Category: breast prosthesis

A Boobless Year in Review.

The fact that I had to amputate my boobs is hilariously ironic (re: terribly tragic) for two reasons.  For one, I had to cut them off when they were DOING THE ONLY JOB THEY WOULD EVER HAVE: breastfeeding.  (I mean, other than snagging a husband.  Hey-O!  😉 )  But seriously, out of all my years, I was only actually going to put my boobs to use for, like, two of them, and in the middle of THEIR ONLY FREAKING JOB IN LIFE, they decided to try to kill me.  Lazy bastards.

It’s also hilariously ironic (re: decidedly heartbreaking) because my breasts were pretty much my only body parts that I didn’t have a problem with.  They were kind of awesome, really.  Smallish but packed a punch, you know?  Quality over quantity and stuff.  I couldn’t have had buttcheek cancer or carcinoma of the stained teeth?  Or needed an amputation of thigh fat?  (JK.  No cancer is good cancer.  Also, I made those up.)

I think a lot of people wonder why I didn’t have reconstruction.  The truth is that I couldn’t handle it.  It was just too much.

What I'm currently working with.  Also, oh nos!  My boobs on the internets!
What I’m currently working with…  Also, oh nos! My boobs on the internets!  Sorry, dad!

Breast reconstruction IS NOT the same as getting a boob job.  Not at all.  So please don’t, “Well, at least you get new boobs!  YAY!” anyone who tells you that they have breast cancer.   She will be silently cursing you and probably giving you some pretty serious side eye.  Because no.

To my surprise at the time, there are many ways to build new boobs, but they all involve lots of pain and often multiple surgeries for a result that probably won’t ever look natural.  And if you go the implant route, you’ve got to swap those out every ten years or so.  Ugh.

I was all signed up to start reconstruction immediately following the mastectomy.  Like, I had literally signed the consent form and had a plastic surgeon on board.  Then something that the doctor said — that they have to say — just didn’t sit well with me.  There was a ten percent infection risk.

Hey man, that seems high, no?

There is very little time to make such an important decision, and your head is not exactly clear.  I tried to get the breast surgeon to tell me what to do because I also had to decide what to do with the healthy breast (Spoiler alert: I gave it the old chop-off too.) and sometimes you just don’t want to have to make the big decisions.

“If I were your wife, if I were your daughter, what would you recommend?” I asked.

“I would tell you that it’s your choice,” he answered as if he has this conversation dozens of times a week — which he probably does.

“No, I mean, what would you tell your daughter to do?” I repeated with what I thought was an edge of ‘It’s cool; we’re friends here’ in my voice but was probably more akin to hysteria.

“It would be her choice.”

“But you’re a doctor.  This is your specialty,”  I pleaded.

“It’s your choice.”

Gah.

Nope.  I couldn’t handle it.  The thought of anything else (besides the cancer) going wrong was too much.  I just wanted to be healthy.  I just wanted to raise my daughters.  I cancelled the reconstruction.

I’m still not sure if that was the right choice.  But that’s easy to say now that I am healthy and back to raising my daughters.

When I woke up from surgery, I couldn’t look down.  When the nurses came to empty my drains and assess the incision sites, I tilted my head and rolled my eyes toward the ceiling as they pulled back the dressing.

At home, Josh took care of everything.  In the shower, I turned my head and averted my eyes and he washed me.  I studied his face for a tell of how bad it was.  He doesn’t have a very good poker face, but his post-mastectomy face is impressive.

It took me almost a week to look.

I gingerly unvelcroed my sexy new surgical bra and forced myself to look in the mirror.  I couldn’t do it head on so I met myself with half-open eyes.

I was horrified.

It took me much longer to really look.

In the short year since, I have grown used to it.  I don’t surprise myself in the mirror anymore, and I can face myself head on.

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But I do have conversations like this:

“Penny, do you think I’m pretty?”  Yes, I know.  Probably not the healthiest question to pose to my four-year-old daughter, but cancer was a pretty heavy blow to my sense of vanity.

“Yeah!” she responded thoughtfully.  “I like the sparkle on your eyes.”

Then she looked down. I wasn’t wearing my prosthetics.  She reached out her little hand and swept it across my chest.  She rubbed back and forth a few times before looking up at me.

