Bad Right Breast

I've Always Hated My Right Breast!

ME & ANGELINA May 17, 2013

Filed under: cancer,mastectomy — Bad Right Breast @ 6:58 pm

So if you haven’t heard, Angelina got her knockers taken off in order to decrease her odds of contracting the big C. While most people are praising her for the decision she’s made, others are wondering if it’s a step they should be taking as well. So before you rush off to maim your mammaries, I want to give you a little insight.

All cancer cells are genetic, which means we are all born with the capacity of our cells to mutate and become cancerous. However, with all of the research, funding, tests on lab rats, and races for the cure – there is only ONE test available to see if your cancer is hereditary. The BRCA (pronounced baraka) test tests for only one specific cancer gene linked to a type of breast, ovarian, colon and pancreatic cancer. Only 5% of those with these cancers are positive for the BRCA Cancer gene, thus have the capacity to pass it on to their children.

The testing is done in only one place, somewhere in Utah. The first round of testing costs about $3,000, and in most cases is covered by insurance. I say the ‘first round of testing’ because there are three various results that can come from the initial test – positive, false positive, or negative. Seriously. There is a second and third round of testing that can be done in order to provide the most accurate result – either true positive or true negative, but costs an additional $700-$800 each and is most likely not covered by insurance. To prepare for the testing, you must provide family medical history back to your grandparents siblings (if they had cancer, if so what kind and at what age, what did they die from and at what age, etc). Then they draw blood, and you play the waiting game, once again.

Most women do the testing if they’ve already proven positive for cancer in one breast, or another gene related organ, in order to determine if they should be aggressive and proactive in any other treatment. In Angelina’s case, her mother died of ovarian cancer at a fairly young age, so she was moved to find out if she had the gene before it would have the chance to mutate. I mean, she’s already got her litter, so her boobs really have no other purpose (sorry Brad). What more could she need them for? By having a double mastectomy her chances of getting breast cancer have gone from over 85% to less than 5%. Now if she decides to have a hysterectomy, her odds will be less than 2%. Crazy right?

In my case? I found my tumors, their cancer, and the fact that they had already spread to my lymph nodes on my own. I chose to have my double mastectomy before I had MRIs, a PetScan or was even tested for the cancer gene. I have two beautiful girls. I want to be around for them, the same concept that Angelina had. I wanted however to do the genetic testing, not for me, but for my daughters. You see, if I am positive, their insurance would most likely start covering mammograms for them at 20. Can you imagine that?

When I sat down with my genetic counselor, she looked at my family history (beforehand I would have thought that the majority of cancer came from my mom’s side, but it was my dad’s that proved more compelling) and the red dots were prominent throughout my entire family. Great aunts and uncles, grandparents, an aunt, second cousins – some still living but most deceased. The doctor says, ‘This is a prime example of a cancer that is most likely hereditary.’ So I have to sit on that statement for a week until we receive the results, all the while imagining my girls scheduling their mammograms in between their junior year finals at college. But a week later, the doc calls. She’s dumb-founded. I’m negative. She can’t explain it. Once again, I’ve lost faith in the medical industry. Completely at a loss for words, I tell her that since I’m going through with the double mastectomy anyways, there’s no point in more tests. She, hearing my frustration, asks if she can do the second and third test on her own. I give her permission, as long as she shares the results with me. But in the end, I’m a true negative. That’s right. Negative. Cancer on my family tree like chicken pox on a toddler, and still I’m negative. She confides that there is still so much unknown. Environment? Nope. My family is in Louisiana, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Virginia and more. The cancer is not just in women but in the men too.

So what does it do? Well, for one it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve given a death sentence to my daughters. On the other hand, it proves that after all of the pink ribbons and races they still can’t tell me how or why I have developed cancer, and an aggressive one at that. In the end, it’s all about knowing your bodies. Which is why I want to discuss men. We as women are taught to see a GYN the moment we either hit puberty or young womanhood and continue to do so annually. It’s also a part of our nature to talk, about everything. When I worked on my genetic history and confided to the doctor how I hadn’t known about my father’s side, she said it’s extremely common. Men just don’t talk, and it’s not in their make up to want to know. But not knowing is the worst decision that can be made. Denial and ignorance do nothing to prevent cancer.

