– Part 3 –
continued from Woman in Recon/the book
August 2014 : SUSAN B. KOMAN WALK FOR THE CURE
Along with a less-perfection-is-ideal attitude, I developed a better sense of what my body could and could not do after major surgeries. It was time for my body to take a breather. Jennifer, my stepson’s wife invited me to walk with her and Zoe in the Susan B. Koman Walk for the Cure that summer. Several months prior to my implants surgery, I was raring’ to go! Honored she asked me to go along.
But it didn’t happen. The weather had turned hot, my implants surgery scheduled only two weeks prior to the walk.
Ed urged me not to participate with Zoe and Jennifer, lest I be subjected to the scorching summer heat. He knew I was disappointed; better safe than sorry.
I sent her a sad renege I couldn’t join her. I cried when I saw her Facebook post that night. The kids looked so cute with pretty pink ribbon face painting as part of the Kansas City event, appealing to some grown kids too! It was such a wonderful gesture and their smiles were for her grandmother and me. I felt so humbled and proud! In my heart, a family’s dedication is not ever forgotten.
CALL or WALK IN
- FILL OUT medical history form (keep your info in your cellphone)
- the nurse-lady calls your name
- she’ll lead you to a locked cubicle with a mirror
- wipe off deodorant
- put on wrap’n front half-gown
- follow Nurse-lady to the mammography room
- she squishes each boob in-between soft plastic attachments 😀one at a time, says,”don’t breathe”, repeats 2-3 times for different views, may change pieces to fit each boob
- like an X-ray machine — all takes 15 minutes
- later you’ll get dressed and wait 😎another 5 minutes for results
- No photos are allowed.
An MD on duty will examine the images, then Ms. Nurse-lady will return to tell you the results and hands you your Mammogram paper copy. DONE!!
(The office sends a copy to your physician.)
IF the results are abnormal (like mine below) the nurse will ask you to hang tight, then (my nurse) set up a new appointment for further exams. Helluva late birthday huh?
You should be instructed before you leave what you are to do, what the next step is. Don’t be nervous. You may simply have dense breasts, and an ultrasound would be ordered (perhaps the same day). Dense breast PDF explains what DB images looks like.
After my mastectomy, I still must have a mammogram on my right breast, same as before. Below is MY NORMAL mammogram two years after my mastectomy!!!! Woohoo!!!!Plus mammy comics LOL.
KU emails me the file to download. mychart.kumed.com/MyChart
New Year, 2016 (periodical)
3-month exam appointment
blood drawn 9 a.m., Dr. Elia: 9:30
It’s usually a challenge for even an experienced phlebotomist to find my veins. I had forgotten to drink extra water beforehand. Didn’t seem to matter — Adrienne was so adept, I barely felt the tic of the needle. DONE.
They don’t use a tiny band aid any more I guess. Adrienne asked me to wait for Dr. Elia’s nurse. Nurses came and went down the corridor lined with chairs and stacks of magazines on side tables. One by one, cancer patients were being called from the reception-entry room, to have her blood drawn, same as mine. Then each politely ushered beyond the hall into the maze of exam rooms. A quiet hubbub of winter coats and blue print scrubs, phones ringing and nurses’-patient cackling. Pleasant noise.
Sitting in the waiting area moments before the nurse fetched me, I picked up the “Allure” magazine, curious about a makeup photo spread, its front page caught my eye: women with glitter on their eyes boasting to be Gorgeous, entitled ‘makeup for Extroverts’.
The Lee’s Summit cancer clinic had quickly gotten busy. I looked up from my magazine to notice two families walking close by, congesting the corridor. A tall woman happily chatted with the nurses, sweater sagging obviously on her, coat draped over one arm. Fine blonde hair fuzz sprouted from chemo-induced baldness as her hair was starting to grow out. She was ushered into the exam rooms, judging by her smile and their banter evidently not in the least exacerbated by her lack of hair. Her husband not so jovial but polite, carefully escorted her past the line of chairs where I sat, his hand protectively resting on his wife’s shoulder guiding her steps. Purposely headed directly toward her exam room, she was oblivious to the flow of patients behind she and him.
Immediately following the first couple was a second group. One woman sported a bright paisley scarf wrapped around her head. The weather outside was so cold she could have worn a knitted cap and nobody’d be the wiser. Evidently, she was comfortable with the opaque, silky head scarf to ward off the cold. And it was pretty. On impulse I smiled at her, glancing at me she returned a small smile. Her blue eyes softly sparkled with a hint of makeup she had dotted on in a woman’s habit to rouse some color. The woman’s two young companions embraced each of her arms as they gently guided her through the hallway. Side by side they walked. The daughters supported her slow progress as she walked tentatively to ensure her balance, wobbling slightly. Her print scarf wrap complimented her gray coat as a lovely accessory. Obviously in a weakened state, I sensed her pain but her soft smile didn’t fade. Her face glowed of love and support. I’d be next up; ushered into the same maze of rooms. I noted the RADIATION➜ sign overhead… I shivered. I felt new respect for those women.
I thumbed through the magazine’s women with glittering and perfect coifs, posing —- and two women in front of me, whose smiles hid their discomfort from chemo. A stark contrast.
One’s elderly face soft with wisdom and frailty, but also faith. Surrounded by all their individual discomforts reminded me how well my treatment had gone, how unobtrusively I’d recouped from surgeries, how little interested we had in the magazine’s fancy photos of gorgeous dresses. Unreal fantasy. Not bein’ mean, normal folks just don’t really care.
Families hope for the best, watching their mom or wife struggle with the smallest chores, her smile blossoms in tidbits again, enduring pain and weakness within grasp of their love. I felt hope. After twenty-eight months of surgeries and my own discomforts I pecked on the Toshiba again and happily involved with my new Lab/Pointer pup my daughter gave me for my birthday. I had not felt disparity lately to pray for myself. Upon seeing those women in the middle of their chemo treatment I whispered a prayer. For them and for me. We never stop needing God’s help — I believe in my heart any prayer is heard.
But what would that woman with the paisley scarf do without the caring support of her two daughters? So how would she get through her most difficult days, get out of bed with the onset of chemo nausea? Regain her strength? My daughter finally had come to understand my efforts of fighting for my life. That ensured her own daughter the same pleasures of our family. Obviously, our womanhood was at stake. Odds are against longevity when facing breast cancer alone. For that reason, I thanked God she could depend on her family’s care and everyday support, not only guiding their mom down the hall but at home where it’s needed most.
Her aged face showed faith that I felt.
How does the husband cope whose wife is only beginning to overcome her chemo? Who cares for her while he’s away at work? Where is her family or friends on a bad day? Maybe she has a good Christian neighbor like mine, when Christy brought me a whole roasted chicken and all the fixin’s. I hope those women are blessed with people too. She seemed to be in steady recovery. Someone always has answers.
The office had invested in a new weight scale — same darn style that my veterinarian uses… I razzed my nurse, Trisha, “oh, so now I’m a dog” <chuckle> Trisha asked about my tiredness on a scale of 1-10: I said: 6 (thyroid test scheduled the next day.) She double-checked all medications data. Now wait for my doctor.
Weight: 154. ok
Blood pressure: 110/72 perfect
Enter Dr. Elia. We discussed some of my tiredness, but no pain, blood numbers are normal. (!) On the exam table, she examined each breast. The right side: a sore spot still at the core of the biopsy site. Dr. Elia noted it’s just nerve tenderness. Her hands were so gentle, a fluid-like massage I barely felt, just like Dr. Jew’s. I thought, “woah, how could her fingers feel any discrepancy, going so soft and gently?”
She noted my booby reconstruction, smiling with her sweet European accent, raved “Joo looks goodt”, “everything is very satisfactory and joo look vonderful!” I asked about exercise options; she approved walking with a low-impact regimen if I didn’t overdo. Smiling, told me to come back as usual in three months. Relieved, I got dressed. Her approval sank in of my ‘vonderful’ bosom, after months of cautious optimism. … elated I gave myself a thumbs up!
Mind you, it was January. As the Jeep needed to warm up a bit, I jotted down notes about the two women in the corridor. I smiled they were up an’ around like me, and fashionably donned a pretty scarf, their families tended to them so carefully. Driving home I got hungry for a bowl of oatmeal and toast with a drizzle of honey and a hot cup of coffee. Well, at least my tummy was normal.
In the first few weeks taking a shower following my mastectomy, I tried with little success to shave my left underarm. I had no idea how clumsy a razor would be on a numb pocket of skin I couldn’t see. Definitely, one of those day to day moments of recovery that was a real pain in the ass. My underarm got so scratched up I couldn’t put on deodorant. OUCH. Okay, next time I tried shaving over the bathroom basin. Oh, what a mess — exactly why I shave in the shower — water splattered all over the floor. Being the most impatient boob, I lost my patience with it. It was as ridiculous as trying to keep my legs shaved now (way too sore to bend over). So why try?
My husband said he couldn’t care less, so I figured, hm-m-m-mmm about those nubs, it was just me being vain. Why women struggle (or pretend) to shave their legs before a date or for you-know-what is beyond 98% of most men’s reason — they don’t care — oops this is about underarms … Some of us women’s social mores make me chuckle lately. I had bought a tube of hair removal creme, but I hated waiting for the stuff to work and the chem smell (like an old-style perm) yuck. By three months of exasperation, disgust and trying to get accustomed to applying creme or shaving, I realized the numbness was permanent and I would struggle with it the rest of my life. Oh! this was not good.
To some, getting underarm laser treatment may sound like a silly luxury, too much high maintenance. But I say to anyone who hasn’t dealt with breast cancer issues, you’d feel mighty good not to have to worry! Simple things as shaving after a mastectomy, I was perturbed. So unless you live in Europe, with different society rules, it’s one of those necessary personal hygiene things that we American women are just not going to ignore. Hairy pits. Grrrroooooss. Such a problem, then my brain kicked in and I remembered Mary Kate telling me mastectomy patients get underarm laser hair removal for FREE at KU. I knocked my head into a brick wall I swear, “Hey nit-wit! how the hell did I forget?!” Simple fix! Why wait?
I made the call, laughed at myself for waiting so long. Silly woman.
I entered the Plastic Surgeon’s double glass doors on a sunny Friday in January. I thought I’d be ushered into a white painted office with pretty paintings with a white-coated pretty female doctor sitting across from me. I imagined we’d be seated for a formal consultation regarding the ever always challenge of shaving my left underarm in the vain hope of such convenience to never have to shave the left side ever again after a laser treatment. ‘A’. Singular. Uh huh. Yeah. Wearing vibrant blues, Shelly greeted me, smiling. I asked,” where is everyone? Are you doing this today? No wait? No consultation?”
She laughed, “Yep. You’re on! We got this whole side of the floor to ourselves, Dr.’s gone on Friday afternoons so it’s just you and me.” I assured her I didn’t have any deodorant on on the left side, they told me not to.
Shelly consoled me, “it’s alright, but this includes both sides.” I know my face lit up like a Christmas tree — big smile on my face! She guided me into a little room across from an office.
