Archives for posts with tag: Mastectomy

About five minutes ago, I was trying to remember why this date is important. “Is today someone’s birthday?” I looked at the calendar. August 8th. The memory came to me accompanied by a small visceral twinge. Two years ago today, I had a right side mastectomy. Last year, the date took me by surprise, too. But when I remembered, I sobbed uncontrollably, on and off, for three days.

The sensation in my pectoral muscles has returned somewhat. I can feel pressure beneath my reconstructed breast. My kittens reminded me of this yesterday when they were chasing each other around the house, tearing through the living room. They both used me as part of their race track and kept running across my chest.

My abdomen is still numb, though this continues to dissipate. The plastic surgery nurse, who had the same reconstructive surgery as me, a TRAM, told me that the numbness lasted about three years for her. I also noticed that although my body doesn’t feel the same way it did before, it feels like mine.

I’ve noticed other physical changes. Last night, my husband went out for a late dinner and a walk along Alki Point, a beautiful seaside area. Along the walk, we were able to see the downtown skyline, the water, and two mountain ranges. We walked about two miles to a restaurant on the other side of the point, ate on a balcony overlooking the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, and then we walked back two miles to where our car was parked. John had to pick up our daughter from band practice, so we were in a bit of a hurry walking back.

As usual, I had my camera with me and as usual, there were interesting photo opportunities along the way. We agreed that John would just keep walking, at his normal pace and I would stop to take photos whenever I wanted as long as I could run and catch up with him. That way, he wouldn’t be late. I have a long hate-hate relationship with running. Actually, it is just strong dislike. But I thought I could probably do it.

There was one spot that was particularly photogenic, so I took several shots. Then I needed to run to catch up with my long-legged man. It took me awhile to catch up. When I did, I noted to John, “Hey, I’m not breathing hard.” After complimenting me, he said, “What’s it been, about five years since you’ve run that far?” I laughed. “John, it’s been about twenty years since I ran that far!”

Breast cancer is awful, there’s no doubt. Cancer is powerful and destructive. It is nice, however, that healing and resilience are also powerful.

The "flower houses" at Alki Beach.

The “flower houses” at Alki Beach.

Our view at dinner. Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

Our view at dinner. Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

 

Seattle skyline across Elliot Bay.

Seattle skyline across Elliot Bay.

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Two of my surgeries, my mastectomy and TRAM, required Jackson Pratt drains. I had one for the first surgery and two for the second. As many breast cancer bloggers attest, they are an annoying inconvenience. And some people get totally grossed out by them. I am not terribly squeamish about that kind of stuff so I was okay with the idea of and care of the drain. But I was so happy to get rid of them and each time, I wrote a break up letter.

 

August 2012

Dear Surgical Drain,

By now, having sit for a few hours in the exam room waste receptacle at the True Family Women’s Cancer Center, you have realized that I’ve left you and moved on with my life. I imagine this was a shock to you as it was rather sudden on my part. To be honest, I just wasn’t that into you. I mean, I needed you for awhile for your draining function but once you’d finished the job, I was dried out and done with you. I want to wear semi-normal clothes again without having to disguise your lumpy presence with blousy tops in wild prints. Yes, you embarrassed me. Frankly, your contents were kind of gross. Don’t despair, I will need you again in a few months when I have my TRAM surgery. We can catch up on old stories. Just remember this time, that this a TEMPORARY relationship of limited scope. I am a married woman, after all. But I do thank you for coming to my aid when I needed you most.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth

(Note: I meant this post to be funny but now I am feeling ridiculously and irrationally sorry for the surgical drain. After being off work for two weeks, I have this back log of empathy and I’m applying it to plastic! No wonder my high school creative writing teacher taught us not to anthropomorphize objects. It’s not only bad writing, but it is dangerous! Don’t try this at home!)

 

March 2013

Dear Surgical Drain,

I know I broke up with you last summer after our little fling. Against my better judgment, I took you back last week when I got the TRAM surgery. Maybe I was thinking that things would be different this time. After all, there was you AND another drain. What could be spicier than co-mingling with bulbous plastic twins? However, this threesome, instead of being exciting, was just awkward and messy. Although I can’t speak from personal experience, I suspect this is oft true of other ménage à trois type situations.

But again, I do thank you for serving your purpose and keeping me from swelling up like Violet Beauregarde. (My breast cancer experience has contained far too many references to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Roald Dahl.)

