Here is a recent guest piece I did for IHadCancer.com that I’m pretty proud of and also humbled that they published it.
Getting diagnosed with breast cancer is tough, obviously-but the toughest challenges are not always the obvious ones. Fear of death and dying is just the tip of the iceberg. I am generally known as a fighter and can usually be found facing this beast down with an ass-kicking attitude and a dollop of humor and sarcasm, but there have also been dark days indeed. I had so many fears it seemed like every day new ones I never imagined were popping up in my head. What if I leave things undone? Don’t get to everything on my bucket list? What about mending fences? Like Big Little Lies’ Madeline, “I love my grudges. I tend to them like little pets.” There are so many things to fear when you are diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t believe they can truly be quantified, but I know that my greatest fear was not death per se, or dying, but leaving my only child who at the time was just 12. When I was lying on the table getting the diagnostic ultrasound, my first thought was that of course it was breast cancer, how could it not be? After all, my mom had been diagnosed at around the same age. My second thought was oh my God, Lili. A panic set in like none I’ve ever felt, as though I could already feel myself slipping away from her. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t think. The room started to spin so I squeezed my eyes shut. I even thought, if I hadn’t had a child I wouldn’t have this agony. I couldn’t get past the fear that I would be sucked out of her future. Lili and I are close – as close as a mother and daughter can be, and the thought that I might not be here to see her graduate high school and college, get married, have babies, was the most gut-wrenching experience of my entire life, without a doubt.
People often ask how Lili took the news when we told her about my breast cancer. Well, she was 12, so old enough to understand the concept of cancer and dying, but also at an age when she’s going through her own pre-teen experiences and struggles. At that age, I believe girls are pretty wrapped up with themselves which to me was a good thing. We kept it from her at first, until we met with the surgeon, but she knew something was wrong. Kids are way more intuitive than we think. She seemed to understand breast cancer is a serious thing but we were able to allay most of her fears by explaining the different surgeries and treatments I would be facing. She was upset and scared, but hopeful and I like to think it was mostly due to my attitude and tone. You see, I had already gotten into battle mode, kicking ass and taking names, and she knows when that happens I am unstoppable. But it is virtually impossible to stay in that frame of mind 24/7. There are times when I might silently scream and cry in the shower. Sometimes I’m replaying Debra Winger in her hospital bed saying goodbye to her kids and worrying about how the hell Flap was going to raise them. Luckily Tomas is so much more competent than Flap but still, I think little girls and moms have a special relationship.
As it turns out, Lili was my rock. She really stepped up to the plate and helped out her Dad in taking care of me, the house, and the pets after my surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. I could count on her to have empathy but also treat me the same, and not as a sick person. I might have been boobless and bald, and have 1/10th of my usual energy (which wasn’t a whole lot to begin with), but I was still the same Mommy. I still had all the mad Mommy skills, like love, wisdom and humor. We could still talk about clothes, hairstyles, music and world events. We could still discuss teenagerhood that is just over the horizon. We could still hang out, and just be. While the fear of leaving her too soon is still there, it’s fading somewhat. When I catch my mind veering off in that direction, I remind myself cancer will not steal my joy and I must cherish every moment I have with her.
Jill Brzezinski-Conley’s story is amazing, inspiring, and incredibly sad. Her light is still burning bright.
I made my first visit to New Jersey this past weekend and the circumstances surrounding this trip are pretty freaking cool. I belong to a Facebook breast cancer support group which I also help moderate. There are two admins and one other moderator of this group, and I met all three of these kickass ladies for the first time at Mary’s Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. One actually lives in New Jersey, one lives in New York, and the other lady and I are from Arizona. Mary’s Place is a spa/retreat for women undergoing cancer treatment or are recent cancer survivors. We each had our own rooms with our own bathrooms, common areas for recreation and dining, and vegetarian breakfast and lunch were provided. The food was excellent. For dinner the four of us went out partying, raised hell and painted the town pink (which is actually code for walking to the local pub and taking Uber back to Mary’s).
During our stay we were offered complimentary treatments such as gentle yoga, oncology massage, reflexology, meditation and others that escape my memory just now. There were other ladies outside of our group staying at Mary’s for the weekend and all but one were breast cancer survivors. This is how prevalent breast cancer is. It’s disturbing and sinister.
Besides having the opportunity to visit this incredible retreat and meet my three group admin counterparts, we conducted a Facebook Live Q&A and prize giveaway session for our group of nearly 7,000 members while we were there. One of the interesting aspects of our collective experience, is all four of us had varying diagnoses and treatments. All four of us have undergone bilateral mastectomies, three of us have had chemotherapy, one has had radiation and three have had reconstruction surgery. So even though we are all not necessarily boobless anymore, we did lose our breasts. The ones God gave us. The ones that showed up at puberty and later fed our children. They were perky and saggy, big and small and somewhere in between. We might have loved them or hated them or a combination of both during our lifetime but one thing is for certain-we never wanted to lose them to cancer. We now have each other to lean on, to lift up when we are down, to understand how much of our lives are affected by this disease. I cannot imagine my life without these ladies in it. #breastfriendsforever
It has been almost two years since I finished my active treatment. Bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and now pills to block the estrogen that fueled my breast cancer. I will never live my life as I once did wandering around like cancer can’t touch me, all cocky and invincible. Life is fragile and it’s taken me several stages throughout my life to realize that. I had a mother who died at 54 from health related crises and a brother who died at 40 in a motorcycle accident so one would think I would’ve had an appreciation for my tenuous existence here on earth.
I once said breast cancer wasn’t driving my life any longer but it was still a very noticeable passenger in my car riding shotgun. I think I am able to say it’s moved to the back seat now. Cancer is actually not the first thought in my mind when I wake up in the morning which I thought would NEVER happen. I mostly go about my day without obsessing over my fear of recurrence or my constant symptoms from my cancer prevention medication. For those who are still in the thick of it or just feel as though they are, make no mistake my anxiety and fear is still present, but it’s no longer in the foreground. Sometimes it wanders there if I feel a new ache or pain, but it no longer has me by the figurative balls. I feel like if a recurrence does happen down the road (and being Stage III it would not be unheard of), I am more prepared. I don’t know if it’s just time passing, or something I did subconsciously to change my mindset but a new kind of serenity and acceptance has been slowly creeping in. No matter what happens, cancer won’t stop me from living my life while I am here, however long that happens to be. I am continuing down the road of life and eventually cancer is going to get kicked out of the car completely, we’re just not there yet. FYI he’s an asshole so don’t pick him up.
Something I see frequently is breast cancer survivors saying that they want their old life back. In my own case, I can say with 100% certainty that I do not want the life that I was living at the time of my diagnosis back. That woman is someone else. It’s not that I don’t like her, but I like new me better and for me, saying I want my pre-cancer life back is analogous to saying I want to be 25 again. I definitely do not want to go through my 20’s again especially without knowing what I know now. Can you imagine re-learning not to drink different types of liquor throughout a night of partying? Or that your utilities will actually be turned off or your car will be repossessed when you don’t pay the bills? How about realizing that you are not even close to being as clever as you thought you were? Maybe you guys were a lot smarter than me but in my 20’s I pissed away more money, took the most terrible jobs, and made the worst dating decisions ever. I do hate more than anything that I got cancer but I would never want to undo the knowledge, strength, determination and hope I discovered within myself because of it. And the friendships. I have met the most extraordinary people on this journey. If going back in time means I lose all of that, NOPE.
Last weekend I went on my first out of town trip since my diagnosis in April, 2015. Usually we go on a beach trip at least once per year but 2015 was the year of The Cancer, The Bilateral Mastectomy, The Chemotherapy and The Radiation. 2016 was the year of The Reconstruction. So last Saturday we traveled to San Diego for a few fabulous and cool weather filled days on the beach and one day at the awesome San Diego Zoo. I wore a swimsuit for the first time since cancer. I have to admit I wish I never had to lose my boobs but these new ones are pretty damn nice in a swimsuit top. Also it is AWESOME not to have to ever worry about a bra.
So one bad thing that happened was I had another fall (for those who don’t know, I am blind in my left eye and trip, fall, and bump into things fairly regularly). More about that here. I was walking with my daughter and husband on the pier and was taking steps forward with my phone to capture a picture of some ducks in the harbor and of course I tripped and fell. On cement. It hurt like a motherfucker too and the scab and bruise didn’t look very good with shorts or my swimsuit. After boogie-boarding with Lili for an hour, and on top of my ouchie I was so freaking sore and tired. I’m 51 but I felt like 80 years old instead of my usual 70 but I was on vacation and I was going to enjoy myself dammit.
I am so grateful for this trip because first – it’s like a sauna in Phoenix right now and second – the beach is my very favorite place on earth. I don’t know if it’s my new appreciation for life or what but the ocean air smelled better than I ever remembered, the sunsets were more beautiful, and the feel of the ocean waves against my poor scarred and battered body was like heaven. It’s true for me that I do enjoy life more now. I have the stiff joints of a 70 year old and hot flashes from my cancer medication but I am powering through it. I am so thankful to still be here and I feel as though I am working hard to appreciate life’s moments and opportunities that I was oblivious to in my old life. I don’t know how my life would’ve turned out if I hadn’t gotten breast cancer and I will never know, so what-iffing is pointless. I am not thankful for cancer but I will always be thankful for the confidence, strength and appreciation for life’s little miracles cancer has given me. My soon-to-be-in-high school daughter gets it too because she thanks God for the gift of each day.
I’ve mentioned that I’m in a few breast cancer support groups on Facebook. It saddens me that so many women are traveling down the path I did in 2015. There are hundreds of posts that talk about what you’ll need for a Mastectomy. Stuff like button up shirts (I wore oversized soft men’s cotton T-shirts instead because they were comfier), gadgets to hold your drains, a recliner or a pillow mountain for sleeping and lots of other little useful items related to comfort and efficiency. Things you’ll need in the hospital. I was only there one night so all I really needed was my phone and my book.
But what do you need mentally to be prepared? I can’t imagine a single thing that could’ve prepared my mind for this surgery. Or my heart and soul for that matter. The last day of work prior to my bilateral mastectomy was a Tuesday and I was sitting by two of my coworkers at the end of the day and they were looking at me with such pained expressions, like I was getting ready to face the electric chair. I was terrified, and jealous. Jealous that Thursday would just be another day for them. I felt as though life was moving forward for everyone else but me. The feeling reminded me of those space movies where one of the astronauts is left outside the ship and can’t get back in because he’s lost his tether and the other astronauts know there’s nothing they can do to help so they’re staring out the window in sympathy. Nobody tells you how alone you will feel. My husband and daughter were with me every step of the way. I had wonderful friends who stood by me. But I was completely alone. For a long time I felt like I was separated from the rest of civilization. Nobody could come close to understanding the depth of my fear and loneliness. I really only felt comfortable and like I belonged when I was around my doctors and nurses. Everyone told me how strong I was and I guess I am. I’ve had some life events that’ve toughened me up in my 51 years but nothing prepared me for cancer. I don’t know how it happened because I didn’t feel especially strong but something deep down took hold of me and turned me into a soldier fighting a war. I like to think it was God giving me the weapons I needed to fight.
Another thing nobody really tells you is what to expect physically. How does this work exactly? Are they sliced off like prime rib? What’s it going to look like? I’d seen photos but they all looked different. When my bandages came off I looked right away. The first photo is not right after my mastectomy but a few months later after chemotherapy and radiation. The tan radiated demarcation is pretty noticeable.
I wasn’t horrified but I couldn’t imagine how The Boob Whisperer was going to fix it. Well after Latissimus Dorsi flap with bilateral tissue expanders, seven months of expansion and implant exchange surgery he did. I’ve still got a bit of extra skin on the right side he said he could remove and I’m planning on the 3D nipple tattoos. Some women actually get plaster casts of their breasts before their mastectomy. I never even thought about that. I didn’t even take a goodbye boobs pic. The Boob Whisperer has a photo but I’ve never seen it. What’s the point? In the end they turned against me. They tried to take my life. I don’t mourn them and I don’t wish I could’ve kept them. But I am forever changed and that’s okay.
Medicine isn’t an exact science. I was reminded of this when I saw the cardiologist to follow up after my heart attack-not heart attack a few weeks ago. The cardiologist I saw in the hospital went on maternity leave so I saw her colleague and the first thing he told me was “you were given the wrong diagnosis.” He went on to explain why I had viral pleurisy and not pericarditis. He said they present the same and are treated the same so basically no harm done. Okay, not really sure how I feel about that.
In other news I had my four month oncologist appointment. Something that others might not understand is the doctor/nurse and cancer patient relationship. One of the more difficult parts of completing chemotherapy and radiation is the loss of day to day contact with my doctors and nurses. It’s immensely comforting to know you have these amazing people battling with you who understand your fear and loneliness because cancer can make you feel so isolated. When I finished treatment and would no longer see my oncologist every three weeks I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. It was hard to let go of what felt like a security blanket. As much as I dread the anxiety leading up to my oncologist appointments, I feel comforted just talking with him.
So my oncologist read my lab results and said all was as it should be. Phew. But Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, it’s amazing how I can go from living my life, minding my own business to totally losing my shit while sitting in his office waiting. It’s humbling. Just when I feel like shit’s under control, the days leading up to these oncologist appointments are riddled with trepidation. Then the words “everything looks good” are spoken and the breath I’ve been holding is released into the universe along with all my bad panicky juju. I’m doing mental cheerleading moves and I want to Whip and Nae Nae with his awesome nurse whose name is also Kelly. So as I slide back into life, the cancerphobia slips into the background. At least until my next four month appointment. #kickingcancersass #cancercanfuckitself
Today I came across the heartbreaking story of Kelly Owchar, a 30 year old mom to a 2 year old son and newborn twin daughters, who recently died from breast cancer. I cannot stress enough how important it is to pay attention to ANY differences in your breasts, nipples and armpits. Any differences. There are so many myths circulating, like breast cancer doesn’t “hurt.” Well, that is false because it can totally hurt. Or breast cancer is largely genetic. Only 5-10% of cases are attributable to breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Prior to my own diagnosis, I had no idea there were different types of breast cancer and they could present in many different ways.
Perform your self-exams. Get your annual screening. If you have dense breasts, many states including Arizona, have laws in place requiring radiologists to inform you that you have dense breasts and you should speak with your doctor about possible additional screening like 3D mammography. This is because cancer can hide in dense breast tissue, especially my type of breast cancer, invasive lobular carcinoma. Even then, imaging tests are not 100% accurate 100% of the time. I’ve said this before but it bears mentioning again – I had a mammogram, ultrasound and MRI on both breasts. My tumor was detected on the left breast, and this was not a surprise because it was considerably large. What were not detected were the precancerous cells in my right breast found only on pathology following my bilateral mastectomy. Also, my diagnosis came two months before I was due for my annual mammogram. I finally noticed one day that my left nipple had gone flat. That was the tumor. If you feel something is not right, ask your doctor for another test or seek a second opinion. Pay attention ladies and spread the word.
Please read the poignant story of Kelly Owchar here. In her case, she dismissed the signs as post-partum symptoms which is so easy to do, especially when breast cancer screening is not recommended for women younger than 40.
I want to talk about Olivia Newton-John. As most people have read, she has recently disclosed that her breast cancer has returned and it has metastasized to the sacrum. This means she is now stage 4. I do not know what her staging was when she was first diagnosed twenty-five years ago but regardless, stage 4 means she will need targeted treatment for the foreseeable future. I just pray she gets another twenty-five years. This is another example of how insidious breast cancer is. You can have no evidence of disease for years, and in her case, a couple of decades, and then bam! It can hide in your body, dormant for a year, or a quarter of a century or more before rearing its ugly head again.
We have got to live our lives like tomorrow isn’t promised because it really isn’t. Here is one of the more informative articles about Olivia Newton-John’s breast cancer recurrence. Rock on Olivia, you are one bad mammajamma and I know you are going to kick cancer’s ass. Again.
I was feeling somewhat celebratory earlier this week since it was my two year bilateral mastectomy anniversary on May 21st. I read somewhere that making it past the two year mark without recurrence is a considerable milestone. I’ll take it, but I’m not counting those chickens just yet. I am a fighter but also have a healthy respect for superstition. I am so thankful to my friends and family and all my pink warrior sisters for standing by me and lifting me up.
This is going to sound so cliché, but it is always fucking something. Late Tuesday night, around 11 p.m. I started getting sharp pains on the left side of my chest. The pain also radiated across to my shoulder. I know what you’re thinking because yeah that’s what I was thinking. HEART ATTACK. So I tried lying in different positions but nothing was helping. I don’t have any personal or family history of heart problems, no high blood pressure or cholesterol. I don’t even think I’ve ever had heartburn. But by the morning I was pretty freaked out. Tomas has had a really bad flu these past few days so I told him I was going to drive myself to the ER. He suggested I start with Urgent Care and even though I knew that was a pointless and useless idea I did it. Of course during my examination the nurse practitioner asked me “why did you come here and not the ER?” Me: “um…..” So against their advice I drove myself the two miles or so to John C. Lincoln North Mountain. Tomas was very sick and I was not going to ask him to drive me the two miles in his condition and I was closer to the hospital than he was. I texted Lili to to let her know what was going on. She asked me what does against medical advice mean? I told her it means I don’t want to pay a few hundred dollars for ambulance transport.
When I got to the ER of course it was filled with what appeared to be a bunch of people who did not look the least bit sick and meanwhile I could be having a heart attack. I was taken back quickly and given an EKG. No heart attack. Okay then, riddle me this, why does it feel like there is an ice pick stuck in my chest? No I am not exaggerating. I like to think I’m pretty tough but this was like no pain I have ever encountered. I was going to pass out. I asked the nurse if I could stay in the room on the table after the EKG and she said no sorry, we might need it for a cardiac patient. “Can’t I stay here until then?” “Um no, I’m sorry.” “You mean SORRY, NOT SORRY.” Bitch. I was ushered into a second waiting room with more people who, again, mostly did not look very sick to me. Well, except the lady who may or may not have had a broken leg. The pain was so bad I started panicking. And crying. Sobbing. Choke-sobbing, which was making the pain worse. Nobody made eye contact with me. In fact everyone pretty much acted like I wasn’t there. Nurses literally walked right by obviously making a concerted effort to not notice me. I guess until it’s your turn you just do not exist. Finally someone took pity on me and found a room for me. As long as you’re well enough to howl in pain it’s not considered a real emergency. After a while they finally gave me IV Morphine and Toradol which is an antiinflammatory. Then they had to give me MORE Morphine. That was when I started to be taken seriously and not like some psycho howler monkey. During this time I keep thinking what the fuck is this? Is it a tumor? Is it cancer metastasis? Because once you’ve had cancer, that’s how your mind works. I think I’ve been doing pretty well with my anxiety about recurrence. The panicky feelings may not be as acute now, two years later, but they are still there.
More tests were performed, chest CT, echocardiogram, and blood work. Cardiac enzymes were elevated. I had a cardiology and infectious disease consult and they both concluded I had pericarditis which according to the American Heart Association is described as follows:
“inflammation of the pericardium, two thin layers of a sac-like tissue that surrounds the heart, holds it in place and helps it work. A small amount of fluid keeps the layers separate so that there’s no friction between them. A common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain, caused by the sac’s layers becoming inflamed and possibly rubbing against the heart. It may feel like pain from a heart attack.” No shit.
I asked what causes it. “Sometimes we don’t know what causes it but it can be caused by a virus, is there anyone sick at your house?” “Well there’s a guy with a raging fever who’s been puking his guts out, does that count?” So after my echocardiogram to make sure that my heart wasn’t damaged by chemotherapy or radiation, they sprung me loose yesterday. I need to take 600 mg of ibuprofen twice a day and follow up with the cardiologist. I do not need more doctors. For the love of all that is holy, can I please lose some of these doctors?
With Mother’s Day around the corner I want to talk about my mom. She died in 2002 at the age of 55. I think as I approach my 51st birthday I find myself thinking about her. We had a good relationship albeit somewhat volatile at times. She had emotional and psychological problems that dogged her throughout her life. Her own mother abandoned my grandfather, my mother and her brother as small children. She got married at 18 to an abusive and controlling man, my father. When she was 37 and I was 18, she finally summoned the resolve to leave him. She had been a stay at home mom through most of my childhood and once my brother and I were in high school she went to work. Despite her emotional and mental baggage she was extremely successful and smart. Over the next 15 years she battled mental illness and alcoholism. In 1999 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t know anything about staging or the different types. She admitted the tumor had been there for years, but she was afraid to have it checked. She was malnourished and in an unhealthy state, so much so, chemotherapy was not recommended. Plus, she was still drinking heavily. In 2002 she died and we don’t know exactly how, but it looks like maybe the cancer had returned or she had cirrhosis of the liver. I feel like I let her down but in all honesty she never wanted to listen to those who were trying to help her, or maybe she just couldn’t.
Flash forward to 2015 and there I am with breast cancer. I recalled my mom in the hospital after her single mastectomy and she was screaming in pain. Yes I said screaming. That was my limited experience with breast cancer and mastectomies. When I received my diagnosis and learned I was going to have a bilateral mastectomy, I recalled my mother’s screams and I was terrified. My last day at work before surgery was horrible. I walked around looking either like a zombie or a deer in headlights. People offered words of love and support but I felt like a death row inmate to whom people were paying their last respects. An amazing thing happened after I awoke from surgery, I was in pain, I was frightened, but I wasn’t feeling like screaming bloody murder as my mom had. It was manageable. I had done it. I was even capable of making jokes with my husband. I wished my mom was alive to see me, be there for me. It was something we could’ve fought together.
I’ve done a lot in my life to undo the damage inflicted by my dysfunctional and abusive father. I married a man who treats me with love and respect. Equally important, he cherishes and loves our daughter. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m often jealous I missed out on that with my own father. Until I had my daughter and saw this amazing father-daughter relationship I really didn’t think about him. But after Lili was born it was hard not to. As far back as I can remember, like maybe kindergarten, I hated my father. Yes hated. He did mean things to my brother and me, playing on our fears, berating us, treating our friends like crap. Physical, emotional and mental abuse. He knew I had a paralyzing fear of insects and thought a great practical joke would be to put dead bugs under his 10 year old daughter’s pillow. Or castigating my friends and calling them losers. How are elementary school aged kids losers? And drinking. Drinking and driving. Drinking and hitting. My mother often made excuses, he is scarred from Vietnam where he served in the Marine Corps., or his parents were abusive. After a while I was like okay blah blah blah, so what? Lots of people grow up in bad situations and are not rotten bastards. I really didn’t blame her for her own drinking problem because that was probably the only way she could cope. I held great anger towards her for not protecting us from our father for many years. I let go of that anger, realizing she did the best she could with the hand she had been dealt. I’m not excusing it, but carrying the anger around doesn’t solve anything. I choose to remember her as the Girl Scout leader, soccer coach, home designer and decorator, a mom who baked cookies and made sure we did our homework, who taught us about God and how to appreciate all of His blessings. And I know she loved my brother and me, I have no doubt about that. I also know she is no longer in pain and anguish, but someplace where she is at peace, with my grandparents, my brother, and our sweet Airedale terrier Shelly. Happy Mother’s Day Mom.
I’ve been on Letrozole now for about two months. You may recall from my prior post that Letrozole is an aromatase inhibitor. Without going into the science behind why I need to take it, let’s just say taking it reduces the chances of breast cancer recurrence and metastases. If you’re wondering what the difference is, according to breast cancer.org, a recurrence happens when breast cancer reappears in the same or opposite breast or chest wall. Metastasis is when breast cancer cells spread to another part of the body through the blood stream or lymphatic system. Metastatic breast cancer can be recurrent breast cancer if the original cancer has come back and spread to another part of the body. But most doctors use the term “locally recurrent” to describe breast cancer that has come back in the same breast/chest wall and “metastatic” to describe breast cancer that has spread to or come back in another part of the body. But I digress. Since I’ve been on Letrozole my joints have been stiff and sore, but I can deal with that. What is becoming a huge problem for me is fatigue. I don’t recall feeling this tired on Tamoxifen (what I took prior to Letrozole). It’s like I have narcolepsy you guys. I fall asleep so fast, it’s like I hear fingers snap and I’m out, like hypnosis or something. All I want to do is nap. Here’s me at work.I know exercise is supposed to help boost energy and metabolism but I barely have have energy to walk around the block. So I need energy to get more energy. It’s like I need to put the cart before the horse, or maybe I’m the horse and cart has to pull me. I’m thinking of calling my oncologist about this but how much do you want to bet he tells me to exercise? My diet has been better but not consistent. Easter was a ten day long sugar extravaganza. The other day I was looking in the pantry for something to narf and I noticed someone had turned my Medifast shaker into a cat food scooper. I’m sure there’s some sort of symbolism there. On a more positive note I found an awesome page on Facebook called cleanfoodcrush with this chick named Rachel who posts simple clean eating recipes. They can be as easy or as complicated as you want. I’ve been slowly trying some of her recipes and they are tasty, simple and healthy. I totally recommend checking her out.
Unfortunately my foobs are in a holding pattern. I still need that little bit of extra skin removed on the right side and my 3D nipple tattoos after that. I was hoping to accomplish both of these items by the end of the year but it’s not looking promising. The Boob Whisperer is STILL not contracted with my insurance company (which is the only health insurer in Maricopa County offering an individual health plan). But I’m 95% done and I’m still very blessed and pleased with what I have. I was just hoping to be done with it once and for all and be able to move forward.
Two years ago today I got “that” call. The “you have breast cancer” call. It was surreal because one part of my brain was saying “whoops sorry big mistake, it’s not you.” Another part heard “oh my God, you are dying.” I thanked the radiologist and was about to hang up when she asked if I wanted to know what kind it was. Kind? There are different kinds? I wrote it down-invasive lobular carcinoma. I’d no idea yet what that means exactly but soon I would know more than I ever thought to know about breast cancer.
It happened on a Wednesday, my day off, and I’d been waiting for it. I don’t know how I managed to power through that day, or even that week. I was home alone, twelve year old daughter at school, husband off the grid in Nepal and he wouldn’t be home until Sunday. No family to speak of besides in-laws who live in the Czech Republic and out of state cousins who I hadn’t spoken to in years, other than on FB. I e-mailed a couple of close friends who offered to drop everything to be with me, but I needed to be alone – with no distractions, to grieve the life I knew and face this seemingly impossible challenge in front of me. I cried and prayed over the next few weeks, asking God to spare me if only for my young daughter who would have no female family member to guide her into adulthood. Tomas is an amazing father, but the thought of my baby girl losing her mommy (she’s 14 now and still calls me mommy), was absolutely the most gut-wrenching moment of my life.
I admit after two years, five surgical procedures, four rounds of chemotherapy and thirty-three radiation treatments I’m still terrified, but I have the gift of knowing the magnitude of my strength is greater than I ever imagined. And like so many of my brave pink sisters, I’m STILL kicking ass and taking names. Do you hear that asshole Cancer?!
There is a LOT of this going around, so let’s not let it take over ❤
By Kelly Nemecek
Many fellow breast cancer survivors, myself included, freak out about scans. This is actually a thing we call scanxiety. It’s the anxiety you feel while waiting for a scan, during the scan, and waiting for the results of the scan. Before I go any further I want to point out that not everyone needs the same scans and while certain scans are appropriate for one patient, they may not be appropriate for another. Even among breast cancer patients with the same diagnosis, there may be factors that warrant a different approach to imaging studies. Having scans is a double edged sword-you want the scan for your peace of mind but in the meantime you know you’re going to get all nerve wracked and distressed.
I remember the PET scan I had after my bilateral mastectomy. I asked the technician when I might receive the results, and she…
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I’ve been on the aromatase inhibitor Letrozole (generic for Femara) for a month now. My breast cancer is estrogen receptor positive which means it requires estrogen to grow. Aromatase is the enzyme that synthesizes estrogen. Before Letrozole I took Tamoxifen which attaches to the hormone receptor in the cancer cell, blocking estrogen from attaching to the receptor. According to my oncologist, Tamoxifen is not as effective as aromatase inhibitors once a patient is post-menopausal and it’s really not as effective with my type of breast cancer, Invasive Lobular Carcinoma.
Both are powerful medications that come with a multitude of side effects. So far I feel like I am experiencing the side effects of Letrozole way more than I did with Tamoxifen. I’m more fatigued, I have increased joint pain and every time I move any part of my body it creaks and cracks. Loudly. I experienced mild joint pain with Tamoxifen but this is so much worse. I’m trying to be more active. I practiced softball again with Lili for the past three days and I am still sore. I’d like to know why it takes forever to get in shape but conversely just a blink of an eye to get out. One thing that makes me twitchy is I am STILL a good player albeit much slower but when I tell people I’ve been coaching Lili for her upcoming tryouts they kind of give me the side eyes. They assume she gets her athletic ability from her dad (understandable as he is actually super crazy athletic but has never played any American sport ever). Yes I am a bit fluffy and may look as though the only sport I’m good at is couch potatoing, and yes I had cancer and cancer treatment but you know what? I played soccer, tennis, softball, baseball and ran track. I’ve still got it dammit!
So speaking of Letrizole and its side effects, there is one new side effect I’ve been having and that is crazy-ass dreams. I think the oddest one I’ve had was a couple of weeks ago. I was with a group of people at some kind of sports bar and baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was there and I was taking a selfie with him. I’m sure the dream was prompted by my recent softball outing with Lili but why him? Maybe he was in a commercial or something, I have no idea. I used to follow baseball as a kid but that was like more than 35 years ago. I’ve had other weird dreams too where I’m working in retail which I also haven’t done since my twenties. In those dreams I’m all stressed out because I’m either being called in to work on my day off or I’m at work and can’t ever figure out how to operate the cash register. Meanwhile the line is getting longer and longer with pissed off customers. Sometimes I have dreams that are just a jumble of different people who I may or may not know, in various realistic and unrealistic situations. I wake up kind of foggy like “what? Huh? What just happened? Is it a work day?” If you’ve ever watched Mr. Robot or Legion it’s totally like that. So stay tuned, hopefully I will find a remedy for my new creaky cracky joints and Lili will have made the school’s softball team.
ADDENDUM: In the interest of full disclosure, another side effect of Letrozole is dryness EVERYWHERE. For two weeks I’ve been pooping little rabbit pellets. True story.
This week I’m sharing my guest piece for Breast Cancer Sisters’ Blog which is an awesome site created by fellow blogger and breast cancer warrior Taylor Eames.
By guest blogger Kelly Nemecek
In the weeks after my diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer, I found myself crying, out of fear and hopelessness, devastated at the thought that my 12 year old daughter might lose her mommy. But as I got closer to my surgery date, a strange thing happened. The hopelessness turned into determination and a sense of purpose, like a soldier preparing for battle.
I knew that I would be relying heavily on my faith in God, but what I didn’t know at the time was that my sense of humor would also be a huge factor in how I would cope with this new threat on my life. I have always been very self-deprecating, and my husband and daughter can pretty much make any situation hilarious. Case in point- after my surgery as I was slowly regaining consciousness and trying to get my bearings in…
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Well I’m still in limbo about whether The Boob Whisperer will take my new insurance or not. Apparently his office has applied for a contract with my new health plan but it hasn’t happened yet. Meanwhile I’m still having some shoulder and muscle pain on my left side. It’s exhausting especially if you’re out of shape which I totally am. I was practicing softball with Lili this morning for a couple hours and I’m completely whacked. I barely even ran and the one time I did I tripped and went down like a lead balloon.
Lili thought it would be fun to point out that’s the third time she’s seen me trip and fall in the last year. A couple weeks ago we were walking to the car in a parking lot and I tripped on a curb and biffed it. Right in front of this guy sitting in his car. He was very nice and ran over to see if I needed help. Once we got back in the car I laughed and said “well that sucked.” Lili said that it was the longest slow motion fall down she’d ever seen. Most of you know I’m blind in my left eye from meningitis in 2004 so what looks like clumsiness is actually no depth perception and a huge “blind” spot. You can read more about my blind adventures here.
Moving right along, I wanted to have a little teaching moment. Many women (including me before my diagnosis) think breast cancer is a lump found on your breast. Sometimes that is the case but many times it’s not. The most common type of invasive breast cancer is ductal, and about 70-80% of all invasive breast cancers are ductal or IDC-invasive ductal carcinoma. My cancer was lobular which is the second most common invasive breast cancer although it only represents about 10% of cases. Invasive means the cancer has “invaded” or spread to the surrounding breast tissues. Lobular means the cancer began in the lobules where the milk is produced. Milk travels from the lobules into the ducts which then carry it to the nipple. The thing about lobular breast cancer is that it is super sneaky and is often not detected on regular mammography especially if you have dense breasts. I probably should have been getting 3D mammograms but even then it’s not always detected. It frequently presents as a thickening of tissue as opposed to a spherical shaped “lump.” I always thought it would feel like a marble. You need to be aware of ANY changes in your breasts, armpits or nipples. IDC or invasive ductal carcinoma is when cancer cells begin forming in the milk ducts and have spread beyond the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. There are non-invasive forms of both lobular and ductal carcinomas known as LCIS-lobular carcinoma in situ and DCIS-ductal carcinoma in situ, where the cancer cells are contained in the lobules or ducts. There are also some less common breast cancers like inflammatory. I know it’s a lot of letters, like breast cancer alphabet soup but since 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime it’s important to educate ourselves.
