The not-so-sexy-side of this particular surgery (Or, why my plaid pajamas have become my uniform for the time being)

The night before surgery my mother and I gleefully, and in full-fledged denial about what was about to happen, set out on a mission to find exotic food and wine and giggles. We succeeded, having a 1/2 litre-of-this and and 1/2 litre-of-that and filling in the hours between meals with shopping. We clinked glasses to new beginnings and new boobs, and looked forward to the surgery facing me the following day. 

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Upon arrival at the Surgical Centre where I was having my surgery done, we laughed (albeit nervously) about the fact that it was basically located in a strip mall, nestled cozily between a dentist and a Safeway. For real. Shopping bags in hand, we filled out forms, planned for our cab after recovery, and made the best of the fact that the doctor was running a wee bit late by watching Dr. Phil (always an effective tool for making one’s life feel virtuous and good) and hamming it up so that I could send pictures home to my boys and make them laugh. 

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Finally, the surgeon arrives, and we confirm all of the things that are going to be (certainly or potentially) done to my body while I’m ‘asleep’. Swap out tissue expanders for implants (yay!) and possible fat-grafting (I even laughed at this – obviously I told him to take it from my least favourite part – and he drew swirly circles around my thighs to guide whatever-tool-gets-used-in-fat-grafting. I kissed my mom, told her I’d catch her on the flip side, that I loved her and I dutifully followed the doctor into the OR, sporting lovely black lace underwear (this was allowed) and…yep…socks affectionately known in these parts as “Nipigon Nylons”. Little did I know I was going to awaken to this lovely sight tightly wrapped around my lower half, lovely black laciness lost somewhere on the operating table. 

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I would absolutely be a good sport and actually model this monstrosity for you; however, you will note that there are certain elements of the garment that are conveniently missing. Yes, folks. For the convenience of leaving this lovely thing on while you use the washroom, in case you are loath to remove it even for two minutes. The hanger-shot will have to suffice. 

There is nothing pretty about post-surgery anything – and I am no exception, I’m afraid. While I know that in a few weeks when my new parts ‘settle’ and the swelling goes down and the bruising subsides and I start to sleep again and my body begins to feel normal again I may actually be pleased with the results of my surgery and I may feel inspired to visit a lingerie store (or leave the couch, for that matter), for the moment, this is what I’m looking at. 

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My thighs, where they took fat for fat grafting, are quite black and sore, and let’s just say that everywhere else where there was surgery done is pretty much the same. 

So, for now, it’s plaid pajamas and a girdle that pretends to be frisky, and a whole lot of patience. 

Luck, and healing vibes please!

 

 

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It’s happening! (Or, sorry for making irrational requests of colleagues and crying in my coffee)

I’m sitting in my dining room trying to convince myself that the cayenne-infused coffee I’m chugging is going to calm my body down. (I know this isn’t true – but I am hoping the cayenne will catch the cold I’ve caught and banish it from my system.)

I’ve gone into this impending surgery with much humour, because, well, when it comes to ‘finding the funny’, getting new boobs is great material. I do think that compared to what’s been done to my body in the past year this quick, in-and-out day surgery will be pretty manageable. In a lot of ways I’m looking forward to it. I laugh at everyone’s jokes about boob shopping and quietly admonish those who assume I’m going to come home looking like Pamela Anderson, pre-regret. I crack jokes about telling the surgeon to ‘aim for the dimply bits’ if he needs to do fat-grafting to perfect the look and feel of what is going to become part of me at around 4pm tomorrow. I have planned a shopping trip with my Mom in Winnipeg and crossed my fingers that my now-monthly pay from my Long Term Disability benefits will somehow magically land in my account between now and tomorrow. Retail therapy would be really great pre-surgery.

And, last night, I packed my children’s clothing and all of their sports gear to send with them to their Dad’s, where they will be staying for the next five days. (Which at once makes me thankful and begs the question ‘What the hell do people do who don’t have help?!’)

Although it makes me super sad to pack up so many belongings because it means I'm going to be away for a good while, it also makes me happy to see how full and busy their lives are.

Although it makes me super sad to pack up so many belongings because it means I’m going to be away for a good while, it also makes me happy to see how full and busy their lives are.

I also had lunch with my Dad yesterday, canceling plans with another friend I had planned to see for brunch, and also plans for a last snowshoe with a few of my girlfriends. Lunch with my Dad is important. Lunch is how my Dad tells me he loves me and that he’ll (although he will do it stoically-and-maybe-with-some-white-wine) be thinking about me while I’m having surgery. Sharing a burger, or in yesterday’s case, some amazing Lebanese food he had never tried before, is our way of spending time together before something scary happens. It was our ritual before every chemo treatment. It is our calm before the storm. I try not to miss a lunch date with him.

(I love you too, Dad.)

Thanks for lunch, and all the rest. xo

Thanks for lunch, and all the rest. xo

So here goes! I get on a plane with my wonderful mother in two hours. It’s been almost exactly a full year since I found that damned lump, and since then everything done to my body has been about cancer treatment. This is about getting beyond cancer treatment and moving forward. Thanks everyone, for the support and encouragement, and the jokes, and the texts, the phone calls and all the love. Catch you on the flip side.

T.

Two weeks til a whole new me? (Or, please for-the-love-of-Pete-get-these-things-outta-my-body!)

i'm convinced my hair will look 'almost on purpose' by the time of my surgery.

I’m convinced my hair will look ‘almost on purpose’ by the time of my surgery.

It will have been exactly nine months and one day that I have been sporting these fancy-dancy (not-so-much) tissue expanders when they take them out of me and swap them out for something a little more … comfortable? Oh GOD please let them be more comfortable.

