Genes, Boobies and Other Accessories

Archive for May, 2012

Biscuit-shaped issues

I hate complaining. It makes me feel weak. I think it’s my father’s influence. I’ll blame my intolerance of whining and complaining on him. In fact, if you know my father, you’re probably not surprised by this. On the flip side, I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t allow myself the cathartic experience of complaining just for a bit. I’ve tried to point out good and bad experiences in most of my posts because I don’t want to leave a false impression that this is all “rainbows and unicorns” or that it’s all bad. I hope that when I look back on my posts in a year that I’ll see a good mix of a positive ‘make vodka tonics when life hands you lemons’ attitude and the down side to this experience where sometimes it just sucks.

Right now I find myself exceptionally frustrated with the way I look. I’ve chosen to not wear prosthetics because I want to face this head-on and I don’t want to cover it up. When I tried to wear them, I felt more uncomfortable than I did without them. I know this is a temporary phase for my body….it doesn’t make summer dresses any easier to put on. I keep telling myself that in 4 more days I’ll be able to lift my hands over my head and put on a t-shirt or wear tank tops or some of my dresses. The reality is that I will probably cry when I do because they aren’t going to fit like they used to and I don’t have much of a choice but to accept it and power-thru. I know in a few weeks I’ll have enough fills in me to not look so flat chested. It just doesn’t make me feel better right now.

I read a lot of blogs by women like myself and we all acknowledge and talk about the clothes issues we experience. Many of us talk about the body-image issues as well. It’s an isolating experience even when we know there are others out there going through the same thing. I can’t find clothes to wear that make me feel “normal” so I can’t just throw on a bathing suit and head out to the pool like I used to. Now, I stand in the middle of my closet staring at everything – totally paralyzed by the situation. I put on my strapless sports-bra or wrap myself in ace bandages before putting on my one strapless top that fits like spanx. (I had to find one that was tight enough to not fall off, but strapless so that I can step in it and pull it up.) I then try on a few different cover-ups so that I can walk to the pool. My cover-ups don’t fit right because they were all made or purchased by someone with a D cup….not my current biscuit-shaped B-ish cup. When I get to the pool all I can think about is that I have to wear a sports bra under my suit and I feel disproportionate and awkward. It’s very frustrating and then I get frustrated with myself for even letting it get to me.

Sometimes, all I am doing is going to the grocery store. I’ll stand in the middle of my closet staring at all of my clothes. It should be as easy as wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Instead, I try on three or four button-up shirts and then I can’t find the right shorts/pants to match. I’ll end up with tears in my eyes as I put on the same outfit I’ve been wearing most days (black short-sleeved zip-up hoodie and shorts) because it’s the only thing that makes me feel like less of a tool. Yet, I still feel like a tool because it doesn’t feel like “me.” In the process I’ll have a billion hot flashes which cause me to have to consider my clothing decision as well. No matter how many hormones I’m on, I’m having hot flashes again and can’t figure out why! Ughhhh! This means that I sweat thru my clothes before I even leave my closet.

I feel so shallow for feeling this way. I hate it. I don’t want this to be about vanity. I don’t want to feel my femininity challenged just because I don’t have the cleavage that I once I had. But I can’t deny that its a struggle. Feeling polished and “put together” is something that I’ve always prided myself on – especially after surgery or a major event in my life. I don’t want people to look at me and be able to see that I’m ill or grieving or whatever. With reconstruction, I’m being forced to challenge my definition of “polished and put-together.” I keep trying new things and just haven’t figure it out yet. It doesn’t help that I’m still so limited right now. I don’t want this to sound like I’m complaining because I know that it’s temporary and that I’m lucky for many reasons…but I just want to scream and bitch about it for a minute. I’m DREADING going into the office next week because of it. I don’t want people staring me and wondering if I’m okay or noticing that my clothes are baggy. I just keep telling myself – 4 more days and I can raise my arms over my head. I’ll be able to work out and reach things on a top shelf and stand up to wash my hair and try on some of the clothes I’ve stared at for the last few weeks. I don’t know if it’ll get much better, but I’m hopeful. I won’t have implants for 6-9 months. It’s gotta get easier. I know it doesn’t seem like a long time, but when I want to find a cute outfit to wear out to dinner with friends, 6-9 months feels like an eternity. I’ll get another fill on Monday before I go into the office and maybe that will help too. Until then, I’ll put on my regular post-mastectomy outfit and try to not worry about whether or not you can see the ace bandage under my bathing suit. AGHHHHH!!!!!

