Archives for posts with tag: breast reconstruction

My daughter was a precocious baby. She was able to hold her own head up from the moment she was born. My mother will tell you that she first rolled over at 1 or 2 weeks of age.  She sat up, crawled, walked, and ran with ease.

I don’t remember learning to sit up for the first time. I do remember relearning to sit up. It was March of 2013 and I had just had a major reconstructive surgery that involved moving a big flap of my abdominal tissue up to make a new breast.  I still have the hip to hip wide scar to prove it. The day after surgery, I was in the hospital feeling not horrible but certainly not peppy.

As many of my friends know, one does not get discharged from the hospital without being able to get up and around and using the bathroom. Also, as many of you know, the hospital is no place to rest. One of the things I learned throughout the course of the nine surgeries I had in two years is that I am a fast healer. One of my nurses, noticing this, suggested that I try sitting up. I was resting comfortably but wanting to go home so I said that I would give it a try. He needed to help me, however. I had just had major surgery and lost an abdominal muscle in the process, after all.

The nurse expertly put his arm behind my back and slowly helped me raise to a sitting position. My first surprise was how little strength I had in my core. Wow, I had been spending my life taking a lot of muscles for granted! The second surprise was the incredible wave of nausea. Sometimes sitting up makes you want to hurl. If memory serves, I informed my nurse of this and asked to rest briefly, which I did.

I didn’t want to get up but at the same time, I wanted to heal and change, even the kind of change that highlighted my weakness and was punctuated by nausea, was needed. I got up. I took my steps outside of the hospital room, along with my husband and using my rolling I.V. stand for support. I completed my mandatory loop around the hospital halls. Within short time, I had also made the mandatory bathroom stop. Noting the difficulty in getting on and off the toilet given the state of my abdominal muscles, I later opted to walk out of the hospital instead of getting in and out of a wheelchair. At that point, sitting was harder than standing or lying down.

Last week, I learned to sit up for the third time. I learned to sit up for meditation. I have a confession to make. I have a hard time with sitting meditation. I was measurably relieved when I looked at the schedule for the Mindfulness-Based Stressed Reduction (MBSR) program that I’ve been doing. It started with a body scan! Body scans are done lying down. Body scans were a wonderful way to stay in bed in the morning for an extra 30 minutes without any guilt because I am doing my mindfulness meditation.

I started the new MBSR lesson on the day after Christmas. This was also the lesson during which sitting meditation is introduced and to be practiced for 30 minutes, six times per week. I had fully intended to stay in bed for this, to keep lying down for my meditation. I didn’t want to get out of bed. My bed is beyond warm and comfy.

On the first day, I turned on the audio for the sitting meditation. The gentle voice on the recording said something like, “You may wish to sit up for this meditation, in an erect and dignified posture.”

Something unexpected happened. Upon hearing this invitation, I sat up in bed and completed the meditation as it was intended to be done. There is something quite freeing about the lack of “should’s” and commands in this program. The meditation scripts are so encouraging. I found myself open to the moment and in that moment I literally rose to the occasion.

I have known myself for 50 years. One of the things that I have learned is that at times I have trouble getting started or making a change. Over time, I have found that if I allow myself the possibility that making any change in the intended direction even if it is not “perfect” is a good move. These moves help me get unstuck from my own perfectionism and toward acceptance of where I am at a particular moment.

It really is easier to move forward  from the reality of my imperfection than a false world of perfection.

His name was Kurt. We went to high school together. He was a year ahead of me. I think it was my junior year. We took creative writing together one semester. I remember his appearance. He had very fair skin and very light blonde curly hair. I am pretty sure that he wore glasses. I also think he sat kitty corner across the classroom from me (we sat at tables in a “U” formation instead of in rows of desks). I remember his being nice but not really knowing or noticing much about his personality. As I recall, he was fairly quiet. He was one of the boys at school who was into muscle cars and he had some kind of old but “cool” car like a Ford Mustang, or something.

One day, as I was walking in the hallway from one class to another, he stopped me. I don’t recall ever having had a one to one conversation with him previously, but then again, I could have forgotten many. I am and was pretty friendly and talked to many people. Kurt looked assumed a very relaxed stance and with apparent nonchalance, asked me to his senior prom.

