Category Archives: Me and Reconstruction

Nipple Reconstruction Success

Did I say I’d continue that tomorrow? Sigh….
Well, I’m a little late.
Late enough to tell you that my crazy appetizer looking nipples now look cute and little and are exactly what I wanted. Above expectations. I love them. I’m so glad I was brave.
Now for the tattoo’s….

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Headlights

Remember how I’ve debated whether to get the nipples added to my breast or not, and I finally decided I was going to do it? Well I did go through with it a month or so ago and I almost had a heart attack after I did it. I chatted more than I should have through this little surgery when I had really wanted to watch. So when Dr. D was done, as usual….he gives me instructions while I’m digesting the fact that my new nipples look like a bacon wrapped appetizer that you’d serve at a New Years Eve party. Now I’m not trying to say he did a bad job….it just wasn’t what I expected. So I nod my head as if I’m listening to how to care for my appetizer looking nipples and all I can think is “for the love of God…why did I do this!” I’m pretty sure he makes those quick exits on purpose and the nurse is left to clean up, including convincing me “they WILL look good.” of course I didn’t believe her but nodded and got dressed and left to head home.
Three days later I can’t wait to see what they look like. So I take off the bandages because I need to know of my nipple still resembles a new years eve snack…..
To be continued tomorrow….

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10 Reasons to Reconstruct the Nipple

I hate using the word nipple. I suppose this might be our crazy twisted view of breasts. We can show breasts freely at the beach or at the Mall (some of us can) but mention breastfeeding or see a breastfeeding mom and we get nervous. (By the way, I think this is crazy) I think it has to do with the nipple. So deciding to get nipples or to leave my breast looking like Barbie’s has been a bit difficult. Why do I need them? I don’t. Why do I want them? I’m not completely sure. I have a bunch of little reasons why I want nipples. And since people have asked me how I’ve come to this decision, I’ll share them with you. And a few of you who did a search for nipple reconstruction found my crazy blog and are considering nipple reconstruction as well.

1. My locker room phobia. I reason in my head that if I have a nipple I won’t scare anyone who might glance my way in the locker room. Especially children. They are only used to nipple-less breasts on Barbie and Ken. I’m hoping with a nipple to feel a little less abnormal.

2. My Dear Plastic Surgeon says it will look more like a breast. And I believe him. He says it will draw the eyes away from the scars around the breast. Which is amusing to me because it’s not like I’m going to topless beaches, but I do see myself in the mirror every morning and I know what I used to look like. So does Jeremy.

3. The erotic factor. Yes, I did just say that. I lost any bit of feeling in my breasts when they took them. I may as well like what I see. Women actually are visual despite what the relationship books tell you. We know what looks good and what doesn’t.

4. The erotic factor for Jeremy. He would deny any need for nipples. He’s sweet like that, but I don’t believe it for one minute.

5. My kids. I’m glad my kids still have me. But sometimes I wonder if having normal looking breasts would help them in some way. Normalcy is good, right. I used to joke after I had mastectomies that Elijah (my son) would either like really flat women or really big breasts when he grows up, since he was only 1 when I had mastectomy. I figured laying against my rock hard chest would somehow taint his view of women’s breasts. Silly, I know, but it’s how I pass the time when I’m bored. I don’t think I have big breasts now, but a year or so ago, after reconstruction, I was reading to Elijah and he had his head on my breast and it must have occurred to him that they felt like a pillow, because he sat up and pushed on my breast like he was rearranging the pillows and said….”mommy, you have BIG nana’s.” This was our code word during breast-feeding and it has stuck around. Jeremy and I laughed. Compared to my rock hard chest, they do feel pretty darn good. I like having normalcy, I like having pillows, and breasts with nipples are normal.

6. It completes the job. It feels incomplete if I don’t have a finishing point…..no pun intended. Thankfully they won’t resemble Madonna’s cones.

7. I can’t feel it, so it’s not that big of a deal. The funny thing is that I do actually have some sensation in my breasts. I suppose the stem cells from the fat transferred is somehow healing the transferred skin. Very interesting. But I still didn’t feel much at all. Very mild burning sensation.