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Got my tires aired up

Okay, so I was a little nervous about this second fill and turns out, I shouldn’t have been. I told my doc about the horrible week I had after my first fill. I made sure to stress the fact that I wanted to die for four days afterwards. I’m not sure he appreciated my overly dramatic explanation for how bad that week was, but I’m pretty sure he got the message. He agreed that it was probably due to the fluid they removed around the expander and the size of the hematoma. The hematoma has improved considerably since the first fill but I was still nervous that it would be painful again. So what did he do?! Only gave me half of a fill. I appreciate the fact that he’s very conservative with his approach to fills, but I left discouraged. Each fill should be around 100-125cc. I got 50. Although, even the 50 made a significant difference.

I don’t know if this is public knowledge, but I’m pretty stubborn. I blame my parents. I mean, can’t everything be blamed on our parents?! A few hours after I left the doctor’s office, it was apparent that I wasn’t going to hurt like the first fill. I was really discouraged to not be on the schedule that I set for myself. I called back and asked if I could come in and get the other 50ccs. He said that I needed to wait a few days. I waited and went in yesterday. I am determined to get this expansion part done as quickly as possible. The sooner I get to the size I want to be, the sooner I can get my implants in…the sooner this will all be over.

After another 50 ccs, I now have about 225cc total. I’m hoping to work up to around 700cc but we’ll see. I’m still not sure that I want to be that large again. At least I’m still on track. I would love to have all of the fills complete by the middle of July, but we’ll see if he lets me be a little more aggressive in the coming weeks. I’m feeling much better about everything though.

This week I decided to start taking a picture after each fill wearing the same shirt so that I document my progress during expansion. When it’s all done, I’ll post the series of pictures. It’s weird seeing myself flat-chested, but I’ve already gotten used to it. I think I’m going to take advantage of it for a little while and do things that I have never really been able to do like jump rope and run.

Lean Cuisines and Beer

Mom left today. Sucks. Happy and I are looking around the place wondering what we’re supposed to do now. It was great having her here. Today marks my 30 days (yay!) and I thought I’d share a break-down of the my first 30 days to fill you in on all the pieces and parts that I haven’t written about yet.

Let’s start with what I did this month:

  • Slept
  • Basically been uncomfortable (in everyway) for the entire time
  • Took vitamins, antibiotics, and pain meds
  • Sat on the couch and watched mom cook breakfast, lunch, dinner
  • Supervised mom’s projects
  • Watched two seasons of Downton Abbey, two seasons of 24, tons of movies (some good some bad), and whatever else we could find
  • Slowly recovered enough to bathe myself, put on my own bra, get myself off the couch or out of bed
  • Learned how to finger-knit, arm-knit and started crossstitching
  • Read 3 books
  • Made mom a scarf out of tshirts
  • Painted my nails
  • Drove my car twice (just this week)
  • Lost 7 lbs (in addition to the 3.5lbs that my old boobs weighed)
  • Babysat Emmy (see pic below)
  • Went to the zoo this week!

Here’s Happy’s contribution to the last 30 days:

  • Slept
  • Ate
  • Followed KK around
  • Begged KK for food
  • Waited for KK to cook her breakfast (yes, I said cook)
  • Took walks
  • Laid on KK’s lap (see pic below)
  • Slept in KK’s bed (because she’s a traitor and bailed on me when she realized I couldn’t cuddle grrrr)
  • Slept

Here’s Mom’s (KK’s) last 30 days:

  • Played nurse
  • Stripped/monitored/measured surgical drains
  • Helped her 32 year old daughter dress/bathe/exist
  • Cooked  lots of her hippie foods
  • Did laundry
  • Cleaned
  • Watched two seasons of Downton Abbey, two seasons of 24, tons of movies (some good some bad), and whatever else we could find
  • Walked Happy
  • Fed Happy
  • Talked to Happy
  • Spoiled Happy
  • Weighed step-stools and ladders to see if they are under 10 lbs so that I can move them myself
  • Moved items around so I can reach them
  • Stocked my pantry
  • Made new pillow cases (see pic below)
  • Painted two accent walls (with Elena’s help – Thank you Elena!)
  • Hung my tv on the wall
  • Created and painted a frame for said tv (see pic below)
  • Organized my closet and put up my winter clothes
  • Went to the zoo
  • So much more than just what’s on this list
  • Spoiled Happy (and me)

So as you can see…it’s been GREAT having her here. Now, Happy and I are missing her and nervous about fill #2 next week. Tomorrow Jessica will get here! And then next week Johnna and her bff Elizabeth will be here. I cannot wait for Johnna to get here. It will be her first visit to Ohio. Yay! Two more weeks and I’m off restriction which means I can raise my arms over my head (e.g. put on a tshirt, wash my hair standing up, stretch my back, reach for things on shelves, open doors by myself, go to the gym….you get the picture). I keep reminding Happy that Mom will be back in a few months for my next two surgeries so she can ignore me again…and she’ll get spoiled again which means I will too. So for tonight, we don’t have our chef here and it’s back to lean cuisines and beer.

