Foob Decision

Foob indecision, I should say. My thoughts on the topic of breast reconstruction change daily. Some days, I feel like I’m done with all things related to breast cancer. Other days, though, I feel the need to finish this journey, and face reconstruction. It’s a difficult decision. I do not feel “incomplete” in any way. I feel strong and healthy, and I’m at a very happy point in my life. As I’ve said all along, I’m not a vain individual, so my physical appearance isn’t dictating what I do next. How I feel will dictate my next move. Deep down, I would like to complete the process.

Two years ago, I had a double mastectomy. One year ago, I had one implant removed due to infection. I am now living, lopsided, with one implant and one flat chest wall. Though I feel whole, the journey feels somehow incomplete. Every day, I have pain and tightness in my chest and ribs from scar tissue and radiation damage. The swelling in my arm from lymphedema is also a struggle. Inevitably, each time I see my doctors, they gesture at my partial reconstruction and the question comes up, “what are you going to do about that?”

To reconstruct or not to reconstruct, that is the question.

Honestly, I do not know the answer to that question. Like everything else along the way, I face several options, each with their own pros and cons. One, do nothing and live with one “foob” and one “not-foob”, swapping the prosthetic between bras and swimsuits as needed, or skipping it and going awkwardly foob-less. Two, remove the remaining implant and go flat and fabulous. Three, face additional reconstructive surgeries.

Avoiding surgery sounds nice, but would mean accepting a lifetime with a prosthesis, which, frankly, is a bit of a pain in the ass, and quite uncomfortable. It is awkward dealing with the prosthesis in the locker room or when I sleep at someone else’s house. I occasionally feel that my desire to avoid surgery is a cop-out based on fear of facing something difficult. Removing the current implant would be a relief. I do not like it. It feels uncomfortable, gets cold, and does not look very boob-like. Getting rid of it and going flat crosses my mind often, though then I may be stuck fumbling around with two prostheses, because I am not comfortable enough to go out in public without “something” there. Doing the surgeries to complete the reconstructive process does hold some appeal for me.

At this point in my life, I had wanted to be done with surgery. Between 2012-2015, I have had six surgeries . My kids were only 7 and 9 when they witnessed my first surgery. They have been there to help me recover from all six surgeries. I do not want their childhood memories dominated by pain, weakness, and their mom’s inability to keep up with them. We have already faced a lifetime of “I can’t do that.” How can I teach my children that they can do anything if I am constantly unable? I am also trying to teach my children to face fears and do difficult things to achieve the things that they want out of life. Can I encourage that if I’m avoiding this next step in my journey?

Do I want to have a normal appearance? Of course. But realistically, I lost that two years ago when I had the mastectomies. “Normal” will never be fully regained. Reconstruction can go a long way to give me a decent appearance while fully clothed, but that is not the same as getting my body back. My body will never be the same again. I am growing stronger, but I still have limitations from multiple surgeries, radiation and the effects of lymphedema. My priority is the ability to do activities with my children. If the surgery I am facing can relieve the lymphedema and restore strength I lost, then it may be worth facing that adversity.

Again, like art, I am a work in progress.

One Foob Shy of a Full Rack

That’s all I have to say about that…and I had to modify my T-shirt, too.

T-Shirt Modification

T-Shirt Modification

Three breast surgeries have taken their toll on my girlish figure.  I’ve gone from breasts to tissue expanders to foobs, and now, to one foob and one…notfoob…(such are the hills and valleys of a breast cancer journey, after all).

Despite my odd aesthetic, I’m happy to report that the surgery went remarkably well, and I’m feeling great.  I finally had an anesthesiologist concoct the right mixture of meds to keep me from getting sick.  Seventh surgery’s a charm, apparently.  I arrived at 8:30, went through the usual pre-surgery routine, and in no time, I was wheeled off in the comfort of my recliner.  I tried to convince the nurse to pop a wheelie on the way to the OR, but she just laughed.  I think she thought I was kidding.

Settling into position for surgery this time, I made it clear that I did NOT want a repeat of the nerve damage the last surgery caused me.  Luckily, my anesthesiologist bent over backwards to make sure my arms were propped up to prevent over-extending the nerve.  Once she was sure I was comfortable, they duct-taped (okay, maybe it wasn’t duct tape…) my arms into position, and brought out the oxygen mask.  They instructed me to take deep breaths and imagine a beautiful beach scene.  The nurses asked me to take them all with me to the beach (this was one of those lovely sub-zero Wisconsin days), but I thought better of sharing the oxygen mask with them.  A sharp, burning pain into my IV got my attention, but they reminded me to continue with my deep breaths.  One, Two…Out Cold.

The next thing I remember is hearing Andy’s voice in the recovery room.  Recovery has been a breeze.  I woke up, gradually, without even a hint of queasiness.  I felt great, and by 1:00, I was on my way home to heal.  I had almost immediate relief from the pain, cording and swelling brought on by the infection, providing confirmation that I made the right decision to remove the implant.

By Tuesday, I was up and about, antsy to get out of the house and take a walk.  I didn’t even need the pain pills by Tuesday night.  Wednesday was the first day I was allowed to remove the dressing and take a shower.  I was anxious, and nervous, to see what this third breast surgery did to my body.  I was a bit taken aback at the concave profile of my right chest, but I’m taking it in stride.  It’s just surprising how little tissue there is left.  It feels like a small amount of skin sitting directly on hard ribs.  I still have the alloderm (donor skin tissue used with mastectomy to recreate the structure and contoured curve under the breast) in place from the original surgery, so there is a curve under what should be a breast, but now is a valley.  It will take some getting used to, but I’m healing extremely fast and feeling really good.

The last thing I still need to work on with my PT is the lymphedema that resulted from the infection, but all other limits have been lifted and I’m back on the road to strengthening.  I’m looking forward to the spring warm-up and some new shirts.  Maybe with ruffles…