“What’s up y’all, what’s it gonna be? Who’s on the line for your homie Al B.?”

Anyone? Test 1,2 – is this mic on? Who gets my title reference? My east coast peeps? My Bucknell peeps? Link HERE if you don’t get it!

OK – so: “What’s up y’all, what’s it gonna be? Who’s on the line for your homie Al B.?”

Hey Al B., my name is Andy
Please sit back and check this rhyme…
The worldwide recall of my implants
Made me feel crazy in the head
So I talked to Roy – my boy
And we’re gonna swap that shit out
October 21st is the day
2 weeks to recover is what he says
The new implants will be round and smooth
But they aren’t anatomically shaped
So we’ll do a lot of fat grafting
To try and make them look normal
I’ll probably look like a porn star at the end of the day
But at least I’ll have peace of mind
That the new implants (probably) won’t lead to another cancer

Harumpf. I don’t think I’m the next Eminem….

 

Breast v. Bottle

Guys! I can’t physically breastfeed so PLEASE, for the love of all things sacred, stop asking me about it!

Ever since I found out I’m pregnant — I joined a new club — the “mom-to-be” club. I’ve waited years to gain entrée into this one and am elated to finally be here! As I suspected, people crawl out of the woodwork to offer support, guidance and helpful tips. It’s incredible!

Most notably, however, is the ease with which people talk at you about breastfeeding. The conversation always starts from the assumption that you’ll be breastfeeding.  For the oodles of women out there who choose not to breastfeed for their own personal reasons, this is a terribly invasive and rude conversation.

For me, it’s just a kick in the gut.

Obviously perfect strangers that I meet now have no idea I had cancer.  All they know is that I have weird, short hair (what can I say? I’m in that awkward grow out stage right now!)

20140902-124635-45995478.jpg and I’m having a baby. Great! inevitably, the requisite baby small-talk commences: “OMG, congrats! Your bump is so cute! When are you due? Is it a boy or girl? How are you feeling?” Then comes the breastfeeding convo: “Are you going to breastfeed? It’s a total bitch – hands down, it’s the hardest thing about being a mom. Natural Resources, which is in your neighborhood, offers great classes on breastfeeding — they’re worth the money.”

Since they’re strangers, I politely explain to them that I can’t breastfeed because I had a bi-lateral mastectomy.  I give my 2 minute cancer bio and that usually quiets the conversation. Only the most special people like to return to the topic 5 minutes later. It’s usually in the form of “Well, since you’re not breastfeeding, your boobs are going to KILL after the milk comes in and you have to let them dry up.”  Ummmm, no they won’t. I’m not sure how many ways I can tell you this — but while my breasts are anatomically stunning (!) and easy on the eyes, they’re 100% silicone.

It’s shocking to me how many people who are fully aware that I had breast cancer and a bi-lateral mastectomy STILL mention nursing to me! OH EM GEE, for real? This includes family members and fellow BAYS (my breast cancer support group) friends.  As for my BAYS ladies, there are many paths to treatment for cancer. Some of my BAYS friends had lumpectomies, or single mastectomies and the possibility of breastfeeding still exists for them. Some breastfed their children before being diagnosed, so they don’t stop to think about having a baby post DX. But still, I expect more from this group of people.

Now that I’m showing, these conversations happen pretty frequently. I’ve heard a lot of silly things come out of people’s mouths. But this next one is by far my favorite: “There’s so much pressure to breastfeed, it’s like you’re a monster if you don’t want to do it — you’re so lucky, at least you don’t have to choose whether or not to do it — the decision’s been made for you — AND nobody can give you grief about it because you don’t have boobs” WTF? That one is up there with my favorite breast cancer insult “Well, at least you got the easy cancer.” Not comforting people, not comforting.

Here are my conclusions:

1. People are so damned excited about a brand new life entering the world, they get amnesia about any and all sickness you had in the past.  Essentially, babies are blinding! (This helps me explain away close friends and even family members who talk to me about breastfeeding.)

and

2. People don’t really understand what a bi-lateral mastectomy entails. Little refresher for you – all of your breast tissue is removed in surgery. You are left with skin, pectoral muscle, anatomically shaped implants and rib cage. In that order. I assure you, there’s no breast tissue. No milk ducts. Nope, no possibility of milk comin’ outta there.