You may already know that I never attended a formal dance at school: No prom, no homecoming, and no winter ball. I did not attend any university formal dances; those were mostly for sorority girls. I was not in a sorority and honestly, at that time, would have avoided attending any event like that.

So, if I was asked to prom and didn’t go, I must have told Kurt, “no”, right?

Strictly speaking, that’s the truth. But the part that still embarrasses me and makes me feel guilty is that I told him, “yes” when he asked me and then changed my mind and cancelled on him the next day. I was afraid. I didn’t really know him. He wasn’t one of the boys who I was wanting to ask me out, either. And he drove a hot rod! I was afraid that he would be one of those boys who would pressure me for sex on prom night or try to get me drunk!   I backed out in as nice of a way as possible. I later got to know him a little better and he probably would have been a good date. I could have been able to attend a major high school “coming of age” social event and NOT hurt a boy’s feelings. Oh yeah, I may have even had a good time.

About four weeks ago I was reading my neighborhood’s community blog. I saw that a “Second Chance Prom” was to be held as a charity benefit, at the golf course down the street from me. The tickets were very reasonably priced and it looked like a small, low key affair. So I bought two tickets and made an additional donation to the charity. Then I told John that he was taking me and as I had hoped, he readily and enthusiastically accepted.

I spent more time choosing clothing and accessories for my Second Chance Prom than I did for my wedding. I got my hair and make up done professionally. For my own wedding, I cut my own hair, styled it, and did my own make up using drug store cosmetics. But this is grown up prom! I wanted to get the best out of it and enjoy the process leading up to the event as much as I could. I trusted that I would not go crazy. After all, I will always be a discount shopper.

I tried on a lot of dresses. The one I ultimately chose was not my favorite based on photos. But it fit almost perfectly, required no uncomfortable foundation garments, was comfortable, and fit the James Bond theme of the prom. Also, it had an open back, which I knew John would like, and I looked about as good as I could.

Yesterday started as “glam day”. After my walk, I spent about 45 minutes online looking at photos to inspire hair and make-up ideas. If I were going to look like a Bond Girl, I wanted to go retro. I started getting a few ideas from photos of actresses from James Bond films from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Then I just started thinking about actresses from that time period and I thought, “What about Ann-Margaret?” Ding, ding, ding! I found an old photo of her with glam hair and make-up well suited to the time period as well as my hair.

My husband did not want to see my dress so I wore a coat over it, though he could see the bottom of it since it was a full length gown. He had still not picked out his outfit. Most of his button-down shirts are Hawaiian shirts. Knowing how overheated he gets, I even told him that I didn’t mind if he wanted to wear one. My only request was, “Please, no sneakers.”

He drove me to the salon with the plan that he would pick me up later and take me to dinner. This would be his way of picking me up for prom. I thought that was really sweet. I have gone to this salon for many years, so people know me there. They loved the idea of my going to prom and were excited to see John pick me up. I was seeing a different stylist for my make up and hair, Candace, who was recommended by my regular hair stylist, Megan.

I showed Candace the photo. She immediately understood what I wanted. Megan also came over during one of her breaks and said, “Good choice!” Candace was funny and sweet. I had arrived with a clean face and clean, frizzy hair. She styled my hair first and then did my make up. At one point, she said, “You are looking really glamorous, Dude. You clean up well.” When she was finished, I could tell that she was proud of her work. She said, “Let me parade you around the salon.” I followed her to the other side of the salon, where Megan was working. She also approved.

I was very pleased. Candace took a couple of photos of me for her portfolio and sweetly gave me a hug before she left to work with her next client. My husband arrived and responded in a positive but slightly stunned way. Then we got our photo taken together. John then kept asking me to pose for photos. And by “pose” I mean he instructed me on how to pose, a good thing because I have one pose and that is it. I think he said, “Wow” about five times. We had a great dinner.

We knew no one at the dance. But we were both ready to have a good prom. We danced when we wanted to even if we were the only couple on the dance floor. John sat down when he needed to. (It was hot and his back is still bothering him.) I danced even if he wasn’t dancing.

I danced even when I was the only one on the dance floor. I just enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the experience of dancing, which is something I love to do. I’m sure that I raised a few eyebrows. When I “get into the zone” with dancing, there is a certain level of abandon that people typically associate with um, intoxication. If this had been high school, there would have been mean gossip. As I keep saying, age has its benefits. After about 1 1/2 hours of dancing, I took off my shoes and went barefoot because I could tell that my feet were going to hurt, if I didn’t. After another 1 1/2 hours, we called it quits. My hip was hurting and John was drenched with sweat.

