Surgical tales

As I mentioned in my vlog, I will be having surgery this coming Wednesday. Why am I having surgery? Well, to answer that question, we need to go back in time a bit. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

On October 19th, I had a bilateral mastectomy. In non-cancer terms, this means that both of my breasts were removed. Which was about as much fun as it sounds. I realize I never wrote about my surgery, since it happened prior to starting this blog. But it was quite a large piece of the fighting cancer puzzle, as this was when my ugly effing tumor was removed.

The decision to have the mastectomy was ultimately mine to make. Many women opt for a “lumpectomy”, where the tumor is surgically removed but the surrounding breast and tissue remain. Every situation is very different, and often complicated. The period of time spent making this decision was not an easy time in my life. I had just been given this bombshell of a diagnosis, was secretly running back and forth between work and hospital appointments, and had to wrap my head around the idea of losing my breasts, a month after I had celebrated my 28th birthday. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Looking back, I’m not even sure how I slept, or how I got dressed, or how I got up each day, without completely losing my shit. Every time I would go to the restroom while at work, I would touch my chest and feel the tumor. Yep, still there. It was real. And I wanted it out, as soon as possible.

After some thoughtful deliberation and research, and a bit of soul-searching, I decided I wanted to remove the entire breast on the tumor side. And if I was giving up one, I would send the other one packing as well. Although it was upsetting, I didn’t feel any great attachment to my breasts at that point. They were trying to kill me, after all. And I don’t respond too kindly to anything that threatens my life. So, bye bye boobies it was.

I’m not going to get overly detailed about the intricacies of the actual surgery or the weeks that followed. Waking up from that surgery was not easy. Breasts gone. Giant scars in their place. Surgical drains protruding from my skin. Lots of pain. I spent several days in the hospital, completely loopy and nauseous from the constant flow of pain meds through my veins. I can remember how angry I was that first week. When I was lucid enough to feel any emotion, it was anger. Accepting that I had been diagnosed with cancer was still new to me. And now I had no breasts and couldn’t get to the bathroom without help and couldn’t raise my arms. Nothing about any of it felt alright.

When a young resident came to check on me and we mentioned that the drugs they were giving me did not seem to be helping enough with the pain, she remarked in a condescending tone that it was not normal to be in as much pain as I was in. You might guess that I did not respond well to this type of comment, and you would be correct. I did not appreciate this doctor making me feel guilty for the pain I was feeling. Let me cut your boobs off and see how you like it, I might have said if I’d had any strength to even open my mouth at that point. I wanted to tear her blonde ponytail right off. It has been six months, and I still feel anger towards this woman, this stranger. For making me feel inadequate and weak a day after I had lost part of my body. She was a doctor. And a woman. A bit of compassion would have gone a very long way. Luckily, however, there were many other people who helped me get through it all, such as my husband, who slept on the hospital floor next to me for three nights. Not exactly the getaway we had hoped for as we approached our first wedding anniversary, but at least we were together. Nothing says romance like having your wife high on morphine and hearing screams coming from the rooms down the hall all night.

The weeks after were difficult, with many challenges (oh the irony of not being able to shave or wash my hair while I still actually had hair) but things got much easier as the days went by, and I healed well. Eventually I was raising my arms and getting back my strength and feeling almost normal again. Just in time to start chemo. And we all know how much fun that was!

This week, I go under the knife again for my reconstruction surgery. In other words, I’m getting some new boobs. For the past six months, I have had “expanders”, that were placed under my chest muscles at the same time my breast tissue was removed. Over the months, they were slowly “expanded”, like a balloon, with saline from a giant syringe needle. This was to stretch the skin to make room for the permanent implant. Although I have adjusted to having these weird turtle shells sitting on my chest, they are uncomfortable and tight and push on my ribs, and I won’t be sad to see them go. The implants should be more natural and more comfortable, which would be a welcome relief. (And if you’re wondering if I viewed this as my opportunity to have huge boobs, the answer is… No. Sorry to disappoint.)

I’m not sure how I feel about this upcoming surgery. I don’t really feel scared. I have been through so much. I don’t like the idea of being put to sleep again, and being cut again, and waking up in pain again. I would prefer not to be having surgery again and to get to enjoy the week and just have a break from it all, for a bit. That is what I’d like right now. But these days, I am not calling the shots. So I’ll  get dressed in yet another hideous hospital gown, do what they tell me to do, and let them “reconstruct” me and put me back together. As much as they can, that is. No new breasts will ever be able to replace the ones I lost. All that I’ve lost. But it’s a start.




23 thoughts on “Surgical tales

  1. Hi Steph- Prayed for you like a child with eyes squeezed shut, kneeling by the bed, hands clasped together, facing the heavens. I hope your surgery went well and your recovery is manageable! I was so excited to see you live in ‘Personville’ on your Vlog! It confirms to me
    that I have not created an imaginary breast cancer friend. (You know our minds can do some crazy survival antics!) Would love to send you a fun package but I don’t know your email or where to send it. My email is:
    Be Well!