Here are some pics of our month with mom:

Happy

Emmy

New pillow case for couch

Avacado green accent wall and framed tv

First attempt at finger-knitting (yes that’s wine in the background)

Mom spoiling Happy

Me and Mom on a train at the zoo (that’s the scarf I made)

 

Making progress

This past week has been tough. Chronic pain is a horrible state to live in. I have an unnatural threshold for pain so I’m caught off-guard when I hurt this bad. I can’t imagine what this feels like to most people. I feel bad for even complaining about pain when I know that it’s nothing compared to the pain my brother experienced. (I really miss him right now by the way.) I also know it doesn’t compare to the neuropathy many of my fellow cancer warriors experience. I finally broke down and took pain meds this week because I couldn’t take it anymore…and I felt like a wimp for doing it. I had been off of them for quite some time. My nurses couldn’t believe I’d been functioning without them. I still feel like a wimp…and I know I’m being unreasonably hard on myself. Regardless, I’m thankful for the meds even though they barely scratched the surface of the pain. I’m scared that at least my next two fills are going to hurt like this.

With all of that said, I think I have gotten over the worst part of this past fill. Friday I felt significantly better. In fact, I knew I was feeling better when I got out of bed without crying. I put on makeup and real clothes versus my standard pj pants and zip up hoodie. Happy and I got to babysit my friend Elena’s new puppy, Emmy. Considering I can’t pick Happy up or walk her, I’d say we did really well for the few hours we were here alone. I even got into mom’s SUV without getting tears in my eyes. I have noticed that the bruise on my left side is significantly smaller than it has been and a lot of my swelling is going away. Yay! Independence here I come!

This weekend mom and I continued to veg. I was scared to overdo it since I’d only had one day of feeling good in the last five. Today we went shopping and grabbed some Mother’s Day dinner. It’s nice to feel like I’m returning to my old self while embracing my new self. I am sorta proud to see that I’ve gotten used to my new (transitional) body so quickly. It’s nice to be out in public and not feel self-conscious. I wondered prior to the surgery if I’d be self-conscious. I even found some comfort knowing that I’d leave the hospital with a fake pair of boobs that I could stuff in my bra if I wanted. I really thought I’d need them. I mean, I’ve been a D cup for most of my adult life (and a DD for all the years in-between). What I’ve found is that it just doesn’t feel right for me to wear them unless I have on a shirt that requires them for functional reasons. Right now, that’s not the case since I can’t wear anything that doesn’t button or zip up. I’ve also found that flat-chested Mandy feels more authentic. I’m just going to continue to wear my maxi-padded sports bra like a boss and enjoy the days that are pain-free. My goal this week is to man-up so that I’m more mentally prepared for my appointment on the 21st. Maybe then I can overcome the pain faster after fill #2.

Barbed-wire and Maxi Pads

This is such a weird process to go through. I don’t know that you can ever be completely prepared for it. I’m sooooo grateful for the women that have walked me through their experiences so that I could be somewhat prepared. I hope that I’m able to weather all of the weirdness by reminding myself that it just gets better from here and it’s temporary. I can do anything for a year, right?! What’s weird this week will be normal next week. The last two weeks I’ve encountered three things that make my new life weird: maxi pads, barbed-wire and fills.

It’s officially been 2.5 years since I last purchased any type of feminine product. Now, I find myself being a connoisseur of maxi pads. Why?! You might ask. It’s because I now have incisions that go from my sternum to under each armpit, and they need covering. I have to wear a compression surgical bra or sports bra 24 hours a day.

— Hold on, let that sink in. 24.hours.a.day.–

Underneath said bra, I have to have some type of gauze or protection from the fabric until the incisions are fully healed. Anyone ever tried to find gauze pads (at a retailer) that are at least 6 – 8 inches in length?! Yeah, it’s difficult and expensive. Regardless, the nurses told me that maxi pads are the cheapest and best way to accomplish this task. I’ve now made my way through most brands and located the thinnest and longest ones that I can find. So now, if you see me you’ll know that I’m wearing maxi pads under my bra. How weird is that?!

