Friday, September 19, 2014

A Package of Self-Confidence Arrived in the Mail

A package of self-confidence arrived in today’s mail.

The medium sized, non-descript, padded envelope could have contained just about anything.

But it contained these…




One of my more difficult adjustments to reconstruction after mastectomy is my lack of nipples. There are nipple sparing mastectomy techniques but some are not eligible based on the location and nature of their breast cancer. Sure, nipples can be built, tattooed or otherwise added, but not until symmetry has been achieved.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Breast Reconstruction is not for Sissies.

Indeed. Breast reconstruction surgery is rarely one and done. Adjustments are to be expected, complications not as rare as you might think.

My reconstruction was supposed to be complete after going under the knife on March 24th.

Dr. H was removing my Temporary Expanders and replacing them with silicone gummi bear implants underneath the pectoral muscle.

This surgery was a mere 2 ½ months after the expanders were placed because my left expander sprung a leak.
In other words, the circumstances of my exchange surgery were not ideal.

As if to help my head resonate some universal balance, it turns out the results of my exchange surgery were not ideal either.

My left side developed a seroma immediately, which has left the implant pocket more spacious that desired. My right side developed capsular contracture, which has left the right implant pocket far less spacious than desired.

In clothing, there is no easy distinction, my breasts look normal, you cannot tell the difference. Yet, if you recall, in clothing, you couldn’t tell I was lopsided when I had a prosthetic breast on my left side either.

But I could tell. And that is why I made the decision I made to have reconstruction in the first place.

“Expectations are pre-meditated disappointments.”

I’m not sure where I first heard that saying but, in this case, the phrase resonates with me. I EXPECTED to be symmetrical. I EXPECTED to be finished with surgeries. My reality does not meet my expectations.

But I am not physically or emotionally ready for another surgery.

The scheduling department has kept me on the list and dutifully promises to call month after month to check my readiness. My body just wants to feel stronger. And my mind just wants to enjoy the heck out of my stronger body.

So. No surgery. Yet. 
Which means nipple reconstruction/tattoos/whatever I choose, also needs to wait.

And thus the mail order self-confidence in the form of temporary nipple tattoos.

I have pooh poohed the idea of temporary tattoos using cost, awkwardness and I-don’t-know-what-color-to-get as excuses but, after a weekend at the SF Zen Center with some incredible people, I finally made a commitment to try them out. And, in a fit of self-love when I ordered them last week, I ordered two variety packs so I can try out areola shades at my leisure.

In the privacy of my own home, I decided to put them on right away!

What I learned:
  • