I need to take on the uncomfortable task of writing publicly about my breasts again. (“Need” isn’t quite the right word. I want to keep people informed, and right now, that requires some explicit boob-talk.)
Two weeks ago, the night my family and I returned from our glorious, much-needed, post-breast-cancer-treatment and summer vacation, I discovered that my reconstructed breast was suddenly Dolly-Parton big. (Okay, maybe not quite that large, but compared to what I’m used to, it certainly feels that way.) I contacted my plastic surgeon who didn’t seem concerned, and since we already had a follow-up appointment scheduled for two weeks later, he said he would take a look then.
Over the next few weeks, I felt discouraged by how awful I felt—exhausted, light-headed, headachy. “I haven’t felt this bad since chemo,” I kept saying to Josh. “Is this what my nine months of recovery is going to feel like… This bad?!”
On Thursday, I finally met with my plastic surgeon, and he scheduled me for surgery the following Wednesday (two days from now). He thinks that radiation likely caused a hematoma: a broken blood vessel that leads to [Dolly Parton-sized] swelling filled with blood. A hematoma can also cause anemia, which explains how awful I’ve been feeling. (“Imagine you’re having three periods at once,” were his exact words. In other words, significant blood loss and all the resulting symptoms.)
I’ve written about my struggle to decide whether or not I wanted to do reconstruction, and if I did, what kind. After much back and forth, I decided to do implant reconstruction the day of my left mastectomy. I also decided that 4-6 months after radiation (the standard wait time), I would most likely have one more “small”/out-patient surgery to reconstruct my nipple and to put a smaller implant in my healthy breast, so that I feel more even. (You can read about a recent conversation with my 7-year-old daughter to learn more about the current state of my “uneven” breasts.)
My surgeon said that, since he has to operate now to address the hematoma, and since my skin has recovered so well from radiation, he could finish any other reconstruction at the same time and hopefully avoid another surgery. On the one hand, I’m nervous (among other things) about not waiting the recommended 4-6 months—recommended because radiation can continue to affect the tissue for that long with unknown end results. (My surgeon seems pretty darned confident that things will be fine, and I’m choosing to trust him… because I do trust him.) On the other hand, I’m holding onto the idea that this hematoma is a blessing in disguise—that it will give me the opportunity to be done, done, DONE with breast-cancer-related procedures now, versus six months from now.
I feel utterly different going into this surgery than I did going into the last. Perhaps it’s because I now have a surgery under my belt. Perhaps it’s because it’s all happening so fast that I don’t have much time to fester and fear. Perhaps it’s because this feels like no big deal compared to the loss of my breast. Perhaps it’s because there’s actually some relief with this surgery—the hope that I’ll feel more comfortable in my body again, both emotionally and physically. (Trust me, a boob filled with blood does not feel good, on any level!) There’s plenty coming up for me, and perhaps I’ll explore some of that in future posts. But mostly, I’m trying not to think too much. Trying to notice, to name, to put one foot in front of the other, to trust that my steps are taking me wherever it is that I need to go.
Some logistics: I have to be at the hospital this Wednesday, September 6 at 6 a.m. Surgery is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. It should take about 2.5 hours and the hope is that I can go home by evening. My surgeon said I should plan to be down-under for about a week, then slowly doing things from home, and hopefully back on my feet after week two. My godmother is coming from the Catskills on Tuesday to be with the kids until they go to school on Wednesday; and then with all of us for a few more days while I recover. Another blessing in disguise: it takes so long for Josh’s PA licensing to come through that he can’t start his new job for at least another month, so he can be 100% at the kids’ and my sides for this next hurdle.