I missed my first chance at prom because I was afraid. I could have missed my second chance by being self-conscious about my body, my age, or being the only person on the dance floor. But I didn’t miss it and I had the time of my life with the man I love.

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Hubby opted not to wear a Hawaiian shirt and his one blue dress shirt perfectly coordinated with my dress. And for those of you who have had breast construction, the little dent under my right underarm would probably be described as a “deficit” from a reconstructive surgery standpoint. Does it bother you? It didn’t bother me, either! And if the appearance of symmetry is important to you, the neckline of this dress is helpful in that regard.

 

The best kind of smile comes from laughing in delight at your husband's insistence on taking a million photos of you.

The best kind of smile comes from laughing in delight at your husband’s insistence on taking a million photos of you.

 

Dinner at "the most romantic table" at Salty's, which has a splendid view of Elliot Bay and the downtown skyline.

Dinner at “the most romantic table” at Salty’s, which has a splendid view of Elliot Bay and the downtown skyline.

 

Corsage and prom bling on display.

Corsage and prom bling on display.

 

 

My daughter is away at camp this week. John and I decided to go out for a nice dinner last Wednesday. I just happened to have a salon appointment scheduled that day so I knew I was going to have “special occasion” hair. I chose a dress out of my closet that was inappropriate for work but appropriate for a date with my husband. We had a lovely time. I recently bought him a new camera so he was taking photos of me. A LOT of photos. He said it was because, “You look so pretty.” Yes, he is very sweet and he is the only person I would let put a camera two inches from my face in order to take close-ups.

This is one of the best photos.

Photo by Elizabeth's hubby. 2014.

Photo by Elizabeth’s hubby. 2014.

When I first saw it I thought, “That’s a nice photo of me. I look really happy, relaxed, and in love.” And those things are all true.

Then I noticed that I still had hair dye on my forehead near my hairline but I thought, “Who’s going to notice?”

Then I saw my crooked cleavage. I thought, “Oh!” I said to John, “My cleavage is off center!” He said, “Pfff, you look great.”

Now I’ve known about this asymmetry for a long time now. But this was the first time that I’d seen the unevenness in a photo of myself out in public. I had been wearing a low cut dress, displaying décolletage in all its cattywampus splendor.

Then I realized something. I didn’t really care all that much.

I am happy.

My husband loves me.

I’m still in the picture.

There’s nothing wrong with this picture.

I dreamed last night that I packing up to leave my office at the University of Washington because I’d run out of grant money. That actually happened in 2007. I thought I was all packed and then found a bunch of cabinets full of things yet to be packed. I realized I had a plane to catch to go home to Seattle. I walked around the university campus and it was actually the campus of Indiana University. The University of Washington is in Seattle. Indiana University is in, you know, Indiana.

I walked around campus trying to get someone to help my move my remaining boxes before I was due to get to the airport. A couple of men offered to help me. I finally realized that I could not be in Seattle and Indiana at the same time. And how was I going to transport all of my office stuff back home and still make my plane. And then for some reason, the men and I walked into a building. The building exploded right as we walked up to the doorway, but some how we survived. Then I woke up.

In the dream, my assumptions about where I was, what I was doing, and how I was going to do whatever it was I was doing, exploded right in front of me. We live our lives according to assumptions. Those assumptions can be challenged in gentle but persistent ways. They can also be thrown on their head.

Until May 24, 2012, I assumed that I would not get cancer in my 40’s. I assumed as a woman from a long line of long lived women on my mother’s side that I would live a long life. I assumed that I would be alive long enough to raise my daughter and to retire in my 60’s or 70’s. (Note to hubby: Early 70’s, tops, and working part time.)

Then the assumption of health that supported all of my future life plans crumbled. I have worked to pick up the pieces, make new pieces, and reworked the foundational assumptions I have about my life. And all along, I have worked to be true to the person that I was before and not define myself only by fear and insecurity.

The early part of this process focused on physical reconstruction of pieces. Surgeons have subtracted and added in many iterations. When I was home following my mastectomy in August 2012, I was looking on Ebay for clothes. I had lost a considerable amount of weight and I do nearly all of my clothes shopping online. I came across this photo.

