I’m happy to report that today is a much better day than yesterday’s barf-o-rama. I lost count after the puking reached double digits, and admit to a moment of panic when I realized I hadn’t kept anything down all day. Not even a pretzel. I did learn that there is quite a hierarchy in grossness of what comes back up — some food items are way more disgusting than others when vomited up. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. By 9 pm I decided to throw in the towel and just go to bed. I won’t say I slept especially well, but I didn’t throw up any more so I’m calling it a victory.
The surgery was successful. Very successful. My doc achieved something I honestly didn’t think was possible — he sculpted, tucked, cut, and stitched to create exactly the look I was hoping for, but didn’t think would happen. The shape and symmetry are both very much improved, and instead of an elliptical uniboob, I now have two distinct and rounded boobs. My port is gone, and the ever-thoughtful doc even injected a little bit of fat into the port-removal site because sometimes after the device is removed, the skin collapses a bit to create a divot. But not for me, thanks to my forward-thinking surgeon. How nice is that?
I’m pretty battered and sore, and the port-removal site hurts worse than I expected, but I’m happy. I even told my doc this morning that as much as it pains me to admit it, he was right all along. He was right, I was wrong: he was indeed able to fix my messed-up chest, and his artistry certainly prevailed. I never expected the DIEP surgery to result in one-and-done results; I knew that revisions, plural, would be necessary. But I had fallen into the abyss of wondering if things would ever look right again. I can’t tell you how happy I am to report that I’m no longer in that abyss, and all is right in my world.
I’ve got to lay low and be very still for a while, as everything that was sucked out and relocated settles in. Thanks to everyone who checked on me, and thanks for all the prayers and good wishes sent from near and far.
I’ve been on the DL — disabled list — an awful lot since cancer came to town, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it, but I think I’ve gotten better at it. I’ll never be good at being a spectator in my own life, and I’ll never be one who enjoys the journey in my haste to get to the destination,but I have learned the value of time & place and that sometimes you have to be instead of do. I’ve learned to chant “It’s temporary” a thousand and one times to remind myself that while this is my life, it won’t always be like this.
Being on the DL has taught me a lot. Being forced to watch my tennis team while I waited for my body to heal enough to be able to play was one of the single best things I could have done for my game. If someone had suggested it to an able-bodied, healthy me, however, I would have laughed at the idea of sitting instead of playing. But watching helped me appreciate the game on a whole new level. I could focus on the strategies being employed, instead of being on high alert for the ball coming my way. I could study the nuances of each player’s serve, noticing how very different and personal a serve is. I noticed for the first time that everyone — even the best players on the court — makes bad shots. That was enlightening for an always-hard-on-herself player like me.
With my next revision surgery scheduled for the day after tomorrow, I prepare to go on the DL yet again. I played my last match of the season last week, and we played our usual Sunday morning 4 sets yesterday. I enjoyed both immensely, knowing that I won’t get to play again for several weeks. But this time, instead of being bummed about having to sit out again, I realized something. Something important. Like my cancer “journey,” being on the DL is temporary, and instead of being anxious and impatient to get back, I find myself contemplative and introspective about my game. It’s not about playing as much as humanly possible, it’s about playing the very best tennis possible for me.
This time while I’m recovering, I’ll be thinking about getting back to basics: swinging through the ball; having the discipline to not hit a bad toss; moving in on a high ball; shifting to cover the middle. I won’t be thinking about whether everyone on my team is improving while I’m standing still. I won’t be thinking about all I’m missing. I’ll be thinking about all I have. I’ll channel Sheryl Crow, who may not play tennis but has the wisdom to remind us: “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”
I’ll never say that I want what I’ve got in terms of having been diagnosed with cancer at age 41, in the prime of my life AND my tennis game. But I can say that I’ll smoke ’em if I got ’em. I’ll make the best of my situation, regardless of how shitty it is and no matter how many times I go back on the DL. In addition to channeling Sheryl Crow, I’ll channel the wise & wonderful Dalai Lama and repeat a thousand and one times his mantra of “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways–either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
I’ll be finding my inner strength.
Cancer is so not fair.
It just sucks.
It’s such a bitch.
I hate it.
One badly timed comment; one errant remark.
That’s all it takes to go from normal to an emotional wreck. Suddenly I’m on the verge of tears–in front of other people, which is awful, and in front of one person I’d rather take a beating than cry in front of. Pride is a terrible burden sometimes.
Just one comment.
All was going according to plan at my pre-op appointment until one little utterance, slightly misinformed on the doctor’s part and hugely misinterpreted on mine, sent it all akimbo.
