I’ve got drains draining and pain paining, and have hit my wall for today. In other words, I am not feeling at all like doing anybody’s happy dance. I’m hoping against hope the appointment come Monday wherein they begin expanding the expanders and (hopefully) pull out these !#%! drain tubes will relieve some of their associated discomfort.

Discomfort. Now there’s a word. The expanders are flat things that resemble the stingray that killed Steve Irwin. The edges are thick, bump into each other through the muscles over my sternum, and slice upward into my armpits. The swelling associated with all this bumping and grinding gives me a bustline like Tarzan’s and the discomfort plays hell with my attitude.

Do you a favor. I won’t even get into the drains.

Until next time. Maybe.

Fear and Its Antidote

Standard

I’m afraid.

It’s 4 am, I’m watching Downton Abbey for the first time, and can’t keep my mind on it.

I’ve looked (yet again) at photos of breasts in various stages of de- and re-construction. I speak to people who know I’m having this surgery and watch their eyes drift to my chest. It’s OK, I’d do the same.

I’ve taken pictures of myself as I stand now, looked at various surgeons’ “outcomes,” hoped for something between myself as I am and something otherwise tolerable, yet know I have no control over any of it.

In the end, the point of this exercise is a lifesaving one. Just as I remind new parents the point of labor is not a “birth experience,” but rather the not-always-simple act of participating in renewed and extended life. Plenty of folks don’t get to enjoy that, whether they’re having a baby or facing illness.

Neil Boyle Limited Edition Bronze

Neil Boyle limited edition bronze. I’d sure rather end up with a version of these more realistic breasts than with the “rocket boobs” featured below.

I’m hoping I do. And I’m distressed to be so very caught up in fear of pain and disfigurement. In fact, I’m surprised at it. Worry about pain and its management, mostly. I wouldn’t have thought it, though I’ve always known myself for, maybe not a coward, but a wuss. Good medical term, that.

My lovely father was an artist without compare. (I can say that–he’s my dad–but it was ever true.) Much of his career and teaching was spent putting the female form on canvas. Later, he experimented with bronze. One of those is shown here and demonstrates his attitude of realism toward the female form.

I was fortunate to be influenced by this man who appreciated women in all their variety. Other than ignoring the piercings in a pregnant model’s nipples, I never saw him “improve” on any woman he painted.

I have a copy of that painting. Its original drew a fair sum in a fundraiser for my midwifery school. A copy hangs in my office at Pearl Place, where I was worried my then-employer’s mother would object, given her career as a missionary. But she never batted an eye, owing no doubt to the simple verity of the woman and the artist who painted her.

I have every hope the surgeons who work on me tomorrow have no less respect for female normalcy than did my dad. I’ve uploaded a couple of photos here. One of my dad’s work; a bronze that sits proudly on my mantlepiece. Dad’s wife was kind enough to make a gift of it to me after his death.

The other piece is by an old friend of his, whose nudes from the 70s feature breasts a lot like those contemporary women choose for augmentation. I’m not too worried I’ll end up with those, but it will be truly frightening if my so-small readership can’t tell which is whose. 

Don’t worry, there won’t be a test.

"Annie Oakley" by Ren Wicks

An example of the “rocket boobs” Ren Wicks was renowned and loved for in “Annie Oakley.”

Empowered Blogger