Monday, October 14, 2013

Ugly and Perfect

I'm going to start this blog post with something I wrote to a friend after she emailed me to ask about how I'm recovering from last week's surgery:

"I'm loving this little/no boobies thing! It's ugly (stitches and symmetry-wise), but it's perfect for me. I've been so sick of my boobs and worrying about them that it's a relief to have them GONE. And my body is now so used to being cut and stitched, that I've barely had to slow down this week. I hope I don't sound fake-chipper, like everything's great but it's really not. I am truly just plain old thrilled to get on with my life."

I actually don't even think that paragraph fully describes how tremendously wonderful I'm feeling about my decision. Why did I ever go for reconstruction in the first place? Actually, I do know the answer to that. I wanted the doctors to make my cancer go away immediately, so when they told me what is usually done, I simply said, "Do it." Most women want reconstruction, so the doctors told me it would be easier to do it up front. Now, a year-and-a-half later, I've had time to think about who I really am. The real Shari never needed fake boobs in the first place. I'm SO happy to have them gone.

HOWEVER, something I left out in my emotional posts trying to accept my cosmetic/corrective surgery last week was a description of the reality of what I would look like after my reconstruction was reversed. Paul and I were quite aware of how flat I'd be, but since that doesn't matter to us, I didn't even think of describing it here. Now that it's done, I want to prepare you for the pictures you know I'm going to share.

I'll begin by linking you to another non-reconstructed woman. During the summer of 2012, that bummer summer when I was enduring biweekly chemo treatments, I read a few stories about Jodi Jaecks, a woman in Seattle who wanted to swim topless after undergoing a bilateral mastectomy. She did eventually win the right to do so, and not surprisingly, she was willing to be pictured in a local paper without her breasts. She's really skinny, so I knew I wouldn't look quite like her, but it gave me a starting point as to how to picture myself.

For reference, here's a shot of me that shows the boobs before the best breast cancer ever. Note, this was before I started taking naked pictures of my breasts. And the hunchy posture was because I was talking to 2-year-old Reese in the chair next to me. But it gives a good view of the 36Ds while they were still growing the breast cancer.

Now here's the after picture, a bit blurry due to 4-year-old Reese's photography skills. I've been reading from other flat post-mastectomy bloggers that the most common comment I can expect is about having lost weight. In truth, I'm almost exactly the same weight in both pictures, but in better shape now.

 Before I show the nakey picture, I want to tell my closing story, so people who don't want to look can just click away after the punchline. As you can see, I have a little tube coming out of the bottom of my shirt leading into the black fanny pack. That is a drainage tube, and in the fanny pack is a little bulb that holds the blood and fluid that drains out of my body. The other day I had this conversation with Paul:

Me - "As much as I loathe having this drain and I'm counting the minutes until it comes out, I'll actually miss having a fanny pack. It's such a perfect size to carry wallet, keys, phone and pen without having to bring a purse."

Paul - "You know, honey, you don't have to have a drain in to wear a fanny pack."

Newly boobless me - "Yeah, but that would look weird."

(That was the punchline, so people who don't want to see my boobs, please click away now.)

Here's ugly but perfect me!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Correction - Corrective Surgery

I've sincerely appreciated all of the validation and support since I posted yesterday about Monday's cosmetic surgery. Every word and "like" has helped build my confidence in my decision. There's one Facebook reply that I have to copy here, though:

"Elizabeth R... - Shari, I hope no one in the medical field made you feel this surgery was cosmetic. It's corrective, not cosmetic. It's not just about visual symmetry or having smaller boobs (both awesome reasons to have it done, btw); it's about the fact that the original surgery had a complication and you are correcting the outcome. You have an asymmetry and scar tissue, both of which could contribute to problems in the future (referred pain, muscle tension, neck and back pain). The PT in me is relieved you made this decision and knows that Practical Shari rocks! The friend in me hopes you treat yourself as kindly as I know you would treat me if things were reversed."

So lookie there! I have a new name for the surgery! I'm having "corrective surgery" on Monday. So much less guilt involved.

In answer to Liz's question, none of my surgeons ever gave me a name for this surgery. In the beginning with the cancer diagnosis, appointments were made for me with many different kinds of doctors for tests, surgeries, and treatment plans. Now that the cancer is (supposedly and hopefully) gone, I have to take the initiative. I call the plastic surgeon. I call for a second opinion. I check with the radiation oncologist to make sure it's safe. I call the surgery scheduler. Therefore, it feels elective, and since the doctor is a plastic surgeon, it felt cosmetic.

Now that I know it's CORRECTIVE, and because of all of the offers I've received, I'm ready to accept a little help during my recovery. Liz and Liz (one from above and the same team from last year) have updated my Meal Train with a few more dates. Here's the link. I'll keep everyone posted if any other needs come up.

Thanks again for all of the support and friendship!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fixing the Crater Boob

If you read blogs by women facing breast cancer, something I'm sure you all do for kicks and giggles during your free time, you'll find that many women post at least once about sadness regarding the loss of their breasts or the change in their natural appearance. In fact, a local friend who blogs about her experiences unabashedly admits to crying in front of the mirror about her new appearance. Although I respect this perspective, I couldn't be more different. I don't care. I can remember crying three times in the past two years: the first was when I found out about having cancer and I was worried about how it would affect Paul and the girls, and the other two were in the bathroom feeling painfully sick during a/c chemo. When I look in the mirror, I think things like, "It's crazy how quickly I've adjusted to my look without nipples!" or "Isn't the human body amazing that you can cut it open and then sew it up like a shirt and it heals itself back together!?!" or "I wonder why that skin is sticking to the bottom of the crater?" (Answer: scar tissue.)

