Monday, January 7, 2013

The Cancer Journey: Is there an end?

I am almost three weeks out from my third reconstructive surgery.  I had the surgery on December 20; an odd-date, right before Christmas, but I am a victim of the insurance company, (as we all are).  I wanted to get it completed in the 2012 calendar year since I already met my deductible!  On one hand, this was very smart and money-conscious.  On the other hand, what idiot with a full-time job and three kids schedules surgery over Christmas (this idiot).

The purpose of the surgery was to 1) re-do fat grafting on my left side, since the radiation has made that area continue to tighten and shrink up, 2) cut scar tissue out from underneath my left arm and 3) nipple reconstruction.

Why do I find it so uncomfortable to talk about nipple reconstruction?  Some of my new friends in my Survivor group call mastectomy boobs, "Barbie boobs".  Barbie didn't have nipples and she is supposed to be the idea of perfection.  Or mannequin boobs - also nipple-free.

I don't think I understood exactly what the nipple reconstruction would entail. I did not realize that tissue was stored during my second reconstructive surgery to use to create the nipples.  I did not realize that they are created and manipulated and come out looking GIGANTIC - seriously - standing out from your body at least 1/2 inches, because they anticipate them shrinking up to 70%.  I didn't realize you would have to "protect" them with two sets of nursing pads for several weeks and I didn't realize that I am supposed to help them "thrive", so they don't DIE!  I am breeding life on my breasts!

So this is the order of things:

October 2011 - Double mastectomy, Stage 1 of reconstruction (tissue expanders)
Remove 11 cm tumor from left side, 19 lymph nodes, 1 lymph node positive (post-chemo)

July 2012 - Removal of tissue expanders, replace with implants.  Fat grafting over implants.

December 2012 - Fat grafting over implant, removal of scar tissue, nipple reconstruction
I would like to think I am done with surgeries.  If I can keep both nipples in "survival mode", I could be there.  It's annoying to have to take care of children, the house, chores and nipples.  (I NEVER thought these things could be grouped together).

The last stage is tattooing of the nipples.  It will be my second set of tattoos, the first being my radiation tattoos.  I wish I had something more bad-ass.  "Oh, yes, I have three tattoos on my chest and am going to get two more."  Not stupid cancer-related tattoos.

I am still taking Tamoxifen everyday, which is my estrogen-blocking drug.  If you look on Wikipedia, it uses the word "antagonist" to describe Tamoxifen.  I know they are using the medical definition, but I feel this is very applicable because this drug ANTAGONIZES ME.  It's annoying and gives me all sorts of side effects, typically reserved for menopause (hot flashes, mood swings, etc).  I know I'm supposed to think it's fabulous and life-saving - and it is - but it's also an irritant.

There are many times during the day where I don't think about cancer and I don't think about its effects on my future.  But when I continue to have surgeries and check-ups and daily prescriptions, it's not as easy to tuck it away.  I try not to look "sick"and take great care in trying to get my appearance back to "normal" (actually pulling on my hair is not making it grow faster, but I'm trying Biotin and hopefully that will help).  I've heard that five-ten years after the diagnosis, it really doesn't affect your day-to-day activities but when I start thinking about the doctor saying, "Your rate of recurrence without Tamoxifen is 60%; with Tamoxifen it's probably 30-40%".  Hmm.  That seems a bit higher than normal. Especially, when you consider:

The odds of getting struck by lightening: 1 in 1,110,000.
The odds of winning an Olympic gold medal: 1 in 662,000
The odds of finding out your child is a genius: 1 in 250
The odds of a woman getting breast cancer: 1 in 8
The odds of my cancer coming back: 1 in 3 

Anyway, wish me luck on my nipple-caring process.  Hopefully, I will be able to report on the success of two new little ladies in a few weeks!


  1. My bestie had hers done the same day! Just one breast (stage 4), but I'm amazed at how good it looks! I can't wait to see how it looks after the tattoo.

  2. Congrats to you for being such a tough woman. I know you must be inspiring other women who are going through the same thing to fight hard and look on the bright side whenever they can. Not just anyone can go through what you are going through and come through it and still be the same happy, steady person on the other side of it.