Angelina Jolie made her decision for a multitude of reasons. She’s had her kids. She wants to be around for them. But there are women who have made this same decision in their twenties even before having kids, simply because the alternative is too daunting. Women who choose to remove their ‘good’ breast(s) do so having fully reconciled to the fact that they would rather live than have the chance of being told, ‘I’ve got bad news to tell you.’ There are women who decide to just do a lumpectomy and take their chances. Having a mastectomy doesn’t make you less of a woman, neither does a hysterectomy or even both for that matter, nor does a lumpectomy. What it does mean is that you are brave enough to have made any decision at all. All of these decisions are right for each person because each person is different, each with their own list of scenarios and circumstances. What matters most is that you guard yourself with as much information as you can so that when you do make a decision, it’s one that you and your breasts can live with.

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Merry CANCERLESS and Happy New Nipples December 30, 2012

Filed under: mastectomy,reconstruction — Bad Right Breast @ 9:40 pm

If you’re not the sharpest tool in your shed, then I’ll be blunt. I got nipples! And this posting will be solely dedicated to the little headlights women have forever either flaunted or hidden from the rest of the world.

See, my mastectomy wasn’t as traumatic as I originally thought it would be. Since I had larger breasts and always yearned for a reduction, the idea of getting smaller breasts was actually somewhat becoming to me. After the initial surgery, I had no qualms in showing friends my breasts, to give a better understanding of what a mastectomy actually looks like. Not so much that I’m a mardi gras beads kinda gal, but since they were synthetic they no longer felt a part of me. Especially since they were the temporary tissue extenders and felt more like rocks, and that at any time if they would be taken way I wouldn’t feel a lick of difference. However once I had the permanent implants in place, I started remembering what having real breasts felt like and would start to feel a bit nostalgic. I no longer had to wear bras, the first time since the fifth grade! I could wear nearly any outfit I wanted, and feel totally comfortable and at ease.

So when the time came to get my nipples, I started questioning. Why? Why in the world do I need nipples? It’s not as if they would work, as in any breastfeeding function. That is, if I can even have kids. Without nipples, I need not worry about something falling out like a Tara Reid, or showing my ‘tune in Tokyos’ through a blouse. I could, for the first time in life, not give a care in the world as to how my breasts looked in any outfit. But then there’s my husband. For the past 14 months he’s soldiered through all things related to breast cancer – doctor appointments, scans, tests, surgery, follow ups, chemotherapy, radiation, more scans, more tests, and another surgery. The least I can do for the man that stood by me throughout it all was give him a couple of nipples, right? Rather than he look at my artificial tatas with their ‘T’ shaped scars, it may be a bit more appealing if they actually looked a little more, well …..real. So when I return to my doctor, I’m doing it for Graham. Or so I thought.

My reconstruction surgeon, a genius thus far, talked me through the entire in- office procedure two weeks beforehand. That’s right, they manufacture the nipples right there in the office. No hospital necessary! Dr. Samson always marveled at my skin’s ability to heal well when it came to scars. Even before my mastectomy, when looking at my c-section scar, or what’s left of it, he said, ‘oh yeah, you’ll be just fine.’ Ever since then, I knew I was in good hands. Albeit, it’s taken four years for my c-section scar to get to where it is today, barely noticeable. But when you have kids, and look at how fast four years have gone by, it seems like a piece of cake.

I forget that I made the appointment during one of Graham’s classes and during Becca’s matinee so I text the next two friends who would appreciate new nipples – Amber, a newly certified dula, and Elizabeth, a documentary filmmaker. Both leap at the opportunity. Waiting in the doctor’s reception area is a bit like the kid in a candy store feeling – anxious, excited, a bit nervous. Neither can go in with me during the procedure for fear that they would pass out. Not their fear of course but Dr. Samson and his assistant’s, Sam. But, immediately following, my support team can join me. I go in, undress and wait for Sam. She takes photos of me each and every time to use in their catalog to show other patients the progress of procedures. When done, I jump onto the examining table and wait for Dr. Samson. He comes in, and draws on the areas that will soon become my nipples. With the two of them examining my breasts, conversing back and forth about the exact location, they agree that the left nipple should be only slightly higher than the right in order to give the perception that they’re even. That’s right, after all of this my breasts still aren’t exactly perfect. Radiation on the right side makes the skin tighter which makes the breast sit higher, not that the left is sagging by any means. But with the nipples, oh boy, not even I will be able to tell after looking long and hard in the mirror.