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The mannequin pieces do not fit together and the arms are placed on the wrong sides of the body. It makes the whole figure off. The large hands in particular reminded me of how drag performers can look. They have many feminine physical characteristics through make-up, body padding, binding, falsies, and good acting skills. But there are almost always clues. Things that don’t look quite right. Some drag performers take advantage of this to comedic effect. Grady West, who developed the character, Dina Martina, is a 50 something year old man with a pot belly and hairy back. He wears over the top feminine glitzy costumes that are several sizes too small and his dresses don’t zip up all of the way. Dina’s make-up makes Tammy Faye Baker look like a model for Pond’s cleansing cream. He uses the mismatched puzzle pieces to great advantage and his shows are hilarious.

Other drag performers aspire for “realness”, to be able to pass as a real woman. I was introduced to this concept when I saw the excellent documentary, Paris is Burning, which was filmed during the mid- to late-80’s in New York City. It was about the “Drag Ball Culture” in the city. (Remember “voguing”? It started there, not with Madonna.) I was fascinated by the communities that were built by the men in this culture. Most of them had been rejected by their families and by society, as a whole. But they made their own families with “drag mothers” and familial living situations. I thought the way that the men found a way to pick up the pieces and make news pieces to construct their own families was inspiring.

I know that there was a short time after my mastectomy when I was worried about “passing” for a real woman. But mostly, I have been trying to reconstruct the pieces of my mental life and to dance to the changing rhythm of my daily life.

Life has pieces that change. Life has pieces that need to be replaced. Life has pieces that are lost and cannot be replaced. But my life is whole and I belong here.

In some ways I am very sensitive, squeamish even. I hate scary movies so much that I just won’t see them. When I was young, it felt like I was the only one who refused to see these movies or to go on amusement park rides. I don’t like visual gore. I don’t like to watch violence.

Perhaps surprisingly, this squeamishness does not translate to physical health issues. I used to find watching surgeries on television fascinating as long as there weren’t “sound effects”. As I recall, I often turned the sound off. I used to work in a medical lab at a hospital where they did dissection. It was not my favorite thing to view, but I handled it okay and I liked the job.

I know that some people have a hard time handling their surgical drains, looking at their surgical incisions, or the aftereffects of a mastectomy. I am not one of those people. My natural curiosity about the human body as well as how surgeons work to help fight disease and sculpt the body distracted me from any revulsion I might otherwise feel.

A week ago I had a set of surgical procedures as part of my breast reconstruction. Part of it was the liposuction of small amounts of fat from my hips and thighs, which were injected into my natural breast to improve symmetry. It was something I had planned to do after my TRAM but had held off for a year because I needed a break from surgery.

As I’ve previously written, I was actually kind of looking forward to this surgery in an odd way, because it would take me off of the treadmill that was tiring me. The treadmill of responsibility to others and of expectation.

Who was I kidding? That surgery was no break. One of my friends told me recently that she was having a major surgery. Being the multiple surgery veteran that I am I said, “Surgery was not that bad until I’d done a lot of the healing and I realized how much it sucks. But by then, I felt a lot better.”

When I’ve had surgery, I’ve taken it day by day. I’ve discovered that I have a somewhat high pain tolerance.The worst pain I’ve ever had was as a teen and a young adult. It was menstrual pain and it could knock my onto the bathroom floor into the fetal position. That is probably the reason why when in labor, I asked for an epidural early and often. As it turned out, even childbirth did not replicate those years of pain that I had. I was wrong about my pain tolerance. The truth was that I had crazy painful and bad periods.

So here I am after my last surgeries, with a high pain tolerance and being low on the squeamish factor, at least when it comes to real life blood and gore. I was told that the liposuction would create bruising. There wasn’t much right afterwards but then they bloomed like creepy black lagoons on my body. They were tender but didn’t hurt as much as a bruise caused by an injury. But they were big, they grew for a couple of days, and they were just ugly and nasty.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s the biggest one, located on my inner right thigh. It has actually healed considerably in the last few days.

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Looking at these bruises has been like being knocked upside my head. This one is like an emblem of cancer. It’s big and ugly and crept up on me. Looking at it, I know that I am done with reconstruction. So unless there is a complication that needs to be addressed or new disease, I am done.