“It makes no sense for you to have to shave either side after going through a mastectomy and all that reconstruction — it’s all complimentary — on-the-house. Every KU mastectomy patient gets a FREE laser treatment. Soooo are you ready?” Her laughter was very contagious. I was dumbfounded but happily removed purse, jacket, shirt and glasses as she got to work. She offered me a blanket but I was quite comfortable in the warmth of her little room. We babbled like clucking hens through the entire session.
“Are you ticklish?” She warned me the gel is cold. I laughed, “yes, I’m ticklish!” Slathering on the slick gel, she swiped the ‘Lumenis LightSheer Laser’ on both underarms in less than thirty minutes. Likely woulda been less if we hadn’t yakked so much. Shelly was very proficient and all about my comfort, assuring me if it’s uncomfortable to let her know, which it wasn’t. Very much client oriented, Shelly explained the process of how the hair grows in stages so I’d likely have to shave once more before the final treatment. I’d receive four treatments, every four to six weeks giving my hair follicles time to grow, then fully removed from my skins under layer by the last round of laser. I could not fathom not shaving my ‘pits’ ever again. But here goes!
See my cool shades and I’m smiling. Shelly was fast and gentle.
After I was dressed she advised how to take care of my underarms between laser treatments. This was great! And I felt like I’d just made a new friend. I drove home excited and happier than I’d expected for just an armpit hair removal. It was so relaxing and our babble was so welcome after being cooped up at home. I couldn’t wait to get back home for show & tell.
In the 2nd treatment — two swipes she gave me a complimentary laser. Skinny little hairs got zapped off my chin and brow fuzz – hey, we all have stupid little nuisance hairs. After three treatments — I only shaved once and I’m a thick-haired gal!
my booby mastectomy underarm smooth as a baby’s butt!!
HEY! Laser removal was NOT for rich women only, who only cared about beauty. THIS WAS GREAT. So yeah, I made a great new friend who really cares about breast cancer prevention using all Is Clinical all natural skin care products for her clients. She was a breath of sunshine for me! I couldn’t feel a razor so NO MO’ SCRAPES. I was learning a lot lately.
Liposuction (or) fat grafting… Surgeries included fat cell tissue transfer, removed C-section scars and large moles.
FIRST DAY: clear microbial tape around my entire torso and the silver tape at injection points. Wearing the elastic compression wrap was a major relief for several weeks after.
Fat grafting is done as OUTPATIENT status. I went home as soon after recovery as my vitals were stable and I could walk. It is major surgery and with each of my fat transfer procedures, I felt like I’d had a baby, because my torso was so swollen, like mushy, squishy. The bruising is normal. Sore torso for several weeks; however, my pain was much more tolerable than the mastectomy and the breast ‘lift’. Each time after I got home I looked like a pig-n-a-blanket, minus mustard. Okay, that’s gross but … Ed lamented, “ohhh gawd. Looks like I beat you, I see why you can’t lay down or bend over… ya got bruises all over. Sorry Honey”. I was mummified inside my elastic compression wrap, like a girdle from the old days. Oink.
Obvious bruises lessened (above) turning that yucky pale yellow like the other guy’s eye. Looked gross … a little late for vanity. Yeah, I look as if I’d got beat up — all par for course. Didn’t hurt. I was instructed to wear the compression wrap 24/7 for two weeks till my follow up –Dr. K’s instructions. I took it off only to shower and toss it in the washer. It felt better to wear it than not; the tight compression helped my body flush the fluids from surgery, minimized the swelling, didn’t feel so puffy.
I was very self-conscious in public. My brain just could not get accustomed to the difference of my chest although it was minimal to the mastectomy (of one breast). That’s my own emotional makeup. I wasn’t finished with the reconstruction, so was hopeful. By that stage, Dr. K was truly aiming for my satisfaction more than ever. I had faith in his skills.
Some women have very little fat to ‘harvest’, whereas I had plenty to spare after the mastectomy LOL thanks to my added pudge. Began to regain breast shape and pre-mastectomy feel.
Every fat grafting surgery achieved better results than I had envisioned and a better feeling was growing in me. Sounds hokey, I slowly felt femininity blossom inside me again. The traumatic pain from twenty months was nearly gone little by little, week by week. I sensed all eyes on me, that I was recovering! After each recuperation, I felt stronger than before. I was getting better. YAY!!
Breast enhancement websites boast of easy recoveries and display beautiful ‘after’s. My 2 cents here again: fat grafting is major surgery and I began to feel like a blubber doll with all the fluid injected into my body for these procedures, it took several weeks for all the fluid to be dispelled, not days. Doctors don’t advise dieting and water pills to dispel that fluid. Exercise (walking) helped and so did drinking lots of water, allowing that fluid to be absorbed and released (yep, I peed like I was pregnant).
In my last consultation before the 3rd fat graft, Dr. Korentager looked me square in the eyes and assured me, this time it was up to me what I wanted done. That was a pleasant surprise. Once I returned home, I took specific before selfies for the sole purpose to email them to Dr. Korentager, not to waste any time with an office visit. He would know.
After the third fat graft (above)… I felt the need for a reprieve. Although each fat transfer had been successful. Some fat assimilated into my body; and I was exhausted. I remind you, I’d had three surgeries in less than twenty-four months. Before the third procedure, Dr. K said I’d have no more surgeries. Two, had been max for most patients, yet I had three. There was no getting used to it — I could not see around my belly, tie my shoes and no way could I get fit into any of my pants. Except that my boobs were slowly getting their old normal shape, this 60-year-old woman’s body needed a big dose of REST to get back my health and strength. All those surgeries made me feel old and feeble.
My neurologist urged me to postpone further surgeries as well due to the onset of migraines again with every scheduled surgery. My body and emotional strain had had enough. Besides looking at the photo above, I reasoned I would not undergo any more surgeries. I knew I’d be happy with my new shape. That was also the night of one of my worst nightmares, oddly, I knew my surgery was a part of it, not botched but left me feeling satisfied that I fought back.
I needed major recoup time. I couldn’t go hunting at all till rifle season and no Christmas shopping, I was too maxxed out. Reconstruction brought most my figure back, but it’s tough on the immune system, hence my pneumonia in January. While I got rested, seeing my physical body get back to norm boosted my morale. After months of rest I grabbed tiny bits of exercise. By ‘rest’ I mean real sleep and 100% couch tater and slow dog walks. Mom shoulda had a little dog, just like Sashie, I thought. Many more moments I was happy; I even tried to finally wear new bras and an occasional dress with my new chest size! Ed snapped a pic of me and my bubbas, new sweet Lab pup, Rocky taking a snooze with me on the sofa — — just felt soooo good.
Been curled up in the recliner an hour. Ed and I tended to the garden that morning, wore me out. I showered and warmed up leftover Chinese. I’ve been sleeping thru much of the week.
One minute I’m energetic, the next I’m bone tired, never been so lethargic. Took on a project of painting my rocker, antiquing it. Very tedious but it’s something I can take my sweet ol’ time doing.
My mind drifts from one day to the next, while my body tries to recoup from this fat graft. I like the final look, however wish I was not so-o-o sore in this body. If only I was younger maybe… normal has seemed so far away, impossible.
My surgeon kept his promise. And Mary Kate was right, I’m beginning to love my new breasts already despite losing one to cancer and all that trauma and worry and enduring surgeries and godawful soreness. Too much to think. I hadn’t any expectation. Now they even feel of more normal weight and tad fuller texture than before. Yep, fat is substantial! Two and 1/2 years of no chest and scars left me emotionally scarred. Very worn and weirded out.
Very tired. Last surgery? Look – the armpit sag is nearly gone. It is the cherry on the chocolate sundae. Near perfecto. Today I didn’t take any pain tabs, I guess that’s why I feel so rough today. Migraine and I just want sleep and a bosom and tummy that doesn’t bear pain.
Just bide my time, be patient and the body heals itself. Right now, just words. But I’ve begun to really feel it on the inside, one word men have as unique meaning in their minds as there are to me. Beautiful. Not just a word now. It’s a feeling. In my soul.
Stepping out of the shower, I see a twinkle in his eye. Ed smiled with approval, gentle and sincere. A tiny volt of electricity trickles through me, ahhh there it is, that ember in my body. Tickling me. I tremble, a hint of zealous fire, my guidance for him so he’d know my pain was gone to venture into that zone again. I missed his hug so much, his mannish tenderness, in the aftermath of surgery, verboten of late … can it end? Play is long overdue. I wanted abandon to match the tenure of our lives together, not caution. I’ve never felt ugly, never sought compliments, but it warms me inside to hear it and know that that feeling is revealing itself now after years of this struggle — to start feeling like myself again. Not drama, just how I feel. Beautiful. Inside and out … I tear up and throat chokes up to know I can be proud of my looks again. I can be confident because I’m becoming me again.
Last night’s dream: I was turkey hunting, climbed up a big oak with my bow, a flock of turkeys on the ground as I watched through vibrant yellow-orange leaves. Gorgeous colors. Now I curl my feet together in the comfortable, worn recliner. I realize I have not cried in many weeks. Tears run down my face. I don’t muffle a gigantic sigh of relief, sniffling like a child. It’s my time. I am happy. No shame, no qualms to take a photo from the left angle now!
Beauty: the B word is to women, “what art gives to a painting, access to the arts is intrinsic to a higher quality of life”.
Winding down from dwelling on total absorption of the whole breast cancer thing. A mastectomy – reconstruction – the nightmare. My life. Prognoses are so much better than in 1983 with my mom. Before the surgery date, I got a call from the KU lab nurse. She said, “your blood test detected NO cancer! No BAD cells!” Proof I am into so-called remission. WOOHOO!
I don’t believe there is a doctor’s office as busy as a plastic surgeon’s. My new implant surgery was scheduled for August 1st, five months away.
Difficulty throughout three years taught me not to be misled by false hope. I forced myself into intense book work, and introspection if you will, or risk getting depressed over delays, again — more hospital rigmarole of another surgery. Summer was winding down. Surgery was necessary. Dr. Korentager assessed for me to get the best symmetry after I lost weight from pneumonia. All in his realm of perfection.
He was very helpful about technical details relating to this memoir. Well, three months ago I consulted with Dr. K. After being a patient for three years, I recognized most the staff. Mary Kate greeted me with her usual big smile. Even under the circumstance of breast cancer, I felt at home and talkative with the ladies there. We always got talking about our dogs, showing pics and little videos on our cellphones.
I knew my surgeon would make every possible effort to give me his best expertise. I’d not seen any of his burn patients but they were surely as lucky as I was with the privilege of such a good natured and meticulous surgeon in charge of my recon. I nearly forgot I have (had) breast cancer under his care. My final surgery would be the best. I had faith in him as my surgeon that his reconstruction of my breast would also heal my soul. It’s evident by his smile and mild demeanor, he truly cares for his patient’s outcome.