  2. For the record, I’m a homecare nurse and I’ve never seen people in more pain than I have with expanders in. Yes, mastectomy surgery isn’t painful, but expanders make it one of the most painful surgeries I’ve ever seen. So tell that doc that!!!

  3. I pray that things go well and smoothly for you with your surgery, and you can move forward and look forward to a wonderful future!

  4. I know that tomorrow is your reconstruction surgery. Rather than wishing you good luck (as most would) I would like to wish you an speedy surgery, an easy recovery and a fabulous result!

  5. Hi Steph, I will be thinking and praying for you tomorrow! When we see one another, we will have to swap bad comments from drs and interns..I have had a few too and it is horrible because you just end up feeling like they are kicking you down when you are feeling bad! Shame shame on her! Love, Helene

  6. You are beautiful Steph ~ I was in your position 11 years ago at age 34. I will be thinking of you. It’s not an easy road, but implants won’t be as painful as your bilateral mastectomy surgery. If you ever need a friend, I’m here for you. ♥

  7. Steph, I will be thinking of you on Wednesday. I hope it all goes well for you.

    I am so sorry to hear about the resident that treated you badly. As one myself, I can tell you, there is no excuse. Some docs just don’t know how to deal with situations that are not “by the book” and how to face their own feelings of inadequacy in those situations. Others just never came to understand the power of empathy. I hope the rest of your recovery is free from those doctors that never came to realize that medicine is as much art as science.

    P.S. Great to see you on your Vlog!

  8. Hi Steph,

    Three cheers for the spirit (Good or Bad); heck whatever you’re feeling. I’ve been following you on the sidelines. Sending you some good “Chi” from this way.



  9. Steph= we are all with you and hope that the surgery goes well. Pain is not something that anyone else can understand. Been there too – for different reasons. The doctor does not deserve your respect. Our hearts are with you- cousin Paula Herzog

  10. Good luck Steph, will be thinking of you this week!

    cousins, Michele, and gang xo

  11. As your 1st cousin, I feel a little uncomfortable talking about your boobs – but shit – this past hear you’ve been in different states of uncomfortableness so I feel sort of left out. I hope for as easy a surgery can be and I can’t wait to see you this summer, reconstructed maybe, but you’ll always be the same Steph I used to babysit. Bigger, better, faster, stronger?

  12. U R georgeous. Great eye brows. Alot of the medical people are insensitive idiots. Believe me, I know. One day, they will learn. Good luck with your surgery. May your pain be easy this time around

  13. Thanks again for sharing and being so open about your journey. Best of luck to you this Wednesday. As always, my thoughts are with you.

  14. You look great! Good luck with the new boobs…just think, you won’t ever have to worry about getting saggy and old ones…they will be beautiful forever 🙂 Victoria’s Secret here you come!!!! XOXOXOOXO

  15. Steph – best of luck tomorrow. I will be thinking of you. xo

    ALSO: I tried leaving a reply on the Vlog, but it is not working – I think. I may be a little tech challenged. Here is the message: So nice to see you and hear you. Congrats on the v-log 🙂 I came across a picture of the two of us today while I was cleaning out my apartment. I am sending it.

  16. Dear Steph,
    Your picture is beautiful. I think about you daily and I wish you a very successful surgery.
    Lots of hugs.

  17. I put off getting my implants b/c I didn’t want to go through the recovery period yet again but it was nothing at all like the mastectomies. When I found out how easy it was and how much better the new foobs felt and looked I kicked myself for waiting. Your challenge will be in holding back because you will feel good enough to do so much almost right away but will still need to wait a bit so you won’t mess them up. Good luck to you-you are going to do great!

  18. You wrote: “When a young resident came to check on me and we mentioned that the drugs they were giving me did not seem to be helping enough with the pain, she remarked in a condescending tone that it was not normal to be in as much pain as I was in.” My temper went from 0 to 60 in about two seconds at the idea you were treated so uncaringly. I hope this new challenge proves much less stressful on your physical and mental wellbeing.

  19. Praying for you Steph, I have a great feeling about this phase of your life! Please keep us updated 🙂
    Lorraine Arias O’Brien (friend of Deborah and Larry Brooks)

  20. Steph, you are a beautiful woman. Good luck getting new boobs. I want to know what they feel like. Love, cousin Cheryl

  21. Though we’ve not yet met, I will be thinking of you this week… and sending you thoughts of quick and relatively pain-free healing. And you need to know that as I look at that photograph, I see THE most beautiful woman I’ve seen in a long time smiling out at me! You have inner beauty and the strength, courage, wisdom and humour to match…. be well.

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