Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reconstruction is Not for Sissies - Fret Happens


I am 5’3”.

I weigh 125 pounds.

And, over the past eight weeks, I have had over 800ccs of saline injected into the tissue expander that is reconstructing my left breast.

If you are fast with math facts and volume amounts, your eyes have probably popped out of your head because the left side of my chest should resemble an enormous cantaloupe.



But it doesn’t. 

Actually my left expander is leaking and we’ve been overfilling the defective device twice a week to try and maintain skin stretch. Instead of another surgery to replace the flawed left expander and then one more months down the line to perform the exchange surgery for both breasts, we are accelerating my final procedure.

Why do I say ‘we’ when my job as a patient is to keep my head on straight, show up to appointments, lie still during fills, follow my doctor’s instructions and well, just be PATIENT.

Because I am not that kind of patient. I am an empowered, if impatient, patient.

And because I truly feel the surgical path we’ve chosen was a team decision between my doctor, my family and myself. It would not have worked for everyone. I suppose the upside of breast cancer at age 40 is my skin is still supple enough to stretch well and I heal quickly.

A complication was not part of my plan and has been, without a doubt, the most difficult part of reconstruction. The literal and figurative ups and downs of going from even to lopsided to over-filled to even is difficult. But I remind myself it isn’t more cancer. It’s just a pain in the arse.

And a pain in the head.

I become self-conscious in a way that has never been me. After a fill, I dress normally and appropriate for our warm Northern California weather. As my expander deflates, I don baggy sweatshirts making my entire shape shapeless. On the really rough days I question the soundness of my decision to reconstruct in the first place. And then I become irritated with myself that, after everything that has happened over the past year, I am the least bit concerned with my own aesthetic. 

The cycle is vicious and while, on an intellectual level, I refute the value of fretting - fret happens.

Finding other women who had walked my path helped me get through some of the early 'dark days' after diagnosis. Conversely, I've seen very little with regard to personal stories on leaky expanders and at times have felt isolated in my frustration. 

And then Dr. H puts in another 100ccs and I’m even.

And I’m happy.

And I’m just counting down the days until March 24th. (Time to construct another Recovery Plan)

Early on in my diagnosis and treatment, I remember someone saying, “Reconstruction is not for sissies.”

I unabashedly concur.

In fact, I may even need that on a t-shirt!