The fact that not long ago I was in part, looking forward to these surgeries gives me great pause. I am typically very self aware and deliberate in my decisions as long as I am reasonably calm. Surgery sucks. It really does. At this point, it is not worth it to me to do more but because I had kind of forgotten this recently, I have begun asking friends to remind me of how bad surgery is in the event that I start toying with the idea of more reconstruction. I can already see that I would need at least another couple of surgeries to be fairly symmetrical. I look fine in clothes but my breasts are not only of different sizes but they are also of different shape. It is less so since the surgery last week but they still look mismatched. Today, I think that is just fine and I want to keep being satisfied with this and not do any more to my body.

I am not sorry I had these surgeries. I’m just a little shaken up because I’d forgotten what a disruption that they are to my energy, my concentration, and my ability to take care of myself, even if only feeling out of it for a few days. I have people in my life who I want to be present for. I have things I want to do and feel and say.

I have my post-surgery appointment tomorrow. I think I am healing well. I don’t expect any surprises. I am at peace with where I am going to be when these bruises heal.

I am bruised but not broken.

I am humble but not humiliated.

I am strong but not invincible.

Today’s blog is informational. In other words, no photos of the woods! I figure that some of you out there might be interested in knowing some details about the surgeries I had yesterday in case you consider them for yourselves. If one chooses breast reconstruction, there are a surprising number of subsequent choices to make.

As you know I had a TRAM a year ago to reconstruct my right breast following a mastectomy and tissue expander placement. Often but not always, women have additional procedures done following the TRAM (or implant placement) to increase symmetry between the reconstructed and natural breast.

Yesterday, Dr. Welk made a revision to the fold underneath my reconstructed breast. That was actually the biggest surgery in my view, because it required the largest incision and it is the most painful of the incisions. He also used liposuction to get fat to inject into two places on the upper half of my natural breast. (Well actually, fat is not injected into the breast tissue, it’s injected into the subcutaneous fat to reduce the likelihood that the injection will make cancer scans harder to read.)  He also injected fat above the TRAM to fill the space left by my mastectomy as Dr. Beatty removed a lot of tissue all of the way up to my right clavicle, due to the location of the cancer. Consequently, I had a little hollow spot there, certainly something I could live with but when he offered to fill it in, I agreed.

Dr. Welk took the fat from two places on my abdomen (on the TRAM scar so no new scars there) and two places on my thighs. The incisions were symmetrical, one from each side of my abdomen and one from each thigh. I counted all of my bandages when I came home yesterday and there were 10 incisions. Woo hoo! A new record! Nine of them are tiny. The one under my right breast is not, which is why my right side was super achy yesterday and pretty achy today. I have been taking over the counter pain reliever since I got home yesterday afternoon and not very diligently. It’s not painful unless I stand up and I figure that pain is a good deterrent for me against exerting myself too hard. Hubby will tell you that I am not a good patient in this regard. I don’t ENTIRELY agree but I get his point.

Ah yes, there are also the needle sticks to my left arm, all three of them. I have what they call in the IV placing biz, “small, deep, and rolly veins”. The successful poke was to a vein on the back of my hand. I had an IV placed there when I was in labor with my daughter. It hurts more, I think. Good thing I was soon asleep. I am pretty bruised up in both the fat harvesting sites and in the injection sites. The bruises don’t hurt a lot. They are just purple, which is not my favorite skin color. Finally, I had difficulty getting up from the couch yesterday. I had my husband help me up the first time and then I was able to get myself out from then on, just not very quickly. This morning, I was able to get out of bed pretty easily, which is harder than getting up from the couch.

Even though I am pretty swollen, I can tell that I am also more symmetrical. Fat can be transferred in only small amounts at a time, so one has the option of subsequent procedures to shape an area. For those of you taking score at home, here’s a list of my surgeries:

1) Lumpectomy2) Lumpectomy (re-excision)
3) Right side nipple sparing mastectomy
4) & 5) Delay procedure (to my surprise, this hurt like Hell, by the way) and tissue expander placement.
6) Skin graft to repair necrotic tissue.
7) Pedicled TRAM reconstruction.
8) and 9) TRAM revision and a medley of fat transfers.