I was ready for this next revision. Six days and counting. Schedules rearranged, favors called in, sacrifices made…again.
I had signed up for this revision and was willing to go along with it quite voluntarily, even though it meant more pain and downtime and missing out on some important stuff. Well, important to me anyway: the annual Halloween tennis tournament at our club, which my runnin’ buddy and I won last year and hoped to recapture this year. The rest of the tennis season, for which I’ve only played 2 matches total for the entire season (and lost both, BTW, so suck it, everyone). Our regular Sunday morning match & beer-drinking with our buds Christy and John. Lots of tennis will not be played by me while I recover, yet again from yet another revision. The last-minute Halloween rituals, in which costumes are finalized and trick-or-treat dates are secured. All of this will be superseded by yet another recovery. The everyday, average tasks and duties of a regular life. All put on hold, in pursuit of a normalcy that seems ever elusive, just out of reach.
All I want is symmetry and improved shape to my newly created breasts.
Is that really so much to ask?
I’m well past the point of buying into the BS of “Bummer about the cancer but at least you get new boobs.” That dangling carrot didn’t quite pan out for me. Thanks to the ol’ post-mastectomy infection and a much-more-complicated-than-expected reconstruction known as The Big Dig, the prize at the finish line of my cancer “journey” isn’t much of a prize at all. It’s more a reminder that no matter how skilled the surgeon, no matter how many versions of revision I endure, my body is never going to be the same. It’s never going to look like it did before cancer shat all over my head at the ripe old age of 41.
I’m not stupid. I don’t expect my body to look like it did pre-cancer. I don’t expect my life to be carefree and manageable like it was pre-cancer. But I really didn’t think it would be this bad, this hard. I really didn’t think it would be so bloody difficult to deal with the reality of cancer day in and day out.
Sure wish someone would have warned me.
Because I bought into the “get through the scariest, worst experience ever and you’ll live happily ever after.” And silly me, I thought I was dealing with all the repercussions of the post-cancer life. I’ve faced the ugliness head-on. I’ve tucked my head and kept on truckin’. I’ve plastered a smile on my face and counted my blessings. I’ve poured out my feelings — good and bad — in an effort to “deal with it.” I’ve done the research and shown up for all the required appointments. I’ve endured more poking, prodding, and pinching. I’ve suffered through humiliations large and small. I’ve managed the pain and the crazy emotions. I’ve found myself smack-dab in the hell that is chemically-induced menopause and lived to tell about it. I’ve made a point to take my medicine, literally and figuratively, even when it tasted like poison and burned my insides to a crisp. I’ve learned to accept that schedules don’t matter to cancer, that there is no way to predict or prepare for the twists & turns that comprise this cancer “journey.”
I thought I was dealing with it all, and dealing with it quite well.
Thank you, google images.
Yesterday’s visit to the doctor was the usual highlight of my day. We laughed, we sparred, we talked about my new Fiat, and I once again stood buck-naked in front of his omnipotent eyes for my three-week post-op checkup. Here’s where it got interesting: I told him that while I appreciate his valiant efforts in the OR, I’m not happy w the results. Shape, size, asymmetry, bumpiness…. I’m sure I wounded him deeply, but had to get it out there. And of course, it goes without saying that I’m not dissatisfied with his work, quite the opposite, but with the ongoing, multi-step drudge that is reconstruction.
I asked about options if the fat transfer doesn’t yield good results. It’s a relatively new procedure and data is scarce, so it’s hard to predict the final results. But I need options. Can he suck out the fat he’s transferred? Can I go back to being totally flat-chested? Because honestly, I’d rather be flat as a board than have an elliptical uniboob. The cleavage line looks great, but only from a distance, and I’d sacrifice it to get back to the point of being satisfied with my chest.
I know it’s hard for a plastic surgeon to grasp that a woman in the USA doesn’t want the biggest knockers she can possibly get, but I keep hammering away at the fact that I am indeed that woman. I’m all for a curvy silhouette but do not want big boobs.
To fix the aspects I’m dissatisfied with, we need to inject more fat, which results in a bigger bust. I don’t want that. I’ve said from Day One that I don’t want that. In fact, I think my exact words to the doc in my consultation right after diagnosis were “If I wake up from surgery with DDs I will kick your teeth in.” Direct quote. In fact, I need to get him a little pillow for his office couch with that message needle-pointed on it. That, and my other recurring message to him, also uttered at that first meeting: I know I’m not your only patient, but I’m your most important patient. I have threatened to get that needle-pointed for him, too.
That’s about all I have to say.