8. I can make them whatever size I want. I could choose that for the breast mound and I can choose it for my nipples as well. And, if I’m not happy, Dr. D said he can make them bigger or smaller. I like not having to wear a bra, so I’m worried they will be too big, but he has said I can make them flatter if I want. I suppose I could make them inverted if I wanted too….lol!

9. I hate feeling guilty for wanting breasts again. I know this is stress I put on myself. But lots of people offer their opinions when you are doing reconstruction. Just some advice from me here….but saying”do what feels right for you” is the best advice to give a woman post breast-cancer. She’s been through a lot. But a lot of people, who don’t know what it’s like, have said “why do you need them?” or “mine are small too.” And all I can say is….yours didn’t get cut off, nor does it have scars, they can feel when your husband touches them, and the nipples respond when you’re cold. If I want to have three surgeries to plump my breasts up and make them look like a breast by adding nipples…..and I have a plastic surgeon who will do it for me, then I will! I’m done feeling guilty about wanting normalcy.

10. I like taking risks. I could stay ok with Barbie’s boobies or I could risk no one seeing them but me and liking my breasts and having them look normal to me. I also have a pretty good plastic surgeon so the risk is minimal.

 

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The Finale

You know on fourth of July when you watch fireworks and at the very end they put off a bunch at the same time. But you keep waiting and waiting for that finale, and they keep teasing you, and you keep thinking it’s the end and it’s not. Well that is probably a good way to describe my reconstructions. I keep acting like I’m done and I’m not. I keep saying one more, and it’s not. But I truly am at the end now. In two days I see my dear plastic surgeon for the last time for him to give me nipples. Yes, nipples. There is something very strange about writing about nipples. I’m comfortable writing breast, not quite so with nipples.
But I’ve decided to do it. I’m saying goodbye to the Barbie Boobs and hoping they really do look realistic with nipples.
And really….the last finale will be getting the nipple tattoo’d. I promise.
Wish me luck:)

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Reconstruction Experience #3

It’s done.  I’ve been sucked, tucked and schmoozled one more time.  (That sounds so gross, but I’m leaving it)  I’m sore, no doubt about that.  But happy, really happy.  I can’t believe technology is such today that they can suck fat from one place to donate to another, but they’ve done it three times to me and it’s working like a charm.  I just might like my body more now than I did before cancer. 

When I went in to surgery we hand a little snafu.  When I checked in the receptionist asked if my birthday was 2/2/71 and I said, no 12/2/71.  So then when I signed the paperwork I noticed it had me listed as 39.  So when I got back to Jeremy I had him reassure me I was only 38.  Then I said to the woman who took my back for pre-op that I was only 38.  I wanted her to know this NOT because I thought it was important other than I WANT TO BE 38 and not 39.  I just do.  I will relish in 38 as long as possible.  But here’s the funny, or not so funny part about it.  They still had my birthday wrong.  And I’m really telling you this because at Northwestern, they really areprofessional.  I’ve never had a bad experience with anyone.  They all try to make you as comfortable as possible.  But they also DO EVERYTHING by the book, which means, right after we got to the operating room and they had given me my first dose of happy medicine, they realized my birthday was wrong.  This is a very big conundrum for them.  Because once I’ve had drugs I can’t sign for myself and Jeremy had already left with Charis for American Girl and the ferris wheel on Navy Pier.  So for a few minutes I thought I was not going to have surgery.  Everyone was rushing around trying to get ahold of Jeremy.  I heard a lawyer out talking to the nurses.  Dr. D was reassuring them he knew me and was my patient, but they needed risk management there, so I knew even he wasn’t going to talk them in to budging.  Finally Jeremy answered his phone and rushed over, and surgery…..

And that’s all I remember. 

When I came out of my groggyness I had to pee so bad I cried.  I couldn’t pee.  It was a horrible feeling.  To be half drugged, in horrible pain and to feel like you’re going to pee your pants.  You’d cry too.

They had put these compression pants on me, which are so sad I can’t even describe them to you but considering they were on when I was trying to pee, you can just imagine them.  So my nurse graciously offered to take them off for me.  What do you know.  I pee’d.  I have NEVER felt such relief in my life.  OK, I’m exaggerating a little.  But I was crying on the pot, that’s how upsetting it was to me under all that anesthesia.

I then stumbled back to my room to listen to two very loud, very interesting patients in the next room.  Take note people, when you talk loud in hospital rooms that are separated by curtains, EVERYBODY can hear your business.  EVERYBODY!  I shouldn’t tell you this, but since I don’t know who these people are I will tell you their stories:

Lady1:  Had no idea what medicine she had taken and when but she had a lot of them.  I won’t even tell you what illness she had, but she talked very loud.  Then after not being able to remember all the medicine she was on and forgetting to take half of them she asked the doctor how to get a residency at Northwestern and if she could work full-time while doing a residency.  Now, maybe she had already gone to medical school, but I have a feeling not.  I know she was talking loud because I couldn’t hear a thing the doctor or resident said, but I could tell they were very gracious to her like always.  I wanted to scream “shut-up.”  I know, bad clergygirl.  But I was freezing so I had my 6 blankets over my head but I still couldn’t shut her out.

Man 2:  He wasn’t annoying.  In fact, I felt bad for him.  He sounded really young and he had what I believe was some sort of testicular cancer.  They were going to be doing surgery again to hook up his urethra.  It sounded like he was doing well.  But he admitted to the nurse that he still “party’s” a lot, which ain’t so bad….I like a good party, but he admitted he drinks at these party’s, and not just a little.  Adding it up in his head he said that makes several beers a day.  He also said he smoked, but could quit for up to 5 weeks at a time.  **Sigh** Let’s pray for man 2, because you would think he would have more respect in his body having cancer that young and not just quit smoking for 5 weeks….but for good!  I wanted to be his mother and go over and give him a nice long lecture, but I stayed under my six blankets.  I had also asked for socks between lady 1 and man 2.

But I didn’t yell or lecture.  Nor did I really enjoy the loud recovery area.  Maybe it was EXTRA loud because I was coming off anesthesia? 

So my legs are swollen and black and blue.  My breasts are perfect.  I’m good.  I’m happy.  I’m almost done.  Almost 99.9% back to me, with a few scars for the ride.

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Happy Mother’s Day to Me!

I’m on my way to Chicago for my 3rd surgery. It will be a smaller less invassive procedure. Dr. Dumanian is going to fix up a little spot that is not cooperating on my right side.

But the really great thing that he’s going to do is liposuction my hips to move the fat to my breasts to even them out and give them a little more umph. Pretty amazing stuff that you don’t even need implants anymore, you can just transfer fat! So as long as my fat doesn’t mind being relocated to my breasts this should be my last somewhat major surgery. My body could decide to absorb the fat….joy…but that isn’t likely since he did a little last time and it worked.

I’m stoked for this surgery. I feel totally confident in my surgeon. I feel like we’re old pals now. Not like the “deer in the headlights” grief-stricken breast-less self-esteem shot young woman he met last February. He’s had a major part of my physical reconstruction as well as my emotional. He always promised he’d see me through the end and he hasn’t wavered in that.

So today I feel like a mother, and a wife and a woman, and tomorow when I come out of a hazy drugged fog I will be the size I was before cancer and I will have hair and it will feel good to be feminine and me, with a little smaller thighs:)

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My Belly/Breast Cast. Seriously.

This story begins long ago, before cancer, when I was pregnant for Elijah.   Some of you might know that I loved childbirth.  Crazy, I know, but I did.  I wasn’t overly fond of pregnancy, especially the first and last trimester, so I suppose you might ask why I liked having babies?  It was the birth, all about the birth.  (I enjoy quick, extremely painful things, not drawn out low-grade pain. 

But I loved the miracle of birth.  Every one of my children was born naturally, and my last baby, Elijah was born at home during a cold January night.  Totally planned with a certified midwife.  It was beautiful. 

So as I was preparing to give birth to Elijah, it occurred to me that this was my last pregnancy and I should do something to remember it.  I had heard about belly casting, but always thought it would be expensive.  But I started reading about it and realized I could go and get paper mache materials at Michael’s and Jeremy could help me do it.  Actually, Charis and Meleah helped too.   A decision was made that we would do my belly and my breasts.  A decision I’m actually thankful for now.  Jeremy wrapped me in plastic wrap.  Something he’s always secretly wanted to do.  And the paper mache-ing began.  I remember it being a night of laughter and fun.  Me, 9 months pregnant, wrapped in paper mache goo.  And then I had to wait for it to dry….lol!

I didn’t realize how glad I would be to have that belly/breast cast. 