Yeah, that’s a lot of surgeries. One of my patient’s moms, who has a wild sense of humor said, “Dr. MacKenzie, don’t go all [Heidi] Montag on us. We don’t want you to get addicted to plastic surgery.”
I got a good laugh from that one. Not everyone would have and that’s just a reminder that there’s no one way to be a breast cancer patient. Your coping style may be different than mine and your treatment decisions may be different, too. Even with all of my bruises today, I am happy with my choices. Also, my husband is waiting on me during my convalescence, which is pretty darned sweet. Though I think if I asked him to feed me grape one by one, he might balk a little. 😉

Tomorrow I am having my last planned surgery. It’s what I hope is the last step in my breast reconstruction. In my mind, and I’m not trying to be funny, I think of it as getting “realigned”.

This type of physical realignment seems pretty straight forward really, compare to mental and emotional realignments that I’ve done throughout my experience with breast cancer. I’ve made adjustments to my expectations, my hopes, and my view of life in general. I have made adjustments in my relationships as well as the places and people to which I look for support. I have adjusted my tolerance for unnecessary drama in my life. My world has gotten both larger and smaller.

I’m hoping that this set of procedures to be no big whoop compared to what has transpired in the past. And I certainly hope it is my last surgery for a good long while.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Love,

Elizabeth

 

My last surgery, TRAM reconstruction, was on March 11th, 2013. It was the day after my 23rd wedding anniversary. I’d had quite a number of surgeries in a small number of months, which I chronicled in my humorous salute to women who post actual photos of the stages of their surgery:

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The last smiley was smiley represents healing at seven weeks post TRAM. Although the right googly eye is slightly smaller than it was, the overall effect is the same. And if you ask the reasonable question as to why a surgeon would purposely make a reconstructed breast bigger than the natural breast, my understanding is that they do that in case there is tissue necrosis and they need to remove some of the tissue. I had no difficulty with necrosis following the TRAM leaving me with the current va va VOOM effect.

I met with my plastic surgeon last Thursday. We discussed the next possible options for my reconstruction. I decided to go ahead with two procedures, to be done on the same day (March 19th) in an office visit. “VOOM” will get a little reduction and “va va” will get a 200 cc fat injection harvested from my thighs via liposuction. If, like me, you don’t think in terms of cubic centimeters, here is a beaker filled with 200 cc of milk. (Yes, I own a set of small beakers.)

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200 cc’s is not a lot so I am hoping I’ll heal quickly from the surgery. But, who knows? This will be my 8th (technically 8th and 9th) surgery so I know that whatever happens will happen and I’ll deal with whatever comes my way.

There are no other planned surgeries after this. I have no crystal ball but these could be my last breast surgeries. That’s kind of a nice thought.

This post is from 7/31/12, the day of my first visit to see Dr. Welk. It was surreal. I have re-posted this previously. It is a favorite of mine. Personally, it took me awhile to feel comfortable in a plastic surgery office. I have such strong associations between plastic surgery and poor body image. But I now feel at home there and Breann and Judy who work reception are always so friendly to me when I come in. They are now requesting that I visit them from time to time as it is clear that I have very few remaining appointments with Dr. Welk. (Knock on wood.)

This afternoon I met with Drew Welk, M.D. a plastic surgeon at the Polyclinic. We had a good meeting and it was interesting to shift from a physician who focuses on disease treatment to one who focuses on aesthetics. I found out that my incision is not in the best place to which I replied, “Yeah, my cancer insists on being all kinds of inconvenient.” To his credit, he laughed at my ribbing. I did learn that I have very favorable “breast geometry” with only a little post-partum loss of muscle tone. Yay, my breasts got complimented! They’ve been a little starved for positive comments lately, especially the right one, which is currently looks like a more than a  little like a dented tin can these days.

Dr. Welk is talking to Dr. Beatty tomorrow to share his input regarding the best way to make incisions for the mastectomy so that he has something reasonable to work with later after the fat has been removed from my skin, the latter of which I get to keep. He took pictures in the clinic photography booth, which was set up like the DMV, except for the fact that I was partially disrobed and he had his choice of three different expensive looking cameras. (Or maybe the other cameras belonged to other surgeons. That makes more sense.) He took the last picture after he’d drawn a little incision map with a Sharpie.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I liked him. Plus it was a surgery day for him so between his energetic demeanor and the fact that he was wearing scrubs, he looked like a surgeon action figure. (Not to be confused with 1973’s surgeon Barbie and yes, she was real; click the link. Also, not to be confused with an action figure for the character, Surgeon from Hellraiser 2. Mom don’t go to that link: That surgeon doll is heinous.)

