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Archive for the ‘Breast Cancer Reconstruction’ Category

I’ve been out of the loop for a while. Very busy with Gina’s Team plus more surgery just last week. More anesthesia brain. Typing is a challenge. Trying to rest but I had to send this out.

We do a lot of meaningful things at Gina’s Team. One is greeting women at the gate upon release with a big hug and a “Welcome Back.” Diane Bondurant, a graduate of our GAT program (Gina’s ATHENA Team), was recently released. She is a talented and intelligent woman as well as a creative artist. I asked her to write about the day of her release to give you a peek at those first hours. Here is her version:

                                Over the Fence and Into Reality

Sue Ellen maintains that being released from prison is like being shot out of a cannon blindfolded. She is absolutely correct. Regardless of how much time you’ve done, your release date approaches rapidly and no matter how much you have tried to mentally prepare for getting out, there is nothing you can imagine that is even close to the experience of getting released from prison.

When you are released from prison, prepare to be awakened the night before your release at all hours of the night. Between 10-11pm, the guards will bring you bags for your property, inventory your property, allow you to go back to sleep and then wake you up prior to 4am count to cart you down to Complex where the real release processing takes place. . Prepare to be up for at least 24 hours straight.

The general rule of thumb is that you need to give back everything that State Issue gave you originally or you may be charged for missing items. Anything you purchased that has ADC on it can go to anyone you choose-so donating your sweatshirt , those comfy sweat pants or that beanie to someone is ok-they don’t inventory the clothing you bought. You actually just leased it, but let’s not split hairs! The rest of your stuff will be listed on a property sheet and transported to the gate at complex to await your arrival.

After 4 am count, you will be transported to complex to await the processing that is to come. Drop your stuff at the strip shack and park it; it will be awhile. In about an hour, you’ll be summoned into the center of the complex to take your exit pictures, receive meds (if you take meds) and then will be allowed to sit in the complex courtyard (smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em-if you’re a smoker bring some cigarettes with you from the yard) to wait for the financial end of things to get under way.

About  2 hours later, you’ll be summoned to another room, given a packet that contains your exit ID and your debit card that your salary and savings account monies have been transferred to.  The officer doing the debit card activation allows everyone in the room to activate their debit card and then we’re all herded out to the gate area. If you were fortunate enough to get clothes sent in to you via a catalog (LL Bean, Land’s End etc.), you will be handed the clothes that were ordered for you and will go to the strip shack to change.

If you had relatives send you clothing, you will be handed whatever outside clothing DOC picks for you and be told to wear that out of the gate. You will then have to go down to the next building and pick up the clothing you were sent at the main property window.

Although you protest about the outfit you are handed, you know that you would walk across hot coals completely naked to get the hell out of Perryville. You accept the outfit (regardless of how it looks or fits) and you change into the DOC provided white vinyl skirt and hot pink stilettos in the strip shack. (Seriously, you wonder where some of those clothes come from.)

You stand in front of the gate with your storage boxes in front of you, waving to  people who are picking you up. The nightmare in orange is almost over. The gate opens slowly and you see friends, loved ones, or people from designated agencies sent to pick you up. You heave a sigh of relief. There is nothing like the joy you feel when stepping over the threshold from prison into the parking lot. It is awesome, overwhelming, and frightening at the same time. Parole or probation, be damned- being granted your freedom is a zen moment, and you will be called upon to make some BIG decisions. Only YOU can make the decision to go and rebuild a better life for yourself or to return to a life that will ultimately return you to Perryville. You are at the spork in the road, and only YOU can make this life choice. Here are some helpful things to remember:

  • Don’t be afraid of a job search- feel the fear, the anxiety, and do it anyway!!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help – be grateful (and say so) when people provide it.
  • Give back! Give of yourself, your time, your talents, your money and your possessions to others-it will return to you tenfold
  • This is an abundant universe and the Creator will always take care of us-just ask!

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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.

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