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.

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?

Bathing Suits

Last Thursday I went up to see Dr Grasee for my pre-op appointment.  It was really pretty uneventful, and there were no changes in the plan so we’re still on for Thursday, August 14th for the expander placement surgery.  August 14th also happens to be my one year chemoversary, so it’s like I’m celebrating my chemoversary by getting a new boob—or at least the start of one.  And, when I told Susie the date, she said, “That’s Norm’s birthday—-you’re getting a boob for Norm’s birthday! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

I cannot wait.  Being a uniboober is just such a pain sometimes, most especially during swimsuit season.  I thought the mastectomy camisoles & bras were dowdy, but hey, at least they’re under other clothes.  Not so with the ginormous, blue flower print, high necked, baggy, garments that scream, “Hi, my name’s Opal and my favorite pastimes are shuffleboard, canasta, and wearing clip-on sunglasses.” 

I hadn’t even been to the pool until last week, and since I’d hadn’t invested in one of those beauties, I had to resort to pinning The Foob into my tankini top.  Rest assured, he was not happy.  Especially when he found out that not only were we NOT going to the Riviera, but that he would be pinned into a regular swim suit.  “Zee Foob must have zee special suit for zee swimming,” he said in his snotty, fake French accent.  “Well then,” I replied, “The Foob needs to get himzelf a J-O-B, because those things are nearly as expensive as they are ugly.”  And so, I didn’t get a special foob-approved suit, planning to just make due.  After all, summer is winding down, and next year I won’t be lopsided.

Then we decided to try to squeeze in a trip to Holiday World before my surgery.  I love Holiday World, and my favorite part is the water park.  It has really big water slides, and in my mind’s eye I could envision a day of shooting down the various tubes and funnels before landing with a high speed splash in the pool at the bottom.  Unfortunately, I could also envision going to lost and found to see if anyone had turned in a foob because mine shot off somewhere between the top and bottom of the Zinga.

So, I decided maybe I needed to break down and get a real mastectomy suit.  All I really need is a top, but of course Opal doesn’t like those new-fangled tankinis, so most of the options are one piece.  I know some of you probably think I’m exaggerating when I say these things are ugly, so I thought we’d have a little fashion show. 

First, we have the classic skirted bottom suit.  The neck comes up to your chin, and it comes in blue, blue or blue, coordinating nicely with the target audience’s hair.  This lovely suit can be yours for ONLY $80.  Shuffleboard anyone?

Next, we have a suit that I’m pretty sure was constructed from recycled clogger clothes.  It comes with foob pockets, but has enough ruffles that you could go completely foobless, or take your Chihuahua to the water park, and no one would even notice.  Suggested retail price is $95, but the everyday low price at buttuglybooblessbathingsuits.com is ONLY $80. How DO they keep their prices so low?

Lastly, we have a sassy one-piece-masquerading-as-a-two-piece.  Note the high waisted, girdle-like bottom, and the top with its hot tucked-in look that all the kids are wearing these days.  The description says that this model even affords you the pleasure of wearing your own bra.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been swimming and thought, “Gee, I wish I were wearing my bra under my swimsuit!”  It comes in “moonlight garden sapphire and black” print, for ONLY $80. 

Do you know how many iced caramellas I could get for $80?  A whole stinkin’ lot, that’s how many.  Good grief!  I won’t pay $80 for a suit I LIKE, let alone one of those things.  The good news is that Lands’ End does offer a decent selection of mastectomy suits that don’t make a person look like a polka-dot, ruffle infested, girdle-wearin’ freak.  They also sell mix and match pieces, which is nice since I really only need the top.  They’re not as expensive as those other ones, but I could still buy an awful lot of coffee for the price.

Bigger Than a Bread Box

Hey Aunt Phyllis–I visited your hair yesterday! I was back at the boutique, only this time my mission was to find a prosthesis. Along with the fake boob I needed a special bra, with a special little pocket to hold my special new friend. Two bras were approved by Dr Schmidt for immediate post-mastectomy use. The 1st one had about 6 hooks in the back & 6 hooks in the front–in case you can’t reach the back. It comes in beige only and is bigger than a bread box. It may even be bigger than a bread truck. I didn’t even try that one on. The 2nd one only had hooks in the back. It came in the exotic color choices of black or white & was not quite as big as a bread box. I did try this one. The granny style cup molded my real boob into the approximate shape of a can of frozen concentrated orange juice. Need I even state that this was NOT acceptable? Furthermore, it was so big that it peeked out the top of my not terribly low plunging shirt and said, “Howdy! I’m Aunt Bea’s underwear!”