Okay, so Michelangelo is probably not the best sculptor to reference in this post. He was criticized for the way he sculpted breasts, basically that it looked like he’d thrown a couple of softballs on top of a suspiciously manly shaped torso. A better sculptor might be the 20th century artist, Lachaise. That man knew how to sculpt realistic breasts on refreshingly substantial looking women. Hmm. “The Lachaise of La Twins”? I’ll stick with Michelangelo for the alliteration. My cousin, Beth favors Bernini breasts herself. Bernini’s sculptures are absolutely breath taking but the first thing that comes to my mind is “the Rape of Persephone”–not the image I want in my head when thinking about my breast reconstruction. Beth conceded that Bernini tended to show women on the run.  But I present exhibits A, B, and C for your consideration:

One of Lachaise’s fabulous, “Standing Woman” I think this is a clear winner. Unlike “Dawn”, Lachaise’s sculptures of women actual look like a woman modeled for them. Also, Lachaise’s women look like they could fend off a Greek god or random creep in the bushes, unlike Bernini’s stunningly beautiful but nearly defenseless damsels.

Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. This is Beth’s submission. In this case, Daphne is so desperate to get out of Apollo’s stalkeresque clutches that she turns herself into a tree!

Michelangelo. This is a sculpture I’ve seen in person. It’s from the Tomb of the Medici’s in Florence. This figure is supposed to be “Dawn” Looks like a man named “Don” with softball boobs, am I right?

When I picked up my purse today, I discovered that I’d left a zipper open and a number of cards fell out onto the floor. One of them was my medical device identification card.

Going to the airport with a tissue expander? Don't leave this at home.

Going to the airport with a tissue expander? Don’t leave this at home.

I received this card on 9/26/12. That was the day of my tissue expander placement surgery, nearly two months after my mastectomy. Tissue expanders are usually used to stretch the pectoral muscles and skin prior to implant surgery. In my case, it was basically used as a place holder and a skin stretcher during the six months prior to my TRAM reconstruction.

I remember thinking that this card was kind of funny. The tissue expander looks like a poached egg. The “yolk” is a magnet. Tissue expanders are gradually filled with saline over a several month period. (This is one of the reasons that breast reconstruction can take such a long time, by the way.) There is a port in the expander, which it can be filled using a syringe. A “stud finder” type device is used to locate the magnet, which marks the way to the port, and tells the surgeon where to place the syringe full of saline. It’s really kind of an elegant design. A couple of magnets, a plastic bag, and syringes of saline. The magnet is metal, which poses some problems at the airport. Hence, the card. On the back, it is signed and dated by my surgeon.

The expander served it’s purpose but it was weird. A friend of a friend called it a “breast like object.” I called it an, “undercover piroshky”. It was an odd shape and since mine was right under my skin, I could feel the outline of the metal and the firmness of the plastic. When I pressed on the skin over it, it was like pressing on the seal of a Tupperware lid. It set two inches higher than my left breast, and was flat on top, creating a shelf. I often joked that if I were a party girl, I could have balanced three shot glasses on that savory pastry shaped implant.

My expander was removed on March 11th, over four months ago. There’s transplanted abdominal tissue where that plastic expander used to be. So why is this card still in my purse? You might observe that you yourself, have all kinds of cards in your purse or wallet that are no longer of use. And if you don’t clean out your wallet or purse, cards accrue because everything has a card these days. However, my obsolete medical device card fell out of my purse today AND I PLACED IT BACK IN MY PURSE KNOWING FULL WELL THAT I NO LONGER NEED IT.

I’m not sure why I still have it except that the expander was part of my experience with breast cancer. The experience is still very much a part of me. For the past several weeks, I have been working on my grief and loss regarding breast cancer. And when one grieves one loss, other losses often bubble to the forefront. It is unpleasant work I am doing. There’s a reason there are no books out there like, Ten Awesome and Fun Ways to Grieve. But it is really important to do this work in order to heal.

I think I will always have souvenirs of cancer, the scars, the permanent lack of sensation in my right breast, and the memories. I have this blog.

I don’t need a breast cancer membership card.

I know who I am, where I have been, and where I belong.

 

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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