In all, it just sort of sucks to be reminded so frequently that I had breast cancer because it makes me think about the limitations I’ll face after giving birth. It makes me sad that I don’t have a choice in whether or not I nurse our baby. I’m also really sad that my chest is still pretty numb, the skin on my chest is cool to the touch (silicone implants aren’t a great heat conductor) and my implants are pretty hard. I wish I could give our daughter a nice warm, squishy landing pad to snuggle up to (and that I’d be able to physically feel her laying on my chest). But I can’t, and that’s sad to me.

If there’s one lesson I want you to take away with you from this post, it’s this: the breast v bottle conversation is as taboo as asking someone who they’re going to vote for. It’s really not your business, so please don’t go there.

 

 

 

 

Booby Trap

Before I jump into this blog entry, let me update you on the hair color situation.  I spoke with a few survivors and they all told me that they held off on coloring their hair for awhile for fear that it would turn out green.  Remember I mentioned that chemo re-growth hair can take dye strangely? Well, I certainly don’t want to make matters worse on my head, so I cancelled my appointment and will wait it out. Who knows, maybe it’ll start to come in darker after chemo is done. I’m done trying to guess what’s going to happen to me at this point — I’m just along for the ride and trying to navigate the bumps as best I can!

On to the actual blog post…

I met with my plastic surgeon on Monday.  He didn’t fill my expanders any further.  In fact, we are officially done filling them. Not because either one of us is completely satisfied with the size of my new boobs. But because filling them will only expand the tops of them where my tissue is getting thin. I used to be a big C/small D, now I’d guess I’m a B, maybe even a small B.  All in all, I’m generally happy with the where we are. At least they are relatively symmetrical and most of my surgical scars are hidden.

We spent the entire appointment discussing the type of permanent implant that I’ll get once I’m done with chemo.  He showed me three different “gummy bear” implants.  Gummy Bear implants are silicone-filled and are all the rage now because if they get punctured, nothing will leak. Their consistency is that of a gummy bear, hence the name 🙂

OK, moving on! One was a generation 4 model and was very squishy — I loved it.  It felt really natural (not that I really remember what real boobs feel like anymore). Gen 4 is the type of implant they use for breast augmentation.  They can use it for reconstruction, but it can be tricky because we don’t have much tissue or any fat to really hold the thing in place.  According to my doctor, the aesthetic of this squishy model can end up being far from desirable for recon patients.  Some of the draw backs for mastectomy patients are (1) you can have permanent rippling (usually around the edges of your boob) if your tissue is too thin (b/c this gummy has no structure on its own — it’s just a bag of fluid — so if your own body doesn’t hold it in place with a thick enough layer of tissue/muscle, you will be able to see the ripples in the bag), (2) it can look like a tennis ball sticking out from your chest (again, this gummy has no shape to it, it’s just round) and (3) if your tissue is weak, this gummy can spread out under your armpit pretty far, which really bothers some women.

The other two were generation 5.  Gen 5 are FDA approved as part of a study.  I guess the studies are based on the size of implant you’ll get. The size that I will need, just closed it’s latest study.  My doctor thinks that they’ll open a new one by the time of my swap out surgery (late June) and if they don’t, he said we have to push my surgery and I live with my expanders for awhile longer. FML.

Both of the Gen 5 models are tear-drop shaped. Which is good for mastectomy patients because it allows for a “natural” look when we don’t have any fat and little tissue.  Because they are shaped, they are less likely to ripple (ripple-free is still not a guarantee with these puppies, it’s just less likely because they are stiffer and more structured). Some drawbacks are that the Gen 5 won’t move at all and they’ll remain fairly firm to the touch. I mean, yes sure you can grab and squeeze them and they’ll move a bit and be smooshy. But they will still be pretty hard. Also, the Gen 5 are pretty thick, so it’s hard for your body to transmit heat through them. So most likely, my foobs (fake boobs) will be cool to the touch.  This strikes me as really odd and something that will really bother me. But, according to doctor Hong, this is very common with post-mastectomy patients and is hard to avoid — no matter which implant you pick.  I suppose there is a chance that my tissue and skin will do a fab job and this won’t happen to me.  Glass half full, right?!! Also, right now, I have a decent amount of sensation/feeling left in my chest. I’m not sure I’ll retain that after my swap-out — which is sad to me.

So, at the end of the day it sounds like my permanent implants are going to be a lot like my expanders — which doesn’t make me jump for joy that much.  The one thing that will be different and that I’m psyched for is the hard metal disc at the top of my foobs will be gone — so the perm implant has to be softer in that respect!  Dr. Hong and I talked about how some patients are actually sad after their swap out b/c they liked the look of their expanders more than then the perm implant. I’m betting he told me this story to help me set realistic expectations for what’s to come. Oy.

