Starting from scratch, and digging just a little deeper.

After last Wednesday’s drama, I was pretty much convinced my week couldn’t get any more exciting. I was wrong. I have spent the past three days trying to figure out how I could possibly find a positive spin to put on this week’s events so that I could share it. Let’s start with the story.

This past Wednesday I returned to Winnipeg, this time with my mother, who optimistically refused to pack an overnight bag because she was so certain things were going to be okay this time around. That despite the trauma my incision and implant endured last week, I would be healing up nicely and nothing worse could possibly happen. I insisted we pack toothbrushes and toiletries, just in case, and off we went.

I am, for many reasons, going to gloss over some of the gory details. Long story short, the doctor took a look, put me squarely on the negative side of the ’50-50′ statistic, and gave me my options. I could a) wait until the following day to go under general anaesthetic to have both implants removed, or b) take a generously offered Ativan and have another ‘awake’ surgery to have both implants removed 30 minutes later. Both options involve healing up for a few months and having abdominal flap surgery done as the other option for reconstruction.

I have been thinking a great deal about some of the women I know who have opted for no reconstruction. I have always admired their courage. Have always thought about how difficult a choice that must have been, how strange a thing it must be for them to get used to seeing themselves in the mirror changed like that. I opted for immediate reconstruction back at the time of my mastectomy because I really didn’t think I had it in me to deal with chemo, radiation, and facing that huge change in the mirror all at the same time.

Wednesday afternoon marked what may have been the first time I truly saw how cancer has changed me physically. I opted for choice b, took the Ativan and a pain-killer, and dutifully turned my head to the opposite side from where the surgeons worked, and breathed my way through a second awake surgery in a week. Said ‘ouch’ when it hurt so they could inject more local anaesthetic, clenched and unclenched my fists and made every effort to relax my shoulders while they removed the offending implants, cleaned me out and stitched me up, unceremoniously and with no effort at neatness, because this was a temporary fix. There were tears this time around; I’m not going to lie. The doctor assures me they are going to do everything they can to achieve the result I want, down the road, when enough healing has taken place.

My mother and I made it to a hotel room in the hotel attached to the hospital, just barely, and had a good old-fashioned-mother-daughter melt-down. I cried because I was tired. Because I’ve treated this voyage like a marathon, and have conserved my energy for the finish, which I thought I was nearing. I cried because it was really, really difficult to look at myself in the mirror. I cried because my plans for celebrating the end of this year are all likely trashed. My mother cried because she feels my pain like it’s her own. We do this as parents. My heart broke for her that night just as much as it did for me. I wish I could have sheltered her from that moment. I wish I could have powered through it like I have other moments. I could not. Sometimes it’s okay to fall apart. When you have to start from scratch, I guess it’s necessary to flush out all the sad and steel yourself for what’s to come.

So. I’ve spent the past few days wrapping my head around this new reality. There are some important details on which I need to focus:

This isn’t a cancer complication. This is a glitch in the reconstruction process, one which is now going to provide me with three months’ reprieve and rest and healing time.

The abdominal flap surgery will provide me with a permanent solution, one which is made up of my own tissue. There won’t be anything foreign puffing up my chest. There won’t be a need to swap them out every ten years or so and worry afresh about complications. The whole ‘implant’ thing has never really sat well with me anyway.

The complication rate for this surgery is 1-2%, compared to a complication rate of about 38% for implant surgery on radiated skin. I am feeling much, much better about those odds.

Traumatic experiences like the one my companion witnessed last week and the one that my mother witnessed this past Wednesday really do change one’s perspective. They can help us sift through the trivia and grasp on to what’s really important. They can bind us together. They have. (Bring on date #3.)

In the meantime, if I never have to gaze up at one of these breast-shaped lights again, it will be too soon.

When you have 'awake' surgery, you're under one of these lights. Note breast-like shape.

When you have ‘awake’ surgery, you’re under one of these lights. Note breast-like shape.

And, although I’m sure there will be drains sported after my abdominal flap surgery, I seriously hope they go with the little grenade-shaped variety I have had in the past, and not these jumbo hemo-vac specials.

Giant hemo-vac drains have been enough to keep me holing up indoors this week. Here's hoping they get removed Wednesday.

Giant hemo-vac drains have been enough to keep me holing up indoors this week. Here’s hoping they get removed Wednesday.

Inhale. Exhale.




12 thoughts on “Starting from scratch, and digging just a little deeper.

  1. My Dearest Tanya- I love your optimism! And my optimism lies in your proven strength. You are one of the bravest people I know: Meltdowns express disappointment, not pessimism. Your plan is good, and I can see you will work it. Linda sends her love, and you certainly have mine- and my admiration. You’re incredible! Give everyone else my love, too. Ash.