Recovery is tough, and it’s not one of my favorite things. It’s nowhere to be found on the list of my favorite things. I’m a terrible patient — impatient, restless, and intolerant of my dependent state. However, I’m quite the pro at the recovery process now, after multiple surgeries, and don’t fight it as much as I did in the beginning. I’m not going to win patient of the year award in this lifetime, but I’m not gnashing my teeth over the process this time around. Baby steps.
In addition to the regular wear-n-tear on the old body that is anesthesia and surgery in general, I’m healing from a couple of very specific “injuries” from the procedure. Disclaimer: this picture is pretty gross, so if you have a weak stomach or get sicked out easily, scroll down now.
That’s the bruise on the back of my leg as of Friday, two days post-surgery. I’ve got a matching one on the back of my other leg, but didn’t want to post two pics of such a gross site. The bruising has actually migrated downward in the last few days and is now approaching the back of my knees, so it’s even bigger than what’s shown above. Rather than incite a public riot (and because I feel like hell), I’m staying home and not subjecting anyone to seeing this as they’re out & about taking care of their business. It is triple-digit hot, though, so I’m wearing shorts. Yesterday the high in Houston was 107, that’s right 107, which is mighty hot even by Gulf Coast standards at the end of August. The bruising is still tender enough that even having clothes resting against my skin is painful, but I’d scare myself if I went sans clothes, so I’m sucking it up. I am utterly amazed that people put themselves through the lipo process willingly and simply in pursuit of vanity. Not judging just saying “wow.”
The little red spot in the photo is the site of a couple of stitches, and they itch and pull a bit as they heal. There are 8 or so spots on my legs and chest; I haven’t counted all of them because frankly I haven’t been brave enough to look that closely. I also have 4 open “poke holes” that drained a bunch of yucky stuff the first two days but are healing up nicely now. I expect the stitches will come out sometime this week.
A slight complication arose yesterday: I didn’t feel good. A slight fever, sore throat, extreme fatigue, and overall malaise ruled. My doc asked me to call him over the weekend, especially if the fever didn’t go away. I appreciate how accessible he is to his patients, even on the weekends. When my fever spiked yesterday afternoon and didn’t break, and when my skin at the original infection site became red, warm, and streaky, I knew I needed to call him but didn’t want to interrupt my weekend either. I stayed in my jammies and laid around all day yesterday, and when I didn’t feel a whole lot better this morning, I called.
We had a short, purposeful conversation that started with me saying, “I don’t think we need to panic” and ended with him saying, “I have surgery in an hour so come in right now. ” Amy and I appeared in his office post-haste. He said he thought about checking on me, but he knew that I would “start asking what about this? and what about that? and what are we going to do next? and when are we doing to do it?”
That sounds so unlike me (ha!).
He knew that if I was in a bad way, I would call him, and I knew that it could wait until today. No need to go getting ahead of ourselves and risk getting myself admitted to the hospital on a Sunday night.
The fever was down this morning, and the red, warm, and streaky spot looked a little better. The pain is still there, but not as intense as yesterday. It feels like a hot, localized pinch. If I didn’t know that feeling so well from my multiple run-ins with post-surgery infection, I might think one of the stitches was pulling or it was just part of the healing process. But I know better.
After much poking and prodding of the hotspot, we decided to let it be and wait and see. I thought for sure he’d want to open it up and see if there was fluid to collect and culture, but he said nope, not at this stage, let’s give the newly rounded chest a chance to settle this on its own without us intervening. He extended my course of oral antibiotics just to be on the safe side, and as much as it pains me to admit this, I agree with him on both fronts. Really, we’ve done everything we can to prevent infection: a week of pre-surgery prophylactic antibiotics, 2 bags of 2 different IV antibiotics during the surgery, more oral antibiotics after surgery, the most thorough scrub-in process in the history of modern medicine, and over-the-top precautions to preserve a sterile field in the OR. At this point, if the infection can combat all of that, I will concede. But I will be a very sore loser.
The one thing we’ve got going for us in the anti-infection camp is the fact that this last surgery didn’t involve any foreign bodies. No tissue expanders and no implants, just good old-fashioned fat. It was sucked right out of my thighs (hence the super bruises) and injected right into my sunken chest. He carefully explained the fat-extraction process to Trevor and Amy while I was in the recovery room.
The plan is for me to lay low for the next 2 days, check in on Wednesday afternoon, and go from there. If I weren’t so tired and puny I’d be saying, “Come on with the healing already!”