There are numerous factors oncologists use to determine what stage a patient’s breast cancer might be. Staging goes from 0 which are the non-invasive or in-situ cancers to stage 4 or metastasis (mets) where the cancer cells have traveled to distant organs like bones, lungs, liver, brain, etc. I was Stage 3A, 8.5 cm tumor, 2 out of 14 lymph nodes positive. From breastcancer.org:
Stage 3A describes invasive breast cancer in which either:
- no tumor is found in the breast or the tumor may be any size; cancer is found in 4 to 9 axillary lymph nodes or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during imaging tests or a physical exam) OR
- the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters; small groups of breast cancer cells (larger than 0.2 millimeter but not larger than 2 millimeters) are found in the lymph nodes OR
- the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters; cancer has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during a sentinel lymph node biopsy)
Once there is a Stage 4 diagnosis it is usually treated like a chronic disease. I’ve probably said this before but it bears repeating – there is no 100% cure for invasive breast cancer. If you’ve had a bilateral mastectomy followed by chemo, radiation and hormone therapy if warranted like me, the best you can hope for is no evidence of disease (NED). Even if the surgeon believes all cancerous tissue was removed there is the possibility that one or more of those cells sneaked by. There is just no way to know definitively. This is why my oncologist and most others say NED and do not say “cancer free.” I think it is an important distinction because one sounds cautiously optimistic while the other sounds a bit like a false sense of security. I’m sure there are those that will disagree with me because maybe hearing the words “cancer free” makes it easier to live with the uncertainty, but I am a realist and the reality is every day is gifted but not guaranteed.
I was supposed to see The Boob Whisperer this coming Monday. He was going to schedule the minor revision to correct the little divet and extra skin on my right foob. I was also going to ask him about the 3D nipple tattooing process. As it turns out, he is not contracted with my new insurance. His wonderful patient liaison called me with the news. I mentioned that he’s listed in my network but she said they are still trying to get contracted. I also told her that it’s the only insurance provider of individual plans and I have no other options. She said they are hoping the contract will go through soon. So, until then I’m in limbo. Otherwise they’re still very numb and now my left shoulder hurts when I lift my arm. I probably need physical therapy. Maybe my yoga teaching husband can show me some stretches or something. I am pretty tired of doctors and such. After The Big Chop I saw my breast surgeon frequently, followed by the oncologist every other week, chemotherapy every three weeks, then radiation every weekday for six weeks. A few months later I had my reconstruction surgery and saw The Boob Whisperer pretty much once a week for 8 months. I was in a doctor-visiting bubble.
I remember The Boob Whisperer telling me about a clinical trial underway for larger than 800 cc (the largest legally available in the U.S.) implants for reconstruction patients, going up to 1,400 I believe. 800 may sound like a lot when uttered in breast augmentation circles, but with reconstruction it’s not that large unless you’re like 5 feet tall. For a taller woman with a larger frame, 800 might mean a B cup or less. For me it’s about a full C. I was chatting with a woman on Facebook recently who is part of this Athena trial at the Mayo Clinic and she has 1240 cc. These extra large silicone implants are expected to be available to breast reconstruction patients (who fit the criteria) some time in 2018. I would have liked to have gone larger, but hey these are still fabulous and very perky. Right now I need to work on getting the rest of my body in shape to match my new foobs. It’s funny how one’s perspective evolves depending on current circumstances. After The Big Chop I didn’t give two craps about having boobs. Good riddance. I felt that way all through chemotherapy and radiation. I did notice though that it seemed like boobs were everywhere I looked, in my face, mocking me. A couple months after radiation I admit I was longing for boobs again, but I didn’t want to wear a bra with prosthetics and mostly it’s because I hate wearing a bra at all now after going without for almost two years. Bras are just not comfortable and the ones that are comfy don’t do anything a cami or going commando can’t do. Anyhow, once my radiated tissue had healed I consulted with The Boob Whisperer about the plan for reconstruction and he explained how with the tissue expansion I could decide how big I wanted to go. Apparently he would just fill me up until I was satisfied-ahem-was a satisfactory size. At first I felt like, oh a C will be fine, it’s what I had before The Big Chop. But then I got kind of greedy, picturing a nice perky porn star rack. This of course prickles my feminist sensibilities, and of course I wouldn’t be happy with boobs so enormous they could double as floatations when the plane I’m on crashes into the ocean. I wonder if the idea of getting large breasts was kind of a fuck you to cancer, like “you may have taken them but they’re back baby-bigger and better than ever so suck it!”
I realize I need to love myself the way I am-no matter my breast size and give myself time to get to know this new version of me and be comfortable in my new skin. I also found that as much as my reconstructed breasts have done for my confidence and self image, I was actually a strong and beautiful person all along, even more so when I was bald and without breasts. This is because during that time in my life I really learned to appreciate my inner qualities and let them carry me. It may sound kind of braggy but it’s true, and I recommend everyone look for this within themselves.
So my foobs are doing very well. I have another appointment with The Boob Whisperer on March 6th and I believe he will then schedule the procedure to remove that little extra skin on the right side which looks like a little dog ear. What’s frustrating is my foobs are still sore and numb. I also get phantom itches which I scratch, and which I can’t feel, and the itch is still there. Is this some kind of weird phantom itch thing? The itches of ghost boobs past?
If you watch TV or go the movies with any regularity you will inevitably come across a story line about cancer. I’ve been watching This is Us on NBC and if you know that show you’ve seen the story line about Randall’s biological father having stage four cancer. People having cancer on TV and in movies have always made me uncomfortable. I still ugly cry when I see Debra Winger in her hospital bed saying goodbye to her kids. But I could still look at scenes like that and tell myself “it’s just a movie” and let it go. You can’t really imagine yourself in their shoes. You’re part of the Not Me group. After my breast cancer diagnosis, every cancer plot smacks me upside the head like “wake up THIS IS YOU.” And I start to freak because I haven’t done hardly anything on my bucket list. I can’t even recall everything on my bucket list. Here are a few bucket items in no particular order:
- Be thin
- Visit Australia
- Write a book
- Be an extra on The Walking Dead (although I probably need to achieve #1 first because I’ve not seen any chubby zombies)
- Be a grandmother
- Buy a house near the beach
- Convince my husband to get another dog (our sweet cattle dog Sammy crossed the Rainbow Bridge last January)
- See #5 and #7
If nothing else, number 5 is so very important. I get verklempt when I think about how fast Lili is growing up and at the same time, every year that passes is another year I’ve made it through.
Yesterday on Valentine’s Day I had my four month oncologist appointment. I always have medical stuff on notable dates. First oncologist appointment on my wedding anniversary, first round of chemo on my 50th birthday. Thankfully my CBC panel came back normal so still NED (no evidence of disease). We talked about the Tamoxifen I’m taking and since he also checked my estrogen levels he was able to confirm I’m in full blown menopause. This means I switch from Tamoxifen to an aromatase inhibitor, Letrozole starting Monday. I told him about my achy joints and he told me to stretch and exercise which seems to be pretty much the cure for all of a body’s ills. I know I’m getting old which means my bones are more creaky but I creak and crack with every move I make. How did I get to be 50? When did this happen? I’m pretty sure a couple years ago I was 30. At least it seems that way. I know some of the joint pain is attributable to the Tamoxifen, but still.
I’ve mentioned I belong to some closed Facebook groups of ladies in various stages of their journeys with breast cancer. The largest one was started last summer/fall by Lisa Schwartz, MD, a radiation oncologist in California. She infrequently posted brief videos of different topics to the page but didn’t really interact with the group other than to advertise her on-line community called the Breast Cancer Collective which was $29 per month to join. I have no idea if anyone signed up for that but by all accounts it just looked like it offered information anyone with access to google could obtain. Meanwhile, her Facebook group blew up to over 7,000 women across the world. It was pretty much the most positive experience I’ve ever had on social media. Women from all walks of life and all corners of the world were offering strength, support, love and compassion to each other as we were all in the same fucked up boat, so to speak. About two weeks ago, Dr. Lisa posted that the group had grown so large it was taking more work than she anticipated and she was going to start charging $5 per month per person effective the following week. Now $5 per month for some people is a lot. I could have afforded it but that’s not the point. It’s the principle. I belong to other Facebook groups with high membership that are free. After a few women posted (respectfully) they were leaving the group Dr. Lisa shut it down right then and there and went totally dark. 7,000 women suddenly out in the cold without a way to contact each other. Luckily the members’ names were still visible for a short period afterward and some awesome ladies started two new groups by contacting members of the old group, which have now grown to 330 and 270 members, respectively. It appears Dr. Lisa reopened the original group and it has 73 members (who I guess don’t mind paying $5/month and also subsidizing a physician’s salary with their breast cancer). My point is, this is about the shittiest thing I’ve seen in a long time. My theory, for what it’s worth is that she hoped women in the Facebook group would join her Breast Cancer Collective Community for $29 per month. I doubt anyone did because as I said, the value of the product she offered was not commensurate with the cost. So then she decides to charge her potential cash cow of 7,000 women, $5 per month. Even if she only gets 1,000 ladies to agree to pay, she’s then making $5K per month just for moderating a Facebook group of women dealing with breast cancer. I realize this is probably perfectly legal but is it ethical? And to shut it down without warning, knowing thousands of breast cancer survivors who’d built friendships would probably lose touch with one another? I’m so thankful I was able to stay in touch and join the new groups but I wonder about the thousands of others who have no idea what happened or how to reconnect. Shame on you Dr. Lisa, and I use therm “Dr.” loosely.
In happier news I authored a two part piece for a site called “I’m Taking Charge” and you can read it here:
I’ve been trying for a while to get back to normal but that normal is pretty much gone forever. That ship sailed and it’s not coming back. I am done with treatment except for taking daily Tamoxifen which inhibits my body from producing estrogen. So why can’t I just snap out of it?
I long for the days when my worries and stress didn’t come from cancer and its lasting physical and mental side effects. I still have numerous aches and pains, probably from the Tamoxifen and some residual soreness from my mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries. I have to admit too that I have lingering chemo fog, which affects my short term memory. Missing turns while driving. Thinking a thought and before that thought is even fully formed in my brain, it has flown the coop. This is actually only the tip of the iceberg. I am afflicted with many of these lingering effects.
When I recovered from meningitis in 2004 within the first year after diagnosis I had pretty much gotten back to normal, albeit with one left totally blind weird wandering eye. The chances of meningitis coming back were very rare. When I was recovering I was frightened because I nearly died, but after a year I felt like I was getting back to normal and there wasn’t a black cloud of doom following me around like I sometimes feel there is now. But I also had a baby to take care of and you moms know that when you have a baby it consumes all your attention. It’s a nice distraction from worrying about yourself.