Keep on keeping it real,

Elizabeth

You should be so glad that I screened out the grosser images of Jackson-Pratt drains, which came up in my Google images search. This one is unused and straight out of the package. You’re welcome.

This post is from January 2013.

I’ve been struggling with water, the gift of life, aqua, good ol’ H2O.

There was leaky pipe in my office last Saturday, which would have created a deluge had my office mate not been there to see it so a plumber could be called to fix it.

Yesterday, as usual, I went for my three mile long walk. It was rainy, which is not unusual for this time of year. I donned my Gore-Tex armor, which has served me so well-Gore-Tex hat, Gore-Tex hiking boots, Gore-Tex parka, Gore-Tex boots, Gore-Tex pants.

If I lived a considerable distance south of these parts, I might even call myself a Gore-Texan. (Cue music.) The rain at night, lasts a fortnight (clap, clap, clap, clap). Deep in the heart of Gore-Tex!

I came home from my walk, my boots squeaky, my socks soggy, and soaked through my coat, insulated long-underwear shirt, t-shirt, and bra! Only my Gore-Tex pants managed to maintain my faith in the magical rain shedding powers of Gore-Tex.

I took my smartphone out of my ZIPPPED Gore-Tex parka pocket. Uh-oh. It was covered in water. The screen was flickering! I quickly turned it off and opened it up. It was wet on the inside! I dried it off but being fool hardy, I tried to turn it back on even though my brain was telling me, “Leave it off and call AT&T.” It turned on but was frozen on the “Samsung” boot up screen. So I turned it off and broke it down again.

“My precious! My precious phone! My extremely complicated work, medical, family, personal life calendar is on there! The names of all of the new patients I will see between now and March 5th are on there!”

“Golem, I feel your pain,” I thought to myself. “I am a psychologist. I am not addicted to technology. I am an excellent problem-solver. Get a hold of yourself, woman!” I took a deep breath and called AT&T.

A very sweet technical support rep named Shannon answered. “Oh, I just did that. I was so worried. I keep EVERYTHING on my phone. Surround your phone with rice to get it to dry out. Leave it for at least a day. I’ll call you tomorrow and see how you are.”

Shannon has felt Golem’s pain as well. I confirmed with her that if the phone didn’t dry out, it was curtains for the information on my phone. (And yes, Google is supposed to automatically back up my calendar but that stopped working and I’ve been procrastinating about figuring out a fix for that problem.)

“My precious! My precious! God, you can take my breast but not my SMARTPHONE!” I was again, I’m afraid, losing some perspective. So I then imagined the Albert Ellis section of classic 1960’s psychologist training film, “Three Approaches to Psychotherapy“, also known as “The Gloria Films”. Gloria, a real person with real life problems, agrees to be taped seeing three super famous clinical psychologists (Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers, and Albert Ellis), one at a time. Pioneers in fields can be kind of extreme. The Gloria films illustrate this quite nicely. By the time I saw the film in the 90’s, it was for historical purposes. The film served up unintentional hilarity with a side of guilt since Gloria was a real person with real problems. They were not getting addressed.

So what does this have to do with my meltdown about “My precious”, you may ask? Albert Ellis was a brilliant psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), which is the foundation of modern cognitive therapy. The goal of RET is to use reason to reduce psychopathology. However, Ellis did this in the absence of stuff like, you know, demonstrating empathy and establishing rapport. He also had a rather distinctive nasal northeast accent. Combined with his lawyerly therapy style, it was pretty funny. “I can see that your situation in inconvenient, but it is not terrible and awful.” Or my favorite when Gloria puts her self down and he responds by telling her that if she makes a mistake it does not make her a “no good-nik”. The sight and sound of Dr. Ellis trying to use 60’s-era hip slang was double hilarious. Check it out for yourself here.

“Elizabeth, your anecdotes require too much exposition! What does this have to do with your phone?”

Thank you, patient readers. Basically, I tried to reason with myself as I often do, but this time I remembered Albert Ellis, and it made me laugh.

That pulled me out of my tizzy and I went about recreating my schedule, piecing it together from memory, emails, and other non smartphone dependent methods.

Today, I took my phone out of it’s rice bed and it awoke!

Thank you, Albert Ellis. Yesterday was inconvenient and more than a little stressful but it wasn’t “terrible and awful.” I hope you forgive me for laughing at you and for being able to do a dead-on impersonation of you. You were definitely not a “no good-nik.”

