Doctor Day-Part Two

After we left Dr Grasee’s office, we headed to Noblesville to visit Dr Birhiray at the hospital up there.  The directions his office had given me were pretty vague.  Basically, they got us to the hospital and that was about it.  Once there, we were on our own.  We went in a door near the entrance for the professional offices, thinking that might be where he was.  Rather than wander around, I stopped immediately at the information desk and asked the volunteer where I could find Dr Birhiray’s office.  In his 70s, missing a few fingers (ex-machinist, perhaps?) and laboring to breathe, the volunteer in question looked at me quizzically and said, “Beer hurray?”  Yes.  Then he asked what kind of doctor he was.  It was when I explained that he was an oncologist that the pitying looks and the unsolicited reassurance began.  All the while, I’m thinking, “Can you please just tell me how to get to where I need to be?”  Finally, our friendly volunteer gave us the absolute most convoluted directions in the world, slowly, and punctuated by many laborious breaths.  (Good thing we were early) By this point, we’d pretty much deduced that the place we needed to be was on the extreme opposite side of the hospital.  Rather than traipse all the way through, we asked the volunteer what door the office was closest to so that we could just drive around and park near the entrance.

 With that information, we drove around and parked near where we needed to be.  Sort of.  We still had a ways to go.  Having learned nothing from the previous experience, I again stopped to ask the two old ladies at the information desk where I could find Dr Birhiray’s office.  Once again, I was met with blank stares as if they’d never heard of him.  They even asked me if I was sure he had an office there and not in some other building.  I assured them I was, and they asked me what kind of doctor he is.  Here we go again.  When I said he was an oncologist, there was this strange vibe that came over my two helpers.  It was one of shock and pity.  Please.  Cancer is not getting ready to kill me, but frustration just might if I don’t find somebody who can tell me how to get where I need to go.  They give us directions to “the cancer ward” (which sounds like someplace no one ever returns from—or as Don Henley put it, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave) and we are on our way. 

 Arriving at the end of a hallway, we come upon an entire flock of these volunteers sitting and drinking coffee, and shooting the breeze.  Apparently, there is no Hardees in Noblesville, so all the oldsters hang out in the hospital every morning “volunteering”.  Maybe it’s because there is no Hardees, or maybe it’s because at the hospital, the coffee is FREE.  I glance quickly from left to right to try to determine, without assistance, which way we need to go, but it’s too late.  “Do you need help finding something?”

 Aw crap, here we go again.

 Me: “I have an appointment with Dr Birhiray.”

Oldster #1: “Who?”

Me: “Dr Birhiray.  Oncology.”

Oldster #2: “Oh, <insert pitying looks and tone of voice> you need to go left and the cancer ward is on the left.”

(Meanwhile, some of the others cluck softly amongst themselves, no doubt about what a shame it is that I’ve got one foot in the grave.)

Me: “Okay, thanks.” (walking away)

Oldster #1: “They have really nice doctors down there.”

Chorus of Oldsters: “Uh-huh, they do.”

 As I power walked away, I could hear them murmuring amongst themselves.  I don’t know for sure what they said, but I’d guess it was something along the lines of, “That’s just so sad—dying so young!” 

 Once I found Dr B’s office, everything was normal again.  Sort of.  Instead of waiting and hour to get in, it was only about 10 minutes.  It seems that up at that office, there are fewer distractions, less interns, and things actually run on time.  Who knew?  Doesn’t make me want to go up there again and have to run the pity gauntlet, though.  So, I scheduled my next appointment back at the usual place.

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Doctor Day – Part One

Normally I go to see Dr Birhiray at his office up at the Breast Care Center.  In order to do that, the appointment has to be on a Tuesday or Thursday, because Dr B spends the rest of the week at other offices. I like going to his office at the BCC, because it’s all breast cancer patients, and I usually go in and show off my long hair and generally be a poster child for life after breast cancer.  Another reason I like it is that it doesn’t have a TV with which to blare soap operas like the Hux Cancer Center where I did my rads. And I think I’ve mentioned before how I do not like going to the main oncology place because it’s full of people in all stages of a variety of types of cancer, and it really just weirds me out.  I much prefer to go to the BCC where, for the most part, you don’t see anybody who looks like they’re on their last leg.  Bald, yes, but that is a temporary thing, and we can handle that.