Mary Kate ushered me into the warmly lit, light-green exam room and took my vitals, our small talk reviewed the past months. I had questions after my pneumonia and he would have answers. I slid into the half-gown Mary Kate handed me, waiting for two knocks when Korentager promptly stepped inside greeting me, both commented the room was chilly. Small talk aside, he measured me, discussed details, and scheduling the date of my surgery; he referred to Mary Kate as the ‘boss’. Amusing but true.
Initially, I was proud to lose five pounds from my middle (woohoo!) but evidently that was not such a good thing for my fat grafting. I complained I still tired easily when I tried lightweight yard work to build strength and however I tried to go easy, I got very sore. Doctor K illustrated by cupping his hands that the chest muscle must stretch around my implant so it works harder to flex itself. Ugh. I can really feel the pull, soreness that lasts for days. That ‘tug’ inside my chest never goes away. I had been nervous I’d tear a muscle but he okay’d my exercise if I didn’t lift more than 40 pounds (safe zone).
He prepared me mentally, yep, I needed another implant, not more fat grafting (thank God), noting my armpit skin still sagged a tiny bit, I said a skosh. Smiling, he promised to fix it. He measured me, and Mary Kate fitted me with the best sized Natrelle® implant to match the size and shape of my other boob, the perfectly mastopexy-ified real boob. This new replacement implant would be 75 cc’s larger; I had lost over 65 ccs of fat (some of those unwanted pounds I guessed). He affirmed that my body was assimilating calories faster, verified me healthy enough for this surgery. We then discussed about the 3D tattoo. I was ready to face a fake nipple painted on top of my numb reconstructed breast. I had been undecided for two years.
A negative result towards a patient’s well-being in breast cancer’s aftermath is nipple reconstruction, in which the nipple skin grafts often fail. One reality of breast reconstruction with a real body versus textbook application. Dr. Korentager concluded on a metaphysical note: there are instances a woman’s body doesn’t absorb the fat once it’s injected. My body had accepted the implants, meanwhile my health slowly returned with some vigor, hence the initial implant was a success. As a conscientious surgeon, he had been cautious to insert a larger implant in the first place since my skin was stretched and tender from the tissue expander. His professional advice all around, yes, due to losing some pounds, some fat did absorb into my body and another implant will be permanent — a perfect fit this time — no mass lost even if I lose more weight. And less down time because I was stronger than the year before.
NO more surgeries. Wow. What a difference 6 months had made! I would not require more surgeries. Then I’d be ready for Roxanne to delicately (?) paint a realistic 3D nipple tattoo… About that I’d just go with the flow again because I didn’t have any tatts, I had no clue what to expect. So-o-o here we go again…
August 1, 2016 6:30 a.m.
My imagination ran rampant that morning — what the end ‘product’ will look like? ME. Would I at last fill out a bra, a swimsuit, a summer tank top, same as the other, ‘normal’ side afterwards?
I barely heard the onslaught of questions nurses asked me. Two 1/2 hours of questions about my meds, the anesthesiologist and pharmacist, while two nurses attended to me with surgical socks, heated blanket, inflatable bubble wrap on my calves, the IV and sticky sensors for my heart and oxygen numbers. 97 is a good number. Nurse Cindy tied my surgical gown, more interviewing, took my vitals, then helped me to the Ladies room again with IV tubes and cords looped over my shoulder. My feet were dragging; I was tired without the best sleep before all the hoopla… I wanted coffee… tummy was grumbling too.
My daughter’s Facebook post “At KU for me mum’s last & FINAL reconstruction surgery! Woot woot! Kicking breast cancer’s ass one day at a time!! So proud of ya mom!” She joined Ed and me in the pre-op cubicle.
Dr. Korentager would replace my implant with an “Allergan® 410” implant. I was ready for the Propofol®. In conjunction with the anesthesia, I got a Transderm-Scop Transdermal® patch behind my ear. Its generic name: SCOPOLAMINE is shaped like a little tiny band aid that prevents nausea from anesthesia. The ‘feel good stuff’. Finally, Dr. Korentager drew his purple marks on my boob, I signed the surgery order, all while we joked about drawing cartoons on my chest. The surgery clocked 2 hours. Oddly, I have no recall of the operating room this time.
I was happy my daughter and my husband were both with me in pre-op … a bit nervous (BP 137/80, elevated for me) and nerves made me go pee more. But their presence relaxed me. Just being there, sitting in between all the pre-surgical computer screens and my IV hookup-on-rollers. They played games on their tablets. My clothes all bagged up. With no TV screen in the little room I stretched out to rest once the nurses got me prepped. We didn’t need any small talk, all tired from lack of sleep the night before.
On impulse, I asked my crew for a quikie pic before my new implant. Their phones clicked the second Dr. K stepped aside. Doing my bidding they snapped ’n caught my whole chest before I had a chance to cover up the normal side after Korentager drew on me. OOPS Lol ! His sketch
After surgery, he told my husband and daughter that the fatty tissue surrounding the ‘nipple area’ had in fact dissipated significantly, it had indeed been absorbed whereas the fat he’d sculpted on the sides was intact. This time he fixed my pit (skin sag) of the prior fat graft loss. Using the mastectomy scar, Dr. Korentager exchanged the implant into the mastectomy pocket of once-fibrofatty breast specimen weighing 681 grams, of two ½ years ago.
Outpatient status: The recovery nurse fed me crackers and cranberry juice as I shook off the anesthetic. Two nurses urged me NOT to buy stuff online, make important decisions or get on social media for a brief couple of days while I was so dopey with 525 mgs. Hydrocodone. Bein’ in a comatose cloud; (I thought) copy that, I’m a lightweight. Headed home.
Facebook post: Aug 01, 2016 7:23pm “My last reconstruction surgery done at 11 AM, happy my daughter and Ed were with me. I was a bit nervous they calmed me while they played on their tablets. Loved & recouping 😊”
Home — here we go again … barely in the door and my dogs were sniffing all over me. They knew sumthin’ wuz up. LOVE being greeted at the door!
Not supposed to wear a bra post-op, no problem there! Of course, I examined my chest in the bathroom 3-sided mirror. I was dopey and moving at a snail’s pace, but I could see and feel the difference immediately under the clear surgical wrapping.
eight hours after final implant with surgical tape and clear microbial plastic
Now I have ONE new Natrelle® 410 Highly Cohesive implant and one Sientra ‘gummy bear’. My whole breast and underarm is still numb – no surprise. I don’t think about it anymore. It’s like crying over spilled milk … or coffee… The underlying muscles were very sore after surgery. Again, no surprise. No worries … this time I hadn’t had the benefit of the tissue expander to stretch my skin to accommodate the bulk of 75 more ccs of implant. Done. Okay, breathe…
Much, much improved. I could not stop smiling. I could see the docster had made each boob identically the same again, each felt the same against my arm when I lay down, cushy again (after removal of fibrofatty breast mastectomy specimen weighing 681 grams). Each boob felt the same weight of pre-cancer over three years ago, and nearly the same shape, but improved, minus some of the Jell-O jiggle.
No more imagininatin’ how them sistahs look, how them’ll fit now in a bra. Just to show ya in my funky bikini top and favorite sundress! Margarita time!! Where’s a mirror?? Where’s my husband? He gotta see me now! WOOHOO!!! For the best yeehaw – look what my grandkids got me for Christmas last year. See Ms. Reindeer up close — she got perky boobies! Leave it to kiddos — I absoluteltely looved it! That’ll learn me not to take shtuff so durn serious!!
…” friends watch your back — Semper Fi” Cpt. Francis ‘Doc’ Johnson– 2001.
I was so touched by these women’s voices. They inspired ME as I bit nails to get it all down. Oddly, I naturally write with a formal slant (told ya I’m old-school) and must constantly re-do phrases into reading more human-speak. As I sat on my bed with a cup of coffee on the bedside cabinet, still wearing my nightie (used-to-be a sundress) now raggedy and worn from sleeping in it many nights on my sofa as I recouped from surgeries, bedcovers layered thickly around my legs. My feet get cold.
Writing this, when I get it, I feel a knot in my throat, words get stuck in that space between speaking and writing and I catch my breath as I read back my thoughts in black and white. My heart beats faster and sometimes I choke up to cry. I let myself. These friends felt that — a connection by going through the same shit, writing from my heart. Events are easy to write, feelings are hard. I’m not a songwriter, but I’m sure this is how Christine knows a song is right. And when Mary shares a testimony in church. They say I am a blessing – but they blessed me…
My Facebook Woman in Recon Page has rarely been the greatest venue for me, but I met these friends online; bright spirits to my day. Grateful for their kind words and messages coaxing me through tedious edits and days of migraines and doctor visits. At times I said to myself,” what’s the use? Lord, why am I struggling?” Then I read their messages. Sent from their hearts as they too struggled with their own breast cancer nightmares. Ours is a real connection – not as a flash fad or hiding behind a PC, but as women during breast cancer to get better, enhanced by each other’s compassion. A ‘like’ is not a voice. I am a person. We’re not teens on Instagram or Twitter who don’t have a clue unless other moms has breast cancer. Our voices are heard. That’s why we keep on, keepin’ on. Nowadays face-to-face doesn’t happen much, our messages must be strong and meaningful.
WE sit alone in the doctor’s office, drive ourselves back and forth while the husband is at work (or in Ed’s case, asleep), we don’t fuss and cry on every other shoulder. Continue to do the chores, cook dinner and change our own bandages. I know their pain — it isn’t bragging, it’s understanding. And these gals understand too. The good Lord blessed us all… I gained ‘b c’ friends I would not have, had there not been FB or Msgr, having only messaged online, also gotten breast cancer.
[Candy Daniel: “It is amazing what we can do when we have to… somehow, I managed” winter 2016]
I recently met up with Mary at Centerpoint Hospital in Independence, just to say HI and exchange a BIG hug. It was awesome to really talk, than just msg! Someday I hope to have the honor to hook-up face to face with Christine too, both friends for life now.
So why bring up messages? Because their feelings match mine and are a tribute to all women who go through the hell of breast cancer, we’re part of that hierarchy of survivors. It lifted my spirits to read their thoughts. We aren’t alone.
They have given so much of themselves, now it’s my turn. Very different to talk or write about it, then to MEET someone face to face is powerful stuff… been ill and struggling, get as down as I did. Feeling pain isn’t as bad as being alone. Someone can’t afford Internet but promised to read my page somehow. Warms my heart.
Candy and ‘Doc’ were both my teachers at Wentworth Military Academy; he loved my poetry (much not included in this book) how I connect emotions and paint images with words; I learned from the best. He died at Christmastime, 2001. Candy was a computer genius, also a rifle expert; she who influenced me to enter the National Guard, always the patriotic teacher. Taught us ‘probies’ to tear down and clean an M16. She said, ‘cancer is cancer…’ She died last spring.
excerpt of my blog post:
…As I’m having my first cup of coffee I recall my friend, Candy always shared a love of the hot brew.
as it happened yesterday.
Me: My friend Candy is at Ray County hospital. I took her roses today. She was my CS teacher @WMA and my Sgt. in the Natl. Guard. Only 3 years older than me. Surreal — she’s dying with emphysema. I will miss her. She taught me computers and to handle an M16. Stout woman.