Flash forward eleven years and I’m diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. I finished chemotherapy and radiation by November that same year. I didn’t have a baby or anything else really to pour my now limited amount of energy into. I had to actually face this new version of me. Mostly I like her because she can be bad-ass. She fights for herself and others. She appreciates so many of the little things now. She doesn’t take life for granted. She’s made positive changes in her life. But she doubts. Doubts her ability to beat cancer. Doubts her ability to put cancer in the back seat. I would say Cancer has at least moved from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s but it is my hope that it can be moved to the back seat and eventually to like a trailer that will one day be unhitched. A survivor I know added to her FB profile under work history, Works at “beating breast cancer” and I thought fuck yeah-it IS a job! And a full time one at that. So I added that to mine. You see there is no cure for invasive breast cancer. It can be treated but there is no guarantee. While chemotherapy can work wonders, it cannot guarantee a cancer-free future. Neither can radiation. Even a patient who is “100% clinically responsive” cannot be assured that the cancer is gone. Microscopic cells can remain. Nobody can tell who has been cured and who hasn’t because breast cancer can return at any time, be it two or twenty years later. I guess you can say you were cured when you die many years later from something else. When breast cancer returns, it usually shows up somewhere else, i.e. bones, lungs, liver, brain, etc. If this happens it’s not bone cancer or lung cancer. It’s metastatic breast cancer, or as we pink warriors say “bone mets” or “brain mets.” It’s also Stage IV. Since I will never be considered “cured” my oncologist says the term he and his colleagues use is “NED” no evidence of disease. I hope there is no evidence of disease for the rest of my life, which I further hope will be a long time from now, after I’ve found my purpose, after I’ve become a grandmother.
So I saw The Boob Whisperer earlier this week. He seems very pleased with how my foobs are shaping up and so am I. There is still the little dog ear extra skin thingy on the right side so he wants to see me again in three weeks to reassess it, and he can fix it in a simple outpatient procedure if necessary. He has done such a phenomenal job and I am amazed at how good they look and feel. Yes I’m still obsessed with feeling them all the time, I can’t stop myself. I test different spots to see if the numbness is gone too. I wish I could feel them with someone else’s hands.
Since we are almost at the end of January I must face the fact that I am doing kind of pretty very bad with my new year’s health resolutions. I still need to lose weight because being overweight is a risk factor for breast cancer and I have not cleaned up my diet as much as I should. Since my cancer was estrogen receptor positive-which means that the cancer feeds off of estrogen, I take medicine to block the estrogen in my body; but there are foods that are high in estrogen, especially conventional meat and dairy. I strive to buy organic meats (no beef or pork) and dairy but I need to be more vigilant. I’ve actually switched to almond milk because it has no dairy or soy, but I still eat the sugary Greek yogurts. I have avoided pre-packaged foods for the most part but not completely, and the same goes for hair care and personal products. I bought some natural deodorant (not patchouli which smells like Raid) because there are conflicting reports about the aluminum and parabens in deodorants being linked to breast cancer. My oncologist believes in moderation when it comes to dietary dos and don’ts, but is it enough? I mean if I don’t make these natural/organic changes across the board 100%, is that going to cancel out the changes that I have made? If I switched from CoffeeMate to Almond Milk but then still eat Chobani Flips, cream cheese and margarine am I taking one step forward and two steps back? I drink diet soda at the movies and we all know what kind of crappy chemicals are in that, so if I switch to water but still eat the popcorn with the suspicious-not-really-butter-but-butter-flavored-substance is it a wash? I also have a vent clip in my car that my friend says is toxic which I keep forgetting to remove. I don’t know what the answer is. I know people who feel very strongly about using natural products and eating natural and organic foods and who live their lives this way, and this is by no means an inexpensive endeavor.
Before cancer I felt like the worst thing eating poorly would do was make me fat. Now I have this manic view of everything in my life, like I’m trapped in a carcinogenic bubble. #everythingwillkillyou
Believe it or not something commonly said during breast cancer discussion is “hey at least you get a boob job out of it.” Or even “at least you get a free boob job out of it.” There are boob jobs and there is boob reconstruction. They are not even a little bit the same. Yes I have implants but that’s where the similarity ends. A boob job or BA (breast augmentation) basically takes what God gave you and enhances it and it’s a cosmetic choice. You still have your original boobs and your nipples. Breast reconstruction after a mastectomy starts over from square one, from the ground up, often characterized as a salvage job. If you’ve had a breast augmentation, please know that nothing about your experience even comes close to mine. I have nothing against boob jobs at all and I’m fine talking about your boob job, as long you understand I can’t relate because I didn’t have a boob job.
Some mastectomies are skin sparing or nipple sparing. That was not an option for me. Once the nips are gone, so is any sensation. You know how good your nipples can feel ladies? That zing that can go from your nips to well…..other places? Yeah well, GONE. But hey if nipples are part of the price to stay alive, take them, but I’m pretty sure you get to keep your nipples with a boob job. And it’s not “free” if you have to pay insurance copays and deductibles. Most ladies that get boob jobs go home and after a short healing period, will admire their new boobs, buy new clothes, and celebrate. Cancer survivors go home after reconstruction and see more scars and wonder if or when their cancer may return.
As fabulous as they are, because The Boob Whisperer is so awesome, my new breasts are sore, numb, nip-less and scarred. And though they feel pretty good they’re still not like real boobs. I would trade them for my old (albeit without the tumor) God given breasts in a heartbeat. Am I glad I have boobs again? Very. Do I view it as “getting a boob job out of it?” No, that’s just dumb. I’ve previously mentioned how I frequently see articles about what not to say to cancer patients and survivors and how I don’t agree with many of them but comparing a boob job to reconstructed breasts is something I can safely say JUST. DON’T.
I’ve been doing pretty well with my anxiety and living with my fear of recurrence. I was starting to think maybe I was getting a handle on it. Then a couple weeks ago I started getting some mild lower back pain. I had two epidural injections for a pinched sciatic nerve in 2015 and I’ve read that sometimes stiffness and pain can return to the spine, especially in a not super active 50 year old. I also know that when breast cancer recurs it usually shows up as metastasis in other places like your bones. My four month oncologist appointment is in a few weeks so he’ll do blood work and if my back is still sore I will tell him. This shit is really keeping me on my toes you guys.
This week I just want to share this video by Holley Kitchen. She lost her battle with metastatic breast cancer last January. I was too afraid at the time to watch it and really think about it because I was also initially diagnosed at Stage 3. But her message is too important so I’ve watched it several times and now I need to share it. I would have liked to know you Holley.
It’s been two months since my expander-implant exchange. I recently heard the term “Drop and Fluff” bandied about on RealSelf.com which is a plastic surgery social media site. I had never heard about this term and it created really weird pictures in my mind. Apparently there is a lot going on behind the scenes in your body. After implant placement there is swelling of the tissues combined with tightening of the chest muscles. This can cause them to look tight with the upper portion of the breast looking somewhat like a hump and then constricting the tissues causing the implant to look smaller than it actually is. It can also make them look a bit further apart and even kind of upside down. As the swelling goes down those tissues loosen and the implants settle into a lower, more natural position which in turn makes them look softer and more rounded. Maybe that’s what mine have to do, I have no idea.
Unless you’ve been under a rock lately, you will have seen talk on the news about repealing and replacing the ACA or “Obamacare.” A few months ago I was concerned there would be no insurance companies in Maricopa County offering individual health plans because they were all pulling out of the market. Well as it turns out there is one company, HealthNet’s Ambetter. It is an HMO and my plan has a $4,000 annual deductible and $7,150 out of pocket maximum. On top of this, my monthly premium is $530 per month which includes a $178 subsidy so my premium would actually be over $700 per month. This is just for me. My husband and daughter each have their own plans which they’ve had since before the ACA went into effect which are much cheaper. In 2013 I reduced my hours to 30 (my choice) and went from employer based coverage to individual which made me subject to the ACA or Obamacare rules (and before you say wait-30 hours-employer has to cover you. Nope they called me into HR and said they needed me to work 29.5 so they didn’t get fined.) One positive thing the ACA did for me was prohibit insurance companies from dropping me or refusing to cover my cancer treatment due to it being a “pre-existing condition.” If I had gotten cancer prior to the ACA I would have had to get a full time job with benefits or be totally screwed. People shouldn’t go bankrupt trying to pay their medical bills and I know firsthand working in bankruptcy and collection law many years ago that it happened. A lot. It happened to wealthy people who became not so wealthy because of a catastrophic medical event. So the idea that individual coverage, like employer based coverage could not be discriminatory against someone with a pre-existing condition was a very good one to me and a no-brainer. The problem was there were way too many one size fits all mandates and regulations piled on the law. I think my plan had to have maternity benefits even though chemotherapy put me into menopause last year. Doctors I know have said that the ACA has made it more difficult and expensive for them to treat their patients and run their practices. Here in Arizona and some other states premiums have more than doubled.
I am dubious of politicians crying about how repealing and replacing Obamacare will “make America sick again.” Let’s face it, promises were broken. I couldn’t keep my plan and I couldn’t keep my doctor. I don’t care whose fault it is, it happened as a result of this law. And if Obamacare was so great why don’t you congressmen and women have it? And why did y’all immediately rush to exempt yourselves from it? They have the gold standard in health insurance that WE pay for. I guess we’ll see what happens in the coming months with the repeal and replace. Okay rant over.
My new foobs are feeling better and better you guys. The soreness is still there on the left side whenever I do something with my left arm and there’s still lots of numbness but they are really softening like real boobs. And the last vestiges of my stitches have finally dissolved. I think D cups were wishful thinking though. The Boob Whisperer thought I could have them but with the maximum volume silicone implant sold in the U.S., (800cc) I’m about a full C. A very perky C. I was reading some comments in a private breast cancer Facebook group and there were women taller and heavier than I am saying with 800 cc they barely fit in a B cup so it’s really about your height, frame and body type. I am 5’6, have broad shoulders, am medium to large boned and moderately plus-sized. 800 cc will look different depending on your body type. This makes sense because I’ve seen plastic surgery stories on RealSelf and women were always asking “how many cc to get to (whatever bra cup size)?” The doctors would always reply that it varies from person to person and this is true with augmentation and reconstruction.
Now because of the little bit of extra skin on my right side, which he already trimmed during my exchange surgery, it doesn’t look perfect but he wants to watch it for another few months. If it doesn’t resolve on it’s own he will make an adjustment, which I knew might be a possibility. In clothes they really look great and with a bra they look magnificent. BUT! I don’t think I can ever wear a bra again. I put one on for the first time the other day and it was comfortable as far as bras go and I’d been professionally fitted with it, but I couldn’t stand it. I can’t explain it but I felt like “Gah! There’s something suffocating me, GETITOFF!” Like when you accidentally go to bed with your clothes on after a night of partying and wake up feeling like you’re in a straight jacket. I took it off after like three hours although I reverently hung it up in the closet rather than smash it into a drawer. This was the first time I’d worn a bra since my mastectomy last May so maybe I will get used to it again eventually. I tried a sports bra and that was actually worse and looked awful. Or I could just skip it, which The Boob Whisperer prefers anyway, at least for now.
