Bad Right Breast

I've Always Hated My Right Breast!

Getting Areolas! March 17, 2013

Filed under: reconstruction — Bad Right Breast @ 10:54 pm

First of all, I think this is the most misspelled word of my blog. A word that I never thought my five year old twins would be saying or even know the meaning of. What is their purpose anyway? (And by that, I don’t mean my twins. That’s a whole other blog, one I actually started two weeks before I discovered my lump but never published.) Areolas – I mean, they don’t have any biological function, not that I know of. I barely remembered what they looked like, I mean at all, and I would find myself comparing them to the only ones that I would see on a daily basis – my husband’s, who by the way has some pretty nice areolas. I would stop myself from rewinding when watching TV so that my cat wouldn’t think that I was a pervert. And no, it’s not a reason as to why I’m such a big fan of GIRLS. Areolas …. Why are they round, and so pinkish? Why doesn’t hair grow on an areola, like it doesn’t on the palm of a hand? And why is the nipple color a tad darker? I imagine a day and age when areolas actually were of some use, or a time unto which we evolve for the areolas to have some purpose. Headlights? Beacons? But I digress. I should start where I began, at the reconstruction surgeon’s office.

When I met Dr. Samson and his assistant Sam (hereafter referred to as S&S), I never could have thought of the long and harrowing road I’d have to undergo to simply feel as if I’m a woman again. I know that I say that intermittently throughout my blog but it’s true. It’s as if each procedure is a step forward. And as I talk with more and more cancer patients, I realize how lucky I am. As in all aspects of life, each person’s journey is different and unique. And it’s not the experience that defines you but how you deal with it. So I take each step as its own. I stay in the present. With that, I’m able to revel in the little accomplishments of each and every step along the way.

When I had my mastectomy, my implants were temporary tissue extenders. Now, I do in fact have pictures and video of all of this, but I’d rather let the anticipation linger until we produce our documentary. Until then, you’ll have to deal with my drawings. My first set of scars looked like an upside down ‘T’ like this.  20130328-080920.jpg


 The implants were saline filled and silicone lined that S&S would inject more saline into the hardened port (which started at the top and rotated to different positions as time went on) to stretch the skin and tissue to the size I wanted. For the most part I didn’t feel a thing. At the worst of times, a tiny pinch. Once we got to the size breast I felt comfortable with (which was considerably smaller than what was infected with cancer), we stopped. This was mostly prior to chemotherapy, but once or twice between chemotherapy and radiation. As time went on, they would grow, so to speak, to be somewhat uncomfortable.

Once radiation had started its deconstruction, the breasts started to harden and truly become uncomfortable. I began to realize why women rushed to have the exchange surgery. But it was better to wait. The damage radiation causes is pretty extreme, on the surface and below. The skin gets burnt literally. I had pretty aggressive treatment focused on 6 areas of my right breast and armpit. (FYI, having a burnt armpit is pretty much the worst type of sunburn ever!) The skin and tissue would tighten on my right side, while my left temporary implant began to slide. All of the scar tissue damage below the surface not to mention to the implant itself, my genius of a doctor would be able to repair when he opens me up and gives me my permanent implants. So I waited through six weeks of radiation and then for another 3 months afterwards for my burnt skin to heal. And for those three months, I would beat on my rocks in jest to friends, creeping them out a little. The pain was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t do any stomach lying positions in yoga. I would give extra long hugs to people just to freak them out, to get my rocks off. That’s right. I said it.

I ended radiation on April 17th and on July 26th I had my exchange surgery, a one hour out-patient operation that would take a mere couple of days to fully heal. The scar? Only a small horizontal line across each breast, giving each breast their own ‘T,’ like this…

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Now, through all of the research, there truly isn’t any ‘safer’ choice of silicone vs. saline. If they should ‘pop,’ you simply know sooner about the saline as it deflates pretty quickly, while the silicone takes some time but does no harm to your body. The lifespan of both is about the same (10-15 years, and yes I may have to get them replaced). As for the feel? The silicone feels more natural. So I decided to go with silicone. After going through all of this (MRIs, PET scans, surgeries, saline inflation, chemotherapy, radiation, minor bouts of lymphodema) I want them to feel as real as possible.

After a couple of weeks, I could totally feel the difference. They’re squishy like my breasts use to be, soft and natural feeling. But minus the nipples and areolas. I start to get resigned to the fact that I don’t have to worry about nipple coverage. That for the first time since fifth grade, I don’t have to wear a bra. That I could be ok with my nippleless breasts. But then there’s my husband. Hardly anyone ever talks about the toll that it takes on the spouse and caregiver. Now, anyone in a relationship knows what it’s like to be completely unencumbered with a partner. Before all of this, Graham and I had been together for 15 years, married for 8, and now closing in on 10 years of marriage I was a different woman. Now I would never question his devotion, love and loyalty towards me. But you gotta admit, sex is not the same after a mastectomy. Not only could I no longer have kids, but I felt as if I couldn’t please him as I had in the past. So in all honesty, the nipples and areolas are gifts to him. As he’d say, ‘c’mon you gotta give me something.’