Samson leaves, while I hop back onto the table in order for Sam to inject the local anesthesia. This is always the most painful part. Little deep needle injections, puncturing in a circular formation surrounding the areas on both breasts in which they’ll cut the skin. The first few stabs are cringing, but as she continues the breast becomes numb and she repeats on the other. Minutes later, the doc re-enters and they begin. They slice the top horizontal line of my T-shaped scar, and a small portion of the vertical, turn the skin up into a triangle and suture a nipple together. I only feel a tug here and a pull there, no pain or pinch to speak of. It’s the first time I’m really able to chat with the two of them, which is a bit odd at the time but it is relaxing considering all I need to do to watch them slice and suture me is lift my head and look down. I do twice just to say that I did. Yep, those are my breasts and those are scalpels ….and I slowly lay my head back down. As they predicted, an hour later I’m done. The doctor leaves as Sam finishes up, and for the first real time I get a good look at my nipples. They are HUGE! Sam quickly says, ‘They will get smaller and when it’s time for the tattoo it’s easier for us to make the adjustment for smaller than it is to make them larger.’ Wow, this is quite a change. My two spectators enter. One quickly grabs the camera, and the other can say nothing but, ‘Oh my god, they look so good!’ We all chat and joke while Sam cleans me up. A bit reluctantly she agrees to allow Elizabeth to return with camera in tow for the nipple and areola tattooing in 6-8 weeks.

The three of us leave. I have some Christmas shopping to finish up, and my two amigas are laughing at the fact that I’m minutes out of the doctor office and already on the run. But I’m fine, really. My breasts feel a bit numb, but other than that I’m completely fine. I dodge through the madness of Hell’s Kitchen and then Times Square, all the whole protecting my new additions, making sure no one bumps into me or accidentally elbows me. I get on the subway to pick up the twins, and suddenly feel the urge to whisper my secret to everyone on the train. ‘Guess what? I got new nipples today.’ Then life continues as normal.

Once I get the girls to bed later that night, I get another good look. Wow, they do look good Amber Ford. I mean, they have stitches which will take several weeks to dissolve, and there are the suture strips on the horizontal T now separated by a nipple! And they are a bit big for the moment, but yes, they do in fact look good! And what I didn’t expect to happens, does in fact happen. I start to feel as if I got them for myself, sorry Graham. Maybe it’s the sense of feeling like a woman, or the idea of finally having breasts that look even, or the realization that I’m steps away from looking and feeling normal once again.

For days afterwards, I show anyone I can – associates at work, moms at the neighborhood holiday party, friends at a cabaret, the host of a private gathering, more friends, more associates, more moms. I have to start to restrain myself for fear of starting rumors that I’m the mom that lets people look down her blouse. Several weeks have gone by, and if anything, I’ve felt that I’ve appeared colder than usual. Because I hate stitches, I started to pull and cut what was there which caused some bleeding. So I bandaged them up for over a week, and now? Well, I can go into the new year proudly cancerless and with new nipples. And who knows, maybe I’ll get them and areolas tattooed by Valentine’s Day. A girl, and a guy, can only hope!

 

Surgery & Recovery September 26, 2011

Filed under: cancer,mastectomy — Bad Right Breast @ 9:50 pm

It’s been total of 5 days since my surgery and it’s crazy to think that it hasn’t been longer. Becca, Amber and then Graham’s parents took care of the girls until yesterday which was a huge relief. We left for the hospital Thursday morning, I, along with all of the other cattle called surgeries corralled into the elevators to the same floor to prep for our various operations at 6am. I was too freaked out by that that we went up in our own elevator.

We waited til they called my name, then I went back to, once again, answer all of the normal questions – allergic to anything, heart problems, asthma, anesthesia affects, etc. Then I dressed into a paper gown, NOTHING underneath, and Graham was allowed to come and wait with me. Dr. Samsun, my plastic surgeon, came in to ‘mark me up’, you know those stereotypical shots of a surgeon marking a tummy tuck/thigh lift patient. He was very sincere, talking me through the entire operation step by step, one last time. He allowed me one last glance before he covered me up and i walked right into the OR. I kissed Graham, who returned to the waiting room and would stay there for 5-6 hours.

As I entered the OR, the staff and anesthesiologist were giving crap to my Breast Surgeon for ‘being late’ once again. I knew she was dressing, knew there was no reason for her to wait around for the hour of prep. So, as I literally jumped up onto the operating table, I told them to get this thing started, that I didn’t need to see her before the surgery to know she was going to do it. (The next morning she came to see me and laughed at all that I told her. I don’t remember a thing, even seeing her, but apparently, I told her, in front of all in the OR, how none of them appreciated her masterful work, and that she deserved to show up for her operations when she was good and ready. I guess you don’t talk crap in front of a patient who adores her doctor that happens to be the chief of surgery. Again, no memory of any of this.)