So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and we knew I was headed for a double mastectomy, my sister said….”maybe you should make a cast of your breasts.”  I remember thinking for a moment about that thought…..but then remembered I had my pregnancy cast buried in the basement and cried “I already have one!”

So there it’s been, down in the basement waiting for me to pull it out, dust it off and do something with it.

But WHAT should I do with it?

I remember looking at pictures on-line of women who decorated their belly cast thinking….”I have to come up with something cool.” 

And then the second question now is “where do you put something like a belly cast with breasts?”

I mean c’mon people….even YOU would feel a little weird if I invited you over for dinner, and there, displayed over the dining room table was my belly/breast cast, of which I have neither anymore.  Ummmm…..awkward.  I’m pretty sure you would either bust out laughing or try not to look at it.  The question is, which would you be….lol!

So what do I do with it?

Here's the first thing I did with my belly cast. I put my sweet little baby Elijah back in it for a photo shoot.

Maybe I should coat it in outdoor paint and make it a lawn ornament....for the back yard of coarse...lol!

Maybe I could make i t in to a bird bath. I think I've read "Once Upon a Potty" one too many times.

Maybe I could just wear it around for the fun of it. I think my plastic surgeon should see this, no wonder my belly was so flabby. I was HUGE!

I really want to do something with my belly.  I joke about it, and it is kind of funny that I have this belly cast, but now that I’ve had breast cancer it takes on more value for me. 

What I’d really like to do is have someone else decorate it for me.   Maybe they could decorate my cast AND me, like Michael Colanero does here at Breast Cancer Awareness Body Painting Project?  Such a cool thing he’s doing there.  Check out this video.  This one is censored, but the other’s aren’t so be WARNED!

I wish some place like this would paint my cast for me! 

And what’s up with painting casts of women who don’t have breast cancer.  What would be really great is if they offered casts to women who were about ready to lose their breasts!  What a cool gift!  But I get it.  There’s not much money in gifting a breast cast **sigh**.  And the point is to raise money for a cure….which of coarse I am 100% behind as well.

Just wish I could find someone to do something cool with my cast!  Hint, hint!

So if I do paint this thing myself.  What should I do?  Maybe I can make it in to a fruit bowl?

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Surgery #4

It’s just me. Coming down off the excitement of driving over to meet with Dr. Plastic at Northwestern today so it’s late and I can’t sleep so I’m updating. I’m scheduled for round 3 (that’s 1 mastectomies and 3 reconstruction surgeries) on May 10th. He’s going to fix the right side that for some reason is not cooperating. It’s left over from my mastectomies so it’s really to the right of my breast. He’s also going to do a new procedure called fat grafting to increase my size. This means he’ll take fat from my thigh’s and move it to my breasts. (no offers please, he has plenty from my thighs to work with). It’s really amazing what the serious plastic surgeons are doing these days.

Since he’s also world renowned in his hand/arm nerve work, I asked him about the neuropathy in my arms. (he’s known for reattaching arms with feeling and for work with prosthetic arms with feeling). I have an increasing amount of numbness in my arms and hands. It doesn’t hurt, but is annoying. I’m so glad I asked him because he thinks I can get help through physical therapy. It may be reversable. It’s probably another side-effect of radiation. Gosh, I just love all the radiation side effects. Can I have a “do over.” I’m pretty sure I would refuse radiation. Ugh!

Hopefully the fat transfer will work the first time, otherwise there will be a second try. I know, you are all wondering why I do this to myself. Here is why:
A. I want everything in me to be me. I’m already screwed up so adding something else potentially screwy to my system scares me more than surgeries.
B. I want to be bigger. I’m sick of feeling like I need to apologize for feeling like I want to be the size I would normally be had I not had cancer.
C. I can. They have the technology, I have the fat. Put a great doctor in the mix and whamo…a new me.
D. Once the fat takes, it’s there for good. No rupturing, leaking, replacing. I’d like to grow old with set of breasts #2.

That, and I have a really nice day to myself. I’m starting to look forward to my trips over to Chicago. No kids. Trader Joe’s. A few stops at Starbucks. A stop at Michigan City Outlet. I come home a happy girl.