I sure would like to say that today is a lot better than yesterday, but I’d be lying. I’m still very, very sore, and moving around is pretty uncomfortable. I can’t see how bruised I am on my legs because I’m snugly encased in a compression garment. I joked with my doc yesterday that he and I know each other on a whole new level now, with the pre-op business. He looked slightly confused and I was greatly comforted to think that the “new depths of indignities” as Trevor put it, didn’t seem to register with the good doctor. I know now that when he sees a body, splayed out and nekkid, he’s seeing just that — a body. Not mine or yours or anyone’s specifically, just a body.
Whew. That’s a good thing, because he saw every bit of mine. Up close and in his face. Yikes. I thought we had plumbed the depths of indignities before, with the “grab the fat” games and the up-close examinations of the fattiest regions to determine where best to cull from in the reallocation surgery. Ha. That was amateur night compared to the real deal on the big day. Anyone who’s been thinking I am lucky to get “free lipo” may well reconsider after reading this. Do I need to deliver my lecture on opportunity cost, again?
Getting marked up for surgery is not new to me. Baring my chest for the doctors is old hat, as is the alcohol-y smell of the Sharpie markers they use to draw the roadmap for cutting and stitching, as well as the feel of the Sharpie sliding over bare skin. Lest this sounds like a Nora Roberts novel’s love scene, let me assure you there’s nothing sexy or sensual about it — if a doctor is drawing on your bare skin with a Sharpie, it means you’re in trouble. The kind of trouble that can only be fixed by scalpels and sutures. There’s nothing romantic about that.
So getting marked up Wednesday for my revision surgery should have been no big deal; been there, done that. Except this time it wasn’t just my upper body that needed to be bared, it was the whole thing. Since my doc was going to be extracting fat & skin from my hips and legs, he had to well, mark up my hips and legs.
Did I mention that the surgery center is under construction, and that as I went from my suite–where I changed into the gown, compression hose, and shower cap–to the triage room–where I would get my pulse and blood pressure taken and get a needle shoved into a vein in my hand to start an IV–that I had to walk down a hallway with my surgical gown tied not so securely in the back, with construction workers all up and down the hallway? I’m pretty sure part of my backside was hanging out, but really, at this point in my “cancer journey,” I can’t be bothered with such an insignificant concern.
I can, however, be very bothered by the utter horror of standing buck-naked in front of my good friend and beloved surgeon while he maps out his surgery plan via Sharpie. Always the jokester, I tried to keep the mood light and make jokes, but if I had access to an open bottle of vodka I would have chugged like a girl in the desert. Anything to ease the embarrassment of that moment.
After I stood up for the Sharpie fest, my doc wanted me to lie down so he and Katie the surgical nurse could check that the lines were even or whatever they check for. They did their checking and calculating, and my doc left me to go scrub in. The surgery was about to begin. Katie covered my nakedness with a gown and a blanket and went to scrub in herself.
Note I have not yet mentioned the “cocktail” that the anesthesiologist provides to relax the patient before administering the hard-core anesthesia to knock one out for hours at a time. I had of course inquired about my “cocktail,” multiple times during the Sharpie fest, in fact, and was told that I would get it in the OR because they needed to prep me for surgery standing up.
Prep me standing up? As in, I’ll be awake for that part? I’ve envisioned the prepping required for all my surgeries, and before too many thoughts of my leaden, sleeping body being manipulated and scrubbed down enter my head, I quickly chase those thoughts off with thoughts of puppies and bunny rabbits instead.
This time, I was to be stone-cold sober and awake for that particular horror show.
Oh, the depths of indignities just keep on getting deeper.
Once everyone was scrubbed in, someone came to collect me. I walked from my cozy suite to the OR, probably with my ass hanging out for all the construction workers to see, and entered the last level of humiliation. In Dante’s Inferno, there is no mention of the level of hell that is being prepped for surgery while wide awake, but there certainly should be. There should also be some sort of extra prize for someone with a reconstructed body — full of scars and mess and reminders of the impossibly hard road that’s been traveled — who has to display that body in the presence of strangers in order to try and reclaim some semblance of normalcy. The two males in the room, besides my doc, did a good job of averting their eyes from the trainwreck that is my body while they counted scalpels and readied surgery supplies.
I was instructed to drop my gown and stand — buck naked — with arms and legs spread wide. Not sure what the yoga pose is but I’m going to call it shamefaced patient. Two nurses, Katie & Mary, and my doc himself, scrubbed me down with betadine swabs. Katie was nice enough to warm them first, and that small kindness went a long way toward soothing my jangled nerves. My favorite doc was on high-alert against any possibility of infection. Much discussion ensued between the 3 health-care providers about who was swabbing which area of my body, and let me tell you they were quite thorough in getting all the nooks & crannies. Once I’m finally allowed to take a shower I may be scrubbing for days. There were a few commands of “turn this way,” “raise your arm higher,” and ahem, “spread your legs a bit wider, please” as they doused me with the foul-smelling but surprisingly tan-enhancing liquid. I may be splayed out like a deboned chicken (again) for all the room to see, but at least I was golden brown.