I’ve done some research about this bra business and as far as I can tell, the boob-stifling has been going on for centuries. But about a hundred years ago, Mary Phelps Jacob designed what would become the modern bra. It was mostly just just like two handkerchiefs sewn together and fit like a loose halter top. She created it as an alternative to the whalebone or metal corsets women were stuffing themselves into at the time. Apparently there was a French study done a few years ago-of course it’s the French-wherein the benefit of wearing a bra was called into question and ultimately debunked. Of course there were plenty of criticisms of the study and it further stated if you’ve worn a bra for years there’s no benefit in suddenly ditching it now.
One thing this bra situation has made me do is examine my scars and really take them all in. Sure I’ve seen them on a daily basis but I don’t think I fully absorbed the magnitude of them. There is about a two and a half inch scar from my chemotherapy port below my right collar bone. There are six inch mastectomy scars below each foob and two inch scars near my underarms where the lymph nodes were removed. There is an eight inch scar on my back from the flap surgery and an oval scar on my left foob where that tissue and muscle from my back was transferred. Also, my entire left chest (minus the white-skinned flap) is a darker color from radiation a year ago. The scars are ugly for sure but they are also a beautiful reminder of my strength.
I participate in a couple of social media breast cancer groups, and one thing I’ve been seeing over and over are stories of women whose co-workers, family and/or friends say things like “oh I know so and so went through this and she didn’t miss any work” or “so and so was back to normal after (fill in the blank).” I’ve read so many stories about women being bullied and made to feel weak. Just reading all of these makes the steam bubble up and spew out of my head. I’m sure there are people who when they have an illness might milk the sympathy card but this is not what I am talking about. My own coworkers have been lovely, supportive and kind so I’m lucky, at least nothing untoward was ever said to my face and if it was, I would probably do bodily violence.
The trauma caused to your body by a mastectomy is unimaginable and horrific and you cannot even fathom it unless you’ve gone through it. There are all kinds of tissue, muscle and nerve problems because they’ve been sliced through. This pain and discomfort hangs around for months and years. And if you’ve had reconstruction too you can just compound that pain. In my case, I went into chemotherapy four weeks later. My breast cancer compatriot at work who was going through chemo at the same time, had to have six rounds, while I had four. Her chemo cocktail was also slightly different from mine. There are many different types of breast cancer and they all come with varying treatments, including different types of chemo. A third woman at work who’d undergone chemo ahead of us didn’t miss any work at all, not a single day. I am going to say right here and now, that is NOT the norm. It’s great that she was able to do that and I would say she is a strong woman, but that does not mean that my compatriot and I were not as strong, by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t mean we weren’t able to just suck it up. Number one, not all chemotherapies are alike. Number two, not all human bodies react the same way to chemotherapy. There are so many contributing factors you can’t quantify. This leads me to number three which is do not ever tell someone going through chemo that “my friend so and so said it was a breeze.” Or that “my friend so and so was curled in the fetal position vomiting for three months.” I would say that I personally did better than some, and worse than others. I think my slow recovery had a lot to do with undergoing chemo, coming off the heels of a bilateral mastectomy. Radiation also causes fatigue, and in some people it’s extreme. Some people burn badly like I did. Others may get a mild sunburn. My hormone blocking pills cause me some substantial fatigue and joint stiffness. For other women, it can be severe. Women whose cancer was estrogen positive, which mine was, need to block the estrogen because it feeds the cancer. There is no standard answer for how much time you need to heal or to recover from cancer treatment.
I can only speak from my own experience but I worked as hard and as long as my body would allow and I am still not where I was before all this started. Please don’t judge any of my pink sisters (including me) based on our ability to bounce back from breast cancer treatment, because unless and until you’ve been there you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
I didn’t really have any strong inspiration about what to write about this week so instead I did something a little different. I wrote a poem-limerick thing.
One day I found out that my breasts, were going to be chopped off my chest. It was cancer you see, that invaded me, so I knew that the chopping was for the best.
Chemo was hard, and my chest it was scarred, then radiation really made me feel burned. But it was frying the cancer cells deep inside and I was convinced that the tide would soon turn.
My head had no hair and I honestly didn’t care because there were many worse things than hair loss. I covered my head with hats that were cute because itchy wigs and slippery scarves I did toss.
I found I can be funny, brave and strong. How had I not known this all along? God has been with me, so have my family and friends and so many amazing pink sisters, on whom I can depend.
One lesson I’ve learned is that life is not fair, but there is so much beauty and love and humor, that I can appreciate now and it’s because of that tumor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many people who learn about my breast cancer diagnosis last year ask me how my daughter handled the news. She is 13 and she handled it much better than I expected.
When I got my diagnosis Tomas was in Nepal and had sketchy Internet access. I didn’t tell my daughter until Tomas got back and we had been to the breast surgeon and had more information. I actually didn’t want to tell her at all because her life was all kittens and rainbows and I didn’t want to darken it with my ugly cancer juju. Well I had no idea that not telling her up front would backfire. She had been really obsessed lately about heaven and hell and what exactly determined who ended up where. A kid at her school ticked off a huge list of transgressions that would supposedly send you to hell. Based on things he told her, his parents appear to be a bit fanatical because according to them it seems 90% of the population is going to hell. I told her over and over about our family’s beliefs and that God is loving and merciful. One night she was obsessing and being all neurotic about going to hell and I was already feeling stabby because I hadn’t taken my anti-anxiety medicine. I kind of snapped and said I couldn’t deal with her OCD fire and brimstone crap right now. I then told her about the cancer and not at all in the way I planned. Of course I apologized and hugged her and told her it was wrong of me to minimize her worries and that I was just under a lot of stress. Surprisingly though she was very circumspect and actually asked if I was going to die (and if I did die she probably wondered where I was headed). I told her the truth, that according to the surgeon “probably not.” I explained how I was going to have a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation and what that entailed and while my outcome is optimistic, there are no guarantees in life. I admitted I was terrified because the cancer could return. I told her we would pray about it and if she ever wanted to talk about it we would, and I wouldn’t keep things from her in the future. It turns out she had an idea something was wrong all along. Kids are more perceptive than we think. Since that day she has been compassionate, helpful and so supportive. She made chemo beanies for me, cooked, did laundry and of late, listens to my endless complaints about my tissue expander pain. I was wrong to keep my cancer from her because she is a part of me and it affects her too. We have always been close and this cancer battle has only strengthened that bond.
Monday I have my 16th fill at The Boob Whisperer and after that I’ll have just two left. The pain now has a burning sensation like my flesh is being peeled from my body. This reconstruction process has been the most painful experience of my life but I will come out stronger for it and hopefully with some nice perky new girls.
This picture speaks to me as a mother on so many levels.
Photo: Attempted Essays
So fill up number 15 was Monday and The Boob Whisperer said 3 more fills. Gah! So 3 more fill ups until my D cups. Okay that was pretty lame. My strength and resolve is wavering you guys, but in for a penny, in for a pound. Or in for boobs, in for D cups. The pain isn’t even diminishing now after a few days like it would after my prior fills. I have such empathy for those of you out there living with chronic pain. After the last fill on October 17, I have to wait 30 days for the implant exchange surgery. Then I will need to wait 6 months until I can get my 3D nipple tattoos.
I want to confess something. I’m all about talking about breast cancer and telling my story with jokes and sarcasm. I follow breast cancer social media sites like My BC Team and Living Beyond Breast Cancer. I like learning about other women’s experiences and knowing I’m not alone in this. But if I’m being honest, when I come across stories about Stage IV and metastasis or “mets,” I tend to look away. Like closing your eyes with your hands over your ears going “lalalalalalala.” I know I do this because there is a chance that could be me some day and even though I’ve faced many scary things throughout this journey, I haven’t had to do it with a Stage IV or mets diagnosis. I came across the story of a young woman with mets, who still had her breasts but was not having them removed because the cancer had already spread to several other places on her body. I stopped reading and tried to scrub all thoughts about that from my brain. But these women deserve my attention and support, so no more “see no evil, hear no evil” looking away for me. I will read their stories and pray for them and their families. Every person’s journey is worthy of my support and compassion. Whether you have Stage I or Stage IV, lumpectomy or mastectomy, chemo, radiation or no treatment, we shouldn’t measure experiences by degrees because for each woman the fear is real and not necessarily mitigated by a Stage number or surgical procedure.
Something else has been on my mind. I’ve noticed that when some people ask me how my treatment is going, or if I’m “done” with treatment, when I start talking about my expanders and my lat flap surgery, some people lose eye contact and say “oh but you’re done with your treatment, though, right?” I guess for them, it’s okay to talk about your knee or torn meniscus surgery but boob surgery is taboo. Guess what people? They’re JUST boobs. It shouldn’t be so uncomfortable to talk about them. But I guess we can’t even look at breastfeeding moms’ boobs so why should we be able to discuss reconstruction of boobs? (And I’m not advocating naked breasts all hanging out with a suckling babe attached posted on Instagram, but if a woman is discreetly feeding her child, then you offended dipshits need to get over it.) But I digress. Yes chemo and radiation are over but I am still going through the exhausting and painful process of reconstruction. Shit can still go wrong. Know this – if you ask me how my “treatment” is going, or how I’m feeling I will probably tell you and it likely won’t be a brief “fine thanks.” It will be the unvarnished truth.
Monday was fill up 14 at The Boob Whisperer so I am definitely in the home stretch you guys, which is good because Jeez Louise this is SO painful. I’m supposed to bring a bra next week so he can see how things fit #Dcup
Now I’m going to get up on my soap box because this ACA health insurance situation has gone totally fubar on me and others like me. According to my insurance broker, there may be only be two companies next year offering individual health plans in OR out of the marketplace in Maricopa County (the largest county in AZ and the fourth most populous county in the U.S. and also where I happen to live), and those two companies will have very limited networks, and 60% premium increases. They also may ultimately decline to offer anything. This means people like me who do not have insurance at work will not be covered. I NEED insurance. I am still going to need to see my oncologist and plastic surgeon. I’m going to need imaging tests for the foreseeable future. I had cancer last year for fuck’s sakes. This goes beyond politics. I am a real person who works hard, pays taxes and who may be without coverage next year because I may have NO access to health insurance. My experience is real, not political spin. There are many people like me who have gotten individual coverage after the ACA law went into effect and could be screwed, like my friend who’s a single stay at home grandma, people who are self employed, people who are retired but not yet eligible for Medicare, part time workers and independent contractors. We could be up the proverbial creek with the proverbial paddle up the ass. Yes I could work full time and get coverage but I like working part time and I should be able to buy my own health insurance like I have been doing for the last four years. Especially with my recent cancer journey, I’ve found working part time brings me less stress and more time with my family. Can I please get more news coverage of this shitstorm and how it can be fixed before I see any more crybaby anthem protesting athletes or Target shoppers with their knickers in a wad about who can or can’t use the ladies’ room?
I was worried about my doctors being in network next year, now I’m worried about even having a network. Just what a cancer survivor needs-more stress about her healthcare. This legislation was supposed to bring more people into the insurance system, not kick existing people out. Who do I see about that?