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Locker-Room Phobia

I’m not one to avoid going out if I don’t have make-up on.  I quite often throw on a coat over my PJ’s and slide in to some big boots to drive my daughter down to school.  I’m just waiting for the day that I, for some unforseen reason have to get out of my mint green mini-van at the school in front of professionally dressed parents in my old, well warn PJ’s with a pattern that resembles lucky charms. 

The day is coming.  And I am prepared.  Seriously. 

But here’s what I’m not prepared for.  Ever. 

It strikes a fear in me like no other.

Are you ready…..it’s THE LOCKER ROOM.  Yes, the locker room. 

I feel a bit like I’m back in 5th grade and you start to hit puberty and you realize you are changing, but aren’t sure changing is really ok, so you dread being naked in front of 20 other girls after gym class. 

It’s that kind of fear. 

Now, I’m not so fearful of the normal women’s locker room.  I don’t fear damaging anyone for life when they might see my scarred and nipple-less breasts, but I do worry about the shock factor.  Like, whao….I was not expecting that.  Because frankly, lets just be honest here.  Breasts without nipples is a bit scary.  

Even I was scared after my initial reconstruction.  It just looks, well, different.

But here’s what really gets me nervous.   The locker room at the water park in town where I take my kids, that’s what makes me nervous.  You see, my children are used to seeing my body.  But other children aren’t.  And there are no family changing areas there and no curtains to hide behind.  Just me, the locker room and young children all curious and wondering why I look so different.   I caught a teenage girl staring the other day.  And I’m quick.  Super quick.  You’ve not seen someone change from a bathing suit to a shirt as fast as I can.  The problem lies in how wet the shirt gets.

So the other day I came in to this locker room and started helping my kids get ready.  And there stood several women from my children’s school. 

Lovely.  Just lovely.

I am wrapped in a towel, I look horrible, dripping wet, and they are standing next to me chatting.  One of them says, “are you an Angling Mom?”  I look slowly at this woman and smile a nervous smile, as she proceeds to say “you drive a green mini-van.”  Yes, yes I say. 

I really want to melt in to the floor at this moment.

I can’t believe the predicament I’m in.  I have three children yelling and screaming at me to get their clothes.  And my kids, bless their hearts, don’t get it.  And Jeremy would get really angry if he thought I was being all self-conscious about my body in front of the girls.  So I’m draped in a towel in front of women that RECOGNIZE me.  Shoot.  What to do.  I did what any other laid back mother who recently went through reconstruction surgery for breast cancer would do.  I LEFT my children to fend for themselves and I found a bathroom stall to get dressed.  Thank goodness my 3-year-old didn’t run off. 

I just couldn’t bear to change right in front of these women who may/may not know I’ve had breast cancer. 

If I were being really truthful, this really is one of the hardest thing for me to deal with emotionally.  It sends me in to a pathetic emotional downer.  I dread it before we go and I dread it as we leave.   It takes me a day or two to recover. 

Until the next locker room trip.

But like everything else,  I will not let fear keep me from enjoying life.   I will conquer the locker room for the sake of my children’s water park adventure.  But man, am I so tempted to skip it. 

Can any other breast cancer survivors relate.  You’ll make me feel SO much better if you tell me you can.  Or better yet, overcame your locker room fear.

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Plastic Surgeons and Magic Wands

My plastic surgeon has a magic wand.  It looks like this:

I am totally serious.  He stuck a long thin needle into the side of my hips and back fat, wiggled it around, turned on the vacuum, and now that the swelling has gone down I am flat out (no pun intended here) AMAZED!  Maybe all that pain IS worth it….lol!  I may never have the breasts I once had but I may have the hips of my early 20’s again!  After having three kids I’m quite sure my love-handles would have stayed forever, no matter how much dieting and exercise.  What a nice little Christmas surprise for me:)  My only worry now is that the food I’ve eaten over the past few days will somehow gravitate there in an attempt to survive….lol!  What a bummer that would be if I ate my way back to love-handles.

On the other end, the upper end.  My breasts are healing up well, except for a lump of fluid under my right arm.  I decided to go have it drained right before Christmas with a doctor here locally, but she felt like it would increase my risk of infection so I chose to wait on it.  I’m hopeful it will just absorb into my system.  If not, it may need to be drained eventually.  There is also a possibility it may also get infected.  Ughhh.  I am SO not wanting to have another open wound.

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