In addition to maxi pads in my bra, I’ve also had these horrible sutures poking me since the surgery. The suture they use in this surgery is the kind that your body absorbs. They leave about 3 inches of it sticking out on each side of the incisions for the first 2 or so weeks. The suture itself feels like barbed-wire. It gets caught on my bra and hurts terribly. For the last week my only source of discomfort was from the silly sutures. And it’s totally weird to see purple wire sticking out of your skin. I went in for my first fill Monday and the nurse cut the sutures down…immediate relief! It is nice to have them gone.

I thought most of my pain would go away once the barbed-wire was gone, but then I had my first fill. Fills are weird too. I’ve explained before that I have tissue expanders under my pecs now. The expanders are like balloons. Every few weeks my doctor will fill them with 75-125 ccs of saline until I get to the size I want to be. (Sidebar: My new size is still up for debate – my posture is better now than it’s ever been. I might go smaller than my old size now that I get to test it out before getting the implant.) They fill the expanders by injecting a needle into a port that’s located under my skin. This week, my doc only put 75ccs in because I still have a hematoma on the left side. In fact, my left side has been completely yellow and black since the surgery. They also removed 75ccs of fluid from around my expander which is making the bruising start going away…but makes it hurt now more than ever. I’m not sure that I could’ve handled much more than a 75cc fill though. I haven’t ever felt pain like I do now. In fact, Monday I had to remind myself to breathe most of the day. My left side still hurts so bad – it’s hard not to cry thinking about it. I’m sure it’s just because of the bruising that I already had. Regardless of the pain, here’s the weird part…when they injected the saline solution in my expander, it was like watching a compressor air up a mattress. I WATCHED MY BOOB GROW. It was freaky feeling too. I couldn’t feel the needle at all but I could feel the cool of the saline and feel my skin moving. WEIRD! And now I have this perfectly round area around my sternum…like the beginning of cleavage! EVEN WEIRDER!

And now I begin my life of maxi pads and fills. In a few weeks, this will just be the norm for me which is the weirdest part of all.

 

 

 

Part 2 to Goodbye dwainnnnz…Thank you drains

Today I came home excited to sleep tonight without those stupid drains. Today was also the second time that I have been out of the apartment since my surgery. It feels good to wander out a little bit more each day…but it totally wipes me out. I put on new pjs and turned on the TV (hehehe I’m still in pjs all day every day – don’t hate!). Oprah’s life-class series was on tonight. Yesterday, I noticed the series because I saw TD Jakes in the title of the show. Don’t laugh…yes I said Oprah’s life-class. Hang with me and you’ll see I haven’t totally become a phony, self-help workshop-zombie. There’s something to be learned from everyone.

Side note: TD Jakes, for those of you that don’t know, is a pastor that I believe contributed to saving my life 16 yrs ago (happy to share that story if you’re interested). Although I know many of you may be surprised that the one with the seemingly complicated spiritual and religious history (and the token Jew in many of your lives) learned something from a big-time TV preacher. I did. I will forever be grateful for the time that I picked up a book in Books-A-Million and read the first page while waiting on a caramel latte. I’m still so grateful for the lessons he taught me as a 17 yr old freshman in college.

So back to pjs, Oprah, and tonight…

I noticed another episode of her series was on and turned to it. This was her master class and apparently the series has focused on gratitude. After hearing a little bit, I realized that I’ve hated those drains the last 13 days…13 lonnnnng days. And although there’s really nothing inherently wrong with hating them or complaining about them occasionally, I’m in a very vulnerable position right now mentally and emotionally. I don’t know that I can afford to be negative too long or too often during this process. The more negative energy I create (and encourage), the more susceptible I will be to the negative and dark side of this process. I’m also less likely to learn all of the lessons that I need to learn if I allow myself to wallow in my own (temporary) misery. I need to grieve when I need to grieve and be unhappy when I need to be unhappy, but I don’t need to start a pattern of negativity that I can’t pull out of. I’m sure you can imagine – looking at my chest right now can be emotionally paralyzing if I let it. I just can’t let it. BUT I can’t ignore it either.

I know that TD Jakes taught me that I am not defined by my past but refined by it. I have to live in the present by facing my obstacles. As clichéd as it sounds, learning how to apply this to my life changed me completely all those years ago. I hadn’t stopped to think about how they might apply to my current situation until now.

