I’d Rather Have a Butterfly Hand Than a Crab Arm

Yesterday I had my check-up with Dr Birhiray.  The worst part of that these days is the blood draw.  Lymph node removal on the mastectomy/reconstruction side dictates that  blood pressure cuffs & needles are forbidden on that side forever.  For-ev-er.  The reason being that any sort of infection in that arm could lead to lymphedema, a condition in which the lymphatic fluid doesn’t drain out of the arm like it should, and causes the arm to swell.  Permanently, in some cases.  This always makes me think of the fiddler crabs we saw a few years ago on Little Tybee Island, and while I thought they were neat, I really don’t have any desire to sport the fiddler crab look.  So, I try to avoid punctures and other arm trauma at the doctor’s office, although I only sometimes successfully manage to avoid such things in the kitchen.  So far so good, though.  No crab arm yet.

 Anywho, the end result is that any time blood needs to be drawn, it has to come out of the right side.  And these days the right side is putting it’s foot down and refusing to give the requisite blood.  You can only poke the same place so many times before it forms a shield of scar tissue not unlike the armor plating on the Batmobile, or at least as tough as that really sorry excuse for Indian flatbread I made the other night.  (No wonder that cookbook was on the clearance rack at Half Price Books.)  Yesterday was the second time in the last three visits that I’ve had to have my blood drawn via the little butterfly needle in the hand that is normally used to administer chemo.  More than once I’ve suggested that they stick my foot.  The foot has nice, plump veins that look up at me and laugh as I’m sitting there for 5 minutes waiting for an adequate amount of blood to be drained from my hand.  But, for whatever reason, they never take me up on that. 

 After my blood was drawn, I could have gone back out to the waiting area like a normal person.  But I like to visit my chemo nurses.  Maybe because we bonded during chemo, or maybe because they always tell me how great I look.  Okay, probably the latter.  So, I went back to the chemo area to say hi to Leslie and Karen, and I told them that I started chemo on May 8th, so it’s been almost exactly 2 years.  As usual, they commented on how much my hair has grown, and then they said, “Come out here and meet some of these ladies.  They’re just getting started, and they’d probably be encouraged to see you.”  As is often the case when I’m visiting back there, I’m like their poster girl for good attitude and good health.

 So, I got to meet some of the ladies on the chemo floor.  Nurse Leslie pointed out to one group of ladies that I’ve “been through everything you guys are going through and look how great she looks.”  I then explained to them that I’d been through chemo, radiation, and 6 surgeries, so indeed, I had done it all within the last couple of years.  They asked me questions like “Did your hair come back the same color?” and “How soon did you hair start growing again?”  Hair, as you can see, is a hot topic with chemo girls. 

 Soon, though, another nurse came and fetched me.  For once, Dr Birhiray was only half an hour behind, and my exam room was waiting for me.  But, I’m so glad I got to spend some time talking to those ladies—even if Hubster did wonder what had happened to me.  I am so blessed to have the opportunity to encourage folks by sharing my experiences.  I enjoy doing that in person, as well as here on the blog, so please don’t ever hesitate to ask questions.

 While I was there, I showed Dr B his fan club page on Facebook.  Not being on Facebook himself, at first he was a little confused—he thought I’d moved my blog or something.  But I soon had him straightened out, and he read the messages and got a big kick out of the whole thing.  So thanks to those of you who joined the club and left him a little note.

Advertisements

Comfortably Numb with a Side of Cheese Fries

Although The Noob fills out the bra and at least appears pretty normal while camouflaged by clothing, the fact remains that it is not an actual boob.  One of the primary reminders of this—other than the weird contortion thing it does when I lift weights, implant being under the muscle and all—is the fact that it has no feeling. 

 Now you might think that, having owned a set of boobs for a good many years, I wouldn’t need to actually feel danger in order to keep my boobs out of trouble.  However, since having The Noob, I’ve discovered that apparently having nerves that work is what kept my boobs safe and intact for so long.  For example, I’ll often find myself holding something in my hand, only to discover that it’s also resting on my boob.  This happened just last night.  As I stood there holding a ginormous vanilla Coke, and chatting with a couple of friends, I suddenly realized that my cup was meeting some resistance.  That resistance was The Noob, which was just hanging out minding it’s own numb business.  Oddly enough, I don’t ever recall this happening on the boob side, or for that matter ever happening when I had two boobs.  I moved my Coke away from The Noob, only to feel the same resistance again a minute later. 