End of day: I trust Dr. Hong implicitly. He did a phenomenal job with my mastectomy scars and he continues to keep my best interests at heart (even when I don’t because vanity gets in my way). So, we will go with the Gen 5. He said he’ll do some minor nips and tucks that I’ll be happy with. For example, he is going to lipo that fat bit of skin right under my armpit. YES! Haha! No, in all seriousness, that part of my body was changed for ever after the mastectomy and it’s huge and bulgy now. I suspect it had something to do with pulling my pectoral muscles over and down to make my new boobs, but I’m no expert. So I’m glad he talked to me about the small little things he’ll be able to do to help me feel better about the final outcome.

Here are some photos of all the implants. The first pic is of all three implants. From left to right is the Gen 4, small Gen 5 and then big Gen 5. I’ll likely need the big Gen 5, but Dr. Hong won’t know until I’m on the table.  It will depend on scar tissue, how big a cavity the expanders made, how thin my tissue is and all sorts of other doctorly things. Oh the things I’ve learned in the past 7 months!

Picture Post!

Thought you might enjoy some pics from the past week:

The real deal!

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Vicodin makes me pretty!

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Still have my appetite!

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Ready to go home

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A girl and her dog

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Still eating — but this time at home!

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I’m Baaaaaack!

Hello Blogosphere! I’m back! Thanks to Paul for posting on my behalf during surgery. He did a great job, didn’t he? Before I really get into this post I want to send a huge thank you to our WordPress family.  The night we got home, they filled our fridge from Whole Foods and then they ordered us dinner for the next three nights. I’ve never seen so much food in my life. It was wonderful to have so many healthy, clean foods to choose from during those first, crucial days home. Thank you Automattic!

So much to report, I have no idea where to start.  Let me back up to the morning of surgery.  As scared as I was for surgery, I could tell my family and Paul were even more scared. We checked into the Surgical Center (I got a private room with an outside patio — sweet!) and things got underway really quickly.  Within an hour, all of my doctors stopped in to discuss the surgery with us.  We met with the Breast Surgeon, the Plastic Surgeon and. last, but certainly not least, the Anesthesiologist (my new best friend!). The thing is, I had it easiest of all of us. I was going to be put under general. I didn’t have to sit and wait for HOURS wondering how everything was going — nope, I got to sleep through the whole damn thing. I felt really badly for my family and husband. I can’t imagine how sucky those 7 hours were for them.

When I first came to in the recovery room, I immediately asked for Paul. Though I was still groggy, they let him come in because I was the only patient in recovery.  Apparently, the first words I mumbled to him were “Am I still pretty?” he heard something else and responded, “Huh? You want pudding?” hahaha. He makes me laugh even when heavily sedated! The second question I asked was whether I got to keep all my lymph nodes. The answer was the best I’d heard in weeks, “Yes”. Whoot whoot!

I’ve gotten a number of questions from my friends about, what, exactly, I had done. So let me try to briefly explain from a layman’s perspective since I’m really not an expert on any of this.  I had a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. That entails a bit more than the name may lead you to believe.  First of all, my tumor was (love being able to say “was” — thank god that thing is out of me for good now!) located in the upper, outer area of my left breast (right underneath my armpit).  Just keep that information in the back of your mind for now.  So, recall in my last post I mentioned that I had to meet with the Nuclear team the day before my operation so that they could inject a substance into me that would help my surgeon locate my sentinel node? Well, that is the very first part of the surgery.  My doctor used a small Geiger counter of sorts to locate the node (which is actually fairly close to where my tumor was located) and then she removed it.  That node sample was analyzed immediately (while I was still on the table), if any traces of cancer came back, my doctor would have removed all of my lymph nodes on the left side (which I really, really, really really did not want to have happen). Thankfully, the node dissection came back negative  for cancer so I got to keep all of my lymph nodes except foe the sentinel. YAY!

Next, the surgeon went on to remove the tumor. Her goal was to get clear margins (ie. cut the entire thing out and ensure that it hadn’t spread any where else). Since my tumor was so close to the skin — she did end up taking some skin, just to be safe. The tumor was then sent off to the lab for a full pathology analysis. After that, she removed all the breast tissue in the left and the right breast (I’m sure this was also sent to the lab for analysis too).