I cried driving most the way home
Alone with her, she recognized me, smiled, whispered my name. Tried to raise her head when she saw the bouquet, I laid my hand on her so she wouldn’t struggle to move. Breathing so labored, fell back zzz.
Maybe I’m premature but I know she’s ready by her posts lately. Writing so deep I can’t follow it.
She has a special FB page like mine. I’m in her group. Her friend messaged me. She’s the reason I went to Wentworth and into the Guard Wednesday, May 11 5:12 a.m.
via FB Betty: Candy is gone.
My heart skipped a beat. I tried to text a decent acknowledgement. My mind was mush from lack of sleep worrying, knowing Candy wouldn’t go thru the night. As I had sat by her, I heard the ‘death rattle’ from her chest, same as when my grandma died. That sound means death is very imminent. Horrid sound. It’s unforgettable – grates on your ears.
I watched Candy sleep, oxygen hoses in her nose, not really helping her breathe. She couldn’t swallow and gasping like a fish out of water. If I didn’t love her so much, I would have turned away from the sight of tubes and such illness. She was so decrepit. I sat watching her as I idly watched a ballgame on TV, holding her hand so thin and frail. Her hollowed face showed no pain as she slept, gurgling louder than a breath. I yearned for her to be awake; she couldn’t…
Me: Oh! Blessed woman, I thank you for letting me know. I didn’t sleep much, I’m on my first cup of coffee as she always wrote about. Loved good coffee:)
She’s with the Lord and that consoles me. Whatever you need, please call me.
Text to Hubby: Candy died in the night. I didn’t sleep well tonight. The Lord blessed me to have 30 minutes to sit with her after 15 years our lives went differently.
Hubby: The Lord timed so you could. OOOO
So, I sit in bed, a cup of coffee on the night stand, remembering Candy as my mentor, teacher, my Sergeant in the Guard, fellow writer. No more pain, no insurance hassles. I’ll miss our online notes. She was brilliant. Rest in peace, Capt. Marble….
January 19, 2017 post to my Facebook breast cancer page: “…taking a bit more time… grrrr” my breast cancer survivor-friend, Mary commented, “Hang in there girl. It will be done in time. If you hurry things can go wrong”
Mary Barbieri… my story: I turned 65 years old just got my medicare started…. On March 5th, I rolled over at 2:35 am and something didn’t feel right. I waited till Monday and told my dr. He immediately ordered a mammogram, a biopsy and I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Sarcoma estrogen fed. Then there was a surgeon, Oncologist, and Cardiologist involved. Along with a Breast Cancer Navigator. All this was in the left breast. I’ve had an MRI and Pet Scan as well as a stress test… By that time, I had to address family issues, I am the driving force in keeping this family going and helping our youngest daughter with her 3 year-old son.
I have successfully gone through a series of 3 chemo treatments…I have been talking to a lot of people in our church. I really miss Candy because she shared with me her experiences so that I wouldn’t go through this blind folded. We went to the same church and I gave testimony… God’s will be done with this … mass shrank and is still shrinking…lymph nodes involved and they are shrinking as well. God is Good…I have my down times but am able to come out of it. Now that I don’t have hair, my grandson and I play pirate games going everywhere looking for treasure…also started sending blessings and encouragement to others. This helps me to keep my mind off myself… miss sending encouragements to Candy but I know she is in a lot better place and at peace … I’d rather go fishing, working, or anything but going to the Dr’s office. But I have behaved myself so far.
Mary: …done with chemo. Found out I was alergic to steroids and once they took me off the steroids I started acting like a real human again. I have a wonderful support system from all over the US…go through radiation followed by hormonal therapy for 5 years.
Thank you, Trish this is, so much help. I had Candy for a while but now I have this. It helps me to know what steps are coming up even though my Dr’s have been so good at telling me sometimes it takes a while to sink in.
I am not a candidate for reconstruction… quite comfortable with it…. My oncologist said she was going to make a new woman out of me and I am beginning to believe it…God has really been wonderful to me. You are such an inspiration.
Me: idk about inspiration
Mary: There is nothing more comforting than your husband’s arms wrapped around you and encouraging you as well as praying for you. … One day you will look back and say Wow God did an awesome job. Love ya sister.
me: I so sorry for those sh**ty days
CW: Thank you honey. It’s no fun, but having really good friends and family checking in with me helps a lot. Thank you for thinking of me. XO How are you doing??
me: I fine but next week I have my last implant ‘transfer’ since the fat died when I was sick last Feb. Been having lot of migraines. Have to stay indoors out of the 100-degree heat…break for uncle’s funeral. that’s y we went to Colo… haven’t taken vacation to visit fam since my breast cancer began. So many expenses. Recoup from my reconstruction surgeries I must get some zzz now, thanks for listening
CW: I have every finger crossed for you, but I have every faith you won’t need it. The only times I really get out of the house is on Dr appointments… LOL Hit me up tomorrow. Talk soon. XOXO
me: How are u feeling? Your spirits sound very good…smiling faces of family helps me be positive. I’m so-called cured. don’t feel it yet, just tired, feel and looking better than I did. Lol
CW: …very happy to hear that you made it to remission… I started at stage 2 and within a year, was at stage 4 and terminal. I don’t feel terminal. Aside from the overwhelming fatigue, after nearly dying from chemo, just being alive is awesome. I had just started talking to Candy when she passed. I’m glad I got to talk with her and be in her light for a while. The last thing I said to her was love to you, be strong…you look great… very happy to hear that you came through, fought and won. That’s a big deal. I myself am not happy just curing myself. I’m looking for real cures. Ones that don’t torture…
Me: Omg it’s great to relate to someone so positive who’s gone through this shit! slowly getting better…more from 6 surgeries in 2 years than chemo. Candy didn’t admit that she was so ill…I don’t live far so I visited her in the hospital. I took her roses, ten hours later she died… my timing was tight I know God had His hand on us. Recoup takes 200% outa me. Today I’m outside I love it!!! Ttyl My breast surgeon said remission is after 5 years, I have two years to go. Woohoo!
CW: awesome! please not be offended I’m still a bit under water, but I will respond a little bit later. Hope all is well. XO
Me: U r sweet. I appreciate for sure!! My tumor marker is NORMAL!! Last night went to a Christian wild game dinner. won a Quantum crappie rod set and a filet knife. Ya know I LOVE fishin 🙂
CW: Wow that’s awesome!!!!! Yaaaaaaay!!!! If you ever need a fishing partner, I’m low skill bit eager to learn. Take care, love. XOXO
Trish, I respect you and all the strength and true grit you’ve shown in the midst of a terrible physiological circumstance. Your grace, wit, and determination are not only inspiring, they are a model to others of how you can thrive, even in the hardest of times. Encapsulating your experience in words and anecdotes will preserve a record of your time in this existence. But what is truly moving, is that you choose, like me, to take the road less traveled. And I admire you for that. Thank you for not only sharing, but including me in your experience. When I’m hurting or receive less than desirable news, I can look at you and clarity replaces fear. Thank you for the many gifts. Much love. Christine
Cindy Cohee: … Thank you for the blessing. You are a strong and amazing woman and I am glad to call you my friend!!!
Reply: my treatment is nearly finished, fingers Xd to proceed as planned. I want to thank you for helping me through this. You made comments that so touched my heart, encouraged me to write the way I wanted to, and the guts to write from my heart.
Feb 28, 2017 Roxanne: …it has been my absolute pleasure to be a part of your recovery and I wish you all the best in the future!
“You have made it through the hardest part, the worst part, and now you will mend a little every day. There is no doubt you will be back fishing and hunting before long. There is now a light at the end of the tunnel.” — Bobby.
He was right all along.
Surviving is to ‘fxcking’’ celebrate!…………I’m on track… now the ‘reality check’–
I get perturbed by all the bc treatment advertisements, society and the magazines that feature such women getting on with their own success stories, portraying them so lighthearted and smiling. It’s absurd! Bullcrap. No. I cannot be politically correct, so nicey-nice for anyone who likes perfect.
There’s no conspiracy-thing, and no tongue-in-cheek opinion, no ‘star’ favs, as I’ve said, no easy-peasy kick-ass cure. Any stage knocks the wind outa the most easy-going. Surviving breast cancer will certainly rock those beliefs. Been no fake airs, nothing sugar-coated here. I gave ya humor at times, to buffer all the suffering overload. LOL! I know my dear Gma McKinney would cringe at some of my crudeness from her red-haired granddaughter, though she was compassionate too. Always tell the truth. I was so influenced by grandma’s Quaker traditions, I believe she’d lie content in her grave, approving of my intent. Hopefully I inherited her gentler traits, as much as her prairie pioneer stubbornness. Luvu Gma.
After my final implant surgery … I was mentally drained — got lax writing for a few weeks immersed in family and editing photos. By late autumn, I took a vacation with my husband to camp and hunt in the Ozarks; returned home with two deer in the truck. We camped at a horse ranch near Osceola, Missouri, on a peninsula chock full of deer, one said to be legendary, not to mention a pride of mountain lions, of which I stumbled across 8 foot-high scratching marks on a young tree, too high and shredded for a even a big buck. Mere 100 yards from where I’d set up turkey hunting. Now that gave me pricklies’ on m’neck.
It was a chilly morning; Sasha ‘n I’d be headed back to KC, so we went fishing…
A big part of my life isn’t work or breast cancer recovery, but getting outdoors. I cannot ignore Mamma Nature’s bounty or beauty. Bow hunting in the Ozark wilderness was just what the doctor ordered to recharge my batteries – and I gained awesome new friends — real down-home folks with warm hospitality not seen in Kansas City much. They opened their land to Ed and me, I’m positive will last a lifetime. Paul, the ranch owner is also a cancer survivor. And thanks to my sweetie hubby proudly relating I am a breast cancer survivor as well, it became a talkable subject even if I tried to be on hiatus.
Horses are Paul’s life as much as being outdoors was mine and taking Sashie-girl (went pert ‘near ev’rwhere I did). As Paul told me and my husband, “no matter how you try not to, cancer changes ya. Even being cured if 70% is cured, it’s why I always got my pistol now — for just in case.” With a smirky grin, he pats his ‘Judge’. “And I got my rifle handy for the lions.” Ref to three mountain lions he’s been up close ‘n personal with near the twenty-acre camp, same one as did the scratchin’. In Ozark wilderness ya gotta be prepared for big critters — they’re the top of the food chain, not us. So – the pistol? Cancer insurance. He’d endured enough chemo. Not a good thought, but each survivor has endured and come to terms with their own belief and how to handle the ‘next’ time or their own calling. That’s not a fun thought but it is reality. An uncommon discussion.
