If you remember, last Thanksgiving I started the reconstruction journey with a preventative mastectomy on my opposite side and expanders inserted in my chest. I started it with deep gratitude that I was still alive and I have Medicare. Two weeks after the first surgery I had to go back in for the surgeon to remove a large triangle of necrotic skin that refused to heal. More anesthesia brain but never mind. I’m so thankful to have such a great surgeon.
After that healed, every two weeks I went in to have the expanders filled. What’s that like? Imagine being hit in the chest with a baseball bat. Oh well, the pain only lasts a day or so. The problem is, one breast was fuller than the other (radiated skin takes more to stretch); add to the equation, one was lower than the other. Nothing fit and I wore the same two black baggy sweaters the entire winter. My friends graciously chose not to notice.
Finally in March, the last surgery. The expanders were removed and the implants put in. At my age I only wanted a small B cup, just so my clothes fit and I wasn’t lopsided anymore. And that is what I got. It was wonderful. For nearly four glorious months, I had a 65 year old body with a 20 year old chest! I was balanced. I didn’t have to wear that big brown rubber prosthetic on my chest that feels like a heater. I was so grateful and happy.
Then two weeks ago I woke up and realized I was lying on a wet sheet. When I turned on the lights, I saw that my previously healed incision was leaking and the skin on my chest the diameter of a basketball was bright red and very hot. I knew something was wrong but told David I would call the doctor in the morning. Why are we all so stoic?
When I did call at 7:30, she immediately ordered me to meet me at her office. She took one look and said it was hospital for me. Turns out I had a very serious staph infection brought on by the radiated skin rejecting the implant. I can’t explain it but it seems to happen a lot. I spent the next two days hooked up to uber anti-biotics and Sunday night she removed the implant. I felt so sad, like I was losing the same breast twice. Thankfully, that didn’t last long. Yes, my clothes don’t fit again. Yes, my chest is lopsided and I’m still battling the infection which is now about the size of a softball, but I am alive. I am so thankful to have a wonderful surgeon and a husband that kicks into caregiver without a single complaint.
What’s next for me? I’m healing and have taken this week to rest. I feel really tired and look forward to regaining my energy. Next November, right before Thanksgiving (sound familiar) I will go in for the alternative to an implant. It’s a surgery called a tram flap, longer and more complicated but not prone to rejection. I do so want to be balanced. Nine years of lopsidedness and the dreaded brown rubber breast are enough.
With respect to Oprah, here is “what I know for sure.” There are other women who have it much worse in this breast cancer battle, especially women in prison. I know that journey. It is lonely and scary, inside even more so. If you know anyone in the midst of the journey, hug them, send them a loving card, show them you care. It is a difficult journey, unique for each person. We all respond differently to treatment, but everyone responds to love, inside or out.
If you have a survivor story, I’d love to hear it and I know my readers would too. That’s what inspires us all to keep going.