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This post is from 8/7/12, the day before my right-side mastectomy. I have re-posted it previously. I include it here because it is a quite bittersweet reminder of the fears I had at the time about my physical health as well as about my view of my own physical attractiveness. My breast surgeon briefly appears in this post to show what a reassuring rock star that he is. And yes, I think I used my humor well to cope with this. This was my third surgery in six weeks. I had undergone two lumpectomies with a lack of clear (cancer free) margins. The extent of the cancer in my right breast had not yet been discovered. My treatment plan was still up in the air. (And yeah, I know I repeat that a great deal but was so incredibly stressful.)

The dress in the post? I gave it away after it became too big for me. I loved it. I felt pretty, mod, and feminine when I wore it, even during the three months after the surgery, when I wore a foam prosthetic. Plus, it was comfortable, a requirement of a middle-aged fashionista.

 

Tomorrow is the day that I say goodbye to rightie, the ta to my other ta, the oonga to my baz, and the crenshaw to my honeydew. And you don’t have to tell me that it’s sad because I already know. I do need to move forward and the sooner I have this surgery, the sooner I can get over the next round of painful and yucky stuff. My outward appearance with go from Elizabeth 1.0 to Elizabeth 2.0 to Elizabeth 3.0 by the time the holiday season comes upon us. (Just pretend that I was never a baby and I started out life as a 46 year old woman. Be creative.)

Elizabeth 1.0 did have a proper send off today. As I walked into Trader Joe’s, I received not one, but two compliments from the Trader Joe’s employee who was working out front. First he said, “Have a good time shopping” followed by, “I like your dress.” He may have even been younger than me. As an extra bonus, he was not one of the drunk guys at the bus shelter in the Junction, ergo the flirting was not the least bit creepy or boundary violating. The bus guys seem to be my main fan club. (And drunk guys, I haven’t heard a lot from you lately. Middle aged ladies need a little encouragement.) So hey, Elizabeth 1.0, you still got it and with a sober guy, too!

I am not going to be bringing my computer to the hospital tomorrow so I may not post anything until I get home on Thursday. John may have his computer and if I am mentally with-it enough I may be able to get him to post on my behalf. Otherwise, please be patient. I’m not sure what I am going to be up for communication-wise for a couple of days. I am confident that surgery will go well and even though it is likely to hurt for awhile and to be very upsetting, I will be okay. During my meeting with Dr. Beatty last Thursday I said, “I’m going to thank you now because next time I see you I may have lost perspective.” His quick and calm reply was, “No, you won’t.” He’s probably right.

Goodbye, Girl; hello, long and healthy life.

The Trader Joe’s guy has an affinity for prints, apparently. I do think I looked better in this dress for the obvious reason. My whole head showed rather than being semi-headless like this model. To have an entire head is more aesthetically pleasing. I learned that in my art history classes. I do like her earrings, though. Buy your own dress at http://www.sierratradingpost.com/chetta-b-jersey-print-dress-v-neck-short-sleeve-for-women~p~4059u/?filterString=womens-dresses~d~257%2F&colorFamily=02

 

Much to my surprise, orange has become a theme in my breast cancer experience. I have written FIVE posts on the topic of orange. Here are two of those posts, the first written in August 2012, right before my mastectomy and the second in September 2012, right after my expander placement.

8/1/13: Future Job in the Chorus of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

You remember who was in the chorus of the Gene Wilder musical classic? Yes, the Oompa Loompas. And what color were the Oompa Loompas? Yes, they were orange. And what color were my roots after using an unfortunate shade of Clairol Natural Instincts? Yes, they were a very deep shade of overripe cantalope. “Natural” Instincts, my ass!

I’ve never messed up a hair color before but I haven’t done it myself for several years and apparently, Clairol Natural Instincts uses a totally different formula than they did when I last used their products. And they are on a melon kick! Not to be seen in public (other than going to Target to get a fix for this), I used a non-permanent, normal looking reddish brown dye today. Ah, much better. Most of the melon is gone.

The Oompa Loompas would say that my parents are to blame for this mishap (“…the mother and the fa-ather”). However, the same thing happened to my mom and she warned me about it. When did I remember this? After I rinsed the color out of my hair! So, I’ve decided to blame Roald Dahl.

It will be so nice to be able to go back to the salon. It will happen.

P.S. The color was just like this except MORE orange. No lie.

