A Year Later, and Hairier, and Thankful

What a difference a year makes. I’m actually keeping it like it is now since it takes all of three minutes to style it. My hair has been on quite a journey. I do miss not having to shave though, that was awesome.

At this time of giving thanks I consider just a few of my blessings.

1. I am here to celebrate another Thanksgiving and Christmas with my wonderful friends and family.
2. This holiday season I have breasts and hair (although I honestly didn’t care about not having them last year).
3. I haven’t gained back any of the weight I lost during treatment (although I don’t want to jinx myself when I’m going to be bombarded by sugar in the coming weeks).
4. I am still off alcohol (so all you guys on Facebook flaunting your drinks-you totally suck).
5. Although I have many new fears, I am trying very hard not to let them interfere with living my life and appreciating all that God has given me.

On the reconstruction front, I’m still a little sore but it’s improving. They are softening too. It feels so strange to have boobs again, but in a good way. There is still a lot of numbness which may or may not go away. I go back to The Boob Whisperer in three weeks, so I’ll be interested to hear how he thinks they are shaping up. I still have a fair amount of fatigue and I’m sleeping more than usual, although it’s pretty dark and cold now in the morning too. This morning it’s 63 degrees in Phoenix and if you’re not from Phoenix, understand that for us that is COLD. We have extremely thin blood here so anything below 70 requires at least a light jacket. We’re like reptiles who need to lay on a rock in the desert sunning ourselves.

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Flaunting the New Boobs and the Evolution of My Fear

A while back during my time of booblessness I wrote that it seemed like boobs were EVERYWHERE. It still seems like that to me. I’m very conscious of any boobs I encounter. But now I have my own and I’ve been wanting to show them off (in a tasteful, not slutty way of course). They are softening too, which is nice. The Boob Whisperer is a magician. I’m hoping that the spot on my right one fills in like he says it will, but in clothes you can’t tell it’s there. I find myself touching them all the time, even at work so I just hope nobody catches me copping a feel. It’s a very weird feeling because everything is still very numb. My breasts don’t really have any sensation but the muscles are still sore from the exchange surgery two weeks ago.

I was talking with my coworker who had a boob job from The Boob Whisperer a while back and we went in her boss’ office and shut the door so she could see mine and I could feel hers for comparison. Hers were softer but I think I still have swelling. As we were coming out of his office her boss was coming down the hall and saw us and raised his eyebrows and said something like “uh oh that doesn’t look suspicious at all” and we started laughing hysterically. I thought to myself that I haven’t laughed like this in a long time. I hope this means I’m slowly getting back to normal (actually my new normal) which leads me to my next thought.

One thing I see from my pink sisters frequently is that once chemo or radiation is completed there is this sudden feeling of vulnerability. The safety net feels like it has been yanked out from under you. The other shoe is ready to drop at any moment. You’re thankful to be done with chemo and radiation but a part of you feels the loss of that frequent connection with your doctors and nurses. I felt this way very strongly and touched on it here several months ago. I’m feeling it somewhat again now that my reconstruction is almost complete (aside from 3D nipple tattoos and possible minor “adjustments”). I’ve been seeing The Boob Whisperer every week for seven months. Looking back to a year ago when my radiation was completed, I realize that my fear is still there but it’s softened if that makes sense. I wrote about needing vampire mind control to prevent cancer from being my first and last thought every day. I know now that those thoughts will likely always be there but the fear is not as acute as it was a year ago. I still get nervous with any new ache or pain but it’s not the abject terror it used to be. I want my friends and loved ones to know that our fight does not end when treatment does. We don’t wake up one day after treatment is over and say to ourselves “okay I’m cured” and just pick up our lives where we left off before cancer. It has become a part of ourselves and our daily lives and though the fear may fade somewhat into the background it will always be present.

Can I Feel Your Boobs?