Everyone has a unique way of thinking about cancer, more about dying (it’s too soon inevitability) because of cancer. Folks don’t all react with religion or get smushy with family — some distance themselves off not wanting to cause a stir. Some join groups, not my deal. Mostly time away gave me deeper insight of what I have, to offer peacefully in life. Yeah at times I cause a stir, but at 61, I don’ care, I can handle it, I don’ need breast cancer as an excuse either … hm-m-m
While Sasha loved to go camping, she’d gotten an aggressive canine mouth cancer, which a country vet removed while I was camping. She was too weak to leave at home, even under Adrian’s loving care. Those few days recovering, little Sasha trotted beside me, fluff-of-a-tail wagging, played tentatively with Paul’s dog and roaming chickens. That was a funny sight, her trying to corral chickens. Dunno who enjoyed the ranch more, her or us. Rocky minded her as the ol’Alpha, he three times her size, a gentle giant.
However; cancer is a vial beast, in less than a year’s time, her mass was back — playfulness and muscle withered from my lil’ baby. The bloody mass in her jaw grew so large, kept her from chewing; her weakness distraught me no end. With sad realization, I sobbed for days, miserable that I could survive cancer, but Sasha could not. She was the most gentle, little spirit to give me comfort any moment, never faltering from her doggie-duty, eyes bright and sweet. Lil’ Sashie died snuggled in my lap. Rocky moped too for his little, sweet sissy. His squirrel chasing buddette was gone.
Whenever hunting or camping, Ed was known for deep forest exploration. He found an old salt lick so one day. He took me there shortly after 3:30, we set up a ground blind for a late bow hunt. In the middle of a pine thicket at the edge of that mineral-lick full of water, we sat. A mere half hour passed when the brush rustled thirty yards in front of our blind. I had not seen the deer, but Ed whispered, poking my leg. “Buck!” It very slowly meandered closer. Typical me, I expected a doe. My heart raced to shoot a big buck! Finally, I saw its shiny 9 pt. ivory rack, standing between two spruce trees, I took the shot with Ed’s crossbow …
A major issue for me has been accepting I’m a hunter in recovery, especially in the outdoors. That element we can’t control: Midwest weather. It was disappointing. I noticed my implants get uncomfortably semi-rigid when I’m outdoors on a super chilly day, even while I’m dressed warmly. My hunting common sense spoke up. I braced against the cold. Put ‘HotHands®’ warmer packets in my shirt pockets. Yep. I can be practical. Saved my boobs last fall! Enabled me to hunt than stay at home. I’d lost enough hunting time not to at least try. Still working on my stamina to hike up those lake shore rocky hills without having a heart attack… I feel like a dag-blasted, damned marathon runner! Inherited impatience has not benefited me to get back into my outdoors lifestyle, yet dogged grit has. That’s a true hunterwoman’s mantra. We don’ got a damn attitude just to rely on men. I had no Plan B.
Reality is the stuff that’s not always so peachy. The most stubborn reality to ingest in my brain is there is no such thing as ‘getting back to normal’. WTF you say? Take it from the jenny’s mouth — no matter how small your procedure, no matter what the experts tell you, in your own recovery, you will not be the same as you were, like Paul said. Mark me. My normal will be forever as is, one half-normal breast, one fake; two implants and drugs to alter my hormones, and keeping migraines at bay. Can’t ever donate blood after cancer, no matter the tiniest atom of cancer hasn’t been detected since my mastectomy. Was never a fan, don’t matter now. Oh, and did I mention how easily I succumb to the heat now, never before? As the last paragraphs were finished up, Ed and I rebuilt the storage shed damaged by a hail storm. Since Rocky has gotten bigger than the fence, I added privacy panels while my hubby installed the metal corner shed supports and side beams. Our timing kinda sucked– it got up to 94 in the shade. By late evening, I ran for the bathroom as I lost my cookies. It’s what happens when you stop sweating… Like the chilly, rainy hunt, I knew better – just damn ignorance. So mark me.
Are we victims of the drug lords? The pharmies pay well, then there’s you and me, relying on a measly co-pay in the CVS drive-thru after a sleepless night waiting on a scrip the pharm neglected. Those stubborn realities won’t let up (for me and Christine), is the proverbial rock and a hard place deal with Tamoxifen (Nolvadex) relating to its side affects. A gentle, positive woman, Christine was unable to tolerate Nolvadex. “that’s probably why my cancer came back so hard…” Then, if I miss one day, I can sure as hell expect a serious bout of migraine enough to knock over a jackass. Plus, sudden undoctored withdrawal of Tamoxifen can cause a sudden heart attack. Now for those who prefer forums for info, this site has common facts, but: Breastcancer.org Community was outdated and full of spam. My pc would not open it. To find facts about powerful drugs, I go-fer authentic sites without all the media junk: https://www.drugs.com/cdi/nolvadex.html, Recall Medical diary stating that Tamoxifen is an anti-coagulant, hence the reality that it affects pulmonary and respiratory function which cannot be ignored.
Guidelines as prescribed: Women taking Nolvadex to decrease the risk of developing breast cancer have developed cancer of the uterus, stroke, and blood clots in the lung. Some of these events have been fatal. And cause symptoms such as unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge; abnormal menstrual period; groin pressure or pain; chest pain; shortness of breath; coughing up blood; confusion; one-sided weakness; vision problems or slurred speech.
Women at high risk of breast cancer or with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) should discuss the use of Nolvadex with their doctor. For me, the benefits (reducing the risk of breast cancer) outweighed the risk of these events. The benefits of Tamoxifen is believed to outweigh the risks in women who already have breast cancer.
Why, you see th’all know the tip of that iceberg is why a real woman wears a pretty scarf to cover her patchy scalp, her once lustrous hair falling out worse than a shedding Persian cat. Or she slips on a funky, cool wig like Christine’s. And, why I wore swimsuit pads after my surgery in my own silly-assed, desperate attempt at some normalcy. It’s a far cry from vanity. The neighbors have no clue if it’s a fashion garb or breast cancer. They can see the truth in her eyes and any cancer patient knows. I avoided that by wearing dark shades. I’m a people watcher, but I didn’t want to be seen. My new friends saw thru my evasiveness, didn’t care.
For a long time, I denied that breast cancer forever changed the way I used to look. My facade was worse than a preteen girl’s first try with makeup – too much rouge. ‘Oh — I am fine.’ Liar. I yearned for my public apparel to look natural and attractive. Instead I felt like everyone stared at me like a freak. They weren’t. Nobody noticed. And yet my married-in daughters reassured me, “you look awesome!” They made me smile. I took this photo of the manikin in Roxanne’s waiting area. It struck me as reassuring for all the women who flow through her spa office for that last thing, her nipples tattooed after reconstruction.
Occasional rough days with phantom pain…jolting stabs under my armpit. Those nerves are STILL healing, three years later… will it ever?
I get sick of waking up being bone-assed sore and achy and not near the strength much of the time bein’s I take a drug that’s s’pose to scare away the cancer buggers. I count the days when I no longer pop Tamoxifen every day… Maybe then I won’t wake up in the middle of the night, hips too sore to roll over in bed, a moan escapes me or wake up in the morning feeling like I’m in a 90 year old body, with aching joints throbbing till the 800 mg of Ibuprofen takes hold (Dr took me off Hydrocodone and Xanax).
I recently read an intense debate about a conspiracy theory that pharm companies are preventing the docs from dispensing a medicine that’s the ‘cure’, i.e. involved in ripping off patients of their survival. Folks all believe what they want, I reiterate it’s grasping at straws but who wouldn’t, given a-go at life again? Me, I had to get way beyond the initial shock and drama, and be my own life’s advocate. My deal has been to get used to my new normal body with the aches and pains that come with abusing an older self. Taking a medication that has a few nasty side effects is only temporary. Hasn’t crippled me quite yet.
Christine’s two cents;
It’s not about the money. It never is. Money is the root of all evil and unfortunately our world is full of evil and every deadly sin you can think of. It’s good to be faithful and act in a manner consistent with your beliefs. Our beliefs. Treat people with love and respect until they give you a reason not to.
Are you well enough and ok enough to hear this? I don’t want to cause any PTSD or bad feelings or anything. Things are hard right now. My tumor markers have doubled since last year. I’m going in for a pet scan this week or next. Chemo isn’t working. Dr wants to try one more different chemo. Then I’m committing to stem cell transplant. My last real big push. It means I will be in quarantine for 2 months after the procedure and 6 months masks and gowns. No fun but I don’t want to die yet. I know it’s in God’s hands and I fully release myself to His care and plan. But I have a deep down feeling it’s not my time and I still have things left to do. I’m not trying to be selfish or wretched by talking about my suffering and I typically don’t talk to anyone except my hubby. I would come to MO to see my favorite new author and bestie breastie warrior sister. IE you be of good courage. 😊
Especially when the truth is so hard to bear, to really heal, a woman recovering from breast cancer must pay heed and do what is best for herself. To live. Me, NOT solely surviving but to live passionately as I really wanted to. For damnnear four years, I did not have the energy. I still craved Xs, or Tabs (Watsons y’know)? Always an itty urge underlying the stalwart recovery. Nameless friends testify the intense agony of opiates too well. Insurance companies’ red tape is a cancer itself. Patients like my friends, waiting for a drug that was meant to help, while in excruciating pain of metastasized cancer – pain too many breast cancer survivors will own till death. My dearest Christine knows that wicked cycle.
It’s nothing to be pissed off about (yeah, I had my moments) it’s only common sense. The human side to conquer disease is to accept I have a body subject to frailty, besides ability to be strong. Having breast cancer left me prone to illness and that may eventually mean by the grace of imminent death, only God knows. Getting sick a lifelong reality? It’s one of those nasty little reminders, I be a bit shy in the immune department nowadays. Every bug, every germ within a country mile grabs me. I wasn’t prepared for my immune system to go adioso – just ain’t the barricade against common nasty germs as it was back four years. Now, more than ever, I have to make a conscious effort, must hone up my defenses, eat right and get LOTS of zzz’s. Easier said. <sigh> Just another pain in the butt issue we breast cancer gals gotsta deal with to interfere with what ya wanna do or what needs to get done. Like going out to a movie, or camping, or letting the grandboys have a sleepover had to wait till Gramma felt better. I couldn’t delay that fun for long. Hadta, wanna, gotta. Put them in yer Webster’s.
Some publications are so much hogwash. Some breast cancer websites tout cure-alls via lifestyle, food, yoga or any means other than a surgeon’s scalpel. People will believe anything about supposed cures for cancer in their desperation and fear. But by that time, to me the cause doesn’t matter; the cells are cancer, dead like Zombies. From that, somehow a tumor is created, they spread. The fallacies spread as well! It’s astounding. Miracles do happen but so many medias feed off people’s’ hopeful gullibility. It’s just wrong. I had to find the most belief in my own self! Truth is often ignored by media, including respectable cancer magazines and websites. Too many people believe all the media hype enabling false hope I’d totally resume my life that was, not what will be. Then what is the reality of natural and holistic remedies? Only that I had a real surgery and take real prescriptions to modify my chemical makeup after successful medicinal trials and thousands of women stayed in that 95-survival percentile. In remission. How is that so different than my faith? It’s between me and ‘the man upstairs’. My husband stalwart beside me. The bottom line is now I depend on MY OWN WILL TO LIVE. IF LIVING IS IN GOD’S PLAN, nobody can keep me from living as God intended. Now, I am healthy and gaining strength.
My healing was in slo-mo, drove me bonkers. Losing weight, gaining back strength, building my immune system, not getting sick every time I venture to the store, sound sleep, softer hair, stamina to hunt and that sweet oohlahlah. I learned the hard way (of course) that a positive attitude has everything to do with how my body feels three, four years after a mastectomy. After all the physical recoups, I could feel, with a let-down, none if any, sensation would return to that side of my chest. I accepted my new bod. My new norm, easier after my second implant when the doc got it right.
Rather than breast cancer aging me into a decrepit old woman, I accepted a less-than-perfect attitude is better, because getting old gracefully really does show better in that mirror … yeah, became my friend again and ‘chill pills’ are much easier to swallow at nearly 62. I’m not sure if it was the collective prescriptions, surgeries, anxiety and breast cancer, or simply age itself, something about the last three years did just that. I’m not anxious about aging, that’s counter-productive to living well, getting past the big C.
Friends went about their lives as usual. I accept change as a culmination of ourselves into an inevitable future. My expectations had to be adjusted, not so low as my own reality gauge, of who remained. After some grief, it was time to let life be just the way life is – accepting people you love changed is an intense choice too. I used to be a Type A … but feel much calmer than in past months, years in fact. I finally tapped into some of that patience my mother left behind.
I had felt like a blimp after gaining thirty pounds in less’n twelve months. And as usual, Dr. K wasn’t concerned, promised that weight would melt once the injected fluid dissipated from my midsection. Yeah whadever. By the fall of 2016 after my second implant surgery I started to lose some blubber, finally got into my blue jeans again and my camo. Did feel comfy good. I needed to get prepared to bow hunt again. Dr. Elia reassured me I was coping well and that Tamoxifen contributes significantly to weight gain, and I got the go-ahead to pull 40 pounds with my bow — my dream now.
Listen to your beautiful inner woman, The Lord put you here on this earth to allow yourself to recoup as a new you, “… taking care of yourself takes care of more than just yourself …” what red-blooded woman doesn’t listen to Matthew McConaughey? Nothing better findin’ that ‘sweet spot’ okay, he sweet … Reality has been the best blessing when I opened my eyes. Told ya so.
Ed is still digesting it all. We gals know men get stuck in the last time zone. Not an outspoken dude, hardworking and very aware of my nesting and feminine needs that became stronger the more I healed. With strong love, in typical guy tactlessness, he cheered me on, patiently waiting three years to get his huntin’ partner back on the trail, out of danger of doctor’s restriction — into remission. Nonetheless, he acted as my recovery was an ever-present worry. I said enough was enough. After all my reconstruction, I coaxed manly reassurance from my Sweetie. He just hadn’t said so till I asked point blank. Again, it was my call. Yes, he caught my drift, part of our rejuvenation.
A mastectomy and the reconstructive surgeries was the worst pain I’ve had after two broken ankles, a lung collapse, hysterectomy and an emergency C-section way, way years back. With KU’s team and the grace of God, (my) cancer is gone. Like a well-tuned machine, my body maintenance is now up to me. A reverberation here: it was vital to take care of my own self – once my body was healing, my emotional self was key to rebuilding my life.
Diary — a PERFECT early fall day—
Aaaah-h-h. It is. I could gripe it’s not comfortable to lie on my tummy at all anymore, ‘bout last night’s migraine, my house’s a mess or my last surgery’s soreness, or no money for fancy shtuff because of medical bills, or gaining weight from Ed giving me too many luscious pecan rolls but nobody put a gun to my head…
It is a gift to be alive, to describe the warm sun on my face, the breeze tossing my blondish red-graying hair. I sit in my chaise swing, sip my coffee. A gorgeous tiny, hummingbird twitters above me. I walked with my dogs. Last summer the last fat graft surgery. I was a miserable woman on the edge of emotional relapse. Ed cared for me, nursed me so lovingly, more than I knew a man could be.
Turning 62 next October, marks four years surviving breast cancer. Getting’ back to strength. Good. Real good. Breast cancer gained me friends I wouldn’t know or cared about. My grandchildren don’t recall the tears. I do but they’re not in me this day. Yes, there’s evil in the world – but God blessed my day and refreshed my mind to soak it all in, sharing these thoughts.
THUMBS UP FOR NIPPS!
Nippie, nibbies, ladybugs or headlights, and nipps (my favorite) at the front of those kahunas all said in fun and we giggle. Some men are mesmerized by our teeny body part as a thing of exquisite beauty or sexuality, then some are just vaguely aware of how seriously women feel about our nipples.
Six weeks into autumn I got a call. It was time. Finally, the FINALE’. My tattoos. But she had a surprise. Getting right to the point, she told me the KU media department had asked her if I would allow them to do a LIVE video of her doing my tattoo. I was stunned. ME? Live? I didn’t hesitate. SWEET! Yes! I excitedly told Ed and waited day by day for my appointment. His only deal was that they blur out my real nipple. No argument there.
Easy-going, good tunes in her comfy room, coulda taken a lil’ nap, more like a spa than a nurse’s office. Roxanne immediately made me comfortable, hugging me the moment we met. I must admit I began writing this prematurely, so anxious to get my tattoo done. I was still healing from my third fat graft surgery and I hadn’t thought the whole healing process would take as long as it did. Kinda put the cart before the horse …
I hated the tattoo idea at first rather than a skin graft, but my plastic surgeon convinced me otherwise so I decided to use some common sense, I listened to my surgeon’s opinion, and opted a nipp tattoo’s better than my first impression had been. He’d never let me down. Explained (very tactfully) how my breast tissue is too thin for a nipple graft (an overrated process in his opinion) after being stretched. Alrightie then.
Even since August 1st, with my new, improved implant, I still disliked my chest in the mirror and quickly dried off after showers simply because of the lack of my nipple. I said women ain’t rational. For 36 months (even with my nicely shaped new implant which I was so muchly ecstatic about) I had to get past that I had a ball for a boob self-image. Some women don’t struggle but I did. Maybe vanity, maybe deep-down I ached to look normal as possible. My grandson called it normaler. With the tattoos, I could. 3D tattoos would be painless and pleasing to the eye, and a gentle touch in the boudoir perhaps …
You know full well your body can heal only so fast. Ya cannot order your body to heal any quicker just because ya want to be done with it. Healing encapsulates more than being cured, than seeking that finished product. My expectations ran high even after I urged you readers to be patient, in case you hadn’t listened. Since I’m not known for patience, getting a nipple tattoo was just a waiting game, now then another instance of putting my money where my mouth is – uh was. Whatwith surgery after surgery like I had, it was three long years to get to the point of the ‘nip tatt’. It actually wasn’t a very long while considering my scars were nearly invisible after those 36 months, even the new implant had no scar left. My scars show up more in pics than they do for real. But I don’t care if they are visible anyway, they’re beeauutiful battle scars now.
By the time I got to the nipple tattoo process, the hardest part was over. I maybe could relax and get used to my new, reconstructed body now. It was time for me to move forward with my life, this one last procedure to tend to. I was READY.
Tattoo Artist’s Incredible 3D Nipple Art, a truly positive good read about nipple tattoos after breast cancer reconstruction. “The Mighty” is partnered with FxckCancer.org Tattoo artist, Jeff Paetzold says in http://www.themighty.com:
“The finishing touch to breast reconstruction is having your nipple areola tattooed…done in your plastic surgeon’s office. Tattooing is a simple, fast procedure. There is no need to be scared. If you are matching a new nipple areola to the existing breast, your plastic surgeon will mix various colors and shades to get the correct pigment… After drawing the outline of the areola, the artist or surgeon will place the tattooing instrument against your breast. You may feel a pushing and vibrating sensation, as many small needles transfer pigment into your skin. The entire process can take as little as fifteen minutes.
(B & A …same as my application) left nipple areola tattoo
First consult – like a spa!
Her office wasn’t a typical hospital clinic — ‘oldies’ music on. I quickly put on the cotton gown she gave me so she could easily measure for my tattoo. I was excited yet felt right at ease in the tattoo client chair — Roxanne carefully aligned a cardboard circle over each breast mound. She dotted a red marker where both of my new areolas would be applied, noting my own nipple is a common color, no special tints were necessary. I guessed that was okay? Anyway, I was all set to go for my next appointment. Dr. Korentager didn’t apply my tatt. Roxanne Edwards, certified medical tattooist stepped in and took pics to compare my skin tone to recreate the nipple color on my newly reconstructed boob. Getting the right shade of color may require a touch up, she said. Roxanne easily matched colors to my one real nipple. She applied the whole 3D nipple tattoo on my new breast first. That process was videotaped by the Kansas University Media.
last procedure!!! My mastectomy skin surface is numb – there was no pain from the inking tool poised firmly in-hand – only a scratching sensation. Very tolerable. I have regained some breast skin sensation and needed a swab of local anesthetic.
Can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous but I tried to lay still for Roxanne. Both nipple tattoos took less than 30 minutes. Nothing to sit through compared to three MRIs. Recalling them I still cringe.
My tattoo session was featured in Kansascitystar.com in the news/business/women’s health section by KUMC’s media network with this headline (by Monty Davis) it reads:
‘That’s gorgeous’: Breast cancer patient moved to tears after seeing tattooed nipple. Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com
MY favorite below: short version produced by the Public Relations manager/videographer, Dennis McCulloch@ KU media. Roxanne applied my full tattoo on my reconstructed breast. Watch either via Google or the onedrive.live.com link :
OR Roxie’s LIVE video application: nipple tattoos
The 1st video (www.kansascity.com) — I was so overwhelmed! Not at ALL prepared for the total rush — and a teeny bit embarrassed I burst into tears on camera. Roxanne was a life preserver — she is to me.
FIRST DAY: after 3 hours: peeled off Saran wrap. my homemade Youtube video (age-13+) DAY1NipTATT
I rinsed off a bit of ooze, applied soft gauze ice pack
repeat 2X day. applied ‘AFTER INKED’® creme Roxanne gave me.
Sponge baths to avoid soap on the tattoos.
THIRD DAY: I gently rubbed warm water with fingertips. I rubbed off all top skin layer so no scab formed. Dead skin rolled off with no pain. Took a shower. Applied creme several times @day
FEBRUARY 14, 2014 ------ OCTOBER 13, 2016 see Woman in Recon selfies.
UNCENSORED BEFORE TATTOO – 3 MONTHS AFTER APPLICATION
For any woman wondering how it feels or questioning is it worth it? (a nipple tattoo) Yes. It is worth every second in that client chair. I repeat. No pain! Funny, as I was editing these photos I showed them to Ed, asked his opinion to show both tattooed breasts, yes or no? He immediately said, ”yes, women need to see they’re both done.” Simple answer. Logical. I was a bit surprised by my husband’s quick approval and by my sudden modesty. For me, the professionals and my husband are the only ones who see my other real breast. Kinda beside the point, bein’s this is about the tattoos. Roxanne’s kickass artwork fooled my eyes too! Ed was right — show both taped up boobs in the album. I was DONE.