I came to, somewhat around 7pm. They moved me into a shared room, I remember moving myself, with some assistance into my own bed, given my drip meds button, and Graham sitting there patiently. I tried to keep water and bread down, but threw it all up. I remember one of the doctor assistants coming in to check on me and to look at the stitches, so with my assistance we unvelcroed the backwards bra and I could barely see any stitches. By the look on Graham’s face, he was more than pleased! Grant it, these are just the tissue extenders, and there is still some swelling.

He had to leave around 10pm. The nurse then said if I couldn’t pee in the bed pan, that I’d have to have a straight catheder (sp?). I tried, man, did I try. But I remembered how painless the catheder was during my c-section, I decided not to stress. Thirty minutes later she came in, and in went the pee plug. No pain actually, a little pressure, but effortless urination. That night I was up and down. Pressing the pain button, dealing with a neurotic suite mate, being woken to check vitals. But all in all, I could move around. I was sore, but could move.

The plastic surgeon came at 7am (whom I was now dubbing as Doctor Picasso), and said that all looked great and the surgery went amazingly well. The chest soreness is because they actually lift the pectoral muscle and place the top part of the tissue extender underneath, then take the lower part of what would be the discarded skin/tissue and fold it in to use it as a pocket to hold the underside of the tissue extender. Then he folds over the top tissue. The scarring is like an upside down T – 1/2 moon under the breast, and small vertical where the center of the new breast will be, minus any areola and nipple (to be constructed and tattooed on later when I get the implants inserted). He said that if I could get off of the drip meds and be ok on the oral meds, I’d be able to go home, where I knew I’d get more rest.

So that was my goal. I called the nurse to add anti-nausea meds to my drips. The drip meds were causing me to vomit anything I put into my system. If I couldn’t keep anything down, they wouldn’t let me go home. Then I insisted on help walking to the bathroom. I knew I wouldn’t be able to pee in a bedpan no matter what, so slowly but surely walked, scooted, snail trailed my way to the toilet where I peed. YAY! One down!!!! With the anti-nausea, I was able to keep down the bread and water, so I had to be adament about them removing the drip meds and giving me percocet. (The one doc was trying to convince me that vicodine & Tylenol 3 were the same as percocet, but I’m no fool. For my C-section, percocet was what allowed me to get up and walk almost miles a week afterwards.) My breast surgeon came in and confirmed the percocet, and then also prescribed valium for the muscle soreness. She then admitted that they removed more lymph nodes than what she was planning because she immediately saw the cancer presence, but that we knew it was there and were already planning for the chemo. Now, we just have a better way of analyzing the treatment process.

So by noon – I held down red pepper ravioli, vegetable medley, orange juice, hot tea, wheat bread and a chocolate twinkie. Aw yeah. So then I just needed to learn how to empty my drainage tubes. Very cyborg, and honestly the most painful part. I have 2 coming out of the my right and one coming out of my left. I have to empty them each night and keep the measurements for the doctors’ office. The fluid is like that that builds up when you have a sprained ankle, or swollen limb. Because they don’t want the fluid to have the possibility of causing infection, they want it to be drained out of the body.

I got home Friday afternoon. Ordered Trufa pasta – fussili pesto chicken with sundried tomatoes. Took my meds, and then passed out. Saturday, I had my best friends here to just sit with me. I do try to be a good patient, but I can wipe my own ass. I mean, I’m gonna be reasonable. And then food started to be delivered, which I never thought what a godsent that would be but thank you all. Sunday, my mom arrived, and knows me best, and knows me so well that lets me boss her around when I need to.

The girls came home yesterday afternoon. They know to be gentle with mommy. It’s a little harder for Penelope than Sophia, but we’ll take it one day at a time. They’ll be busy with pre-school and tap/ballet class during the week, so it’s just the time at home. I was able to take a full shower tonight, thanks to my mom, buying me a shower mastectomy shirt – you’ve no idea the paraphenalia they have. But I’ve made the decision to remove the torture backwards bra that squeezes you all in, mostly to help push out all of those fluids. They were just bothering my stiches where the tubes insert into my body, and at any other time I’ve had stitches that started to irritate me, I’ve removed them myself. But this time, I think it’s best to just put it all on ice and let the doc do it tomorrow.