The type of incision she used is called “skin sparing”.  That means they were able to preserve my areolas (I know, TMI — but if you don’t want TMI, then you shouldn’t be reading this blog at all!) which is HUGE.  If all goes well and heals properly, my scars will be unnoticeable because they will be underneath the fold of my new bionic boobs AND I won’t have to have areolas tattooed on — because I got to keep my real ones. Yay!!

As for the “immediate reconstruction” part. It’s not like I have my bionic B cups right now. No, no! I have two prosthesis’ in place which my plastic surgeon will slowly fill up with saline over the next few months. We have to do this slowly to allow the muscle and skin to stretch and adapt. I will keep the prosthesis (also known as “spacers”) in until I complete chemo.  Once chemo is done, I’ll go back in for another surgery where the plastic surgeon will replace the spacers with my actual implants. The real implants might not go in for another 4-6 months.

So, what that means dear reader is that I am as flat as a little boy at the moment.  It’s somewhat shocking to look at since I was a C cup just a few short days ago. But PAMF and Jennifer Glover (my amaze nurse coordinator) did an excellent job mentally preparing me for this. End of day, I am just so happy that they cut that friggin’ tumor out of me.  I hated having it inside me. I don’t know about other people who have had breast cancer — but I could feel my tumor every second of every day.  It throbbed — literally. So, I’ll take my temporarily flat chested self over gross tumor any day!

The worst part about recovery by far are the Jackson-Pratt drains and grenades.  I have two tubes snaking through my chest and coming out either side of me.  At the end of the tube is a bulb that collects all the stuff that drains out (we lovingly refer to the bulbs as “grenades” because that’s their shape).  We have to “milk” the tubes (this is exactly what it sounds like, you basically pull on the tubing to help any clots etc move along through the tube and fall into the grenade) and empty and measure the drainage a couple of times a day.  I can’t have the drains taken out until each one produces less than 30cc’s for two days straight. I am nowhere near that 😦

Fortunately, somebody invented the softie (I mentioned this in an earlier post as well). A softie is a cotton tank top that has a pocket/pouch on the inside where you can store your grenades.  This helps avoid any tugging or pulling on the drains. I’ve been living in my softies since I got home!

So far recovery has been pretty good. I am hesitant to say easy — because I have definitely had my moments/breakdowns. Our plan was to stay ahead of the pain the entire time — but we fell behind it two or three times so far — and that was no fun at all. Like I said to Paul, I am not trying to win the award for toughness here. I am a wimp and I want the drugs. So I am still fully medicating every 4 hours. I am not ashamed to admit it. There is no prize for gritting your teeth here! If you are about to undergo this surgery, just take the drugs.

Also not sure about other people’s experiences, but my doctor took my dressings off my chest the morning after surgery. He doesn’t believe in binding the area and keeping it wrapped up tight. So I’m sporting the au natural look (OH! speaking of au natural — let me tell you — my natural stink is disgusting. My armpits are SMELLY!!!!!). I was allowed to shower 48 hours after surgery, but I since I can only raise my arms to shoulder height (or a 90 degree angle) I can’t shave my armpits. I also can’t put deodorant on because that can cause skin infections during the healing process.  OY! I feel sad for Paul, he has to sleep next to such a stinkpot! lol

There are a few things I wish I had known prior to the surgery. I am going to list them here for anybody who is about to go on this journey themselves:

1. Abdominal Muscles. Make sure your abs are in good shape. Since you can’t really put pressure on your hands to help prop yourself up or scoot back in bed, you need to rely on your abs to do a lot of the work.  Mine are in bad shape and am I ever regretful about that!

2. Pillow Talk. Take a pillow with you to the hospital because you will need it for the ride home. You will want to put it in between your chest and the seatbelt when you go home.

3. Shelving.  Move everything you will need to a lower shelf.  Personally, I keep all my toiletries (contact lens solution, toothpaste, moisturizer etc) on the top shelf behind our bathroom mirror. You won’t be able to reach that high when you get home — so move all that sort of stuff pre-surgery.

4. Reading. I saved all of my magazines for the past 6 weeks. My plan was to flip them while laid up in bed.  That plan back fired royally. I get really dizzy whenever I try to read (which is one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to post anything to this blog). I assume it’s all the drugs and the dizziness will pass — but if you were planning on doings lots of reading, I’d suggest you rent a movie or two instead.

OK, that’s all I can think of at the moment. I’ll post again soon.

Thanks to all for reaching out and supporting us. It means the world to us, and to me especially! xoxo