I haven’t talked much about the bumps that replaced what were my breasts. It is, (and I know I’m obviously out-there-and-public-and-open-and-in-your-face) a strange topic that I tend to only talk about face to face with people I know, and I usually talk about it with some humour. I knock the closest hard surface to me and assure the person to whom I’m speaking that the tissue expanders are basically ‘that hard’. I laugh and say I’m looking forward to NOT feeling obligated to apologize for my ‘bumps’ when I give someone a good long hug. I crack jokes about my ‘barbie boobs’ and refer to the ‘detailing’ that will take place after this next surgery. (But that’s a whole ‘nother blog, folks.)

Now, as I prepare to have these removed, I suppose, is as good a time as any to talk about them in some detail. Most people kind of slowly nod their heads and point vaguely at my chest area and say things like ‘so those…aren’t permanent?’ Or, ‘I don’t really understand the difference…’. If I’m generous enough to guide someone’s hand to the place where the port is under my arm and let them palpate that little disc, that experience invariably produces a ‘gasp!’ or ‘OH!’, at which point I laugh and acknowledge the Sci-Fi nature of my present body. For most people, tissue expanders are absolutely uncharted territory, as they were for me nine months ago.

When I arrived for my pre-surgery consult last April, I was presented with my options for reconstruction. I could do abdominal flap surgery, wherein they use your own tissue from your abdomen to build you new breasts, and in this surgery women basically lose a fairly significant amount of abdominal fat and get new, permanent breasts that are made out of their own flesh and require little or no further work. It’s a good option, if you have the abdominal fat to spare. Upon examination of me, my surgeon’s quick response was … ‘And implants it is!’ (If they could use the tissue from my thighs, I’d be set up for some permanent, all-me breasts, my friends, I assure you. Stomach, not so much).

So. At the time of my mastectomies, I kind of got a ‘three-for-one’ deal. One anaesthetic, two surgery teams. Once the surgery team was finished removing my 17 lymph nodes and my breast tissue, the plastics team came in and inserted, through the same incisions, tissue expanders. Implant-like in form, they come with a little port that I requested get put under my armpits. The expanders are put in under the pectoral muscle, and their job over the months to come is to gradually expand the muscle and skin to make room for eventual implants. The expansion happens through ‘fills’ of saline, injected through the little ports periodically over the next little while, until the desired size is reached. They are strictly functional, and if you’re lucky, and I have been relatively so, they won’t migrate around your chest wall and leave you looking all lopsided and uneven.

These tissue expanders are not without their minor complications. There are many stories out there, some of them horror-movie-ish in nature, but I can only speak to my own experiences.

First of all, I very much appreciated waking up from surgery and not being traumatized by my new reality. The surgeons did a small fill at the time of surgery, and so when I woke up, although I was prepared to see a concave mass of twisted gnarly scars, I was actually relieved to the point of saying something to the effect of ‘Hey! That’s not so bad!’ Two incisions, very small ones relative to what I had punished myself by looking at thanks to the wonders of Google, and two absolutely non-concave bumps. Everyone’s experience with this is unique, all surgeons have different approaches. I was thrilled with the results of my surgery.

On to the fills. Most of mine (and I haven’t had many) have gone off without a hitch. I did have one done where my surgeon and I are fairly certain one of the ports was ‘missed’ and the saline just went into my body. I was kind of lopsided for awhile, but I really didn’t care because, as my surgeon said to me over and over again, ‘They’re just expanders.’ It was only after getting ‘evened out’ that I experienced what is always just vaguely referred to as ‘expander pain’. The only way I can describe it is like a slow, very purposeful charlie-horse, but in your pectoral muscle and wrapping around to your shoulder blades. I have had constant upper back tension for months now, and finally went to a massage therapist after my final fill, having put it off because I didn’t think I’d be able to lie on my stomach for an hour for a massage. As it turns out, creatively arranged pillows and strategically draped sheets do the trick and provide enormous relief.

The pain under my left breast has been intense to the point of feeling like I may have had a cracked rib. A chest x-ray (clear again!) revealed that this was not the case, and my massage therapist deduced that the little muscles between all of my ribs are in spasm, and so that’s what we worked on for a few sessions. Huge help. I can now cough and take a deep breath without huge discomfort.

I am looking forward to my surgery. I can’t believe that it has been almost a year since I found that dreaded lump that now (in my mind, anyway) sits in some jar on some dusty shelf in the basement of a hospital. I can’t believe that a year ago, I was dating, and warning the person I was dating that I might have some tough stuff coming up, and so the door was ‘right there’ if he wanted to open it and run. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was launched into that flurry of tests-and-waiting-and-injections-and-scans-and-waiting-and-more-scans and finally sitting right where I sit today, waiting for surgery.

I woke up today and thought back to the night before my surgery last year, when my sister and I parked ourselves at the hotel lobby bar with every intention of going out for a lovely dinner, and instead staying there, drinking wine and eating appetizers, making a few interesting friends that evening, including a bartender that wrote us a card to thank us for sharing our story. That evening ended with my sister cranking up ‘You can do it; put your ass into it’ on her i-pod, and us dancing on the swanky hotel-lobby carpet with our new ‘friends’, before very responsibly ushering ourselves up to bed before 11:30pm. Because, you know, no eating or drinking after midnight!

This time is different. This surgery represents the beginning of the end of this for me. Kind of a wrapping-up of what has been, hands-down, the most interesting year of my life. Exactly two weeks from right now, I will be prepped for surgery and waiting to get rolled into the operating room. And when I wake up from that surgery, I am hoping to be exactly the opposite of traumatized. Two weeks from now, I will have just a little more hair on my head, almost enough to look ‘on purpose’, and I will have what I promise to learn to love as my new breasts. There may be a lingerie party in my future. Stay tuned.