“Mom, even though you don’t have boobs, you’re pretty when you wear your prosthetics.  When you don’t, you’re not.”

I realized that I don’t want my daughter to understand beauty as purely physical or only by conventional standards.

“Why don’t you think I’m pretty without them?”

“Because it looks like you’re dead.  Like someone scraped off your boobs or something like that.  It makes me sad.”

Whoa.

I muster, “It makes you sad to look at my scars?”

“Yeah.”

And, honestly, I can’t argue with that.  It makes me sad too.

Not having boobs isn’t alllllllll gloom and doom though.  In fact, I made a list of all the advantages of the ‘flat and fabulous’ lifestyle.  It’s short because, let’s be real, boobs are awesome.

  1. It doesn’t feel like you’re laying on a speed bump while STOMACH SLEEPING.
  2. My husband can get to second base without me around and/or noticing OR skip that base all together.
  3. I get to say fun things like, “Put mommy’s boobs down now!  They are not toys.  You know that.”
  4. Because they are now considered ‘medical equipment,’ insurance pays for my bras.

    Free bras for daysssss.
    Free bras for daysssss.

Also, although I may not win a wet T-shirt contest, I can do fun things like this.

BoobCollage

Can you pack your husband a picnic with treats as awesome as your boobs?  Or greet him so kindly at the door?  Comfort your daughter with a piece of you and LEAVE IT WITH HER?  (Jk.  I don’t actually do that.  That’s weird.)  A little surprise for the mailman?

I do what I can.

Two months ago, if you would have asked me if I was ever going to reconstruct, I would have told you probably not.  That I finally feel decent again and more surgery sounds sooooo terrible.  That I was okay like this.

More recently, though, I have been having lots of sad boob feelings.  I’m pretty sure it’s because things are returning to normal.  My hair is growing back.  Family dynamics are getting back on track.  It’s just not so cancery around here, you know?

But really, it’s because I don’t feel like myself without boobs.  It’s not as much about vanity as I thought.  It’s more about not feeling comfortable in my body.  You might think this is a stretch, but, in a very small way, I feel like I can relate with Bruce Jenner right now.  I feel like I understand the transgender community in a way that I didn’t before.  Feeling comfortable in your skin is so important.  It can be defining.

As a child, I watched my mother dress in awe.  Her body, her feminine movements were magical, and I couldn’t wait to also have a woman’s body — like her.  With this “haircut” (which I realize is temporary) and without breasts, I feel uncomfortable in my skin.  I feel like that part of my identity has been taken from me, and like Penny, it makes me sad.

It is for this reason that I am now *thinking* about reconstruction.

All of this to say: I have an appointment with my plastic surgeon in a week.  I am now weighing my options and trying to decide if it’s worth all the pain, time off, and money.  I also don’t know if I hope to have enough abdominal fat for a DIEP or not.  Amiright, breast cancer ladies?

Interrupting your regularly scheduled program to let you know that I have become Carrie Bradshaw.

You guys, this last year has been crazy.  Crazy good, crazy bad, crazy in between.  But I have something to tell you of the what-my-dreams-are-made-of variety.  I’m pretty sure that I am now Carrie Bradshaw — without all the shoes, hair, and boobs…and with a better face.  Duh.  I have even sorted my friends into Samanthas, Mirandas, and Charlottes.  (Are you now wondering which of my friends are slutty enough to be a Samantha?  I told her that it meant she was my “fun” friend, and she was definitely the first friend I sexted my butt to 😉 )  And Josh is Mr. Big, with much less commitment phobia, obvs.

You don’t know what any of that means?  Fair enough, Sex and the City haters.  (You really should give the show a watch, but skip the movies, k?)  What I’m saying is that I’ve got my VERY OWN NEWSPAPER COLUMN…in The Telegraph!!  Surprised?  Umm, me too!

Let me be the first to say that it is on a trial basis…and I’m not getting paid, but when the editor said that it could be good for my writing career, I thought, “My writing career?  I didn’t know I HAD a writing career!”  So yeah, I’m pretty pumped.