Andrea, the boutique manager, is a little younger than me. She could feel my pain and brought me a bra that was not on the approved list, but was more along the lines of Victoria’s Secret, instead of Obviously Octogenarian. This one comes in a variety of colors including black and leopard. I tried it on. Finally! I actually felt like myself. Andrea even ran over to Dr Schmidt’s & got Tana’s approval. In the meantime, Hubster was on the phone with the Insurance Nazis trying to figure out if they would cover the new boob. They informed him that they might, provided that we send them a letter of medical necessity, treatment history, etc. It would take 2 weeks for them to decide whether of not to cover it.

Does anyone besides me get tired of having to beg their freakin’ insurance company to do their job?! How ridiculous is it that after they’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars for all my treatment, they conveniently don’t have the information necessary to decide that I deserve a prosthesis? That’s right, Giant Insurance Goliath…this whole mastectomy thing was all part of a big plot to get a free fake boob because they’re just so stinkin’ cool! Fake boobs are the new black you know–everybody’s getting one! Why just the other day my girlfriends and I were just discussing how lucky I was to have an 8-1/2″ incision across my chest, because I was that much closer to attaining my goal of defrauding the insurance company of the price of a spiffy synthetic detachable substitute breast! GRRR!

In the end, I got the prosthesis and bra. Paid for them myself. The new boob looks like what would result if the Cabbage Patch doll factory made B-2 stealth bombers on a B-cup size scale. Maybe I should check the package & see if it came with a birth certificate & name.
The highlight of the day was having my drains removed. Okay, the actual process was not the highlight. But being free of them is wonderful. The bummer of the day was finding out that upon further testing the pathologist did find a speck of cancer in the node. That pretty much guarantees the radiation I was hoping to avoid. Dr Birhiray said that as little as there was, it’s not likely that it’s gone any further–which is the major concern here.

Have I mentioned that I love Dr B? (Okay, maybe the t-shirt was a clue)He’s a very busy man, but you never ever feel rushed when you see him. He will answer as many questions as you can think of. You’ll never hear me gripe about how long the wait is to see him. In fact, I expect him to be running behind, and I just ask, “How far behind is he today?” My visit to the boutique actually occurred during my wait.

Yesterday, Dr B said, “I think I know you well enough to say that you seem down.” He was right. I had been deflated by the news that the node wasn’t clean. I’m very thankful that I have people like Dr B as part of my medical team. They’re all excellent, caring people I’m very blessed to have them along on this journey.

Homeward Bound

Good Morning! It’s a little after 8:00 am as I type this, and I’m ready to go home.

Okay, scratch that…it’s now a little before 9:00, and I’m ready to go home. Just as I finished typing that last sentence, nurse Debbie came in and freed me from my Magic Legs—these sleeves that went from ankle to above the knee, kneading my legs like a giant cat. At first, I didn’t mind the Magic Legs, but they soon got on my nerves because they attached me to the bed via their air hoses. They also made me quite hot. Though I was perfectly capable of walking, I had to call the nurse to go to the bathroom. The purpose of the Magic Legs was to keep me from getting blood clots since I was laying in bed, yet if I wasn’t attached to the bed by the Magic Legs (which I soon nicknamed the Black Magic Legs) I would have been up and about. So when offered the chance to escape, I immediately dumped the computer for a chance to brush my teeth and wash up.

I’m feeling pretty good. The only thing I’ve had for pain is Tylenol. I really haven’t hurt that much. In fact, I’d say that so far I have less pain that I did with my last lumpectomy.

I have two drains that look like little clear hand grenades attached to aquarium tubing. They’re currently pinned to my tank top and I can tell already that I won’t be able to easily hide them. Okay, everybody sing along…
Oh, my drains hang low. And they wobble to and fro. I can’t tie them in a knot, ‘cause they’re pinned up to my clothes. They hang from near my shoulder, like a hand grenade shaped boulder. Yes, my drains hang low.

Right now we’re just hanging out and waiting for the physical therapy people, and Tana from Dr Schmidt’s office to come by. After that, I should be able to head home. Thanks to everyone who has called—I had 4 phone calls before 8:30 this morning, not to mention the ones since then. Also, thanks for all the prayers, and visits, and offers of food and anything else I need. You guys rock.


Sorry for the delayed info—this is my third attempt to post because CarePages is experiencing technical difficulties. This is Hubster writing—Moody wanted me to let you know so you’ll read it in my voice, not hers—so don’t expect any wit. One of the nurses yesterday even guessed me for an engineer because my wife has the personality.

Once again, God has blessed us. Surgery went a little quicker than we expected and the news couldn’t have been better–the lymph nodes were clear. Now it’s a matter of waiting for the pathology on the tissue removed to know whether or not we’ll be doing radiation.

Thanks for all the prayers and support—please, keep praying.