 However, the last time I scheduled an appointment, it was going to fall in the same week as my follow-up with Dr Grasee, so Hubster said, “Can we schedule it for the same day so we don’t have to make two trips?”  Well, we *could* but that would mean that I’d have to go seen Dr B in his office in Noblesville.  Despite my whining about not being able to go to the BCC for my appointment, Hubster insisted that we kill two birds with one stone and schedule the appointments on the same day.  And since I didn’t have any better argument than to whine, “But I wanna come heeeere” we made the appointment when Hubster wanted it.

 The appointed day arrives and first stop is Dr Grasee’s office in Carmel.  This is the follow-up visit where they will take to official “after” picture of my reconstruction.  Dr G is very pleased with how the recon looks, smiling and commenting how it’s really not obvious that the tissue has been radiated.  If you remember, I had to sell the idea of the expander/implant to Dr G, who wanted to do the LD flap procedure because of the radiation.  I take pleasure in reminding her of that as I sit there looking all fabulous.

  So, now that I’m all super-fabulously reconstructed, I asked Dr G about getting the newpple tattooed.  Because the newpple is just regular skin color, many cancer girls elect to have it tattooed—in my case it will be matched to the color of the remaining nipple.  So, Dr G referred me to a woman who specializes in such tattoos.  Her name is Cricket Hemp. 

Cricket.  Hemp. 

Given the name (is there even a remote possibility that it’s her real name?)  I’m pretty sure a Janice Joplin wannabe is going to be doing my newpple tattoo.  Should I be worried about this?  I mean, what if she tattoos a peace sign on there, or worse yet, a smiley face?  You know, I get kinda grossed out by needles, so I probably won’t be watching.  And forget Hubster—he’s really squeamish.  My only comfort with this deal is that she works for Turkle and Associates rather than Cricket Hemp’s Groovy Booby Tattoo Palace.  Dr Turkle is top notch, so I’m clinging to the hope that she wouldn’t hire some crazy hippy.

 I guess I’ll know for sure when I see her on October 29th.

Hair I Am…18 Months Later.

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Today is exactly 18 months from my last chemotherapy treatment.  I thought that there might be some folks out there who wonder what 18 months worth of post-chemo hair growth looks like, so I snapped a picture.  That’s my “I have HAIR!” face.  I’ve also had, if I remember correctly, 5 haircuts, not including the few times that I shaved my head post chemo to get rid of that chemo clear fuzz.  Yes, my hair IS naturally curly, and yes, it was that way before chemo.

 Also, check out the noob.  What, you can’t tell which one it is?  Mission accomplished.  And speaking of the noob, while I am still not allowed to really exercise, the noob has it’s own regimen prescribed by Dr Grasee.  No, the noob isn’t on the elliptical or taking a zumba class.  Instead, I have to push it around twice a day.  As Dr G put it, I’m supposed to shove it “north, south, east and west.”  Sometimes I even sing it song while it works out, like maybe a little Matchbox 20 or Salt N Pepa. You know I’ve got a whole medley worked out of push themed tunes. 

 I’m sure you’re wondering why I have to exercise the noob.  Well, all expander/implant reconstructions have a risk of capsular contracture.  The body forms a capsule around the implant, just as it would with any foreign object, and that’s fine.  But sometimes, these capsules decide to turn to a life of crime.  And so they contract, and become hard and painful.  When that happens, the implant has to come out, and we start over from scratch.  Since I had radiation, I’m at increased risk for this.  Like, there’s a 50% chance this thing might go bad on me.  So, I have to exercise my noob twice a day as opposed to the standard once a day. 

