New is nice

Today I am having the second and (hopefully final) phase of my breast reconstruction. They’ll be removing the tissue expanders, which I’ve affectionately named the “Iron Maidens,” and replacing them with soft, squishy, much more natural looking cohesive silicone implants over the pectoral muscle. I’ve got to say, I’m ready.

I went to my plastic surgeon yesterday to be marked. I look like a gradient elevation map. In addition to the boob swap, he’ll also be harvesting fat from my legs, hips, and flanks to nestle around the new implants so they look natural (without wrinkles or dents). They call that fat grafting. The liposuction may be the hardest part tomorrow.

Many people have asked me what size I’ll be after tomorrow. It is not something I can answer I’m afraid. That’s the thing about reconstruction vs. augmentation. I don’t get to choose. The existing space only accommodates a small range of sizes. Also, my doctor is hyper-vigilant about this looking good at the end. (So am I!) He’s measured every contour and will determine tomorrow in surgery exactly what looks symmetrical and attractive on my body shape and size.

He doesn’t speak in cup sizes. He measures in liquid CCs which is really tricky to convert to a bra size. Since I can’t get a straight answer on what I’ll look like and because it honestly doesn’t matter as long as it works out and I don’t have to do it again, who gives a shit?! The new ones won’t try to kill me!

I saw the “before” pictures today as well. Those boring old sociopaths weren’t worth all this trouble! I thought I would mourn them. I thought I loved them. But, like other times in my life, I’ve moved on. I don’t even miss them. I’m better off.

So, old boobs, I don’t much care about you. I don’t even think about you much anymore. I’ve got a new thing going. And my new boobs are going to treat me better. Settle on in to those corners of my mind with things I used to adore. Befriend those comfy platform shoes and sweet, hopeless boyfriends. Or just fuck off like those terrible clogs and mean jerks that made me cry. Either way, you’re being replaced and I’m glad.

One step closer…

Uphill From Here

The lowest lows must exist. I get that. And for the first time in a while, my highs are amplified by those lows. I got great news today. The blood clot I developed from the portacath is nearly resolved!

A few days after my portacath placement in early June, my arm turned purple and swelled. They discovered a clot that extended into my armpit from my chest. I went on Xarelto, a blood thinner, and have been on it since ever since. The medication doesn’t have side effects other than easy bruising and one should avoid cuts at all cost. As someone who is poked with needles almost weekly and anticipated several major surgeries, the blood clot and associated blood thinners were a huge concern.

It is the painful and ugly relief map of veins in my sundresses. It is the thing that pulled me down from the silks. It is the ongoing, nagging, threatening thing that made chemo and surgery far more scary than need be. I hate that blood clot. I really do.

Before my last surgery, I had to do what is called a Lovenox Bridge which is another type of short-term blood thinner that must be injected (by me) into the chubbiest part of my belly twice daily. Like so many of the trials of the last year, this task was a low low. It hurt. I looked like I had been run over.

My next (and hopefully final) reconstruction surgery is scheduled for February 9 so if the clot had still not resolved, I would have to do another round of tummy shots for 10 days. I don’t think I have to now! This also means that the risks associated with my upcoming surgery are far less. This is a high high.

Also, as fast as it started, my hair stopped falling out about 5 days ago. I don’t want to get too excited because, well…who knows? But, a do feel that a huge weight has been lifted from me. I’m that much closer to being a normal person again, whatever that means.

Could there be an end in sight? As long as there is an end, I don’t mind it being uphill.

 

Humpty Dumpty

5c8206c8f7793ae56c1a84dfbc0deda0I’m at the chemo room preparing for Herceptin #? I don’t keep track of Herceptin treatments. I just know they will end in June. Yet another countdown is on.

I don’t leave the house much anymore. I just don’t feel like it. I’m down. I don’t sleep well. My doctors think I have anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is possible. I’m definitely not myself. But, who could be after all this? Who crawls out from under a life-crushing avalanche and walks away whistling like everything is okay? Everything is very much not okay.

My time and nervous energy are not wasted though. I’ve devoted every free moment of time to a condo renovation. More on that later but it is my only solace. I can crowbar, smash, or break things. Or I can gently resurface a wall with joint compound. I can patch holes and clean up and correct imperfections. I can sand things until they are smooth while the dust rises up all around me. It settles on me in a fine layer so that I look like a ghost. Sometimes I just sit in the dust and think. It is all very therapeutic and a bit metaphorical. Right now I’m putting “Humpty” back together again, in more ways than one.

Fortune Cookie Wisdom: Accept, Feel Better

A trip to my jolly dermatologist proved useful after all. My hair is falling out because of something gloriously juicy to say aloud: Telogen Effluvium.