 So I’m thinking, perhaps there are some things that I just should not be allowed to hold in my hand anymore.  Especially not when being distracted by conversation.  The big Coke cup was relatively harmless, but you know, the same cannot be said for things like an ice cream cone.  Granted, this is probably not going to be an actual danger, but it won’t look real cool to have a big smear of DQ crunch on The Noob.  Not to mention that it would be a waste of crunch. 

 Or a torch.  You know, the old school, explore the catacombs type.  Not that I’m often carrying  torch, but I’m just sayin’.  Bad idea.  Especially if silicone is flammable.  Wouldn’t want to spontaneously combust. (buh dump bump)  And maybe I should not attempt to use a Sharpie.  Although I did have to write on my boobs prior to surgery, and I did discover that Mr Clean Magic Eraser will remove surgical marker from skin—-I think I should leave the permanent markers alone.  I have a bad enough track record ruining things I can actually feel.

 An ice pick, hatchet, and a set of Ginsu knives are all off limits, as is the sharp edge of the can that the Ginsu knife just cut in half.  I’m thinking I may also want to avoid other sources of open flame, boiling pots of water, cans of paint, big plates of cheese fries, Kung Pao Chicken, or anything else that I might accidentally dunk The Noob into. 

 Surely I’m not the only reconstructed cancer girl who has had this type of experience.  Anyone care to share their numb noob stories?

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.

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

Samsonite—I was WAY off

Went to see the plastic surgeon, Dr Grasee.  That’s pronounced Grah-zay.  The Foob really likes it, because it sounds so French.  He never has cared for Dr Birhiray-pronounced Beer-Hurray—instead, wanting me to find a doctor named Dr Chardonnay-Hurray.   “We are going to zee Dr Grah-zay, no?”  he asked with a smile.  Little does he know that Dr Grah-zay is going to eliminate his job.  You might think he’d catch on once he heard our conversation, but he was way too busy trying to sweet talk the implant samples to pay any attention.  So, for now, he’s very excited about having a doctor with such a French-sounding name. 

When I made my appointment with the plastic surgeon, I imagined how I thought the place would be.  I figured, you know, they’re in the business of making people look better—bigger in some ways, smaller in others—so everyone who worked there would look like Barbie.  Prior to my appointment, I imagined myself sitting in a waiting room full of people uber-plump lips, tattooed make-up, and gigantic boobs, sticking out alike a sore thumb (me—not the gigantic boobs) because I still have my cellulite intact.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong. 

Dr Grasee and company are down-to-earth, regular people.  No barbies or fem-bots in the bunch.   As for the waiting room, well, I didn’t see any other patients there.  I hope that’s not because I’m the first customer.  Although, when I went to write a check for my co-pay they did ask me if I had cash so they could hang their first dollar on the wall… hmmm.  No, seriously, Dr Grasee is about my age.   Or at least she *looks* my age, but really she could be 112 years old and just keeps having her partner give her a face lift every year.  So, at any rate she’s been doing this for a little while. 

Right off the bat, I told her that I wasn’t really interested in any of the reconstruction methods that would use muscle, and that Dr Schmidt had said I was a good candidate for an expander & implant, in spite of the fact that I’ve had radiation.  She said, “Okay, we’ll see when I examine you if I think that’s a good idea.”  So, she went ahead and explained the other reconstruction options, and showed us the various implants.  Then she opened up a binder full of before and after pictures.  It was all I could do to keep from busting out laughing as she showed us photos of 70 year old women’s boobs—I knew that Hubster, while appearing calm on the outside, was mentally trying to chew his eyes off to get away.  That alone was worth the price of admission. Heh heh.

Finally, she looked at and felt my skin, and agreed that it does indeed look really good.  “Okay,” she said, “I’m thinking we shoot for the initial surgery in August, and then plan to do the exchange in December.  What do you think?” 

I thought that sounded just jim dandy.