It’s really all about keeping up with the meds. Perkocet & Antibiotic every 4 hours, Valium every 6 hours, Tamoxifen once a day. And then there’s the stool softener which I took immediately 3 times a day, and am proud to say that I had my first bowel movement yesterday. Boy howdy, I’d have them cut off a 3rd breast to never feel that again.
So now, it’s been about 30 minutes and the meds are soaking in. I do thank all of you for your well wishes. I know this was a bit easier for me, mentally, because I always knew that I’d have a breast reduction at some point in my life, just not like this. So the actual removal of the breast wasn’t as traumatic for me as I think some people thought. I’m actually looking forward to probably fitting into to my clothes better than I ever did before, and then to go bra shopping all over again. And for Graham? I mean, what man can say that he has one woman in his life, that can go through a variety of breast sizes before she chooses which one she likes.

Then again, this is the easiest part. I get the tubes out tomorrow, then the following Monday, get all of the pathology reports back about – the stage of cancer, start of chemo, type of chemo, length of chemo, and all of the next step.

in good news? I’M NEGATIVE FOR THE CANCER GENE! So all in all, this was just a total fluke, and caught early because I did a self-exam. Life is a bitch. But then again, this same life as brought me so much joy, laughter and love. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything else. Just another challenge.

much love to you all.
Laurie

 

Our Last Two Months August 22, 2011

Filed under: chemotherapy,mastectomy,radiation — Bad Right Breast @ 4:19 am

Dear Family & Friends,

As some of you may know, but most of you not, the past couple of months have been a worldwind.

Less than a week ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I found a lump early July, waited a few weeks to confirm that it didn’t go away (and I wasn’t crazy!), & then got a mammogram & sonogram that confirmed something was ‘suspicious.’ I then had 4 biopsies done, 3 of which came back as invasive carcinoma, one of which is in my lymph nodes. I waited to post any news til I saw a specialist, which happened this morning.

Needless to say I feel so comfortable with my team that I’m not even waiting for a 2nd opinion, because as you can imagine the waiting is nearly just as horrible.  Dr. Estabrook is amazing & my kinda gal. No nonsense, didn’t rush us, answered all of our questions. Good news is that my tumors are estrogen positive, which means they’ll be receptive to estrogen blocker pills. I’m starting on that today to shrink the tumors, and will continue on them for another 5 years.

Because of the 2 tumors in the breast, I’ll need a masectomy. Because of the tumor in my lymph node I’ll need chemo, but we won’t know the extent until I get more tests. I’ll get a left breast MRI on Wednesday to confirm it doesn’t have any tumors (would know results after 3 hrs). And then I’ll get a pet-scan to confirm there’s no cancer anywhere else in my body. I gave blood for them to analyze today, so along with the MRI she’ll be able to give an estimate of the stage of cancer.

Because of the high risk of cancer in my family I’m testing for the cancer gene on 9/9 but the results take 3 weeks. She said I could wait for the cancer gene results & left breast MRI results to see the current possible outcome of the left breast before opting for a double masectomy. However, I’ve chosen to not wait any longer and to go ahead and do both. This isn’t something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of days, or the past month. With the amount in my family, and especially now having kids, I don’t want to live my life constantly worrying if it’ll ever come back & be in and out of chemo forever. Ten years down the road, I don’t want to have to go through this all over again. She said it’s what she’d recommend in my case but never wants to come out and immediately suggest it, and that she talked with my doc already & they both agreed.

So this note isn’t just an update on this horrible incident happening. I found it because I did a self-exam (3 months after my GYN did my annual). I listened to my body. I was already scheduled to get annual mammograms because of my family history, but the self exam pushed me to make that appointment that much earlier. Right now, I want each of you who read this, women & men, to think about the last time you examined yourself & do it now!

I’ll be fine. This sucks more than anything. But on the bright side of things, I’ll get that breast reduction surgery alot earlier than planned, get a great weight loss program started, and maybe even get a tummy tuck to boot! (But not my butt, I like that part of me way too much:)

And if anything, this is just another part of life that makes me put it all into perspective. I’ve always known I’ve had friends & family that love me, but you truly don’t realize the depth until you hit a low that’s unimaginable. I love you all, and looking forward to you watching me kick cancer’s ass.
Bad news? I fucking hate pink!

With much love and inspiration,
Laurie