My first column should be in tomorrow’s paper, and as a little teaser I’ll just tell you that I mention which boob was always my favorite and why.  As I was writing it, I wasn’t even sure that I could say “boob” in the paper, but apparently, it’s cool.  Otherwise, I’d be screwed.  Since it’s my first, it’s just an overview of what I’ve been through and who I am, but you should still tune in. [Update: Here’s the link to the column!]

Also, Heathline is featuring me on their site tomorrow for winning the blog contest (Thank you, guys!!).  [Update: Here’s that link too!] The writer who interviewed me was delightful and just so much fun so I think it’ll be good.  He did ask, as everyone has lately, what I plan to do with my $1000, and the answer is that I don’t know yet.  First of all, I don’t have the money yet, but secondly, I’ve really just been having so much fun thinking of all the things I could do with it and discussing ridiculous ideas with my friends.  I mean, in truth, I’ll probably just pay some medical bills with it and sneak in a night away with Josh, if I’m lucky (and I never have any trouble getting lucky *wink wink*).  But what about if I:

  • let it all ride on black?  (That wouldn’t make anybody super mad, right?)
  • took all of my favorite girlfriends on a girls’ night out to see Taylor Swift (haters gonna hate!) in September?
  • got a new, fancy, blingy watch?
  • bought 2000 Jack-in-the-Box tacos and had the biggest (and greasiest) thank you party ever?
  • bought bigger boobs (prosthetics) so I finally had my “going out” pair?
  • [insert your ridiculous ideas here]?

I feel like I earned this money differently than I earn my work (ie. nursing career) money, and I feel like, since I had to get cancer to earn it, that it is okay if I spend it on a little more fun.  Really, it’s just so fun to have possibilities.  Like, the girls at work are taking a trip to Vegas in a week, and since I won this money, I was like, “Yeah, I could go too!  That would be so fun!” knowing that I wasn’t going to go.  But it’s so fun to think that I could if I really wanted to.

So yeah, things are good for me right now, and I really have you guys to thank.  Isn’t it crazy how your life can be torn completely apart and then rebuilt in a better way than you could have imagined?

 

I never planned on having a buzz cut.

Cancer is (but really isn’t) so much about the hair.  For everything else that’s going on, it’s, like, a lot of hair talk, you know?  But seriously, I just have to tell you that having this “haircut” feels a little like wearing a vest that your grandma knitted with her knitting circle buddies.  Just no.  And I need to talk about it.  (You guys are pretty much free therapy, right?  And you’re awesome at keeping my secrets, yes?)

I’m having troubles figuring out how to field niceties re: my hair situation.  When someone compliments my buzz cut, I don’t know how to respond.  Like, truly, I haven’t figured out how to react, and I should probably work on it because this is how my life is going right now:

Random person that I work with/run into at the grocery store/live with:  “Heather, your hair is so cute like that!  Not just anyone can pull off a haircut like that, but you are!”

Me:

RaphieGif

It feels like people are complimenting my coffee-stained teeth or how great my last fart smelled or something.

Is this a joke?  I don’t understand.

How do you take a compliment for something that you absolutely hate?  Or wasn’t even your idea?  Or was a result of the worst experience of your life?  Gah.

And the other night, at work, it got worse, or possibly better.  I’m not sure.  A patient HIT ON ME.

As I’m flushing his IV, “You’re beautiful, you know that?”

“Pfffffffffft.  **fart noise**”

I awkwardly finish up and start for the door.

“You are.  And if you ever want to talk, we can talk.”

“Umm…if you need anything else or if your chest pain comes back, let me know.  I’ll be back to check on you in a little bit.”

“And if you need anything, let me know.”

Before I make my quick retreat, my mind takes him in and screams, “Oh, COME ON!  Are you seriously hitting on me right now?  I’M BALD!  I know you have a past history of drug abuse, but are you high right now?  If you’re seriously hitting on me, I suggest that you get your shit together and raise your standards.  This is an embarrassment for both of us!”

But then, you know, I walked down the hall back to the nurse’s station with a pep in my step.  Drug abuser or not, this is the first time I’ve been hit on since the big C took away any chance I had at working the pole for a living.  (I mean…you never know.  Maybe it’s how I would have sent Penny to medical school or gotten Alice those braces.)  When I wasn’t looking it in the face, it felt pretty good.