So I decided that I have appropriately faced my first obstacles. I’ve started the grieving process over the change in my body. I’ve had time to complain about how uncomfortable those drains were. I’ve had time to freak out about the fact that my incisions are weird-looking right now and the skin is yellow from the bruising. I’ve had time to feel isolated and alone. I’ve also laughed about all of the above. I’ve enjoyed the time with mom. I’ve actually gotten more comfortable seeing myself flat-chested. I haven’t tried my fake/prosthetic boobies yet because I know I need to face this head-on. And now I need to be grateful. I know that having a grateful spirit is what brings peace, happiness, balance and abundance. I laugh at the fact that Oprah, TD Jakes and Tony Robbins (insert eye-roll) had to remind me…but they did.

Tonight I’m going to bed grateful for the drains because they helped me heal. I’m thankful for the incisions on my chest because they are a sign of freedom and courage. They are my silent reminder of the bond I have with a special community of women. I’m thankful for the 4 extra inches of stitching sticking out of the ends of the incisions because, although they feel like barbed-wire, they are a reminder that even when I think I can lift my arms, I still have wounds that are healing and I need to ask for help. I’m thankful for my mother. She seems to be totally unphased by stripping my drains, washing my hair, and waiting on me. (She’s super cool if you haven’t figured that out yet.) I’m thankful that my Daddy calls every day and asks how I’m doing and can so easily talk to me about all of the things that so many Daddy’s would be uncomfortable talking about. I’m thankful for friends that call or text me to ask how I’m doing and then talk to me about random and normal things so that I feel connected to the real world.

I recently saw something on Pinterest that said, “Strong people always have their life in order. Even with tears in their eyes, they still manage to say “I’m okay,” with a smile.” Guess I just needed to acknowledge to myself the tears are there. I felt the need to add this tonight because this blog is my attempt to help my friends and family feel connected to me during this process. I want to share some of the physical and medical aspects of this process. It’s also important for you guys to know that I’m struggling through it, learning from it, grateful for it and being refined by it. And most importantly, I’m okay.

Goodbye dwainzzzzzzzz

I got my drains removed today!!!!! If you’ve ever known anyone that’s gone through breast reconstruction, the drains are one sucky part of recovery. It takes some time to get used to the fact that you’ve got these tubes stitched into your armpit that drain out fluid (gross) that you have to measure each day! Ugh.

Let me explain why the drains are so annoying. Basically this is how it works in my most “Mandy” way of explaining it:

  • The breast doc cuts straight across your boob and removes a section of the skin including your nipple. Yes, I no longer have nipples…weird!!!
  • He then scoops out the breast tissue and removes it. I picture him actually using an ice cream scoop…I’m sure his ego is offended by my lame way of describing it.
  • The Plastic Surgeon (or as my breast doc likes to say – the bigger ego in the room) then begins reconstruction. He separates your pec from your chest wall, places a tissue expander under the muscle, sutures all around so that he begins to recreate a new “harness” for your implant, and then positions drains under the tissue before he sews you up and puts you in a compression bra and sends you to recovery with really good drugs….there’s much more to it, but that’s the Mandy-abbreviated version.
  • The drains are designed to remove fluid from your body so that it doesn’t collect and cause complications and seromas ala infection ala more surgeries ala longer time before you get your implants.
  • Here’s a picture of a drain. I had 2 drains (one on each side). Some patients that also have lymph nodes removed may have 4-6 drains.

  

  • The top portion is placed from the side of your chest under your armpit and a little bit under your incision: (This is not me – I’m actually bruised and yellow all over right now…I’m happy to share pics I’ve taken if you’re interested)

  

  • Every day after surgery, you have to strip your drains and measure the fluid. Stripping means you squeeze the tubes and get all of the fluid to go down into the bulb at the end. This creates a suction effect so that the drains are actually pulling fluid out of your body. When you’re under 20-30 ccs a day and the fluid is clear-ish, you can have them removed. This is usually 14 or so days post op. This isn’t my drain either, although it looks a lot like it the day after surgery.

 

So you can imagine how annoying and weird this is…and how badly you want them GONE. It is amazing how quickly you get over the weirdness of it. In fact, my mother and I were determined to get these suckers removed because I was soooo close to meeting the requirements to get them out. We started setting an alarm and stripping them every hour to try and get “lefty” to cooperate. It was a success! So to make a short story long, explaining all of this helps me get to the point of this post…

I GOT MY DRAINS OUT TODAY!!!

 (There’s a part two to this post…I’ll post it in a few minutes.)

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