"Yes, they're fake. The real ones tried to kill me!"
I saw that quote under a survivors bio, at breastcancer.org. It made me laugh and laughter is good.
This morning, during coffee, I asked my husband if I had the dates right...
"I had my annual mammogram on December 29th and was told I needed a biopsy, you were laid off from your job on January 19th, I was diagnosed with cancer on January 20th, and my Dad died on January 29th - is that right?" I asked.
"Yes, and we had surgery on March 5th," he added. When he speaks of my cancer, he says "we" and this has a calming effect on me. It tells me I am not alone.
I, we, have yet to properly mourn my fathers death or the loss of my breasts. We are, however, grateful for the extended amount time spent together. My husband has attended all of my doctor appointments and has been a key component in my decision making process. His calm, logical side, balances my, fierce, emotional side.
The whole breast cancer concept is mind boggling. You wake up one morning and discover you have a life threatening illness. It's hard to come to terms with because you don't feel sick, and in my case, I didn't have any tangible proof - no lump, no blood count gone ascu, no family history to justify it. All I had were these itty-bitty-teeny-tiny microcalcifications that appeared under high resolution film, on my annual mammogram. Three specks that looked quiet adorable at first glance.
Once I discovered I had cancer, after my initial stunned stupid response wore off, I diligently set out to learn everything I could about the disease and the best way to go about fighting it. This included educating myself on genetics, drug therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation. Once I felt I had the knowledge I needed to form an educated opinion, I focused on treating it, and learned there are many choices involved in treating cancer.
Once I decided how I wanted to treat my cancer, I set out to find a compassionate breast surgeon who respected my decisions. This is a critical step because your breast surgeon is the one who will remove your cancer. A mistake could cost you your life. I interviewed 4 breast surgeons before I found one that I had total confidence in. I chose, Dr. Alexander Heerdt and she was magnificent. She consistently treated me with dignity and respect. She listened and addressed all of my concerns. Thanks to her meticulous, and highly skilled efforts, I am able to say I am cancer free.
After I picked my breast surgeon I needed to find a reconstructive surgeon who works with the breast surgeon. Their schedules have to mesh because the reconstructive surgeon steps in immediately following the removal of my breasts.
And then finally, I had to consider the hospital. What is their infection rate? What primary surgery's take place there?
These three components have to fit together and all must be considered "in-network" on your insurance plan.
It's a daunting process to say the least. And I must admit, my main focus was the cancer. When it came to who would do my reconstruction, I lost steam. I thought I was safe riding on the white coat tails of the head reconstruction breast surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
I would love to tell you that the opening "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" photo is me. But, sadly, it is not. This is me, 18 days after my bilateral (double) mastectomy...
Hidden beneath the row of stitches are "TE's" (tissue expanders) or what I like to refer to as deflated non-regulation sized basketballs. Notice the two small, round, bandaids above each incision? This is the port where they stuck the needle for my first "fill" of saline last Tuesday. They need to slowly fill these up but as you might notice, there is a problem. They are not symmetrical and the upper chest section of my "lower side" has collapsed. My breast reconstructive surgeon told me not to worry, that they will "fix it" when they do the "exchange" (see how you're learning all the cancer jargon). But that didn't make sense to me so I went for a second, post-op, opinion. Besides being uneven, the lower expander is sitting on the lower lip of my ribcage. I can't breath without pain. It's not a horrible pain but its uncomfortable. It feels like I bruised a rib (and maybe I did).
My second opinion confirmed my suspicion - my right TE is not set correctly and needs to come out. Worse, my second opinion stated that the surgeon should have NEVER filled the expander because it was misplaced.
To make absolutely certain, I'm going for a third opinion on Monday. This will be interesting because it is a surgeon who is part of Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital and works with (under) the surgeon who placed my TE's.
Somewhere between all the poking, prodding, smooching, scalping, and stitching, my breasts lost their dignity. Which is why, I suppose, I have no problem showing you the various stages of my recovery. On top of all that, it is important for people to understand that "breast reconstruction" is NOT the same as a boob job. This is a comment I hear often, "lucky you, you're getting a boob job!"
Regarding my last post, titled BLAME, to me it was not a "woe is me" post - it was a mind opening, heart fueled, self evolving post. And damn, it felt good to write it.
As I often say, I don't sugar coat anything. Nothing on my blog is off limits. I have dissected everything and anyone who has had an effect (positive or negative) on my life. I have pissed off a lot of people. So far, I still have the support of my husband, some family, and a growing group of friends. All of you are attracted to one key component... PERSONAL GROWTH. For me, that is what this journey here is all about.
So if you catch me bitching or blaming, it's okay. It's just me working on the stuff I need to learn. And if a second surgery is warranted, it's okay. They'll get it right and I'll have more to write.
One thing I will never be, is a victim.
"Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them -- every day begin the task anew." Saint Francis de Sales
If you, are someone you know, has been diagnosed with breast cancer,
breastcancer.org is a wonderful resource.