Josh tells me I’m pretty all the time, but that doesn’t really mean anything.  He’s my husband; he’s just trying to get what is his.  When this thirty-something, drug abusing, unemployed cardiac patient told me that I was beautiful, well… baby, I’m back!

Buuuuut then, I found out that he hit on my nurse’s assistant.  And pretty much every other female that entered the room.  It was really fun while it lasted though.

I knew this hair made me look like a lesbian (Legit — I’ve been mistaken for a lesbian twice now.) or a dude.

Because last night it got even worse.  Last night, I answered the door to a Charter saleslady, and she didn’t know how to address me.  In all fairness, I was wearing my husband’s t-shirt, and I wasn’t wearing my boobs.  I saw the confusion in her eyes, and I heard the struggle in her voice as she asked me if I was “the…the…llllll….lady?…of the house.”

Damn this buzz cut!

In truth, I just don’t feel like myself.  I feel naked without my hair.  I feel like someone else.  I feel misrepresented.  When I’m around new people, these feelings are multiplied by a hundred because they don’t know that I didn’t choose this.  They have no other picture of me in their heads besides the one I’m showing them right now.  They can’t reference my long hair and know who I really am (physically).  When they say, “I like your hair,” I’m faced with the dilemma of either having to tell them that I didn’t do this on purpose (and, subsequently, the whole story, which just leads to me awkwardly comforting them) or just smiling and thanking them, which kills me.

Actually, now that I’ve written it out, it seems so easy.  Just smile and say thanks.  Geez, Heather…get over yourself!  The lesbians would be lucky to have me!  And I them.  (I’ve always wanted wife.)

And come to think of it, I ran into an acquaintance at Siteman who is fighting stage 4 colon cancer, and her chemo doesn’t make her lose her hair.  My first thought was one of sorrow for her because by not losing her hair, people won’t know how sick she is or how rotten she feels.  In a way, I’m glad that I lost my hair.  It’s the physical sign that one has been touched by cancer, and the world reacts accordingly.

I just can’t wait until people know, for sure, that I’m a lady again.  That’ll be nice too.

 

P.S.  You guys have really brought the voting up a notch in the last week, and I really appreciate it.  You are pretty much the bee’s knees.  There are only five days left, and I’m about 1000 votes behind so what do you say we take that other blog down (just to second place — I’m not a complete jerk.)?  Click here to vote daily!

For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Just before my first chemo treatment, I spotted “the bell” on a wall in the waiting area.  No one rang it that day, but it gave me hope.  That stupid little bell gave me a goal.  It gave me focus.  It even gave me an outlet.

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After that first meeting and making it through my first chemo, I started to form a strange relationship with the bell.  I would sometimes stare at it across the crowded waiting room like we were in the school cafeteria and I had been practicing writing “Mrs. Heather Bell” in my Lisa Frank notepad.  I would picture myself ringing it.  (How many times would I ring it?  How hard?  Would I cry?  Who would be there?  Should I look directly at it?  Away?  Should I buy it dinner first?)  I would watch other people ring it and, almost every time, be moved to tears.  Eventually, I started to trash talk the bell.  And, like, straight up threaten it.  I’m pretty sure I told it that I was responsible for cracking the Liberty Bell and it better watch out.  I told it that I was lifting weights (pshh, yeah right).  I may have even thrown a few yo mama jokes its way.  I definitely did that “intimidating” move where you jerk your head forward with crazy eyes.  IDK.  I’m not very good at intimidation…or trash talk.

Well, last Monday, I FINALLY got to ring that damn bell after my sixth and final chemo!  I have to say that I started the day pretty down.  Josh and I made our way to the hospital, and I knew that I should be excited…but I was in a funk.  I mean, part of it could be that, whether it was my first or last, I was still on my way to chemo and a couple more weeks of feeling not so hot, but I also think it’s pretty scary to come to the end of this.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just wasn’t in a good mood.  And I *almost* made it through the day without crying.

I actually felt a little sorry for the resident.  We had been discussing things just fine, and he mentioned that my daughters would need to start “vigilant screenings at 25, including breast MRIs,” and I just started crying without warning.  He immediately looked like a confused fifteen year old boy, handed me an empty box of tissues, and did a lot of stammering.  He obviously doesn’t have children, and I obviously overreacted.  I apologized profusely, and he did not mention my daughters again.