The Oompa Loompas after disobeying their lax parents in the Clairol Factory and falling into a vat of Natural Instincts “Dark Auburn.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9/29/12: Wonky Wonka Boob

I forgot to mention the lovely fact that my breast looks like it is jaundiced or has carotene poisoning or something. This is because during surgery, Dr. Welk used betadine as an antiseptic, which contains iodine. Dr. Beatty, my breast cancer surgeon, never did that so I wasn’t expecting to be re-traumatized once again by having a part of my body turned Oompa Loompa color. It is a pretty wonky boob at this stage of the game and wonky is close to “Wonka” so hey, life is just having a little word play on me because it knows I’m always on the look out for good blog material. Maybe they’ve been reading my blog over at the Polyclinic and they actually used Clairol Basic Instincts, “Dark Auburn,” instead of betadine. (I’m totally kidding, wonderful people at the Polyclinic. I know you would never ever do something like that. I’m just getting my daily dose of humor about my breast cancer. Tee hee hee! Ho ho ho!!!)

I read online that hydrogen peroxide would take it off. It took off a little so now it’s slightly more yellow than orange. My skin is really sensitive so I should probably just leave it along for a few more days. But again, I blame Roald Dahl.

 

 

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?

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There was about a month-and-a-half between my right side mastectomy and the placement of the tissue expander. Consequently, I lived with an “unleavened breast” for a good while. I needed some humor to help me deal with the state of my body. So I wrote, not one, not two, but three blogs with joke names for my breasts.  Looking back at this, it seems a bit absurd. But it did help get me through a rough time. Honestly, 

I originally posted Righty Needs a New Name on 8/28/13.

For some reason, I am finding a need to refer to the right side of my chest as something other than “surgical site.” It’s going to be several weeks before I start the temporary inflation process with the tissue expander so a name would be handy. And yes, I could stick with “righty” but that implies some kind of symmetry with “lefty”.  A few ideas of various levels of quality:

The Tissue Formerly Known as Righty
Breast-to-Be (I kind of like this one. Maybe a friend will throw me a shower before surgery. Yay, presents!)
Vegetarian Sweater Meat
Ugly Duckling (Some day it will turn into a bee-you-ti-ful swan.)
Breasterpillar (Some day it will turn into a bee-you-ti-ful breasterfly.)
Puppy Pupa (continuing with the metamorphosis theme)
Empty Jug
Sad Sack (waah!)
Berefticle (waah!)
Scarla
Storage Chest
Bosom in Waiting
Breast, in Space Saver Mode
Unleavened Breast
Late Bloomer
Bosom’s Buddy
Fixer Upper
Do-Over
The Start of Something Big
Under the Shoulder Boulder Holder

The next day, I had still not gotten this out of my system and I posted, The Name Game (Continued).

Okay, so my cousin, Beth got me thinking about coming up with names for both righty and lefty. They are a set of a kind. So here goes, my stream of consciousness. As I did yesterday, I will add more as inspiration arises:

Boob and Boo Boo
Scooby and Scrappy
Lefty and Lucy (inspired by John’s suggestion “Righty Tighty and Lefty Loose-y”, which is backwards, unfortunately)
Benjamin and Button
Mammy and Mummy
Party and Pooped
Ta-da! and To-do
Zan and Jayna (The Wonder Twins, suggestion thanks to Lisa)
Waggy and Baggy
Jiggly and Scraggly
Lennie and Squiggy
Herman and Pee Wee
Judy and Punched
Hit and Miss
Denver and Phoenix (Okay, a little obscure but think about it and then groan.)
Teton and Won Ton
Ham Bow and Big Ow
Yin and Yang
Mickey and Mini (spelling intentional and I hear you all groaning.)
Bonnie and Clyde
Cupid and Psyche
Ernie and Bert (Okay, this one makes no sense but made me smile so I’m keeping it.)
Lilo and Stitched
Oscar and Felix
Simba and Scar
Wow and Ow

On 8/31/13, my parents got into the act so of course, I posted it in, Name Game-Part III, A Family Affair.

So my mom has been dying to come up with a name to contribute to the name game. Earlier today she told me that she didn’t think she could think of something because because she “loved me too much” and didn’t want to make light of my cancer.

Oh how the love has faded because, drum roll please…, she has contributed:

Liv and Let Live

My dad, not to be left out and offering a mechanical interpretation:

Built and Re-Built

Both of those ideas made me laugh aloud after a very hard day. So I guess they love me a lot after all.

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