Once they had slathered me in the betadine, it was time to get on the OR table. For every one of my previous surgeries, I’ve already been in la-la land when it was time to get on the table. I don’t know how they got me onto the table in the past, but I expect someone lifted me, because the anesthesiologist had mixed and administered the “cocktail”and I was out like a light. This time, I had to be wide awake and fully cognizant of the humiliation that had ensued.
That OR table is narrow, people, and the last thing I needed after my abject embarrassment was to slip off it, all goopy with betadine. My doc was very, very specific about the sterility of the room, the people, and the table, and insisted that Mary and Katie hold my hands as I got onto the table so I didn’t touch anything. The table is high and I am, well, not tall, so we had to use a stool. I managed to haul my carcass onto that high table without touching anything or falling off and was quite pleased with my effort when the anesthesiologist said I needed to scooch down closer to her, at the head of the table. Egads. More maneuvering and cussing on my part, then I was able to settle.
At last, the sweet relief from this latest horror show came in the form of the anesthesiologist finally giving me some Versed. I asked her to also give me something to make me forget all that had just transpired. Whatever form of mind-altering, memory-erasing drug will work, just give me plenty of it.
The Versed worked swiftly and completely, and I don’t recall a single thing beyond that point. I woke up in the recovery room, somehow stuffed into a compression garment but blissfully unaware of how that happened. I was released from the surgery center and delivered home, to bed, where I could pretend that this was all a bad dream.
Texas is a baseball powerhouse in general, and our neck of the woods is no different. We’re right down the highway from Pearland, whose Boys of Summer blazed a trail from Texas to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, last summer to go nearly all the way in the prestigious Little League World Series.
This truckload of Pearland boys could be from any Little League in Texas; hopefully in a couple of years it will be my kid’s First Colony team. We watched every game last summer, cheering for those boys in blue and hoping they would prevail. We laughed at the way the media zeroed in on the Pearland moms and their blinged-out team shirts. I guess not everyone “does” baseball that way, but around here, it’s de rigueur for baseball moms to have glitzy shirts, often with their kid’s number emblazoned in rhinestones. Writer Ken Hoffman said the Pearland team “tore through Texas tournaments and blew into Williamsport with tape-measure home runs, speeding- ticket-worthy fastballs and bedazzling mothers that the Little League World Series won’t forget.”
All Stars is an exciting time. Grueling, too, with practice 7 days a week until the games start. We plan our vacations around the All Stars schedule, and schedule our daily activities around practice. The first tournament begins Tuesday, and I sure hope the Big Red Machine blows through District and Sectionals the way they did last summer, blazing a trail straight for the State Championship in Tyler, TX.
Since I missed pretty much all of it last summer, I didn’t realize that our district, Texas East Little League, “stretches from the Sabine River in the East to I-20 in the North to I-35 on the West to San Antonio and from there to the Gulf of Mexico and back to the Sabine River,” according to the Texas East website.
We’re that little strip of green in the middle, District 16. Texas is a big state, the second-biggest in the country in both population and area, and baseball is serious business around here. I don’t know how many Little Leagues there are in Texas, but considering that this great state is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long and populated by some 25 million people (thank you, Wikipedia), I’d say there are a bunch.
I’ve written a lot about having missed so many of Payton’s games last summer. Don’t worry, I’m not going to re-hash it today. Suffice to say that if it had just been the bilateral mastectomy in mid-May, I would have been in fine shape for the All Star summer schedule. But no, the post-mastectomy infection had to surface, and the resulting hospital stays and surgeries meant there would be no trip to Tyler for me. From the moment that infection reared its ugly head, my life became one complication after another, and I began to live the famous Winston Churchill quote of “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Just do it without being able to watch your kid play the best baseball of his life. From mastectomy to infection, to nearly 30 days in the hospital, to multiple tissue excisions, to saying good-bye to the tissue expanders, to a shaky recovery involving all manner of antibiotics and home health, to slowly very slowly getting a semblance of a normal life back to finally getting around to reconstruction, to the long recovery process after The Big Dig. Quite a circuitous route I took, with very little baseball.
So this summer, I’m going to soak it all up. Every scorching minute of it. Since Texas is in a major, seemingly unending drought, we probably won’t have to worry about getting rained out, like we did a few times last summer. I’ll be in my blinged-out shirt, cheering hard for the boys in red, and reflecting back on how much I missed last summer at the ballpark.