Because I don’t really remember what my old ones before cancer felt like and I would like some kind of basis for comparison. My unveiling was last Monday and to say I am pleased would be an understatement. The first thing The Boob Whisperer said when he removed the bandages was “now remember this isn’t the final result.” And I knew this, they are going to “settle” and that could take up to six months and I may need minor adjustments when all is said and done. Honestly my first reaction was elation. I could work with this. They don’t match perfectly but they are the same size and look great in clothes. The right side that had the floob has a slight pucker in the lower right corner but it was WAY worse when I had the coconuts (expanders), and he said that the pucker should fill in. They seem to feel somewhat firmer than the old boobs and definitely perkier.

As of right now I am absolutely satisfied with the results and I am so glad I chose to have reconstruction. There were some rough patches where my resolve wavered because as I’ve said repeatedly, the seven month expansion process was PAINFUL, but in the end I’m so glad I hung in there. To the women who choose not to have reconstruction, I totally get it. It’s like, enough with the surgery already. I could have easily been a Flatty Patty for the rest of my life and there was much about flatness I embraced. It’s a deeply personal decision and I respect and admire all breast cancer survivors whatever their chosen path.

Reconstruction was not all about how I look but also how I feel. Let me tell you what else reconstruction is not, at least for me. It’s not a panacea. I still worry about cancer returning. I still see the scars every day from three surgeries and my chemo port. I see the overly tanned from radiation left side of my chest, even a year later. Reconstruction has returned a piece of me that was taken by cancer and I don’t just mean “well yeah, my boobs, duh.” There are so many seemingly insignificant moments that once you’ve lost your breasts, now become noticeable. Like tying my shoe laces. I used to bend over and feel my breasts against my arms and leg as I was tying. Sleeping without breasts felt different. Standing in the shower, all of a sudden there was my stomach when before I looked down and saw breasts. Just little movements and actions that I’d do throughout the day felt different and each one was a reminder of breasts now gone. Now I feel more like my old self and I don’t automatically look away from my silhouette in the mirror. I was pissed at my family yesterday because when I started talking about the 3D nipple tattoos they were all “why do you need those, who’s even going to see them?” ME that’s who! The 3D nipple tattoos will be my denouement. Monday I go back to The Boob Whisperer and I hope he’ll remove the steri-strips, and perhaps I’ll get some more information about what to expect over the next few months.

One Leaky Coconut and Two New Boobs

Wednesday morning I noticed I sprung a leak in my left expander. The reason I know this is that it no longer felt like a coconut and was ever so slightly squishy. I went in to see The Boob Whisperer and he confirmed my fear and said we should probably bump up my implant exchange surgery to the next day. The danger in waiting until the 8th, the original date, was that there was no way to know if I would lose some of the expansion on that side. It was already starting to look somewhat deflated so I was freaking out. I was thinking, shit by Tuesday I’m going to be monoboobular and I’m going to need some strategic wardrobe planning. The other concern I had was that Monday and Tuesday I had been a bit coughy and sniffly but by Wednesday afternoon I was pretty much back to 100%. So Thursday was the third and (hopefully FINAL) operation in The Great Breast Quest of 2016. I know however, with breast reconstruction there is a good chance I may need some “adjustments.” I’m wrapped in bandages until Monday so I can’t see them yet. My hope is that they just look as symmetrical as possible. I am not expecting perfection. It’s strange not to have my coconuts anymore after having them for seven months. The pain I have now after surgery is different from the expanders, more bruisy and less flesh-being-peeled-away-from-my-body burning sensation. I can’t shower on my upper body so Tomas put the detachable shower head/hose back so I can at least half-shower. I can’t drive until Tuesday either so I feel trapped. There’s not anywhere I’m really anxious to go but it’s the knowing I can’t if I wanted to unless someone drives me.

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I once thought that after I was through with treatment my thoughts of cancer and the fear of it returning would subside. That didn’t happen. Then I thought, okay maybe after the reconstruction process. I don’t see that happening either. The scars are there every day to remind me. My hope is that one day it won’t be my first thought when I wake up and the last thought before I fall asleep. One thing I’ve learned from reading survivor stories from women who are several years out from their diagnosis is that it never totally leaves you. You just learn to live with it. I once thought that it wouldn’t be possible, that I would need some kind of vampire mind control trick, now I just hope it will get easier as I get farther away from it and learn to live my life again.