I’m a hot goblin

I haven’t read anything more honest and inclusive of my own cancer experience than this article.

I’ve read it 5 times and cried twice. Thank you, Emily Alford.

Airbags to Water Balloons

Monday I went to a surgical follow up. This appointment was full of surprises.

I had anxiously tracked the drains down to 20cc a day for 48 hours and I was prepared for them to remove the irritating things. They did! I couldn’t wait to give my man a proper hug and put my arm around him in bed without getting tangled in my own octopusal appendages.

In addition, I got news we would make the switch from air to saline in the tissue expanders. My thoughtful surgeon warned me not to watch. Apparently, seeing my own deflated breast could be alarming. I agreed. My mom was there for as much commentary as I requested. She diplomatically described it as “fascinating.” She’s a nurse and is capable of enduring nearly any level of gore so her description was all I needed. I stared at the ceiling, did yogic breathing, and chatted about my skin’s aversion to adhesive.

The process didn’t take long and didn’t hurt. My breasts are very nearly numb, especially internally. Dr. P did give me a tiny amount of lidocaine, a numbing injection, on the surface of my breast skin. A needle was inserted into a magnetic port (very much like the chemo port that was in my upper chest) and the air was sucked out. Then, saline replaced the air and I was back to stiff peaks.

This time he increased the volume to 250cc on each side. He said we would increase once more to 300cc each. The size is already plenty for my small frame (5’5″ and 130lbs give or take a pasta dinner) but he recommended over-expanding by a bit so that the final implant easily fits and he can adjust the scars in my breast fold for symmetry and invisibility.

Pressure on my sternum and odd rib muscle soreness was the only side-effect and gentle pain meds took the edge off. In hindsight, I may consider taking one of my left-over Norco pills since I’m a wimp. I did some seated yoga and gentle stretching and within a few days everything feels fine.

These things are solid, folks. They point straight out like Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Sleeping on my stomach is right out. Hugging is embarrassing and my projection under clothes will take some getting used to for a tiny-chested, sundresser like me. But I’ve always admired women with curves and I have to admit, I may find a silver lining in this process after all.

Also, I’m thrilled that my skin is already beginning to tingle indicating returning nerve function and capillary blood flow. My nipples respond, if you know what I mean. This is great news! I want to hug my breast surgeon!

Since I’m on the mend, I’d like to share my experience on things that helped and things that didn’t.

  • I’m a supplement devotee so when my plastic surgery nurse recommended a helpful vitamin and mineral regimen for healing, I was easily on board. I wasn’t surprised to discover I was already taking most of the recommended nutrients. But, they had a specific formula from Vitamedica so I decided to save my regular supplements and just take these instead for the duration of my surgical prep and healing. Many of the nutrients in the Vitamedica blend such as Biotin and Calcium were important for my hair growth and recovery from chemo so I wasn’t slacking on my usual supplement program.
  • I also got Vitamedica Bromelain to help with swelling. Bromelain is a component of pineapple so I also ate a lot of fresh pineapple right after surgery. I had very little swelling so I think this stuff worked like a charm.
  • Arnica 30X is something I take regularly, especially for the infuriating blood clot I acquired thanks to the placement of the chemo power port. It helps with blood flow and bruising. This was a natural inclusion in my healing and something I recommend for athletes, healing folks, or those of us who are simply clumsy.
  • I bought a very comfy, though expensive ($60) mastectomy bra. I’ve worn it 3 times and now don’t need it. This was a waste of $$. It was useful at first to hold the dressing I had on the incisions and drain tubes but I can’t see another use for it now. I suggest waiting until expanders are completely filled before buying any new bras. In fact, I’ll probably hold until the final implants are in place before spending any more on lingerie. A simple stretchy camisole that I already had worked beautifully with the dressings and now I just don’t wear anything. Remember, these things are bongo drums. They don’t so much as jiggle and support is already built in with the Alloderm scaffolding they used during surgery. I look forward to getting a proper fitting at Petticoat Fair as a celebratory and therapeutic splurge once my body transformation is complete.
  • I did not lay around like I did during chemo. I was walking, gently stretching, and out and about almost immediately. I’m very careful not to lift anything over 10lbs (including Shih Tzu or groceries) or reach for anything beyond my comfort level but otherwise, my life is really getting back to normal. I was off narcotic pain meds within about 7 days and relied on Tramadol and Tylenol, sometimes taking only 2 Tylenol a day. I haven’t driven much because my mom has been such a help but I feel that when she leaves next week I’ll be ready. I was careful not to over-exert myself but I feel my activity level expedited my recovery and improved my mood significantly.
  • I showered once per day using Dial antibacterial shower gel. I didn’t scrub but just let the suds rinse over my incisions. I have had no sign of infection whatsoever.
  • Everyone who touched my drain tubes, breasts, or really any part of me washed their hands with antibacterial hand soap.  We also cleaned phones, laptops, remote controls, and other high-traffic things with rubbing alcohol nearly every day. We used bleach and steam to clean my whole house before surgery and regularly afterward. We were very careful to avoid infection. Mom’s a nurse, remember, so she was militant about hygiene.
  • My legs and core muscles made up for my upper body inabilities that last few weeks. To get out of bed, I used my yoga and silks stomach muscle memory of balance and force to roll to a seated position without using my arms. I did not let people assist me by pulling me. That hurt. Instead, my boyfriend’s arm was used as an unmoving poll I could use to pull myself, sort of like a jungle gym or climbing a ladder. Sometimes I needed a gentle push on the back or butt to get up. I’m grateful I had plenty of core and leg strength before surgery because it was painful to get up and down or even adjust myself using my arms.
  • Anesthesia can interfere with pooping, a topic I don’t like to speak about publicly. But, it is a major part of recovery I’m afraid. To get things moving again from a digestive standpoint, I snacked on dried prunes and apricots, drank plenty of water, and walked daily. We forgot to get the Colace the doctor recommended until a few days after surgery but I would have taken that as well. I also took daily probiotics and drank my usual morning coffee. It took about 5 days but finally everything began getting back to normal and I felt much better. I don’t like to tinker with my regularity with unnatural methods so food and movement was a priority for me.
  • People had recommended a recliner chair and wedge pillows. I didn’t get organized enough before surgery and I ended up not needing those things anyway. I’m glad I didn’t spend too much money. Plenty of pillows sufficed.