A week and a half ago I found a pea sized lump just under one of my scars on my left foob. Finally I was able to have an ultrasound done and its just an oil cyst/fat necrosis. I know, EW. But for the last 10 days I’ve been having all manner of horror-show deja vu and panic attacks. And I think the radiologist today was even the same one who did that fateful ultrasound last April. Today I actually managed to stave off my freak out until I was actually lying on the table and she put the probe on me. Then all hell broke loose in my brain. After a few minutes she said it was an oil cyst. But let me tell you, in the span of those few minutes prior, I had the following thoughts:
1. My eyeball is sore when I move it, oh my God is the cancer back and in my brain?
2. Can they even biopsy this thing with my tissue expanders in?
3. If it’s cancer does that mean removal of my expanders? Am I done with boobs altogether, and will it even matter?
4. Will I have to have another PET scan? Those are totally claustrophobic.
5. I’ve been having bowel issues and I haven’t had my colonoscopy yet-is it in my colon?
6. Would I have to do chemo again? I still have my hats.
7. How can I (and my family) go through this again?
8. If I die Tomas better plan an awesome funeral.
9. If I’m going to die I need to start making recorded video messages for Lili to view as she gets older, but can I even do that without blubbering?
10. Wow I’m 37 lbs. lighter than I was last year according to their records.
11. Wow I still weigh a lot.
12. Wow I better pick out a photo I approve of for him to blow up (and get airbrushed) and display at my funeral.
13. Wow this is getting way too ghoulish.
Yes I am being a drama queen but that’s how my mind works, one thought leads to another which leads to another, etc. Sometimes I wish my brain worked like that episode of SpongeBob where you could see inside his head and it was all rainbows, his pet snail Gary and crabby patties.
The only way to cope with this stuff is to take a deep breath and realize that whatever happens I will handle it and I will get through it.
P.S. No fill up at The Boob Whisperer this week due to the holiday which may be a good thing because they are still SORE. My right coconut sticks out on the side and is totally bruising my right arm.
On my walk this morning I saw a guy jogging really really slow, like maybe I could even pass him by, so I thought maybe I can jog too. Well maybe I will jog one day but that day is not today. The coconuts rub up against my arms and the jostling just feels majorly stabby. Plus I think I need an ass-bra because there’s waaaaay too much flopping around back there. So, I just kept on trucking with my goofy fast walk.
But seriously, Monday was fill number 13. Unlucky 13, and not because it hurts which it does, but because there is a pea sized bump right below one of my incision scars where the lymph nodes were removed. And right where I got blistered and fried from radiation. The Boob Whisperer said he did NOT think it was a cancer recurrence but it would be irresponsible for him not to tell me to have it checked. I totally get that. He suggested I see my breast surgeon who performed the mastectomy because he has an ultrasound machine in his office. Great idea, except because my insurance policy from last year was cancelled, he is no longer in-network. The policy I have now is the only one I could get that had both my oncologist and The Boob Whisperer in-network, and I figured I probably wouldn’t have to see the breast surgeon again. So now I have to see my PCP, get a referral for an ultrasound, then hope they don’t want to biopsy it because then I’m really going to have some shitty flashbacks of the ultrasound and biopsy that changed my life forever. Recalling that day, these were my immediate thoughts. First, who will take care of Lili? Tomas is a wonderful father but a teenage girl needs her mother, she still calls me Mommy for God’s sake. I have to be there when she has my grand babies. Second, I need Tomas except he’s on a mountain in Nepal for three weeks. Third, what if it spread? Like to my brain? And I lose cognitive function? I had all manner of horrifying scenarios pin-balling through my head.
What I’m thinking now is, I need a fucking drink because that’s what I used to do in stressful situations, drink a glass or six of wine. Can’t do that now because alcohol reduces the efficacy of my tamoxifen (which is an estrogen blocker due to my cancer being estrogen driven). I know some of you are thinking OMG no wine?! I know! I could load up on my Ativan, except I need to be able to drive. To work. Where I actually have to perform work.
So I guess I have to suck it up until I see the doctor next week. In my heart of hearts I don’t believe it’s a recurrence and more likely it’s scar tissue or some other benign thing-but the not knowing SUCKS ASS you guys.
So THIS happened last week.
This is my knee. I was walking with my husband and daughter downtown after renewing her passport and I tripped on a curb, face planting in a bunch of rocks and dirt. Oh yes. And there was blood. Tomas was like “did that really just happen?” Lili was a little more compassionate about it. “Oh Mommy are you okay?” I was mostly just “oh God protect the boobs!” So my hands and knees got scraped and bloody. The thing is, they are used to my spastic clumsiness because stuff like this happens all the time. Some of you who know me, know that in 2004 I was hospitalized with bacterial meningitis and that I am blind in my left eye as a result. Living with monocular vision is doable but some things are just a little bit harder. For instance:
-seeing steps that go down and any obstacles on the ground (you can’t look straight ahead and on the ground in front of you simultaneously with one eye)
-changing lanes (yes scary they let one-eyed people drive)
-putting on eye makeup
-taking selfies (left eye wanders)
-seeing movies in 3D (actually this is impossible, it’s just 2D)
-not bumping into people/walls/shopping carts/poles/signs/parked cars/cabinet doors/furniture legs/AC units sticking out of the wall at forehead level and various other stuff I may not see on my left side. Yes I did actually crash my forehead into a metal box sticking out of a wall in a parking garage resulting in a wicked scar and a migraine.
Tomas walked around the backyard with a patch over his eye for 20 minutes while picking up the cat poop and proclaimed it “pretty easy.” I’m pretty sure that’s not a scientific test but whatever. Try driving and going about your entire day like that. Meningitis is scary. I am asked if the blindness bothers me and mostly it doesn’t, except like when I face plant on a public street. But really I’m okay with it because people die from meningitis, they get brain damage, they get blindness in both eyes. When I woke up in the ICU my left eye was frozen shut. I was like okay I’ll just grow out my bangs to cover it, long side swept bangs are in, right? The eye eventually opened but the eyeball was frozen looking left. The doctors said they could fix it surgically but fortunately it moved back into its normal position on its own. It does kind of look “off” sometimes though. Recovery from this was long and arduous. I had some short term memory loss like 50 First Dates. People would call or visit and then if we spoke later I would be all “huh? You were here? When? Who is this?” After I recovered I fell into a depression where I could not talk about it or think about it without crying. Cancer has been so different. Thinking about my cancer gives me some anxiety, but I would not characterize it as depression.
The point of this post really has nothing to do with cancer but is just an FYI – if you see me trip, fall or bump into stuff like a drunk person now you know why.
Yes I KNOW they are lopsided/uneven/crooked. And yes, I know not everyone (in fact hardly anyone) understands how this process works. And unless you or someone you know has been through it, how would you know? I didn’t. I am happy to explain the process because-the more you know-but in the back of my mind I think “did they think I’m just okay with lopsided boobs? Or that I’ve been botched and don’t realize it?” And that’s okay because hopefully by November or December, when all is said and done and I’ve had my implant exchange plus any necessary revisions, they will no longer be lopsided/uneven/crooked (or so the Boob Whisperer assures me). I have seen photos of some other patients who have had the same procedure (latissimus dorsi flap with tissue expanders) and they look great. I just cannot fathom that my rockboobs are going to get even bigger and harder yet. I had read a few Internet stories about how painful the expanders were and after my first few fills I was all “pft, no sweat, easy freakin’ peasy.” Okay that cockiness is now gone because after my 11th fill today, this is an entirely different state of affairs. They are starting to stick out on the sides so when I walk it’s sore when my arms touch them. I feel like I have to hold my arms out a little bit away from my body and then I’m like holy shit, I’m walking like Hanz and Franz.
I can pretty much only sleep on my back, and when I do switch positions during the night it feels like I’m being staked. Someone asked me why it’s so painful but numb at the same time. Well now that’s the question, isn’t it? I was wondering about that myself. I got a B- in high school anatomy/physiology so I’m pretty sure it’s unscientific, and simplistic but it seems to me the pain is coming from the expander being situated under my pectoral so it’s stretching the muscle and the numbness is coming from all the missing nerves, lost during two surgeries.
I feel like I’m in the home stretch though, and the pain kind of feels good in that it reminds me that I’m alive, I’m still here and that most things in life worth having don’t come easy. #rockboobmasochist
So fill-up number ten was today and it fucking HURTS. It’s like someone is trying to shove cantaloupes under my pectoralis major. On both sides. I asked The Boob Whisperer if we (I say we because we are on this boob journey together) are at least half way done and he said “a little more than half.” As soon as I got to work I got out my calculator and started figuring out based on an 800 cc implant, factoring 50 cc per fill, how many I have left. If my calculations are right, I have nine fills left and I should finish sometime in October. I don’t know for sure if he’s giving me 800 but that would make sense if I’m a little more than halfway there. I recalculated too, like four times, hoping the end was closer. Nobody told me there would be math involved.
Since I’ve been mostly just griping about my rockboobs, I thought maybe I should try and identity the positive things cancer has brought to my life. Off the top of my head here are just a few:
1. Stopped drinking alcohol (yes I had a slight, okay not so slight weekend wine habit)
2. Lost 40 lbs. (overindulging in food and liquor had me headed for numerous health issues and some really big pants)
3. Got to be bald in the dead of summer in Phoenix
4. Got to see myself bald (you know you’re curious how it looks and feels)
5. Got brand-spanking new curly virgin hair several months later
6. Learned to take better care of myself. Or really, take care of myself in the first place
7. Learned to be less judgy. I know, shut up I’m still working on that one
8. Feel more compassion for others with health struggles, and any struggles in general
9. Learned I am so much stronger than I give myself credit for
10. Became more self-confident and outgoing (if you can walk around bald and boobless, ANYTHING is possible).
In some ways, I feel like cancer may have actually saved me.
This morning I had my 9th fill up at The Boob Whisperer. While I was waiting I played with the sample implants on the counter which I do almost every time. They feel really nice, much better than the rock boobs I have presently. I don’t think I’ve ever felt any boobs except my own. I vaguely recall feeling a coworker’s fake boobs after a boob job a long time ago. I wanted to feel my daughter’s cute little boobettes but she squealed in horror, “Mommy!”
I noticed the syringes he had ready for me were each filled with 50 cc of saline so I started trying to do mad calculations in my head. I told him about how I had tried on a B-cup bra and it was totally just, NOPE. I’m like “how am I going to be able to tell about the size I want if bras won’t go on correctly?” He said it is because the expanders are not shaped nor do they have the consistency of breasts or implants, but he will help me figure shit out.
He told me to bring in a bra at the end of the month that I would like to ultimately fit into and he would take it from there, which means I have to go pick out a bra. The bras I have are C cups and they’re ratty granny bras that have been in my drawer gathering dust for the last 15 months. I am considering a prank where maybe I’ll get the biggest bra I can find, like one that would fit over my ass cheeks and bring it to him. Another thing I found out is that he will keep the expanders in for one month after the last fill. So I’m hoping neither of us has to cancel any more of my appointments because I’m running out of time to get everything done this year (in this insurance cycle) because God only knows what my insurance will be next year. So far since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, every insurance plan I’ve had has gotten canceled with the new policy’s premium increasing in price by like 30% making it oh, LESS AFFORDABLE. I do know that there will no longer be any individual PPO plans, so does that mean HMO? I don’t even really know how those work but I do know I haven’t heard anything good about them. I am hoping I can get my most important doctors in-network, like my PCP whom I’ve had for 22 years, my oncologist and of course, The Boob Whisperer.