Crocodile to bird in teeth: ‘Ona scale of one to ten, what is your pain level NOW?
UHHH NO PAIN?!!?
HAPPY look in the mirror!!!
I gotta tell ya, I was shocked to see my new tattoos in the mirror. You saw in the KU video, I lost it! All those months of being empty-boobed — lacking a nipple with nothing but a smooth ball of skin under my bra, was over. No more wishing to look normal! My new breasts suddenly had gorgeous, hot pink-ish nipples again … gorgeous to my eyes!! I’ll be damned it was the TOTALLY bestest feeling. That tiny part of my chest gave me such a rush! WOW I got my body back! Something so simple, so totally feminine, so important, so aesthetically real-looking. I was finally satisfied, as Dr. K and Mary Kate had said I would be!
A real win over breast cancer … Nipple tattoos were not like getting my nails done, not a massage either. Therapy yes, but it’s not the icing on the cake, it’s the eggs and flour. The nipple tatts completed my healing. People say I’ve overcome a lot. I say, I’m resilient. Because my friend, Penny read the KC Star’s article I got called a rock star! She exaggerates. I just keep plodding along — It gave me much needed closure. My husband has always said I got that “je ne whatever.” With nipple tatts, I finally felt it. I tell ya, my tatts look so real even made him and me do a double-take. Roxanne is the real rock star! Or the bomb.
This book is dedicated to my mother. My daughter, a mom too now, does not remember her grandmother, only aware that she died of breast cancer when she was just a toddler. Adrian can’t see her grandmother’s infectious smile, neither can her own daughter, Erika. Mom had enough love in her heart for a backyard full of grandchildren.
I try to believe surely, we weren’t doomed with the predisposition of breast cancer. Nothing a mom won’t do for her daughter; my mom could not have prevented breast cancer and I’ve learned it’s the same for me. Mutual love is precursor of my strength — I see my mother in myself all the time and in my own daughter, not a lot of consolation in that, except knowing the gene pool has more stubborn survival traits than a German mule, along with our other quirky quirks. Mom’s love genes were potent — I inherited her strong love of all creatures, family and tradition, and sense of fun.
No texting back in the ‘70s, in those days our phone calls were baby talk not breast cancer when I was pregnant with Adrian. And being her generous self, didn’t want to ruin my parade. Not including me in her breast cancer treatment was a reflection of how she was born and raised by a traditional Iowan Indian mother of perhaps Ponca descent from Chariton or Pella, Iowa. Now I understand there was no worse cross to bear than coping with her illness. It meant she was dying, selfless for her children. That’s just what moms do.
Grandma Shore was taller-than-Grandpa, out-spoken, a tough woman. She instilled in my mother that a pregnant daughter deserved to deliver the healthiest baby without stress or cause for worry. That’s just how it was then. As a five and 1/2-year-old, I remember how protective my Grandpa Shore was of my mom when she was pregnant with my little brother, not letting her toil in the half acre veggie garden we all shared.
“You best leave that up to me ‘n the tractor, Junie.” Grandpa using her pet name, ‘Junie’ made me smile, same as my dad dubbing me, ’Shortstuff’, my height resembled more of a Leprechaun as did his! It wasn’t in the least insulting saying my dad was maybe the shortest dad on the planet. He was one tuff sumbitch. I guess opposites did attract as far as my parents were concerned.
Halloween was her favorite — she showed us decent, clean fun. Small wonder that my little brother was a little goblin, born on Halloween night. The one time it was more fun that he tagged along, because Trick-or-Treating we got more candy. (We never had to worry about razor blades.) Mom would dress up to answer the door. One year she put a metal bucket full of water and apples on the porch. When kids knocked on the door, the ones who bobbed (and got) an apple got an extra sack of cookies. It was so cool to see big kids get their faces soaked just for Mom’s homemade oatmeal-applesauce cookies! One year she invited all the neighborhood kids over for Jerrie’s birthday/Spook party. We saw her sly side when she wore a witch’s disguise than being plain, pretty Mom. She always made our costumes, of course Casper was easy. Anytime she had a party, we had a blast. Christmas shopping for someone, she taught us buying them something ‘specially nice; wrappin’ their gift with care was what the holidays were really about.
I sang in the choir and played clarinet in band all through school, got excited at Christmas concerts (Dad worked) when I found her face in the crowd smiling with pride. I knew she couldn’t help but sing along with our Christmas songs, weeks after driving me to practices and I’m sure she got a bit batty by hours of those squeaky clarinet practices at home. Music will always be a good part of me – she said I was born with music in my soul.
“It’s in your heart, Trishie. Just sing.”
Very fond memories kindled a love of holidays; we never had money for all the newest toys or ‘high-tech’ stuff but didn’t matter. We’d bake cookies – Mom was always coordinating our holidays as well as hosting school parties, wearing a lovely dress she sewed herself.
Smiles and encouragement for a shy girl is forever etched in my heart to what a mom is supposed to be. The real challenge had to be keeping four rambunctious kids out of trouble – one of us always seemed to be facing that corner. But it didn’t last long, she never stayed real mad at anybody (unless someone was purposefully cruel). Mom didn’t really swear but sure invented the darnedest words that could’ve been swear words. Like fiddlesticks-o-pumpernickel. The bigger the mouthful, the more wicked it sounded. Got her point across. I got scolded for instigating profanity to my younger sis and baby brother, Joy and Jerrie with “Oh darnit”!
Our yard had huge oaks and maples, teeming with chipmunks, squirrels, coons, and an occasional deer that she taught us care for with the gentlest spirit. She tended to our kitties and hamsters with a soft hand, even raised a pack of chipmunks Dad uncovered in the yard. I didn’t feel in the least neglected with two Siamese ruling their bungalow palace, that she tenderly fed on the back stoop. Always slept with me.
A little twisted sense of humor now and again, she laughed so hard at our Siamese kitten, Cocoa. We got the tiny ball of dark cream fur when I was ten. A summer thunderstorm hit with lightning and claps of thunder as it does in Iowa. Cocoa was trying to hide from the loud boomers behind the dining room drapes. CRACK One bolt of lightning hit the huge old, oak tree in the backyard! Sparks and black smoke exploded in front of the big picture window! Poor kitten shot up the dining room drapes, pooping on all its feet scrambling up the drapes to the top of the ceiling. It was so hilarious it sent us all rolling on the floor, a pile of giggling kids, our bellies hurt from laughing. I’d never seen my mom laugh so hard, she had to run to the bathroom herself! Then all of us were not quite sure how to get poor little Cocoa down from the rafters. I think he finally crawled down by his own little claws. Poow lil’ puddytat. Yep, she used to watch all the Looney Tunes too, as we all folded clean laundry. Her favorite was Bugs Bunny, always laughing at his smart- alekness. They’re still my favorites too.
My mom got a part time job as the ‘TJ’ Elementary school lunch hostess. I doubt it paid much but gave us a pass to swim at the School Admin’s outdoor pool. I learned stunts and flips off the boards which kept us occupied all summer.
Friends complimented how nice ‘n pretty my mom was — to us she was just our mom. Teaching us what she knew, how to get along in the world. I did learn… I admired her calm, her sweetness and I thought she was gorgeous — I often stood in the bathroom doorway while she curled her hair, talking ‘girl’ stuff. She sang in the car same as I do now — I could not imitate hers but she encouraged me to sing, said I had a voice as clear as a bell (I still sing and whistle in the car). With a saint’s patience, taught me to organize the house, cut my own hair, to sew by the time I was 10. Once I could reach the stove without burning myself, I learned my way in the kitchen and the garden too. My best teenage triumph was meatloaf, and brownies for dessert. I never quite got the hang of canning veggies with that heavy aluminum pressure cooker, like Mom. She showed me sweating in a kitchen in August was worth cooking from the garden.
By 1978, Mom and Dad made many trips to the Des Moines oncologist. I knew she’d gotten chemo treatment for a lumpectomy, she wouldn’t divulge much and I didn’t press. I had no clue what chemo did or such complications of it all. I think the stigma of a woman going bald was too traumatic, focused on outward appearance to not look so ill, because she constantly wore a wig, as uncomfortable as I’m sure it was on a hot Iowa summer day. And with typical Mom humor, she teased that she could go back to being blonde that way. As if blondes really did have more fun, which I doubted.
History was, my-prior-husband and I moved back, me pregnant with Adrian. I became a stay-at-home mom, delighted about both. Felt like I followed in her steps, a natural course. Very fit, my pregnancy was easy, walking everywhere with Ryan in tow. I was ecstatic to have both grammas with me for Adrian’s birth!
By the time my daughter was born that November 1979, Mom’s hair had begun to grow back. ‘Gramma June’ delighted in her new little carrot-top grandbaby. They were like two-peas-in-a-pod, making each other giggle. I created excuses for Mom to ‘watch’ Adrian, knowing full well she knew what I was up to … that apple t’ain’t fallin’ too fer from that-there tree ya know… (as Gramma Shore said with a thick southern Iowa twang, not a bit Indian sounding, which was confusing.) Both Adrian’s grandmothers’ faces lit up playing with my baby daughter and toddler, Ryan. My life was perfect. Mom’s eyes sparkled playing Peek-a-Boo!
Before chemo she’d had silky fine, luscious milk chocolate hair, and with a wry smile, claimed having children turned her hair darker. I couldn’t see it. As a girl, I used to comb her soft, feathery curls that looped around her ears as we relaxed in the glider in the backyard in a lazy moment. We resembled more Tom and Huck and Becky lazily flipping our toes in the pond water, sittin’ on the dock on a hot summer afternoon, warm splashes ticklin’ at yer feets, than a mom and daughters. In teenage photos she was a blonde, there may be truth to bearing kids alters your hair, yet oddly, my hair has reverted to reddish-blonde as well. (Mine may be attributed to Tamoxifen?) Seems cancer licked both our chemistries.
However; for my mother, things were not as before. Her demeanor was a bit subdued and she couldn’t lift her grandbaby. Steps were a minor hurdle for her of late, relieved I lived in a one-story house. We’d run errands together with her car and amongst her old tattered work papers (she hadn’t thrown away since her lumpectomy) I noticed she kept a small pillow on the front seat. It had a purple Iris and her initials embroidered on it, my Gramma McKinney’s needlepoint. I asked why she takes naps in the front seat? Remembering that pillow in her car reassures me now, at least Gramma gave my mother small comfort.
Mother got exhausted very easily, but as usual, she put on a good face. Something was not quite right even months after chemo. Her face had worry written across it, plain as her Swiss Shore jaw. I know now my mother endured much of her chemo nightmare, with only my dad alongside. It didn’t need to be that way. Had I known, I could not have been prepared for her death; however, I would have understood her emotional frailties, her air of something amiss in her body and shown her support that she so desperately needed as from my experience thirty-two years later.
