Category Archives: post reconstruction

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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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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Reflections of Reconstruction, part 2

One very hard lesson I have learned in the process of reconstruction is that plastic surgery is painful.  My chest lost most feeling after the mastectomies so none of the recovery from any of the reconstruction surgeries has been very painful there, but the tummy tuck and the liposuction in my hips have been quite painful.  My dear plastic surgeon does not miss a thing I say.  When I told him I was sure I wanted the DIEP for the tummy tuck….he gave me a REALLY great tummy tuck.  On Monday, before my surgery, he asked if he could lipo the area to the side of my breast and I let him know he could lipo any fat off me he wanted…..so he did….lol.  I’m not sure he does this because he can, or because he feels sorry for me (and figures I could use the self-image boost), or simply because the extra fat was needed to boost my breast area…..but I think it’s fun that he did it for me whatever the reason.  I have certainly paid for it this week though!  Jeremy and I were laughing today about the moment I said “you can lipo anywhere” to him because the resident was standing behind my doctor and both of us noticed he had a little smirk on his face….and now I know why!  He knew what I was asking for….lol! 

Everything after the surgery was a total blur.  I remember waking up to incredible itching.  I can’t really describe it as pain, just itching all over.  I remember two women running in and out of the recovery area trying to help me and I feel bad because I don’t think I was being very cooperative.  I think I kept asking for Jeremy, my doctor and the anesthesiologist because for some reason I thought one of them could help me?  And then in between that I kept trying to get out of bed.  I don’t know how many times I tried to get out of bed, but I do remember them restraining me at least once.  I don’t think I’m going to allow them to do anything to me again unless they have a bag of Benadryl hooked to my IV…lol!  I don’t want to go through that again.  When some of the itching did subside, I realized one of the really nice women WAS a doctor and that is my first clear memory…..of her looking me right in the eye and saying….”you are having a bad allergic reaction.”  She also added that I am probably really allergic to opiates.  How about that…..note to self….avoid opiates…lol!   I do remember Dr. Dumanian coming to check on me and seeming alarmed…and he doesn’t normally seem alarmed by much of anything.  And I remember thinking how glad I was he was there, but I don’t remember how long he stayed or what he said.  I thought it was funny when they asked me if I wanted to stay the night?  I don’t remember answering them, so I guess they decided it was a good idea. 

And when I woke up in the morning I was greeted by Chase and Foreman from House and I got to show them my scars.  Seriously.  Would someone tell Northwestern that they are not ER, House or Grey’s Anatomy, because I swear the prerequisite for a residency there is that you must be either beautiful or good-looking.  To give them a little bit of the benefit….I will also have to say they’re very nice, there hasn’t been a mean one in the bunch.  The nurses too.  But in my fuzzy haze coming off narcotics I think I asked Jeremy if I was on House….lol.

I don’t want to say too much about how I feel about the work Dr. D did because I want to wait for the tape to fall off and it’s hard to tell.  But so far so good.  Digger is gone.   The shape seems really good, but the right side is still really puffy.  If it’s not swelling then there could be a problem, but I’m pretty certain it’s swelling.  And the huge red marks/bruises from the lipo are starting to go away and the pain is subsiding some…..but now those spots feel very itchy.  I was well enough to go Christmas shopping today and I even made gingerbread cookies with the kids. 

All-in-all, I’m glad it’s over, and I’m ready for Christmas and two fun weeks with my kids.  I don’t want to think about the next surgery for a while.

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Nip/Tuck, Recovery Day 2

I’m in a lot of pain.  I took my pain meds and got back in to bed this morning until it took effect.  Then I could get up and get Charis ready for school.  I’m actually surprised I’m so sore.  Hopefully it will only take a few days to feel better.  I had another itching attack again yesterday.  The Benadryl must have worn off.  So Jeremy and I got to a pharmacy and I got some allergy medicine and so far so good.  Hopefully it doesn’t flare up again today.  I hope they can find something else to use on me for the next surgery….because each surgery seems to get worse as far as the itching goes.  And yes, there will be another surgery.  There will probably be a few more.  Aghhh….the price of beauty.  I’ve had to decide if it’s worth it to me, and I think it is.  I’d like to feel somewhat normal and this is helping me feel that way.  I’m not about being bigger….just normal.

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Clergygirl Itches, Fights Temporary Insanity.

Thanks all who were praying today. I’m doing well. Digger indentation is gone and overall I can see a positive difference. The only hang-up I’ve had is itching. Once again I had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia and as I came out of my groggy slumber it became uncontrollable. The nurse and doctor tried to do as much as they could and were very patient and good to me. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced itching to that extent….all over your body…but let me tell you….the word insanity comes to mind. I become a very different person….a crazed person. I told Jeremy….when it is at it’s worst….I feel like yelling like a crazy lady and grabbing my nurse and begging her to help me. It really is not fun. It has now happened to me three times. After my mastectomies, then reconstruction, and now today. This time it came on quicker and was probably the worst I’ve experienced. I wanted to rip the bandages off and itch everywhere like crazy. I would have invited anyone in the area to itch with me…..lol. What a funny picture that would be.  Everyone picking a spot and itching. But it would be downright gross. But Jeremy will scratch for me. What a good hubby he is! So the Benadryl only helped slightly so they got some hydrocortisone cream and we caked it all over. Finally, some relief. They decided then that I should stay the night. Much of the itching is gone thankfully. I’m on some sort of prescription and we rotate the prescription meds with the Benadryl every few hours and it keeps the itching under control, so now I can rest some.