I think I’m up to my 8th fill. I was supposed to have my 9th this past Friday but The Boob Whisperer had to cancel. The receptionist (who is one of those really sweet girls with a sing-songy voice that always makes me want to sing-song too) offered to reschedule. I explained that that’s not really possible because he’ll only do one fill per week and I’m booked through the next few Fridays. Anyhow, they are feeling very sore and very hard. I was hugging this girl I hadn’t seen in a while and she was like “ow” because my rock-boobs can be bruisy if you’re not careful. So if I give you a weird straight-armed air hug like you have BO or something that’s why. They look and feel pretty much like this:
This is actually realistic too because one side really is higher and bigger. I was actually wondering why they were so hard, and then it occurred to me, duh, they need to STRETCH the skin. Sleeping positions can be tricky. The expanders stick out on the sides a bit, so just rolling over can feel stabby. It’s manageable though, and my chest has been sore for 14 months now so I’m used to it, if that makes sense.
I have a rule when dealing with customer service people when I’m dissatisfied with products or services, and that is to be assertive but polite because my first few jobs were in retail so I can relate to the frustrations inherent with customer service jobs. For the first time (okay maybe not the first time), I am pretty sure I broke that rule. I received an EOB from my health insurer stating they would not pay for the leg compressors my anesthesiologist put on me immediately following my breast reconstruction surgery, at a cost of about $400. Anyone who’s had any kind of surgery knows that most doctors put them on you afterward to aid circulation and help prevent blood clots. So when I saw this EOB, my first thought was “fucking seriously?”
So I called the insurance company and said WTF? The cog lady said that the leg compressors were durable medical equipment that were not covered.
Me: Hey, under federal and state law you are required to cover all aspects of my reconstruction. This is smelling a lot like bad faith to me.
Her: Your reconstructive surgery was covered.
Me: Except for the part where I was unconscious and put in leg compressors like any other human who has had surgery so they don’t get a blood clot and die.
Her: Well you can appeal it.
Me: This equipment was obviously medically necessary!
Her: That doesn’t matter, it’s not covered in your plan.
Me: This is why people HATE insurance companies! You would rather I get a blood clot and die, then you don’t have to pay for the remaining reconstructive procedures.
Her: . . . . .
Me: furiously stabs at the “end call” button, because it’s my cell. That’s the bad thing about cell phones. They’re great for hunting Pokemons (Pokemen?) but I can’t get the satisfaction of slamming the phone down.
Well I haven’t yet received a bill for this and the billing lady at The Boob Whisperer’s office said the anesthesiologist would most likely write it off. I don’t know why I called them even before I got a bill, but I thought to myself, the doctor shouldn’t have to eat that cost either. The insurance company should pay for it. It’s the principle of the thing. I felt bad, albeit briefly, for shrieking like a howler monkey at the poor insurance company cog, but I have had so many problems and screw ups with my insurance, I just snapped. And she was super cold and unsympathetic too. I know the call was recorded and while I hope someone over there takes notice of how shitty it is to not cover this, I am not holding my breath. In fact they are probably replaying the call around the office laughing about the crazed breast cancer banshee. So probably my fit of pique garnered me nothing except high blood pressure. And if they weren’t out to screw me before they might be now.
On a more positive note, I’ve had my 7th expansion fill and I think I’m getting used to the discomfort. I was wondering why bras were still too big and apparently because the tissue expanders feel harder and are positioned higher than breasts or implants, they don’t properly sit in the bra cups. And really this is just fine as I am in no hurry to put on a bra.
I mentioned to The Boob Whisperer about watching Botched which is a show on E! about people who have had plastic surgery gone wrong and the then the Botched TV doctors save the day. And mostly he rolled his eyes kind of like in horror, but I love that show even though some of the people are total train wrecks. On a recent episode, a woman had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy because she tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation, which if you don’t know, means she has like an 80% chance of getting breast cancer and a 50-60% chance of getting ovarian cancer. A lot of women who test positive for a BRCA mutation choose to have a prophylactic mastectomy, (for example Christina Applegate and Angelina Jolie). Thankfully I tested negative for both BRCA 1 and 2 because testing positive would have dangerous implications for my daughter. But I digress. This woman on Botched had breast reconstruction and “nipple banking” done where her nipples were stitched to her lower abdomen or “fupa” area, to be later restitched to her boobs after the final implant exchange. I’m thinking now I’ve REALLY seen it all. The Boob Whisperer said that it’s actually a thing. Aside from her fupa nipples, her original plastic surgeon had jacked up her reconstruction boobs bad. Luckily the TV show Doctor fixed the boobs, 86’d the fupa nipples, gave her 3D nipple tattoos and her boobs lived happily ever after.
Recently I came across this photo on Facebook posted by Rodney Frelix and it really hit home with me. Sure enough there were some dickhead comments but most were positive and supportive. When I saw it I felt such a rush of overwhelming love and pride for these women because they are me.
Earlier this week The Boob Whisperer gave me my sixth fill. I asked how many more and he said “we’ve got a way to go.” I’m thinking that doesn’t answer my question at all, but I decide to leave it be. That’s what I get for not framing my question properly. I should have asked him what month he thinks I’ll be done. He was right about the fills becoming more painful, especially first thing in the morning when I first start moving around and it feels like someone is bouncing bowling balls off my chest. During the day it’s pretty manageable because I’m busier and distracted from the pain.
On the upside, they are taking shape. Even the hideous right side manboob is starting to fill out but the expander on that side also sits higher than the flap/expander side so they’re uneven. Note the side floob (floppy boob). The Boob Whisperer keeps telling me to trust him.
My 13 year old is slowly sprouting some cute little boobs of her own now so we’re like growing boobs together. And that doesn’t sound weird at all.
Sometimes it’s tricky to get certain information from The Boob Whisperer. I usually kind of sneak up on him with my questions, framing them in an inconspicuous roundabout way so as not to spook him, like approaching a skittish rabbit. At my 5th fill last Monday while he was injecting me with saline I said “yeah, so what size do you think I’ll be able to end up with? I was a droopy C before all of this.” He said “how about a perky D?” Since I’m medium to above average height, fairly large boned and pretty curvy on the bottom I was so totally hoping he would say that. Otherwise I would just be a giant pear.
Yesterday I turned 50 and it was also the one year anniversary of chemo round one. One thing that surprised me about chemo is that I had steeled myself for worse. Yes it was very rough, and it took so much out of me, but I can honestly say I thought it would be more painful, more nauseating, more SOMETHING. I think I really psyched myself out beforehand. After all is said and done though, I feel so much stronger for having gone through it.
As far as my hair is concerned, it’s mostly trying to grow. It is still very curly and the back is in dire need of a trim because I’ve got this Cindy Lou Who flip-out thing going on. Sometimes in the front I have a Betty Boop/Superman curly lock. Here’s me before my cancer diagnosis, when that asshat tumor was probably already percolating (I don’t know why I look kind of pissed off). Then there’s my hair now. After being able to do my hair in about three minutes there’s no way in hell I’m growing it long again. I think I had some shmexy cleavage before cancer so rudely invaded my body.
Think about eight of your female friends or family members. One of them is likely to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Prior to my own diagnosis I had no knowledge of the statistics, even though my own mom had breast cancer in 1999 at the age of 53. Fast forward to 2015 and at 49, I’m in the same boat. I thought I was informed and vigilant about my health and risks for breast cancer but that was really a bunch of BS and result of the ostrich effect. I thought I had abandoned my ostrich ways back in my late teens and early 20’s, when I thought just not going to the mailbox would eventually make by VISA bill disappear. Or if I ignore the photo radar ticket and act like I never got it they’ll just let it go and no way would they issue a bench warrant. Even though I don’t pay them, GMAC wouldn’t dream of coming to my house and taking my car. Although I had mammograms faithfully, I never did self exams and never really thought about my breasts except during pregnancy and post partum when I needed them to pump breast milk. I would ignore unpleasant topics like lumps and bumps and cysts in breasts. My head was firmly in the sand.
According to the CDC, each year in the United States, about 220,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,000 in men. About 40,000 women and 400 men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer. Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is—
- The most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.
- The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
- The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native
* About 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime (about 12%)
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (not counting melanoma). I can’t believe I didn’t know that. I think I thought lung cancer was. There are always people on TV and the Internet championing funding research for various cancers and other diseases. It’s hard because you can’t support and fight for everything. But to think this year we will lose 40,000 of our mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends to breast cancer is pretty staggering. Talking turkey about these statistics scares people and there are a LOT of women who say “oh I know I’m late for my mammo” or “I know I should do self exams” like admission makes it okay. There are no guarantees in life but I WISH I had paid attention and knew then what I know now and I’m telling everyone until they tell me to shut up. And probably not even then.
Yes. I totally fucking would. I feel I need to climb up onto my soap box now (which I would say I’m loath to do except those who know me would immediately call bullshit). Lately the recent Taxotere class action lawsuit has been appearing on my Facebook newsfeed. Taxotere is a chemo drug that apparently can cause permanent hair loss and the suit claims that the makers of Taxotere knew about this possible side effect and failed to disclose it. Women were then allegedly (I say allegedly because who chooses potential death over potential baldness?) unable to make informed decisions about their treatment. It is also the drug that oncologists prescribe for most of their breast cancer patients, because of its effectiveness in stopping the cancer cells from multiplying and dividing, thus, resulting in a higher survival rate. It is on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system. One study I saw prior to receiving my first round indicated anywhere from 6-9% of women taking this drug will experience permanent alopecia. My oncologist also told me about the risks, including alopecia and you know what? I didn’t fucking BLINK. Because guess what? Hair does not grow on dead people. The comments on the Taxotere suit FB thread are mostly in line with my opinion. There are some women however who are commenting about having permanent hair loss and sticking it to the drug company. I feel for them, I really do. I even was lamenting here that shit, what if my hair doesn’t grow back? And if it didn’t, that would be unimaginably distressful. But I actually had a plan for such an eventuality. I was going to get a beautiful tattoo on my head. I went on line and saw freaking amazing photos of beautiful bald women. And then I honestly made peace with the knowledge that that might be me.
I cannot fathom there are women who when told that a drug is their best chance for survival but there’s a small risk of permanent hair loss, would choose not to take the drug. I’m calling total bullshit on that. So while people may say “don’t judge, everyone’s feelings and emotions about cancer or hair loss are their own, we are all brave sisters and warriors, blah blah blah,” it makes me sick to my stomach to think about what if drugs like this didn’t exist? I had Stage IIIA ILC and had a significantly worse chance of survival without it. So instead of hopping on the class action gravy train, perhaps these women would be better served by turning that negative energy into positive. Be thankful for every Goddamned day that chemo drug gave back to you. Now here is something beautiful and awe-inspiring: