PS: I understand if you get stuck in someone else’s chimney.
REWIND BACK A FEW MONTHS…
A week after I found out I was BRCA1 positive, I was at the hospital for my first mammogram. Memorial Day weekend has a new memory for me! My awesome, amazing, super-supportive friend, Susie, came with me. I was a little freaked out and nervous throughout the day, but it was what it was. I needed to be proactive and take control.
We got there, and they had me change into a gown, and wait in a waiting area. They called me back and the lady started asking me questions. She was a breast cancer survivor, but I was taken back when she told me that I was fine and didn’t need to be in the office so soon, so young. Just because I was BRCA1 positive didn’t mean anything. I was peeved, but didn’t respond back. I explained Sarah, her age and what she was going through. She eventually shut up!
I can see why women avoid/dread mammograms. They hurt. I’m short and the machine didn’t come down all the way so I had to stand on my tippy-toes. I won’t get into descriptives, but you can’t move at all and they squish your ta-ta’s. Ouch. I had dense breasts and the lady told me they wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway. How reassuring!! Susie and I left and went and grabbed dinner. We talked about a lot of different things and she reassured me I was doing the right thing. I remember going home, being super sad and just holding my boobs. I think a mammogram is worse than a titty-twister.
After that I met with the breast surgeon and had a two hour consultation to discuss everything in detail. The next appointment in this process was to see a reconstructive/plastic surgeon. So, back in July, I met with Dr. S, the reconstructive surgeon. Susie, came with me and it was on her birthday (now that’s a friend!). We met at his office and waited forever in the waiting room. They finally called us back to a room and there we sat. My breast surgeon wanted to me talk to women who have foobs (fake boobs) and feel them to know what I was getting into.
So, what was on the counter?! Implants. What did I decide to do while waiting? Yep, you guessed it, I played with them.
Of course, the whole time Susie and I were playing and feeling them, I was anticipating the doctor waltzing in and me quickly placing them back on their stand, acting like nothing was going on.
No, that didn’t happen…but it would have been hilarious. The doctor took a while to see me because he had a surgery that morning that ran late and was seeing another doctor’s patients. Totally understandable!
There were three implants: a tear drop, saline-type, and silicone gummy bear one.
- Tear drop: exactly what the name says. It was rock hard and extended out at the bottom. It gives the chest area natural looking boobs. I remember telling Susie, “Gosh, I’m going to have a guy or someone grab my boob and be like, ‘woahhh, what the heck!?!?’”
- Saline-type: just think of wet shoes and walking around in them. You tossed them and you could hear the saline jiggling around. I couldn’t have these! I run and do triathlons. How could I run with these in my chest? I can’t. Everyone would hear me coming because of the “swish, swish”. You shook it and could hear things sloshing around. No, not for me. Sorry!
- Silicone gummy bear: these have come a long way! Now-a-days, you can actually cut them in half and nothing oozes out. These were nice. They were like the memory foam mattress of boobs. You touched them and it would make a little dent, but gradually come back to its normal shape. Ahh!!
Yes, Susie and I were laughing the whole time and the summary was pretty much my words to her. After coming to terms with surgery, I’ve tried to stay positive and have a sense of humor throughout everything.
The doctor finally came in and started doing his speech. I remember bits and pieces of it and him being extremely methodical, tedious and matter-of-fact. He had to step out of the room at one point, and his nurse assistant looked right at me and said, “You’re making the right decision. It’s a brave one and I’m proud of you. You’re doing the right thing!” Wow! She barely met me and was already making me feel at ease.
The doctor came back and did a number of things: explained the whole process of surgery and expanders, measured my cup size, made me do an ab crunch, took pictures, and based on seeing my boobs, made recommendations. He even took Susie and I into his office to show us a slideshow and various pictures that best suited my breast type. It was nice to see pictures of surgeries he and my other doctor did. Other doctor’s that were recommended didn’t have these nice, current pictures. I was at peace with him and comfortable.
So, why did he make me do an ab crunch? (cuz I know you’re wondering)
Well, there’s a mastectomy option of using your stomach flab to make your new boobs. I didn’t want to do this procedure anyway based on research, how athletic I am, and how much recovery time is needed. They take stomach flab and tissue and make it into a boob. I did my crunch and he chuckled. This option was out because I didn’t have enough stomach and wouldn’t even be the cup size I was already at. Besides, then my abdomen and muscles would be jacked up. I talked to other women in the area, and their abs was mutilated and even had prolonged issues years down the road. Plus, if I wanted that procedure done, then surgery would end up being up 12+ hours long. No, thank you. 6-8 hours of surgery was already enough!!
FAST FORWARD TO FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21st.
“Hey Hannah, how are you? It’s so nice to see you! You look amazing.”
“Hi, Dr. S, I’m great. When can I get these dinner plates out of my chest?”
(Laughter from the nurse and surgeon)
“You’re funny. Let’s take a look. Have you decided what size and implant style you’re going with?”
I sat there topless in an over-sized chair while he examined me and admired his handiwork. I’m two months post-surgery and Friday was a follow-up appointment to determine how I’m healing and if Santa will truly bring me new foobs for Christmas. Honestly, my reconstructive surgeon did a beautiful job. He is extremely pleased with how things have healed and wished all his patients had this wonderful of results. For that, I’m truly thankful!!
He had me lay down and that’s where I made the comment of, “It’s depressing laying down or flexing in the mirror. The skin sinks, expander pops out in a perfect circle, and it looks terrible.” He joked with me and said it was a depressed line and it could be fixed with fat grafting.
