There’s no doubt that a major life event can make you re-evaluate. I’ve often said, “sometimes we have to climb mountains before we climb hills.” Those bigger challenges may help us see with a different lens that we can then apply to the smaller ones. Maybe they remind us that we don’t have to complicate things so much or they inspire us to be grateful for the smaller successes. Upon reflection through my recent health journey, I want to do better at staying present in the moments and the moments in between. I tend to yo-yo on this one but I know the joy, the sparkles, the rainbows and unicorns, that ignite a different kind of energy when you’re present and not just existing on a treadmill. At present, I’m just really grateful. I’ve had the good fortune to pre-empt a breast and ovarian cancer diagnosis. The prevalence of these cancers, whether among the general population or the BRCA+ population, affirm for me with each new diagnosis that as a previvor, I made the right decisions. For me, the science has prevailed. And I keep those affected in my healing thoughts.
- I’m grateful for the work of those involved discovering the BRCA gene mutation, detection method and eradication
- I’m grateful for the caring, steady work of my surgeons and their teams who have guided me through this process with such grace
- I’m grateful that no cancer cells were found in my ovaries, fallopian tubes or breasts
- I’m grateful to be free of breast/ovarian cancer surveillance and the worry of a diagnosis
- I’m grateful that my current state of physical recovery from the mastectomy is without complication and is temporary
- I’m grateful I was able to choose my reconstruction procedure without the implications of prior chemo or radiation
- I’m grateful for a job with benefits that allowed an ease of decision-making
- I’m grateful to be having a pretty easy go on hormones from the removal of my ovaries
- I’m grateful for my husband, family, friends, community who surround with me love and support
- I’m grateful that the self-evolution work I’ve done for so many years continues to serve me well
I still have high risks for another melanoma which is no casual cancer. So I don’t feel completely relieved of the cancer worry… no magic pill or surgery to mitigate the potential for melanoma in one fell swoop. Seeing my dermatologist this week in fact about another suspicious spot. We age. Yup. And try to be as healthy as possible to improve our quality of life. Stuff happens. My outlook: I will continue to rise. That optimistic foundation keeps me from being sucked down a rabbit hole. It could be quite daunting if I let it. Where Am I Now?
- Referred Sensation: Feeling the nerve endings working. This is a light burning sensation across the breasts. I had this constantly for a few weeks but lately it has subsided. My plastic surgeon was delighted to hear this as it indicates the potential that I will have more sensation in my breasts than expected. Breathe fire dear breasts if you must.
- Breast Tenderness: I have tender, sensitive areas at the sides and on the tops of my breasts where the drains were inserted and at the location of the port in the expanders where they do the saline fills. The wound where the drains were inserted is still healing (still knitting together, itchy at times) and I’m trying to mitigate the size of those scars through daily care (I’m quite pale so I mark easily).
- Breast Heat: There’s still a lot of warmth generated from the body healing and recovering. While an unusual feeling, it’s not uncomfortable.
- Breast Area Tightness: As part of the process of having [temporary] expander implants, my skin and pec muscles are being stretched. There’s also a sensation of tightness as the scars and other cut areas internally are healing. I feel like I’m wearing a shelf. I understand that this will change over time, especially once I have the final implant exchange.
- Under Arm Area Tightness: It feels like a tight cord running from the sides of breasts to the area under my arm pits. Soft tissue massage and range-of-motion exercises are helping this release.
- Shoulder and Back Pain: This is probably my biggest challenge. Once back to work, I seem to have a 5-hour limit before I get a burning sensation down my left shoulder and across my back. Heating pad (though never near my breasts), ice, physical therapy and time are helping.
- Physical Therapy: I’m cleared for range-of-motion therapy but not strength training yet.
- Driving: I’m now cleared to drive but limiting the distance as I still feel much tightness to turn the wheel for parking and other maneuvers.
- Sleeping: I’m mostly flat on my back. While I make attempts to lie on my side, it’s not yet comfortable enough to be a relief, more so due to the tightness across my chest.
A friend asked how I feel about my new boobs. Good question and an important one for me. While on the small side of breast sizes, I never previously considered augmentation. I am a woman who enjoys fashion and feeling good about my appearance. I didn’t have the kind of breast size that some women can dress to advantage for, but I liked them enough. And where I had opportunity to feel sexy and shapely and womanly on top, I celebrated. I surprised myself that I got more attached to my breasts once I knew they were leaving me. This is part of the emotional/spiritual work of accepting a BRCA mutation and the options one has to prophylactically eliminate the cancer risks. So the idea of adapting to a process of creating new boobs at all, let alone in phases, is surreal. There was the necessity. And an added process, you might call it a bonus, of deciding what size to become (an emotional and physical normalcy and certainly, vanity). I’m in what I keep naming as a temporary state, so I am not yet attached to an outcome because the reconstruction happens over time. That said, my plastic surgeon has done an amazing job at this stage of creating what will be the envelope so-to-speak for the final implant. So I have every confidence in being thrilled with the final outcome. Emotionally, my eye is on the prize of the last surgery, the implant exchange to remove the expanders and replace with a silicone gel implant, which will probably be in June. We can make revisions then. We can assure that my “new normal” meets my expectations. Volume-wise, I’m not going for stripper boobs as many have sort of jokingly inquired! Others’ fantasy perhaps! I am just about maintaining my prior size which was around a 32/34/B. I was filled to 50% capacity at the surgery, 200ccs each. 4 weeks later, another 50ccs each were added. I’m currently getting used to the 250ccs of volume to decide if I’ll go to 300ccs. It’s tricky because of my petite size. If they fill the expander too much I can potentially have that rounded melon-sitting-on-my-chest look. My plastic surgeon and I want as natural-looking a result with best shape and symmetry as possible so he mentioned his caution. Things can shift at the final exchange surgery, too. He will have a few sizes of implants to “try on” me while I’m unconscious to make the final call. Trust. It’s an amazing feat of science that they can recreate a breast at all. I’m a work in progress. But haven’t I always been?