But, 25?  At 25, I was standing in the same church that both of our parents had been married in and saying “I do” to my husband.  At 25, I was figuring out that I wanted to go to nursing school.  I was living off of diet coke, cereal, and love.  I was poor and so very carefree.  At 25, Josh and I read books to each other every night and went on walks whenever the mood struck.  We drove around, endlessly, looking at houses for fun and listening to music with the windows down.  At 25, I was not worrying about breast cancer.  (Should I have been??)  At 25, I was not facing my mortality, and I was not inside of an MRI machine fretting.  I’m not saying that maybe I shouldn’t have been.  I’m just saying that it’s not the 25 I wanted for my daughters, and it just makes me sad.

Afterwards, chemo went as well as chemo goes.  I watched some HGTV, sent random texts, wondered why everyone at chemo had hair, and did not inform my nurse that she was supposed to ice my nails when she forgot.

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My brother, Paul, and his wife showed up at around 8 o’clock to watch me finish and ring the bell.   By that time, I was in a better mood and wondering why there were no late night chemo party rooms.  I am always there late, and overall, I am very disappointed at the chemo round table.  The movies taught me that I would make my new best friend at chemo.  We would laugh and cry with each other when our hair fell out.  We would trade foobs (fake boobs) and fingernail polish.  We would go to puke into the same trash can, bump heads, look up, and laugh while finger pointing instead.  Obviously, one of us would die, and it wouldn’t be me.  But that’s just how it goes.  jk. jk.  For real.  And also, does it make you uncomfortable when I say “die?”  I’ve noticed that.  I can’t just say, “These shoes are KILLING me!” or “I’m DYING to go to the pumpkin patch next week” anymore.  But I still do.  Because you guys get a little uncomfortable.  And it makes me laugh a little on the inside.

Seriously, though, there are six to a chemo room, and they should group them by some demographic.  Like the old guys who just want to sleep but bring along their super talkative old lady wives.  Group ’em up.  Single and ready to mingle.  Put ’em together.  A knitting club, movie buffs, people who are always coId, retired truck drivers, cat people, people who love Hanson, Harry Potter, cheese, and laughing at cancer.  Oh, or BINGO room!  I would totally hang out in the bingo chemo room and set out my troll dolls and pictures of my kids and cats.  I really think these are solid ideas, you guys.

But anyway, I did manage to make it out to the bell and finally get a piece of that action.  I’m not sure what I expected, but more than anything, I was just excited.  Since it was so late, there wasn’t a crowd in the waiting room to clap for me.  It was just Josh, Paul, Rachael, and me, but I think it was better that way.  I got to ring it as much as I wanted.  There may have even been some attempts to judo kick it.

PicMonkey Collage

A week later, I have to say, there should be another bell for when you’re REALLY done with chemo.  Cuz it sho don’t feel like I’m done yet.  Soon enough, I know.

I’ve also got some other things on my mind that I need to fill you guys in on, and I’m sorting through a lot of emotions and, really, this whole year.  I will update very soon, but for now, I’ll just leave you with this video.  It dually represents how awkward I feel while being filmed and how happy I was to ring that thing.

Ladies first.

 

Do you remember being, like, twelve and just willing your boobs to grow, grow, GROW?  Or if you’re a guy, maybe you willed every girl in your sixth grade class’ boobs to grow.  Do guys do that?  Maybe you just wanted hair on your chest?  IDK.  I just know that, after years of watching my beautiful mother, and by the time middle school rolled around, I wanted my very own boobs and now!  (I wonder if people are searching naughty things and finding this well-intentioned blog because of such frequent boob talk.  Hey there, pervs, and sorry to disappoint.)  Anyway, it takes time – puberty and such.

Well, you guys, Christmas came early, AND I defied the laws of puberty.  My boobs are in.  BAM!  Just like that.  All I had to do was drive to the Galleria and pick them up.  (Twelve year old me is reeling.)  It is the ultimate in bra stuffing, and I love having them back more than I thought I would.  Plus, now Josh can get to second base again, and I don’t even have to be in the same room.