I know I'm a bit of an oddity among women in my nonchalance about my appearance. But I actually take pride in the fact that I'm confident enough to be photographed in my bathing suit, bald and steroid swollen up 18 pounds, and have it posted on Facebook. See:

Now I have to bring up our friend the crater boob. With it, I've performed all of my duties as a mom, wife, and friend. I've completed a triathlon and a 10k. I don't think I've been judged or lost any friends due to my lopsidedness. And I can still look in the mirror and smile.

So it is with quite a bit of guilt and embarrassment that I make this vain announcement: I'm having surgery to fix the crater boob on Monday. I'm actually having the other implant taken out, excess skin removed, and both sides pretty much flattened out.

My primary reason is that the mathematical principal of symmetry appeals to me. Although most people, including me, are not precisely symmetrical, this seems vastly different than one ear being slightly higher or a mole on one side that isn't on the other. Bras don't fit and shirts are lopsided. "But you're alive and happy!" I argue with myself. I have no response, but somehow I've decided to go ahead with this surgery.

A second reason for this decision is that I have learned that I prefer my natural body to silicon. There's nothing specifically wrong with the implant, but for someone who doesn't wear make-up and has never dyed her hair, having a big silicon breast seems just as hypocritical as me having Monday's surgery.

Finally, and this is the most selfish reason: I just want small boobs. I wanted them originally, but when Dr. Baum decided to recreate what I had before I didn't complain. Healthy was most important. But here's another opportunity for the small boobs I've always wanted.

See, I'm riddled with guilt.

To explain what's going to happen, I'm going to put a nudie picture right here on the main page of the blog. Sorry Ron and any other men reading. I'll crop it and make it small so it barely even looks like a breast. Here goes:

On Monday afternoon, Dr. Baum* is going to cut open the seam down in the bottom of the crater. Then he'll scrape the scar tissue out and cut out the surrounding skin. Finally, he'll sew top and bottom skin together, flattening out the appearance. Using that right boob as a guide, he'll cut open the left side and remove the implant, and do his best to make them match. Then Flatty Shari will wake up, hopefully not be in too much pain, and go home to resume normal life.

I've checked with Dr. Alpert (radiation oncologist), and even she seems confident that the radiated skin that caused so many problems will heal appropriately.

Since I've been feeling so hypocritical about this elective surgery, I've procrastinated blogging about this surgery, now only 72 hours away. I know you're going to ask how you can help. Caring for the girls on Monday is covered (thanks, Karrie), and a ride to gymnastics on Tuesday is, too (thanks, Sarah). We haven't lined up any meals for next week, and a ride for preschool on Wednesday might be in order, but this operation doesn't award me any special treatment. It's all vanity, I tell 'ya!

*I did go for a second opinion, and this new plastic surgeon was better with the whole bedside manner thing, but he suggested doing the very same thing. Dr. Baum has been with me the whole way along and is a great surgeon.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pinktober Misconceptions

Picture from
Usually when I post, it's with information about MY breast cancer and how I'm doing personally. I even managed to do that on my Pinktober post last year. Today, I'm going to veer away from posting about myself just a little bit to make sure that you understand two important things about Pinktober. It's fine with me if you want to "celebrate" (although I do not), but the teacher in me has to make sure you comprehend what's going on.

Misconception number one is about self-exams and mammograms. They do not cure breast cancer, and they do not save lives. If you are performing a self exam or getting your annual mammogram and a malignant lump is found, you already have cancer. While it's great that breast cancer awareness led you to find the cancer, you still have cancer. Personally, I had my first mammogram at age 35 (earlier than recommended) and nothing was found. They told me I didn't have to come back until after 40, and then through a self-exam at 39, I found my cancer. It wasn't CURED by my diligence and awareness. And no matter how early I'd found it, it could still come back after all this treatment I've received (called metastatic breast cancer, which I've mentioned fearfully but realistically a number of times before). My point is that people being "aware" of breast cancer isn't doing the trick. The money and celebrations should focus on paying scientists to find that cure.

The second misconception is about the pink stuff you see in stores. Imagine you run into the grocery store for toilet paper and yogurt. On the way to the check-out, you see some cute, pink, fuzzy socks with a pink ribbon on them. The sign above the socks says that 10% of proceeds for fuzzy sock sales go to breast cancer research and awareness.You figure that with winter coming, you can never have too many warm socks, and you're helping out with this breast cancer thing, too, so the $10 for the socks is well spent.  Guess what? You just gave $1 to help with that cure mentioned above (or less, if you discount the awareness part), and you gave $9 to the grocery store and the sock manufacturer on an item you weren't planning to buy in the first place. Just an idea: Send the whole $10 to a reputable breast cancer researcher. Or buy a meal for someone undergoing treatment. Then get your socks at the sock store when you need them.

I tried to keep this short and simple so I only included two of many misconceptions. There are plenty of other breast cancer bloggers like me who have negative opinions of Pinktober and pink in general. If you're interested, here's a link from Nancy's Point (blog) and another from The Accidental Amazon (blog), and an amazing article from last April in the New York Times but in general, just Think Before You Pink.