 Mini Me finds the idea of noob exercises disturbing to say the least.  But then again, Mini Me is disturbed by a lot of this, especially my willingness to show the new construction off to my girlfriends.  At church a couple of weeks ago, Angie wanted to see the newpple.  So, I say come on into the bathroom and I’ll show you.  Mini Me started to follow me, because she hadn’t heard what I was actually doing.  Unfortunately, Hubster gave her a heads-up.  I think it would have been way funnier if she’d have come bopping into the restroom and then actually asked why Ang and I were in the handicapped stall together.

 Last but not least, check out my cool-beyond-words necklace, sent to me by Shirley in South Africa.  Is that not awesome?  I have the coolest readers.

So Not a Sausage

I went for my post-op check-up with Dr Grasee a couple of days before Christmas.  I know you’ve all been anxiously awaiting the report from that visit, wondering what sort of crazy newpple I ended up with.  As I’ve often found with this whole breast cancer deal, the reality really doesn’t live up to the hype.  This newpple isn’t as big as a Vienna sausage—it’s not even as big as a cocktail weenie.  It doesn’t look like my big toe—why, it doesn’t even look like my pinkie toe.  What gives?  I mean, after the post-op instructions made this big deal about “do NOT be alarmed” by the freakish way your newpple looks, I was all psyched up for something that would actually be worth writing about.  Why do you think it’s been so long since I last posted?  I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to figure out how to make this thing sound funny.

 But, alas, it’s really not all that freakish.  Dang it.  Well, other than the fact that it’s a piece of my groin skin sewn onto my chest.  So, I guess if you actually *think* about it, it’s kind of freaky after all.  But just to look at the thing is kind of a non-event.

 As far as my recovery goes, I have to say that it’s been a piece of cake.  The pain has been minimal, with the groin incision being the most annoying aspect of the entire deal. 

 Of course, I’m relegated to wearing a sports bra, day and night, for the first 4 weeks.  That’s getting on my nerves, but it’s still better than the surgical bra I wore for the first week.  A surgical bra is like your grandma’s sports bra.  Yeah, I know your grandma doesn’t wear a sports bra, but if she did, this is what it would be like.  Big, white, stretchy, with unstretchy straps which are padded, slide through loops and Velcro back onto themselves.  It also Velcroes in front.  Move over Victoria’s Secret—and make way for Myrtle’s Mystery.  The mystery being, how on God’s green earth is a girl supposed to wear clothes over this thing without looking like she’s a body-armor-sporting member of the SWAT team? 

 As you can imagine, it was very exciting to graduate to a sports bra.  However, I’m getting pretty tired of wearing it to bed.  Add that to the list of things that make me feel sexy.  It’s growing by leaps and bounds.  Biohazard undies, greasy newpple tent, 5″ groin scar, 10″ chest scar, newpple made out of aforementioned groin and sewn to aforementioned chest, and to top it all off, so to speak, the 24/7 sports bra. 

 As I said before, it’s a good thing I’m not too sensitive about all this.

Of Noobs and Newpples

All I can say is that it’s a good thing I’m not too sensitive about this whole breast reconstruction gig. 

 Okay, first off, a week or so ago I got an email from a well-meaning friend asking me how my “breast augmentation” was going.  Yeah.  Um.  That’s not exactly what I’ve got going on.  See, ’cause augmentation is what people do who aren’t satisfied with their boobs and think they need to add to them.  Reconstruction is what people do when they’ve had one lopped off because it tried to kill them, and they want to attempt to look halfway normal again.  Minor differences, I know, but please understand that more sensitive types might have been completely offended by being asked about their augmentation.