  2. Tanya – you have inspired me from the moment I read your blog entry about Marvin Gaye. I have followed your journey to watch, learn and empathize with another strong woman on a journey she has no choice but to go forward on. There is no going back, no option for surrender and many people in your life that cannot wait to celebrate every success and chapter “closing” with you. I am one of the women who opted for no reconstruction – and from my side
    the women such as yourself, who have opted for reconstruction, are the strong ones.

    If it is not too forward, although we have never met, I wish for you:
    – an opportunity to have a third and fourth date of a lifetime – may they be quiet, uneventful and full of laughter.
    – an opportunity to see yourself, when you least expect it, as the strong, beautiful woman who has an infinite amount of courage and moxi that you project to the rest of the world.
    – hope – there is always hope! Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible!

    May your journey be shorter than you think – thank you for the inspiration and the courage to share. Please know you make a difference!

    • Thank you so much. And no – not too forward at all. I have high hopes for the next part of my journey. I sometimes think opting for no reconstruction takes way more courage. This part is not easy. Hats off to you for the choices you’ve made.

  3. I do believe…..that the 2nd date with you will stay in my mind as one of the absolutely most memorable, exciting, terrifying,dizzying, jet setting, heart wrenching, heartwarming, ridiculously happy, ridiculously sad, panic stricken, uplifting, emotionally wonderful moments in my life. I have the feeling that a third and fourth date may not be quiet or uneventful ( in a great way)….but will be sooooo full of laughter. Onward…..

  4. Tanya… are an optimist, even in the thick of a negative and frustrating situation. When I read one of the first sentences of your blog which reads, ‘I was pretty much convinced my week couldn’t get any more exciting,’ only you could choose the word ‘exciting’. There were plenty of other words to choose from but you chose that one. You always seem to throw a twist of funny in your posts. Optimist.

    From the sounds of this blog, it sounds like you are through one of the tougher parts of this next section of the path. You’ve had such great people around you throughout all of this…. a lot of great people. You make good, hard decisions under crazy pressure. You’re right, it’s OK to fall apart. You have to at some point; you have to get it out, then you can move onto the next stage. Totally Tanya. Optimist.

    Go back and look at that light for a quick second…… I see an eye….a big, bright shining eye. Not that I ever want you to have to look at that light again, but maybe this perspective will help the memory fade a bit quicker.

    Love, hugs, prayers, wishes and fairy dust….. all from The Strickland Five.

  5. Oh, I’m so sorry to read that you had an experience very similar to mine. At least I only had the giant HemoVacs the first time….I got the little grenade ones the second time…..LOL.

    I clearly remember watching the entourage of plastic surgery residents squeeze, then pump my right side full of Betadine to a watermelon size before it blew out…and all over my Dr and the room. I too was escorted to a bed on the 5th floor where I stayed for 7 days on IV antibiotics. I had planned to be there overnight. All this because I too had my right side open up just enough to expose my implant. It had been re-cut and re-stitched a month before but the infection didn’t show its face until my antibiotic pills ran out. After my cleanse procedure and 6 more weeks of IV antibiotics, delivered to me from the IV bag I carried around with me 24/7, my body and my right implant decided it was finally time to actually heal. I had made 9 trips to Winnipeg in 8 months. Its a really good thing I love my Dr. and his Entourage because I seen a LOT of them during my journey.

    I wished so badly for you to not have this happen, you’ve already been through a lot. I’m sending healing thoughts and good wishes for you!! I truly feel your pain as I have walked in your shoes not that long ago. Finally I’m happy with my reconstructed chest. I sincerely hope your body heals for you this time and you can prepare for a new reconstruction. If I can help you in any way to let you know your not alone with your experience….please get in touch with me…..

    Hopefully your third date isn’t quite so exciting!! Hugs and good wishes to you for good healing this time.

    • Thanks so much, Cathy. It all happened very quickly, and so for that I guess I can be thankful. At this point I am focusing on healing and am very much looking forward to the trip to Winnipeg this Wednesday to rid myself of these drains so that I can get used to this new reality of mine. I’m so glad your experience ended up working out for the best for you. It’s a tough road!

  6. Tanya, I just read your blog, and it brought tears to my eyes. I had a single tram flap reconstruction 10 years ago, and although its caused its share of grief over the years, I never regretted the decision. I can’t imagine the blow you must have felt with a reconstruction failure. I love that you are remembering to view this not as a cancer issue, which its not. Just a hurdle you have to jump, but jump you will. And you will get accustomed to looking at your new body in the mirror. The scars are the gold medals to remind cancer that you HAVE WON!


    • Hi Tracey, Thanks for the encouragement, and for understanding what a blow this has been. It’s crazy that this feels like one of the most difficult parts of this trip to date. As for getting accustomed, lace is helping. 🙂

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