Monday, December 10, 2012

Here I am, meet Itchy and Pokey

Hello Dear Reader,

I've neglected you as I was swept away in a storm of current events, and I've been trying to get back on the pony again for some time.  Thank you Faith & Hope, for looking for me, and so I'm climbing out from under this writer's block of a rock.  Thank you for your concern, one and all, here I am.

Here I am.

These last two months have been very challenging, starting with my tissue expander surgery on October 8.  I was beside myself dealing with the breast drains that are mandatory torture of that surgery.  What a relief when I got them out, and felt like I was coming around again.  Then I was washed away again with the passing of my beloved Mother-in-law, Ginny Mae, on October 17.


October 25th was my 26th wedding anniversary, and my son Adam's 22nd birthday.  We did our best to celebrate that and Halloween too, although we were in the thick and the heartache of planning Grandma's funeral.

Husband, Son and the famous Muffity Muff

Happy Belated Birthday on the blog Adam!

Halloween at our house






Right around the same time, Cara Girl spiked a fever and ended up in the hospital for three long weeks, held prisoner by ANC numbers that got as low as 0.  They should be at least 1500, but need to be 500 to get released.  The sign she held below is not thanking Dr. S for letting her out, it's a plea to Dr. S - "Let me out!!!!!"

I love you Cara

We had a lovely Thanksgiving, which was also my birthday this year, despite being our first one without Grandma, and missing Cara as she was still in the hospital.  This video was one of the highlights of Thanksgiving day, as our Miss Muffin was quite smitten with a visitor named Raider. (for some reason, this video is present on the blog if viewed on the computer, but not from my phone.)





Then we had a hell of a storm, rain and wind and flooding like we've never seen in our neck of the woods.

Our patio gazebo blew 30 feet, like a toy.
What a rough rough couple of months, punctuated with little safe havens of quiet peace and joy.  Oh this life, this sacred bittersweet ordinary life.  Oh this life of mine.

So, where were we?

Let me catch you up on the business of this blog, my progress since having tissue expanders in.  I've had four fills over the last two months, with the last one this morning.  I had Husband take photos today so you could see what this process has been like.

At the time of my surgery, the expanders were only slightly inflated with sterile saline, and then about every two weeks, I've come back to have them "filled" at each appointment.

The expander is like an implant, except it's got a valve.  In the first photo, the nurse uses a magnet to locate the valve. (Thank you to the lovely and gentle as she can be while she's stabbing me, Miss Kathy, my beautiful filler of Itchy and Pokey!)

Finding the valve with the magnet

She makes a mark where the center of the valve is, so she'll know where to insert the needle.  In this photo of my right breast, you can see my port scar.


A small amount of Novocaine is injected into the skin to help with the discomfort of the fill.


The area is sanitized with betadine, that goopy orange liquid that completely sterilizes the area.

She then inserts the needle, which is attached to a small line, which runs into a kind of plunger, which is connected to a hanging IV bag filled with sterile saline.



The first few fills, the needle going in was not as bad as a bee sting, but close.  With each fill, as my breast tissue stretched and thinned, the poke didn't hurt as much.  Ironically though, as the pokes got better, the discomfort from the filling and stretching got worse.  It is tolerable, with plenty of ibuprofen.  It's not fun, the whole process is rather freakish, but you get through it.  Typically this phase takes a couple of months, and then you need a month or two before surgery is scheduled.




In the photo below, here's the plunger that injects the sterile saline into the expander inside my breast.  As a reminder, I had a skin sparing nipple sparing mastectomy, so I have a lot of skin, but the expander is opening up that skin to make a pocket for my reconstruction.  I also had a lot of scar tissue on Flopsy because of being radiated, and the expander has helped to fill out that breast and stretch the skin so there's a little more symmetry with Mopsy.



Each breast, at each fill, was roughly filled with approximately 125 cc's of sterile saline.


I feel like I've been going through a time lapsed puberty, watching my breasts fill out.






Flopsy and Mopsy have been through so many incarnations since my bilateral and radiation, in this phase I've named them "Itchy and Pokey."  As the expander has expanded and the breast skin is filled up, the variety of side effects I've been dealing with include very itchy skin, a tight feeling as if the skin is going to rip, some poking of the implant inside me, and depending on how I am laying on them, some very weird shapes.  The expander is rather hard too, it feels nothing like a soft breast.  I've also noticed some discomfort in my left arm, which gets bothered by the process, all probably related to having lymph nodes removed on that side.

Itchy and Pokey don't even remotely look like breasts, especially because my nipples are below where they should be.  I realize now, what plastic surgeon gently tried to tell me and knew I would come to accept, all of that extra skin including my nipples, has to go.  We could try to graft them where they should be, but it doesn't make for a good result.  Another layer of loss washes over me, and sometimes I still wonder why events occurred as they did so that I was not able to have immediate reconstruction.  Now I'm so far out, it doesn't seem as important as it once did.  I just want this over with.

That's not to say I don't have the occasional pity party cry, I had one today.  I know I can't look back or get back my old self, but every now and then, I still can't believe all of this has happened.  I miss my old me.  I often waffle and shuffle between grieving the losses of my breast cancer, and the deep gratitude that I'm still here.

I am grasping as I go through this process and get closer to reconstruction, that what I will end up with will be a reasonable facsimile, but nothing like my former breasts.  That's why they call em "foobs."

New nipples will be created and tattooed for me, but of course, like the rest of my new breasts, they will not really be a functioning part of my body, they're for looks.

I never thought Flopsy and Mopsy would go through a phase of being filled again, but with no nipples; I'll just have two mounds of flesh I can put in a bra.  Weird.  When you see a breast without a nipple, it's interesting, it's not erotic at all.  I never really thought of that before, how the nipple is what makes a naked breast erotic or beautiful.  At least to me.

I've been reminded that after reconstruction, there are usually several revisions to clean things up, including construction of the nipples and tattooing.

I'm just trying to find a way to live my life while in this metamorphosis that never seems to end.

The good news?

I've found a church and joined.  Husband is going too.  It's my first Christmas in many many years where I have a church home.  It's awesome.  Every week, as the week progresses, I think "Is it Sunday yet?  Is it Sunday yet?"




I keep thinking about that Martin Luther King Jr. quote about faith.

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase.

Gosh this first step since diagnosis two and a half years ago has been a doozy.

My Pastor's wife, Rev. Monica, said during service last Sunday, "You can have a heavy heart and still be grateful."

That's where I seem to perch.

Somewhere between heaviness
and light.

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