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They don’t look exactly like mine did.  I got confused and thought that I was getting two pair of prosthetics so I went into the fitting with the plan of getting a “church pair” and a “going out pair.”  You know, so they could fit my mood and situation.  But alas, I only got the one pair.  After briefly thinking about going bigger, I decided to stick with my size.  When the fitters asked me what size I previously wore, I told them a 34B.  After much measuring and (shirtless) discussion, they told me that I had been wearing the wrong bra size and that I had been a 32D.

First of all, I assured them that I was not a D cup, but secondly, how could you know that without my boobs being here?  They assured me that so many people are wearing the wrong size.  So I went with it.

These falsies are a tad bigger and wider (or more spread out?) on my chest, so yeah, I don’t think I was a 32D.  Ah well, I think I got a little too braggy to my husband anyway, and more than once, I wished that my mom had been here to laugh about the possibility of either of us being a D cup.

Boob placement is hard, yo.
Boob placement is hard, yo.

On a more serious note, I had a lot of good reasons (for me) that I decided against reconstruction, but my life was harder/sadder (I’m not really sure of the right word here.) without, at least, prosthetics.  I definitely felt like a nine year old boy in my clothes.  Plus, I wasn’t aware that boobs balance out even the tiniest pooch bellies until I didn’t have any.  So I started to wear my husband’s tee shirts more and more, and well, I didn’t want to see where this slippery slope was headed.  I did start to notice a decline in general niceties thrown my way.  Things that, for my entire life, I have just taken for granted.  You know, things like opening doors, hellos, big smiles, letting me cut in in traffic, eye contact and such.  And it was ALL about having boobs (and natural hair helps too).  Boobs = power.  Let me tell you how I know.

My husband and I went to the mall to pick up my girly parts, and as I had developed a small bond with the girl who fitted me (re: I cried within ten minutes of meeting her), I asked her if I could “wear them out” — like they were new shoes and I wanted to stroll the mall in them.  She obliged, and I did.  Lunchtime Josh, then, had to restrain me from entering Sephora and pull me out of Lush, and we made our way to the food court.  Josh was very hungry so he was a few steps ahead of me and made his way to the free samples guy first.  He got his sample, and then the guy spotted me as I made my way over to his delicious tray of bite sized sandwiches.

“Oh, hey!” he said and looks to Josh and back to me.  “Ladies first.  Girl, you can have two to make up for it.”  Huge grin.

Now, on a normal pre-cancer day, I would just smile back, take my extra free sample, and be on my way.  People are nice.

But no one (that I don’t know) had been this nice to me in months!  It was such a weird feeling.  I got my boobs back, and ten minutes later, I’m a worthy person again.  People are looking me in the eye and saying, “Giiiirl.”  I wanted to just say, “Men!” and be done with it, but I know it goes deeper than that.  It’s kind of rocking my world.  In a good way.  So yeah, in its simplest form, boobs = power.

Also, Katie (from the fittings) helped me to find a swimsuit that would accommodate my stuffies, and I’m excited to get back in the pool with the girls.  I was not, however, excited to swimsuit shop with so many mirrors around and a stage-like pedestal centered among them.  I would show you the cute coral colored one-piece that we picked out, but my thighs are begging me not to.  It has been a hard four years on my body.  Three pregnancies, two births, two surgeries, two surgical procedures, and chemo.  Yikes.  Before Penny, I hadn’t stayed a night in the hospital since I was born.

Aaaand to the gym I have been going.  Between the cancer and the mirrors, I finally found the motivation, and I keep having the same thought.  What took me so long?  Daily babysitting for $50 a month!  Sign. Me Up.  And why didn’t you other mothers tell me about the miracle that is gym provided childcare?  Unless you didn’t know.  I have been working out, but if I wanted to, I could just go there and shower in peace for once!  I could drop my kids off, sit in the lobby, and watch Big Brother while eating Cheetos if I wanted to.  I’ve even figured out a way to have a date night with Josh at the gym.  We could take a walk together (on side by side treadmills), hit up the vending machines, watch a movie in the lobby…hey, they even have a hot tub.  We are set.  Any girlfriends want to meet up for a coffee date and actually swap fun stories sans all the interruptions and bathroom breaks?  I’ve got the perfect place.  I’ll even wear my boobs.