 Then there’s the matter of having my underwear come back from surgery in a sealed bag marked “biohazard”.  You have no idea how feminine and dainty that makes a girl feel.  Now, I know you’re probably thinking I soiled my britches and that’s why they handled them like a sample of the black plague dipped in anthrax.  In fact, I did not poo myself, or anything of the sort.  All I did was wear my undies to surgery—like they told me to.  I guess I should have asked, because I knew Dr Grasee would be making an incision in my groin area (more on that later) but the nurse told me to put on the gown and leave on the drawers, so that’s what I did.  But apparently I shouldn’t have.  And so, per Department of Homeland Security regulations (or something like that) my undies and I came back separately from surgery, me on a gurney and my underwear in a baggie, hermetically sealed for the safety of the population at large. 

 Now that you’re all curious about that groin incision, let’s move on to creation of a noob and its corresponding newpple.  Okay, as you all know, since August I’ve had the expander (aka angry boob wallet) under my pectoral muscle.  This week’s surgery was to replace that with a nice, soft, friendly silicone implant, and also to construct a nipple, or newpple, as I like to call it.  Well, the material for that has got to come from somewhere. 

 A few weeks back, I asked Dr Grasee where she was planning on taking the skin for the newpple from.  Pointing to the area where my leg attaches to my torso, she said, “Well, I’m thinking about taking it from here.”  “You’re not going to make me a nipple I have to shave, are you?” I mean, I knew that line would get a laugh, but seriously, I really don’t need some high maintenance nipple with a built-in perpetual sweater.  While Tricia, Dr Grasee’s nurse, was doubled over with laughter, Dr Grasee remained totally on-task, still examining my skin while matter-of-factly stating something about removing nipple hair all the time.  Ah, the wonders of cosmetic surgery.

 And so it was that my newpple was constructed from a hunk of skin from the crease between my leg and my belly.  I’m not sure how long the actual incision was, but I’m taped up for about five inches, which has got me wondering: good gravy, how big is this thing? You see, I haven’t seen my newpple yet, because it’s under the big top.  Indeed, the newpple is currently protected by a kind of greasy gauze tent that is sewn to the noob—which makes me feel almost as sexy as having my underwear handed to me in a biohazard bag.  This sewn-on dressing will be removed at my post-op visit next Tuesday.  I can’t wait.  For a couple of reasons, but mostly because of the comic potential.  You know you’re in for a laugh when your post-op paperwork says “The nipple will shrink by at least one-half its size over the next few weeks.  Please do NOT be alarmed by the initial appearance!”

 So, you know, I’m like expecting something that looks about like my big toe, or a hot dog or something.  Awesome.

Bye-bye Angry Wallet!

Tomorrow’s the big day—my exchange surgery is scheduled for 9:30.  Woo hoo!  I’m getting’ a new boob for Christmas! 

 Of course, I have to be there and hour before surgery, and where I have to be is normally about an hour and a half drive.  However, this afternoon it began to rain.  I know, you’re thinking, “Rain?  So what?”  Well, I’ll tell you what:  It began to rain—and it was 24 degrees outside.  Needless to say, the stuff pretty much froze on contact.  In fact, I ran in to Walmart for about 5 minutes and when I emerged, the door to the Jeep was already trying to seal itself shut. 

 Driving home involved participating in what can best be described as vehicular icecapades.   At one point on the way home, I saw a guy whose truck had slid off the road, spinning around until it was resting on an embankment, perpendicular to the pavement.  Both I, and the truck ahead of me, tried to slow down and see if the guy needed help, but as soon as we started to brake it was obvious that there weren’t gonna be any of that thar stoppin’ going on, unless it was the kind that involved spinning out of control and coming to rest on an embankment.  So, we both kept on rollin’.  Sorry, Mr Man out on the side of the road, I can’t stop, but I wish you all the best!

 All that to say that I have to take into consideration the driving conditions, and the distinct possibility that I may have to thaw out the Jeep before I can even leave.  So, I’ll be getting up earlier, and leaving earlier, than would normally be necessary.  Wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight.  Do you know what that means?  It means no coffee.

 (panicky freak-out voice) No coffee!