I’d seen her moments of despair during the Maytag strike as a teen. A moment praying under the same huge oak tree as the lightning had scared lil’ Cocoa years ago. And such malaise after her own mother died of colon cancer, seeing she was human, deserving her prayers be answered. I could have been a confidant, giving some comfort to her rather than submerged in baby talk. She wouldn’t pity control us. Her outgoing spirit faltered; yet, lived her life a religious woman. I didn’t fear for her soul.
As much as it knocks-ya-on-yer-butt, the first diagnosis you have breast cancer is not a death sentence. Nevertheless, make no mistake, breast cancer is staring down death. I believe the word, remission now. I do not aim to be crass; “The Last of the Mohicans” clip of Chingachgook kills Magua on the rocky cliff is very bloody as were my nightmares. [WARNING: a violent and bloody scene]
on the rocky cliff is very bloody as were my nightmares. This scene is how I envisioned me recovering from breast cancer – I killed the Magua! My rejuvenation entailed hideous, bloody, vicious fights I conjured up in my sleep to LIVE – emulation toward remission. Again, reality bites. Breast cancer is NOT stardom.
For you who are also suffering treatment, imagine yourself swinging that Mahican axe at your cancer when you feel like crying or screaming or punching your pillow. I did it! Any woman who has a mastectomy will feel that rage inside herself, sometime. Don’t undermine your spiritual power. When you have also fought like hell to get back up, to face your worst, tears will erupt as it did with me.
Initially so surreal, being so scared, it was very hard, damn-near impossible to wrap my head around I had breast cancer. It. My prognosis controlled my destiny – hanging to hope to conquer and thrive after breast cancer. You read how my recovery was very tough, putting my faith to test. Dealing with breast cancer is not drama but life – given to us by God –He rejuvenated me, as those ancestors. Belief in survival is spun into the embroidery of families – our will doesn’t die. I can’t rattle off Biblical verse; I am confident in my beliefs, not my knowledge. The deadly mass was removed and I will live — I still whisper a prayer everyday my cancer is gone.
I opened my ears and eyes. I listened to that little voice in the back of my head. You know when it speaks. Now I’ve said it, written it, and I am not just a survivor. I am a real person. I can text and talk face to face and look you in the eye. I would give y’all a hug! I hope it helps you women to read my collective shtuff I’ve had gumption, more obsession to spill, as much as that writing helped me. We all know it as a serious disease. For me it was not a death sentence. There will be fun stories to tell after this chapter in my life… I have faith.
I say with humility for the kindhearted professionals helping you ladies, don’t be pig-headed but follow their lead what matters most. As Mary said, “I behaved”. Your life deserves the best plan. My faith in them was key in my opinion; the surgeons were in control of the tools towards my benefit, my cure. That sequence of events: my mammogram — the biopsies, the tests, Dr. Jew’s forthright consultation, the mastectomy that painfully and ultimately saved my life, proved when cancer is caught early as mine was, you can combat it. Odds are in your favor — it is curable.
Dr. Jew’s view on breast cancer remission: Published on Oct 21, 2012; I’ve Got Issues; Breast Cancer: by Dr. Amie Jew
I used the word ‘blessing’ quite literally. A blessed night was not merely a chapter of drama — it happened — it shaped my attitude with God. I gained understanding of His power more than I believed I was capable of. More than anything I am humbled; my tumor was small, did not need radiation, nor chemotherapy to be cured. HIS grace as real as my cancer was. Now I am blessed with ‘rejuvenation’. I’m an impatient, persistent, hard-headed woman accustomed to struggling just to break even. Never lived in a nice big house, but always created a comfy home with love. A mastectomy demanded the most intense introspection I’ve ever done in my sixty-one years; I hope my family sees its impact as well.
How did I feel to get new breasts at 61 years old?
It’s sad that society indeed takes such control of a woman’s psyche in her moment of weakness. A lot of women’s anger is spurred by that misconception imposed on us of our beauty, exacerbating the yearning to be ‘normal’ after breast cancer. Yes, beauty is from within, but that cliche’ don’t mean crap when a woman stares at her bandages in the mirror or has a scarf over her patchy scalp. A man’s bald head is seen as sexy. A smooth head. So when is it a woman’s turn? Striving to regain our beauty is surviving. Breast cancer will alter your course in life – stop ya in yer tracks. Your whole purpose in life is affected as you regain any semblance of what you were as a person prior to it.
Okay, this sticks in my craw—that is, breast cancer ain’t a challenge. Being a single mom. Algebra, hunting is a challenge. Breast cancer is a disease. A threat. In a few short months, the female body God had blessed me with by 40, suddenly had to be redesigned at 59. My surgeon’s hands became familiar to me. My whole chest region surgery after surgery, off and on through two ½ years still felt a bit like there’s duct tape stuck across my boobs. Your body will forgive (yes, skin has forgiveness), but it still feels like there’s a cushy ball in there when I lay on my left side – it’s the implant. I still cannot lie on my tummy, too much pressure. Natural breasts spread out, squish – mine are simply a ball of silicone gel; they mush but don’t squish underneath me. Yes, they’re full and perkier than in 2013, and I know a “lift” is well-looked upon by women who WANT the cosmetic surgery for aesthetic benefit. Thousands of ‘after’ photos are proof how vain we are. I agreed to implants in the hope to look and feel an as simile as possible, after my mastectomy. Cosmetics wasn’t my deal or you would not be reading this memoir. You wanted to read about my hell and my survival, my family, see my tattoo videos, understand my arena of remission from cancer… how my rejuvenation changed my world. Finally, over three years later, I got redemption I sought. And forgiven – by my daughter and myself. I’m getting used to the mirror …
Thirty months later, the delicacy of marital sensuality intensified by having only one nipple, it healed fantastically from the lift. Reassured of our intimate grace, that one special little erogenous zone was ideal for my own pleasure and my love, my husband. (I’d still not do augmentation, poor nipplies. Ouch!)
I was so impressed by my plastic surgeon (I am in total awe) because that areola and nipple being intricately cut apart, then surgically sewn back together, healed up like magic. I didn’t know it was possible — in a few weeks, my good breast was intact again – as one of a woman’s best ‘tickler’ spots. I was simply amazed — and very satisfied with my lift and uh-m with my love life and uh-m, so is my husband. After breast cancer! Much better, than my DIY psycho mumbo-jumbo fixes. My nipple tattoos matches on both sides – both look as amazingly realistic as the originals. OMG! the absolute highlight of my year! After incorrigible yearning plagued me in those long months; instincts spawned My Psyche – my warrior awoke to I fight off cancer’s beast slowly – in resolve. Breast cancer salvaged my faith, as He used my hand, His voice that will maybe calm another woman facing her own cancer. A catharsis to ease her own pain, He answered in ways I could not have done alone or have known how. My friend, Steve Cohee said: “Welcome to the survivor’s club, not the in the middle of it club. I’m very proud of you friend!”
When a storm’s last mist swirls through the splinters of our lives, we comb the wreckage. Those crushing waves recede with futility — not a final retreat.
Holding our breath, we feel thwarted;bracing ourselves against demons or Zeus, ruler of the seas;only briefly forgetting that there’s another storm right around the corner.
I wandered in the rain, as pain stormed all around me, imagery of an eternal nightmare. In a roll of thunder I found my womanhood hiding inside my soul; after all this time, the entity of myself reconnected to my femininity I feared had washed down the gutter. What am I but a sensuous woman, wife, rejuvenated outdoors lover. My femininity is curled under a ballcap or tangled from the wind; lace hidden — under my camo shirt. With all that threatens, the Lord is my life preserver; hope overcame my body’s low ebb.
With new calm, remission is mine.
Never be ashamed of a scar. It means you were stronger than the battle.
Not everyone’s pain can be diverted into poetry which cured my malaise into rejuvenation. Homage to my ancient Gaelics, the female red deer symbolized femininity, gentility and grace to me,. Drawn by myths, I called as the deer called to men from the kingdom of the fairies to free them from the trappings of the earthly world, taking them to the world of magic. Imagine our myths hold some truth, ‘twas deer often turned into women in such legends to avoid being hunted. My rejuvenation honors deer as a messenger, an animal of power, and a totem for sensitivity, intuition and gentleness, respectful of its natural empathy.
” Life, I find, is often more about the storms than the peace they seek to overwhelm …They lurk, ready any minute to shake things up – and take your breath away – to destroy you.”
If not for faith you’d drown, lost. And, in these cases, somewhat as a pilot, when about losing sight of a coast, whose general trending he well knows, and which he desires shortly to return to again, but at some further point; like as this pilot stands by his compass, and takes the precise bearing of the cape at present visible, in order the more certainly to hit aright the remote, unseen headland, eventually to be visited: so does the fisherman, at his compass, with the whale; for after being chased, and diligently marked, through several hours of daylight, then, when night obscures the fish, the creature’s future wake through the darkness is almost as established to the sagacious mind of the hunter, as the pilot’s coast is to him, he has faith. … To get past breast cancer I had to embrace faith. I conjured my whole soul to regain what I lost three years ago with stubborn determination that cancer wouldn’t kill me. Not just pretty words but in my bones, the kind of faith you’d defend with your LIFE. The tangibility of — utter faith – it’s a conscious decision to live as God guides you. Sail on.
Music intensified my faith as nature feeds me. I am not a victim, not just a survivor; I am a warrior for life now. My well-being demanded I must move on – not merely hope.
No pain meds now. It’s fun again – my husband jump-started my fiery spirit. People all say, “I can’t imagine what you have gone through.” He says, “I will be your husband forever. And you are recovered, you did it I know. You are amazing… the storm is passed.”
My daddy would’ve loved this–
Scootin’ across the lake wit’me shipmate. Watch Ed skirt the tail-waves, skimmin’ into our spray. Ed, don’ care about wispy lashes or lipstick, calls my makeup ‘battle paint’. We BBQ, go fishin’ and huntin, whichever season calls — tell jokes and I got my bod back! He said it, my storm has passed! It’s no dream – I can breathe again. Now I dream of Mr. Ivory Rack in that pine thicket… going to git’im …
Aaahhhh to fish the ocean, t’would be a good dream. I’d holler fish ON!!
She loved to lay in warm sunshine and me stroking the fluff of her ears, and walks in the park … the most special, sweet blessing on four paws, my baby girl… rip Sashie
–the ‘black sheep’ of the family —
I live for the breeze on my face and my grandkids laughter. Jesus, my dog, and husband are always my comfort. For fun, we rumble in the Ozark mountains with the Jeep during huntin’ seasons — my favorite get-away in chilly autumn. I fish every chance, landscape my yard, and recycle junk into concrete crafts. An American patriot, the smell of gunpowder (and rain) is perfume to me. Rock music in my head, to unwind I piddle with my tropical fish tank, hike the woods with my dog, a movie with hubby or take photos of nature. I escape the city with the feel of a wood gun stock and a hillside underfoot. True gardeners garden barefoot — me.
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Want to read what’s up? The next book in my Woman in Recon series on the way… here’s an excerpt:
GET YOUR BODY BACK (2) “…time to heal — chill out, mind the doc and you’ll be kickin’ it again before it’s ‘Miller time’. Don’t stress….”
Have a blessed day!