This is a form of hair loss that is common after a traumatic event such as cancer treatment, surgery, even pregnancy, high fever, or a serious case of the flu. It is not the same as the hair loss associated with chemotherapy, though chemo may be contributing to the “trauma” my body has experienced. Basically, it is just serious hair shedding caused by a disruption in the hair’s growth phase.

Normally, hair grows from 2-7 years, then it chills for a few months, and then falls out to be replaced by a new hair. In my scenario, the 2-7 year growth phase was disrupted and the hair was pushed into its chill phase and now the fall out phase a little early and all at the same time.

The good news is that the shedding should end soon, based on how much easily fell out when the doc tested it. Also, it is pretty much consistent over my whole head so no bald patches will show. In fact, the doctor predicted that no one would likely notice (except me) since you have to loose 50% of your total hair before it becomes noticeable. He didn’t think that would happen to me. He believes the cold caps did their job perfectly: protecting the hair follicle from chemo circulation and preserving my hair.

More good news is that if the hair is falling out, it is already replaced by a new hair, though under the skin still. It should emerge shortly.

Hair grows about 1/2 inch (or more if you’re really healthy) each month so while it may take a while for my hair to be thick and pretty again, it should regain some volume within the next few months. It may even grow back wavy! Did I hear mermaid hair?!

The doc suggested I eat 2 servings of protein every day, 3 if possible, and make sure I’m eating food with lots of iron. When you’re healing from surgery or chemo, the body diverts vital nutrients like protein and iron to more important areas of the body that need repair than hair (things like heart, liver, brain, and skin). Hair is considered quite a luxury in the pecking order of nutrient allotment turns out.

Doc also said that Rogaine is a good option for me. Rogaine helps to grow new hair once it has fallen out. Normally, Rogaine is something you have to use ongoing because it originated as a solution to male pattern baldness. As soon as you stop using it, the hair it helped to grow falls out. Since I don’t have a type of hair loss that is ongoing, this isn’t a risk for me. Mine is a one-time incident. So, I can use Rogaine to speed up my hair growth but I’m not signing myself up for a lifetime of costly scalp treatments. My new hair won’t fall out after I stop using it because it is meant to stay in place on my head anyway.

While there isn’t anything I can do to make the hair stop falling out, making sure I have LOTS of good nutrients should help my new hair grow back quicker and in better shape.

So, first, I take big, deep breaths. Then, I eat a handful of almonds. Then, I keep doing life like a boss. It is very hard for me to feel helpless. But, I suppose learning to accept that some things cannot be controlled is a useful lesson.

KMAGYOYO

I’m frustrated. My hair is falling out. My eyelashes are thinning again. I don’t know why. I’m months beyond chemo and surgery. I should be past this! It makes me realize how not past this I am. That dark cloud hovers in my peripheral.

I tell my cancer team about my hair loss. They recommend I see a dermatologist. This is puzzling. By puzzling, I mean infuriating. They sure were good at making my hair fall out. But, making it stop or growing it back isn’t interesting to them. It is the ultimate in passing the buck. It is KMAGYOYO. It made me cry.

I get it. They did their job. I’m not going to die. But now I have to live.

For the first time in my life, the sensations of life and living are distinct. I always used to live to the fullest. I really did. Life and living were one in the same, an effortless marriage I took for granted.

Now I’ve had the experience many only have towards the end of their life…the slow decent into just hanging on, not knowing if you’ll get to come back. Chemo really takes you there. It is unspeakably difficult. The recovery is snail paced. I’m impatient.

The doctors solved my one big problem but created a million other, smaller problems that I’m now trying to sort through. And I realize that I’ll be sorting through them with just my worries and my calendar. Time, it seems, is the only real cure.

Usual Unusualness

Today I’m in the chemo room for Herceptin treatment. It is an easy appointment compared to the TCHP treatments I finished in September. It reminds me how far I’ve come but also how far I have to go.

I treat these days as if nothing is happening. Just a quick little appointment, like running an errand or taking a long lunch. I don’t prepare for it and often forget it is on the calendar. Today, I happened to have a staff meeting at the same time. I joined the video conference from my chemo chair while the nurse was taking my blood through an IV in my arm. It should seem weird but I’m trying not to let it.

I took my phone off mute for a moment to give my update and something magical happened. Someone “rang the bell!” It was her final chemo treatment and my whole team heard it.

I burst into tears. It is my Pavlovian response to hearing bells now. I cried harder when my colleagues started cheering and ringing the bells they have at their desks to celebrate my final chemo treatment. I wish the other woman could have heard them. I’m sure she would have loved to know strangers on a software company video conference across the whole country were rooting for her.

As soon as I think I’m getting used to things, I realize just how unusual this is. And then I’m reminded how lucky I am to have to have such an unusual life. There is no normal anymore. But the new whatever it is is a beautiful thing.

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.