He and I joked some more and we all were laughing. Laughter is my saving grace while going through this. Things that normally wouldn’t be funny are!
I went boob shopping Friday morning, choose the size I’d like, and decided on the memory foam boobies. Earlier in the week I met with another doctor and have to make some more decisions down the road. Not today or anytime soon, but eventually! I wanted to get educated, know my options, and create the 5-year plan. If you remember correctly, the BRCA gene primarily affects breasts and ovaries. Not only am I at risk for those cancers, but I’m also at a higher risk for Melanoma and eye issues. Am I going to live in fear? No!! My risk of getting breast cancer went from 87% chance down to about 10% chance of getting it in my lifetime. My risk of getting ovarian cancer is still high at 44% chance of getting it in my lifetime. So, after a rather depressing appointment the other day (and having more doctor appointments as a result of that), Friday was refreshing and exciting!! Hello, Ta-ta’s!!!!! There’s light at the end of the tunnel…for my breasts that is!
I was elated when he said surgery was a go! I’ve had a date scheduled for well over a month. Talk about teasing me! It’s like baking cookies, putting them on the edge of the counter and telling a kid they can’t have them…they’re in plain sight and taunting the poor kid. I didn’t want to get too excited prior to Friday, because there was a high chance that my skin and body wasn’t ready to move forward with this next surgery. We discussed the upcoming expander/implant exchange surgery. Part of this next surgery will require fat grafting…I originally said I didn’t want to do it due to it being a third surgery, but he reassured me he’d be able to do it with the exchange surgery and it’d work the first time. He even promised to take extra fat out. Score!!
I’m extremely thankful to be able to do both of these surgeries within the year. I hit my $4500 deductible way before my double mastectomy and paying that much out of pocket again in January would really stink! Normally he waits three months after the last fill, which would put me sometime after January 17th, but he is more than okay with shaving a few weeks off due to how well I’ve healed and haven’t had any complications. Ahh, so thankful and blessed!!! Yayy! Now, I’m fully aware he could call me anytime and bump my surgery into 2015! If that happens, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there….
My choice to do this double mastectomy and reconstruction is honestly a privilege. My grandma passed away from breast/ovarian cancer. My aunt is a breast cancer Survivor. Sarah is now a Survivor and healing from her double mastectomy. I had the choice to be proactive instead of reactive. They didn’t have the choice; it came with the territory of having cancer.
One of my pet peeves is hearing how reconstruction is viewed as an opportunity to improve on what I lost. Double mastectomy reconstruction is nothing like a breast augmentation. Breast augmentation still keeps the breast tissue and the implant is used to increase/enlarge the size of the breast. They put an implant in with the tissue surrounding it, and the bust instantly grows. In fact, most say augmentation improves the fullness and projection of the breasts, proportions the figure, and/or enhances the self-image/confidence of the person. Mastectomy differs tremendously. In my surgery blog post, I explained what they did in great detail. They carved me out all the way down to my chest wall. They have to reconstruct my breasts using my now sliced pec muscles and AlloDerm to act as a sling to hold the implant. I’ll never have the physical part back of what I lost – my breast tissue. I’ll never be able to breast-feed, feel things on my chest, or have the pleasure of arousal when a man touches my breast or nipple. I’ll never get that back!!
In fact, the other day I did this bike-trainer ride class and we did hill repeats. I got into aero position, looked down, and disliked what I saw. No cleavage. Lumpy. Skin messed up. Rippling. Distinct lines where there’s no tissue underneath it. I wore a loose-fitting top with a built in bra and it “showed” the girls on display…whatever that means now! I wasn’t insecure wearing it; however, the simple fact of the girls popping out and I couldn’t feel it was a little embarrassing. I have no feeling in my chest. When the sports bra slid down, I had no clue until I glanced down. I laughed. That was my humor for the night. It’s either the sports bra slides down or rides up resulting in bunching on top of my chest. I don’t notice it because I don’t have sensation in my chest! A few weeks ago, I wore a white t-shirt and an orange tank underneath it to work. Little did I realize, my tank slid down and the girls were playing peekaboo through the white shirt. I had no clue until I walked into the bathroom and saw the tank below my nipple. I chuckled. Oops! So, I apologize in advance for any clothing malfunctions I may have in the future.
They are not just boobs! I’m well aware every day that these boobs are not mine. Dr. S asked me how I was doing emotionally, physically and mentally. Physically, I’m doing well. I’m back into the swing of things and loving every minute of it. I’m not where I was pre-surgery, but that won’t happen for quite some time. I still have pain and discomfort, and reminded daily with certain movements. Mentally, I’m okay. I’m having a hard time accepting my new boobs. I’m slowly getting there, but glancing at them in the mirror is as far as I’ll go. I’m disconnected from them and have been since before surgery. Dr. S. and his nurse said that was extremely common among most double mastectomy patients. They said it’s normal and takes time. Emotionally, it’s a journey. I struggle with the emotions of a new figure when I look in the mirror. I knew this would happen, but there’s no way to mentally prepare or equip yourself prior to going into surgery. I have my good and bad days. One of these days I’ll blog about emotions that come with a double mastectomy. People don’t talk about it. But, someday when I’m ready, I will!
My breasts now are simply cosmetic, like the title on my doctor’s business card implies. What function do they serve now? They don’t serve a purpose, except to blend in with society.