My scars healed enough by 12/12 for S&S to work their magic yet again. An in office procedure, I’d lie down, and after about 12 injections of anesthesia in each breast, they were completely numb. For an hour, they cut into each breast where the scars came to meet, and in a tri-folding stitching pattern they sculpted me nipples. I didn’t feel a thing except for a bit of tugging. Amber and Elizabeth who joined me afterwards were amazed. As for me? Well, it took some getting used to. They were pretty big, but S&S swore that they would go down in size and if any adjustments were necessary it was easier to make them small rather than make them larger. So now I looked like this……

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Weird right? I would wear bandages for about a week. Luckily it was actually winter and cold outside because now I looked, well, …cold. On 2/26 I went in to have Sam tattoo me some areolas. First, Dr. Samson took a clear plastic template, like I was being scanned for an overhead projector, that had a central point and then varying sizes of circles. He placed the template on my nipple, and we agreed upon a size. He took a dry erase marker, outlined the size and then pressed it onto the center of my breast, leaving behind the circle. Now all Sam had to do was color in the lines. There we go again, the color. How do we determine it? Sam opens a folder and there they are. Photos of my old breast. I don’t even recognize them, but there they are. Sam compares the color and chooses the dye. Another round of anesthetic injections were in order and this time? I could feel every bit of it. That’s right. No matter how painful it was, it felt good to be able to feel it at all. After both breasts were numb, Sam starts her art of tattooing, making the nipples a tad darker. Like with any tattoo, it takes a few days for the skin to heal.

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Now, a month later? Well, I do in fact stare in the mirror a bit more. My girls say that my breasts are pretty. As for Graham? I’ll leave it to your imagination. As or me, I do in fact feel different. So maybe doing the final reconstruction was just as much for me as it was for Graham. I saw S&S for the last time on Tuesday and we were all a bit overwhelmed. I’ll go back once a year for check-ups, and do MRIs every three years. I never thought I’d get teary eyed saying goodbye to these two, Dr. Samson and Sam. What they’ve given me, my family, words can’t completely describe. In the end, it was definitely worth the wait.

 

 

 

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!

 

a date is set …. September 4, 2011

Filed under: cancer,MRIs and Scans,reconstruction — Bad Right Breast @ 9:14 pm

Sorry that it seems like I’ve left some of you in the dark. Just needed some time to process it all.

First, the thoracic and lumbar MRI’s of my spine just show stressed. DUH! But good news is no more cancer in my body other than what they’ve already found.

Second, I met with my plastic surgeon. Dr. Samson, whom Graham loves because he has a scar on his face. Apparently, a plastic surgeon who likes imperfection on his own body is a plus for the G-man. I like him because he was amazing in our consult. The bummer is that I won’t be having the surgery I was hoping for, but the good news is that that the recovery time will be much shorter and I can start chemo much sooner. So no tummy tuck for LBK. DAMN!

Basically, Dr. Samson told me that I didn’t have enough to work with in my stomach or inner thighs to give me anywhere close to 25% of what I have now. I know, he was basically telling my that I’m on the skinny side. While he was trying to give me a compliment I wanted to punch him the face and give him another scar. But, I didn’t. I continued to listen. Apparently, he’s done this before, and there have been women, just like me – big breasted, cancer, mastectomy, turned off of the idea of ‘implants’, opting for tissue transfer, not being satisfied with what the doctors could do, and come back years later to opt for the implant. The tissue transfer surgery lasts 12 hours, minimum of 4 nights in the hospital, and at least 5 weeks to recover. Very invasive, scarring from hip to hip, and painful recovery. The implant surgery – 4 hours long, 2 nights in the hospital and 2 weeks of recovery. They’d put in tissue extenders (TEs) that are full of saline, and I’d most likely have to go in to his office twice to have them inject more saline in order for the tissue and skin to stretch to the size I want. I’d return after chemo for them to put the implant in – out patient, one day surgery, 2 days recovery.

So while I’m pissed that I can’t have what I was hoping for, I’m being realistic that the implants are what I should do. I’d be able to have control over what I get, which I like (since I’ve never had control over these things before, and in more ways than several!) and I can heal much faster to start fighting this bitch inside of me. Dr. Samson also tells us that he has a hybrid procedure that he’s done for larger breast women, in which he takes the excess tissue & skin that is normally discarded and uses it as a ‘pocket’ almost to hold in the implant and makes it feel much more normal than a regular implant, with your own tissue and skin double supporting it. He drew everything out on the table butcher paper (that crap I always hate sitting on at a drs’ office). Showed us where the scarring would be, and showed us pictures of other women’s surgeries – before and after – so that I could have a better idea.

I went home, discussed it with Graham, and called them the next day. I go in for my flu shot on Thursday since I can’t get sick at all throughout this, get tested for the Cancer gene on Friday. My pre-op with Dr. Samson is on 9/13, then I’ll meet with Dr. Estabrook, my breast surgeon to discuss the mastectomy and chemo treatment, then to the hospital to start blood work. The surgery is scheduled for 9/22, 7:30am.

I’ve been making my lists of everything that I need to do between now and then. Know that I still feel perfectly healthy. Still am biking to work, moving massive furniture as we renovate our office (LOOKS BEAUTIFUL!), grocery shopping, schlepping the food up our 3 hills. If it weren’t for the cancer in my tata, I’d think I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life.

But I thank each of you. For your kind words, for your encouraging spirits, for your rays of hope, and for the time that it’s taken you to write to me in support. I know that those in NY will be helping out more than I could have ever imagined, and those far away wish that you could. It’s all appreciated more than you know.

All My Love,
Laurie

PS – I did ask Dr. Samson about the option to gain an extra 20 pounds to give him more to work with. But he said that stomach cells would stay stomach cells. Just because they got transferred to my breast, wouldn’t automatically make them convert. If I lost weight, I’d lose the weight where I gained it, which would then be my boobs. WEIRD! Blasted science hasn’t caught up with my dietary needs!