Reading about so many different breast cancer stories on social media lately has led me to realize how unexpected my path has been. In the past year and a half I realize my thoughts and feelings have ricocheted like a pinball machine. They evolved and changed so many times throughout this journey I was frequently confused by my emotions and reactions, like I was living in the Bizaro world. When people ask how I felt about this or that, my answer would depend on when you asked. When I first saw my breast surgeon and he said he recommended a mastectomy and radiation I was mostly relieved because now there’s a plan of action. He sent me to the plastic surgeon who explained he would be placing tissue expanders immediately following the mastectomy to start the reconstruction process. At my pre-op appointment my breast surgeon said that the plastic surgeon likely didn’t know I was having radiation and that he would recommend waiting on reconstruction. He called my plastic surgeon right then and there on his cell phone and we all had a discussion about why it was important to wait until everything had healed after radiation. My stomach clenched in disappointment (what?! I have to wait like a year?!) but only for an instant. Deep down I knew it was the right decision but it was a let down.
In the hours prior to my surgery I started freaking out, how’s this going to work exactly? Will it be like slicing flank steak? But when I woke up, maybe it was the drugs, I felt relieved. I was nervous about the pathology report but I was at peace with having my boobs gone. That was unexpected.
Prior to surgery I was positive that I wanted breast forms to wear in my bra, at least to work. Well after the mastectomy I was not allowed to wear a bra for a long time and so by then I was used to going au natural. I honestly didn’t care. I was getting ready to start chemo and I was laser focused on that and all it entailed like hair loss and sickness. So no prosthetic bra or breast forms for me but I did stock up on peasant blouses. Plus news of my cancer diagnosis and mastectomy had already traveled throughout the office. I didn’t try to keep it secret. I would have felt very conspicuous showing up all of a sudden with boobs.
When my hair started falling out a couple of weeks after my first round of chemo I thought it would be calamitous and heartbreaking. My husband buzzed it down to a 1/4 inch and as it turns out, it wasn’t traumatic it was freeing. I was taking control of something. I went to work with it like that for a few days too. A week or so later it was so patchy I shaved it shiny bald. Prior to chemo I looked at lots of wigs and was dead set on getting one and wearing it. But comfort won out because it was Phoenix in July. I had scarves and wore them for about a week but then switched to hats because for me the scarf was saying “chemo patient.” It was just a psychological thing because you could still see I was bald in my hats but I just felt a little bit closer to my old self in them. I went commando at home or in my car. It was actually awesome to get those WTF looks from other drivers.
During the months following my mastectomy I actually pondered the idea of foregoing reconstruction. I didn’t want more painful surgery and recovery. I just wanted to be done. But by January 2016, eight months post mastectomy, I was getting tired of camouflaging my chest and admitted to myself I wanted breasts again. The reconstruction process has been long and painful and more than once I questioned my original decision to go forward with it, but now that I am preparing for the next phase – my implant exchange surgery November 8th, I am confident in the decisions I’ve made however arduous the process.
I’ve learned that until you’re living through an experience first hand, you can’t really predict how you will feel or react and your feelings may even change several times. I would have never thought I could blog about or put a humorous spin on my situation but I’ve been doing just that and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As I was reveling in my Saturday night bowl of ice cream with Hershey’s syrup I was thinking about my diet and how I’ve become kind of half-assed about the changes I vowed to make following my cancer diagnosis. I’ve improved my diet considerably and lost a fair amount of weight during treatment, but it’s reached a plateau. I am a size 16 and that is about 3 sizes bigger than I should be. These past few months it has been very hard to exercise because of the pain from my expanders. But there is no excuse for not tightening up my diet. I’ve even tried to justify to myself that I deserve a reward after all I’ve been through, if I want a brownie I’m having a damn brownie. I may not have that many brownies left in my life. I gave up alcohol you guys, I’ve got to have SOMETHING. But in the end it’s not really a reward if I’m not at a healthy weight and in turn, increasing my risk factors for cancer recurrence. I don’t want to become a vegan but I do want to be more consistent with eating clean. Some changes I’ve already made include no more frozen Lean Cuisine type meals and limiting canned soups, or other prepackaged foods with artificial ingredients and preservatives. I very rarely eat fast food. I buy organic or natural chicken and deli meats, eggs and olive oil or natural cooking spray, I rarely have soda, and I also buy organic produce as much as possible. The nutritionist that visited me during chemotherapy gave me this list which indicates which produce you should strive to buy organic. It’s called the dirty dozen-clean fifteen. I may have already posted this, but I think it’s helpful and I do try to adhere to it.
There is so much information about cancer causing foods and toxic products sometimes I wish I just lived off the grid. Everywhere I turn I’m inundated with ads pushing natural this and organic that. And it’s not just food-it’s candles, shampoos, deodorants, makeup, household cleaning products and the list goes on. Let’s examine the food. As a cancer survivor it is recommended I forego sugar, meat, certain produce exposed to pesticides, grapefruit, white flour, polyunsaturated and saturated fats just to name a few. According to breastcancer.org, “research is needed to better understand the effect of diet on breast cancer risk. But it is clear that calories do count — and fat is a major source of calories. High-fat diets can lead to being overweight or obese, which is a breast cancer risk factor. Overweight women are thought to be at higher risk for breast cancer because the extra fat cells make estrogen, which can cause extra breast cell growth. This extra growth increases the risk of breast cancer.” In my case the cancer was estrogen driven and with my body mass index those cells were executing a sneak attack and hostile takeover of my left breast and plotting occupation of my right. I found a website where you can click on a food and it tells you whether it’s good, bad or indifferent to cancer.
