Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Real Girl

Dear Friends,

I cannot believe it has been so long since my last entry. Probably no one checks this place anymore, but just in case, I thought I would write.

Years ago I used to send out holiday cards. Not ones made out of photos of my children. I could never accomplish that. But I would send out some kind of note wishing peace on earth, or a party invitation, or in more recent years, a lengthy email about my flawed life that made catty fun of the holiday letters we occasionally receive about the multitude of sickening blessings enjoyed by others. (Not that I don't recognize the multitude of blessings I enjoy.) This year I did none of that, so I wish you belated holiday cheer, and good health and plenty of joy in 2013.

Speaking of health, mine is good. January, 2013 is my two-year anniversary. A significant one given my particular disease. It has been a challenging couple of months leading up to and passing this milestone. Over Thanksgiving I was certain that the cancer monster was on the prowl. First it was one symptom, then another. I struggled to create and maintain holiday cheer through my bouts back and forth between feeling sure it was nothing and feeling sure I was doomed. Three doctor opinions (and miserable weeks) later I was persuaded that my cancer was not yet back. I know now that I was preparing myself for something bad to happen. It was January 2, 2011 that I felt the lump in my right breast. Two months later I was told that if I made it to two years without recurrence that was a meaningful thing. So Amy Little (as my friends call me) was getting ready for the sky to fall. It did not. If I believed it mattered I would give thanks.

So, in other news, I am growing new ones. Yes my friends, I am working on a major (well, maybe not so major by some people's standards) reconstruction project. There is nothing in this life that is more absurd than the process of breast reconstruction through expansion and implantation. (Heads up to the squeamish, and to those of you who grimace at TMI - now that you know I am fine, please close this screen and come back in a few weeks.)

In September I had surgery to insert "expanders" under my chest muscles and skin. The expander is basically a pouch made out of silicone. It has a tiny valve in it. Once a month I go into the surgeon's office for an expansion. To do this the surgeon uses a tiny magnet to find the valve and then sticks a hollow needle through my skin into it. Using a large syringe connected to the needle he squirts a tiny amount of saline into each pouch. To summarize, I have two balloons in my chest and once a month I visit a strange man who blows them up a little bit.

Once my skin is inflated to the point where it might look like I have boobs, I will have more surgery to remove the expanders and replace them with silicone implants which supposedly will feel more boob-like than the cement hemispheres that I currently carry with me wherever I go. As for nipples, my surgeon says "we'll look into that later." Whatever that means, but trust me when I say...boobs without nipples are like faces without noses.

All of this would be pretty straight forward (well, from the surgeon's point of view...for the rest of us it is a twisted, nightmarish effort to cosmetically diminish bad memories) except that my right side was radiated 33 times in 2011 so my skin on that side is so fragile that we may not be able to squeeze a new boob under there. (I hate to think of what the worst case scenario is here. One day the balloon inflater blows a little too hard and I explode?) Most people who undergo radiation for their breast cancer do not attempt this kind of reconstruction, but I did not have other reasonable options. My surgeon says my chances for successful reconstruction are 70%.  (Again, it is not entirely clear to me what unsuccessful reconstruction might look like, but I guess I am willing to take the odds.)

The process itself is not too uncomfortable. I was laid up for about a week after the last surgery in September. I had the awful drains dangling from my body for about 10 days. Those are the pouches they attach to your innards after certain surgeries to allow revolting fluid to drain from the surgical sites to minimize the risk of infection. Twice a day you have to squeeze out the fluid to empty the drains. (Kind of the opposite process to the one I am currently enduring.)

The monthly "inflation" visits aren't too bad. I lie on my back close my eyes super tight, and the creepy man sticks a needle in my chest which hurts about as much as you would expect. The feeling of being inflated with fluid, however, must be one of the oddest sensations known to woman. (Think "Lars and the Real Girl.")  (All names appearing in this piece are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.)

I've been inflated 3 times and am no longer concave which does make me feel a little better. I am hopeful that soon I will feel whole - or at least real.

I miss you all.

Lots of love,