On a good note. Before I went in to surgery Dr. D used his marker to plan out his strategy. On the sides where it pooches a bit under my armpit he suggested lipo’ing the area and asked if it was ok. Is it ok?  Is it ok?  He could do lipo on me anytime, anywhere! I would never not say yes to lipo anywhere but my breasts….lol! So he lipo’d my back fat and the sides of my hips a bit and after a tough cancer journey he gives me perks like this. He is genuinely a very kind man and a great surgeon. I am so grateful to have a surgeon who I really trust and who is helping me feel better about my disfigured body.

And if I sound super chatty and happy in this post, I am….lol.  Thanks to a little magic pill called norco I am feel’in real good….lol!  I’m just hoping I don’t come back and read this and realize how loopy I was.  Because then I get embarrassed by my misspelled words and sentences that don’t make sense….lol!  I have a good excuse:)

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Fixing Me, Take 2

They’re going to wheel me in to th OR soon. Dr. D will be in to meet with me. Good-bye digger! Hello to symmetry! I’ll update later today.

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Lucky

Last week I was at our family physician’s office.  It’s a busy place with lots of commotion.  If I didn’t like our doctor so much I wouldn’t go there.  Then there’s my kids, who, for some reason decide that a physician always needs to see how active and completely annoying they can be.  Maybe this proves some sort of health and well-being in a child, but I HATE taking my children to the doctor’s office.  All three of them at the same time is a complete zoo.  Then, the added craziness of the office is total chaos.  My only salvation in this mess lately has been my iphone.  Crazy, but true.  If you have a toddler, the iphone can save you much grief.  It’s all in the applications.  You can download many of them for free and they have animal sounds, shapes, ABC’s, matching, you name it.  It will keep Elijah content for quite a while.  The problem is when all three of them are with me and they decide to fight over the phone.  Then it’s not so fun.  But Elijah usually wins the battle because he cries the loudest and he can’t sit still for more than a millionth of a second without deciding to climb the chairs and warm-up the stirrups. 

So it’s always an adventure when I head to see Dr. S.   But he always seems to enjoy Elijah and the girls and he doesn’t seem the least bothered by them, nor does he seem like he thinks my kids are overly crazy.  Most doctors tell me this is somewhat normal for young children.  Maybe it’s the lighting?

So when we went to leave the other day, I went up to the reception desk and I have to sign the paperwork really quick usually and then I leave.  I’m pretty sure we have met our out-of-family maximum with our deductible, so I’m really not sure what we owe on our co-pay so I always tell them to send us the bill.  And anyone with cancer knows, you decide how much you can pay each month and you just start making payments.  And since I had my major reconstruction in April, I’m quite certain we’re pretty close at this point.  So the office manager happens to be at the registration desk as I check out, and she asks me if I have a co-pay….and I say, “I’m not really sure,”  I’m pretty sure we’ve met our deductible at this point so I’m not sure what we owe.”  And with that she said “lucky you.” 

So my kids were already running out the door so I had to leave, but if I hadn’t had three kids with me that I had to tear after, I would have gone back in and done a reality check with her.  Because this is what I have to say…..and she should know this because she works with medical bills…..but I AM NOT LUCKY to have reached my deductible….lol!  If you have reached your deductable in this day and age, chances are you either have dynamic insurance or someone in your family is seriously ill.  And there’s a really great chance it’s the later possibility.    Oh, or maybe I’m a hypochondriac who visits the doctor WAY too much because I have health insurance, and in that case, well, maybe then I would be considered lucky.

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Nip Tuck

I went to the 19th floor of “the castle” as I like to call it. It’s just the Northwestern mega-plex in the city. I don’t know why, but going in to the city always makes me nervous. It’s silly really because I lived in a Chicago suburb for a while and I lived in the city of Baltimore. Maybe it’s the three hour drive there? Maybe it’s the anticipation? Maybe it’s the reason I’m there? I don’t know. But Jeremy came with me this time, and it helped. Although he did tell me I was super chatty….but this is my usual response to nervousness.

So this time I came with a list of questions. What to do about my breasts? I’m happy to say, Dr. D offered a plan. This is very good. Because I need a plan. I very rarely do life without a plan. I like plans. It puts me at ease. Just to know he can try a few more things makes me happy. So on December 14th, he’s going to nip and tuck. (I’ve always wanted to say this….lol). But seriously….he’s going to nip…..or maybe tuck digger. Whatever it’s called….I’m just glad he thinks he can fill it in so there’s no indentation. And he’s gong to lift my breast flaps a bit. I can’t really explain why and wish I could show you how this will help, but I can’t show you, so just go ahead and take my word for it. I really think it will look better.

Then Dr. D had me go take some pictures. I really can say the before and current difference is truly amazing. I’m really surprised he takes my complaining so well because I’m telling you….I look AMAZING compared to my pre-reconstruction pictures.

He’s always such a good sport. He even called me clergygirl today….lol!

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What did you say?

The neighbor girl came down this morning while I was in the shower.  As I opened the bathroom door, my 5 year old yelled “don’t show Nellie your boobie!”  Now, sensitive that I am, I felt a bit sad for a second, because although I wouldn’t go prancing out to show the neighbor girl my reconstructed breast, it did make me sad that my daughter was so embarrassed by my new breasts that she would yell that quickly to remain out of sight, so as not to be embarrassed by me.  Sigh…..

But then I realized that “boobie” is not a term we use in our home usually.  So I yelled down the hall.  Did you say “bootie” or “boobie?”  She yelled back “don’t show Nellie your butt!” 

Ohhhhh.  What a relief. 

I’m still waiting for the day my daughters are repulsed by my breasts…..but you know, it hasn’t happened yet.  They may surprise me.

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