Just about everything I clicked on said stuff like “bacon is not recommended for breast cancer” and “cheese is not recommended for breast cancer.” It looks like a plant based diet is recommended. It’s really a lot of information to absorb so I’m going to try and continue to make changes a little at a time like baby steps. I do know there is very little chance I will observe a 100% white sugar-white flour-dairy-gluten-gmo-animal protein free diet but I don’t think it has to be all or nothing.
Next stop-surgery. The next phase of my reconstruction which is the expander-implant exchange, is in two and a half weeks. My pre-op with The Boob Whisperer is Monday so I need to start writing down my questions to be prepared.
It’s official. I’m all “filled up.” Or at least as full as I can get. I’ve had 800 cc each of saline injected into my expanders and 800 is the largest size implant legally sold in the U.S. Before y’all freak (the largest?! WTF?!) Remember I was starting with NOTHING. Complete flatness. Less than even what a man has-a man with no pecs. My daughter told me I didn’t have to expand them as large as I am, and I thought about that. She’s right. I could’ve stopped at a B cup and called it a day. My reasoning was twofold. First, I’m a fuller figured girl. I want symmetry with my hips. Second, I do feel like after all I’ve been through, I deserve to look the way I want to look. I was a small C cup before cancer, and I will probably end up with a full C/small D so it’s not like I’m becoming Dolly Parton. My surgery is set for November 8 so goodbye coconuts, it’s been fun but you’re so outa here. My breast quest is almost over except for my 3D tattoo nipples which are a few months down the road.
I had my last fill on Monday. On Tuesday I went to work and by 3 pm I was slowly melting down. I was hurting so bad. I think knowing that the end of this painfest was within reach kind of gave my this bittersweet weepiness. I have not really cried all that much over the last year and a half. I cried after I got my diagnosis, and when I had to tell anyone I had cancer, and also a few times at night when I would beg God not to take me from my little girl. But really I was so busy kicking ass and taking names, I didn’t really feel like crying all that often. Tuesday it all came to a head and I had to leave work early. I felt a bit like I was wimping out and having a pity party. I thought about how strong I’ve been up until now. But maybe that’s why the tears came when they did. Maybe I kept shoving them down until the dam broke. Maybe being in pain 24/7 just pushed me over the edge. Maybe I needed all my physical and mental strength to fight and crying had to take a back seat. For most of my adult life, when I would feel a crying jag coming on, I had a little trick to stop it. Especially if I’m doing the choke-sob ugly cry face. I would say to myself “there’s no crying in baseball!” And then I would cry-laugh like a giggling psychopath.
(Side note: your life is not complete if you don’t know who said that and in which movie-okay hint):
I laugh when I feel like laughing so it stands to reason I need to allow myself to cry when I feel like crying.
Since it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month I’m going to ask that everyone who reads my blog tell at least two people something about breast cancer they learned from any of my posts. For a disease that affects 1 in 8 women or 12%, we need to spread the word about all aspects of breast cancer, including the reconstruction process.
Ow ow ow ow ow. That’s me-All. Day. Long. And getting up from a laying down position is like I’m a beetle stuck on its back. It requires a strategic rocking motion to get the momentum to heave myself up. I’ve got one maybe two fills left in my expanders. The Boob Whisperer is going to check my bra again on Monday so Hallefuckingluja. Forget water boarding, these expanders would have terrorists spilling secrets like WikiLeaks.
October is breast cancer awareness month. If I’m being honest I don’t think I even knew that until last October, or if I did know, I didn’t pay attention. I was busy living my life and worrying about everything but breast cancer. I think that unless you or a loved one has experienced breast cancer, it’s fairly easy to not think about it. Let’s face it, it’s scary to think about it. Something I’ve noticed is there are a lot of opinions about the pink ribbon campaign, whether it’s actually having a meaningful impact or it’s just a big empty pink promises gimmick. I honestly don’t know the answer to that but what I do know is a lot of people know way more about breast cancer than they used to because I educate anyone who will listen, and probably some who don’t want to listen. I did my own research to determine what organizations spend percentage of dollars to funding and how they spend their funding, i.e. research, treatment, care and financial support, etc. and I encourage anyone who is interested in supporting any cause to do the same.
Recently this photo appeared on my Facebook newsfeed from The Animal Rescue Site.
Animals and animal causes are very near and dear to my heart and when I saw this, I thought how cool it is that one cause is supporting another cause. My gut reaction when I first saw the photo was joy followed by laughter. Who doesn’t love dogs, right? Well I started reading the comments and some were positive, some informative-did you know dogs can get breast cancer? They refer to it as mammary cancer. There were also many who said it was inappropriate or insensitive. That breast cancer is not about saving breasts, it’s about saving women who are dying. I never thought people did not understand that the boobs are attached to the women. I never thought anyone would be more concerned about the breasts than the women they’re attached to. But some commenters said there is a pervasive sexualization of this disease. Maybe there is and I just don’t recognize it. There were Stage IV women who commented that there is nothing humorous about cancer. I absolutely agree, but it’s the little opportunities life gives us to laugh and smile that are so important for the soul. I’ll take those opportunities wherever I can. I was diagnosed at Stage III, maybe I would have a different outlook if I was Stage IV but I don’t think so. What I saw in this photo were adorable Rescue dogs wearing pink balloons giving me a much appreciated chuckle. For me, it is just that simple.