Best of luck with your mastectomy surgery. I hope you find your recovery as easy as mine has been. Please post your own recommendations if you have them in the comments. I’d love to hear what has worked for others.

Out with the old

On Thursday, I checked into the hospital for a nipple-sparing double mastectomy. Most people don’t willingly sign up for amputation. I did and it felt strange. On a conscience level, I didn’t feel much fear. I mostly felt ready. Ready to be done with this. Ready to move on. I was ready for this game of tug of war I’ve been playing to be over, ready to put down this planet I’ve been carrying. Let’s be honest though, chopping off one’s breasts, especially breasts I loved, was a mortifying closure to an already traumatic cancer treatment.

Before nipple and skin-sparing techniques, mastectomy was pretty much a full removal of the entire breast leaving the signature – – scar across the chest. Reconstruction was done over months or even years and involved a series of serious surgeries and permanent, visible scarring. Women learned to wear those scars with pride because it meant they survived that which tried to kill them. But, I’ve stopped at nothing to retain my previous sense of physical self so scars weren’t something I was interested in celebrating.

Because of the small size (1cm x 1.5cm) and location of my tumor (no cancer anywhere near my nipple) I was a candidate for surgery that would leave the exterior of my breast as a pocket for implant reconstruction. This type of surgery was a major deciding factor in choosing mastectomy over a more simple lumpectomy with radiation.

Nipple-sparing mastectomy procedure has plenty of risks though, so my doctors made no promises. I went under anesthesia knowing I could wake up with nothing but sutures. My surgery went perfectly! I have very minimal bruising and swelling, low pain, nearly full range of motion, and (most surprisingly) a pretty sexy, albeit temporary, set of new jugs.

My surgery lasted a little over 4 hours and included both my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon working together, even simultaneously. I was marked  with permanent marker the day before by my plastic surgeon (PS) so my breast surgeon would know where the incisions should be made. Once my breast surgeon was finished with one breast, my PS began building the scaffolding made of Alloderm, a human tissue substitute that eventually becomes part of my own tissue, which will help hold up my new implant under my skin.

Then, a tissue expander was secured in place above the pectoral muscle and filled with 200cc of air. The air will be replaced with saline in about 2 weeks. Air is better at first because it allows the skin and Alloderm to heal without the weight of liquid. Occasionally I will have the tissue expander “topped off” with more saline until the desired size is achieved. Then, after that size has been allowed to stretch my healing skin safely, a final silicon implant will be swapped with the expander. The time between now and my final implant I hope will be around 3-4 months, though it could be longer depending on how well I heal.

I stayed overnight in the hospital. My boyfriend stayed with me and we wandered the hallways all night like it was a high school lock-in, except we didn’t have to hide to make out. It was nearly fun!

All of this sounds sort of complicated but from my standpoint, I made out like a bandit. I rid my body of cancer, kept what I know as my breasts, avoided any visible scarring, and will have nice, gravity AND cancer resistant boobs for the rest of my life. For me, it was the right choice.

My new “foobs” feel really weird but they look darn pretty, considering. I have 11cm scars in the folds under my breasts which are healing nicely. The expanders are super hard to the touch but they are good for a laugh and look excellent under clothes. I got a couple wireless, soft bras to accommodate them. It gives new meaning to the term “over the shoulder boulder holder.” While hard, they are round, feminine, and beautiful in my eyes.

I also have two drains that  prevent fluid build up in my new boobs while they heal. The drains will be removed on Monday. Drains are super lame. They dangle around me and have to be emptied a few times a day. Gross! Luckily, my mom is here to help though I’ve also learned how to empty them myself. They are probably the worst part.

Monday morning my surgeon called to tell me that the tumor was completely removed during surgery. Technically, I no longer have breast cancer. That one sentence made chemo, cold caps, surgery, and hard, weird boobs for a while completely, utterly worth it. We did it! Cancer has been officially fucked off.

Feel free to ask questions about my mastectomy surgery. I have lots of details I don’t mind sharing if you’re about to have the same surgery or if you’re just making decisions on your treatment. I hardly ever read anything about surgeries that didn’t involve limitless negative complications so happy to share my smooth-sailing experience.