 I hate that.  You know, the surgery is not a big deal to me.  This will be my sixth…I said sixth…surgery in the past 22 months.  And you know, I’ve been pretty busy lately, so I’m kind of looking forward to the nap.  Plus, I’m excited, because I almost have that punch card filled up, so I think my next surgery is free.  But, man, that whole no coffee thing is a drag.  I need, like, a caffeine patch or something. 

 So anyway, by the time some of you read this, I’ll probably already be over there getting ready to go to surgery.  I may have Hubster update for me while we’re over there, or we might not get it done until we get home.  It is an outpatient thing, so I’ll be home later in the day.

She Gave Me Woht-tah

As you all know, on August 14th I had surgery to place the tissue expander under my pectoral muscles.  I’ve been asked by some folks what the expander is like.  They want to know if it’s like an implant.  The answer is no.  It is not like an implant.  It is like a man’s wallet.  Seriously.  It has approximately the same size and rigidity as a wallet.  An angry, painful wallet. 

The angry boob wallet will gradually be filled with saline in order to stretch out a place for an implant to go.  No, this is not the same procedure that is used for the standard breast augmentation.  In that case, the implant is stuffed under the breast tissue, but on top of the muscle.  Remember, I have no breast tissue on that side.  The remaining skin does not have an adequate blood supply unless it’s attached to the muscle.  So, the implant needs to go underneath. 

Dr Grasee added some saline when she placed the expander, and because of that, and well, the fact that there’s a wallet in there, I had a little mini-boob immediately.  It’s kind of cool, except that now I really can’t wear The Foob.  This wasn’t a big deal when I came home from the hospital, because when I went out, I simply tucked my drain up in my bra to fill out that side.

That’s how it was when I went a couple of weeks ago for my post-op appointment.  It didn’t even occur to me until Hubster mentioned it that once the drain was out, I’d be pretty flat on that side.  “Did you bring anything to put in there?” he asked.  Oops.  Hmmm…What can I make a mini foob out of?

Fortunately, we had a few minutes before my appointment, and there was a Meijer nearby.  Gettin’ my Macgyver on, I said, “Let’s swing through Meijer, and get some cotton balls and one of those shoe try-on footies.”  The result looks less like our friend The Foob, and more like a prosthetic Quasimodo.  But, it serves its purpose nonetheless.

Yesterday I went back to Dr Grasee’s office for my first fill.  I had read that she would use a magnet to locate the port on my expander, but my attempts to find it using refrigerator magnets had failed.  (Yes, I did try to stick refrigerator magnets to my chest.  This was Angie’s idea, and would have been stinkin’ hilarious had it worked.)  So, I asked Dr G how she would locate the port, and she confirmed that she’d be using a magnet.  I then proceeded to tell her how I’d tried to find it with a refrigerator magnet—I like to establish my reputation early, and reinforce it often.  She chuckled and asked me why I wanted to find it.  No reason, I told her, I just wanted to see if I could get a magnet to stick.

Dr G put 80cc of saline into the expander, which is roughly a 1/3 of a cup.  Hubster got to literally watch the new boob grow before his very eyes.  It has been a little sore, but it’s really nothing compared to the pain I had from surgery.  It is not, however, comparable to the muscle pain one might have from a hard workout, which is what Dr G and Tricia the nurse said it would be like.  It’s more comparable to how I felt after some really bad bike wrecks as a kid, where parts of me were bruised and scraped and hurt to move. 

 ***

Now that you’re all up-to-date, I’d like to announce a new contest.  Or, maybe not a contest so much as an opportunity for some audience participation.  As we ALL know, October is breast cancer awareness month.  If you’ve read me for a while, you know that in the past I’ve poked fun at all of the pink ribbon hype that October brings.  So, I thought it might be amusing to see what kind of ridiculous pink ribbon infested products everyone can find.  I’d love to be able to post one each day in October.  Witty commentary is encouraged.  Email your photos to me at themoodyfoodie@gmail.com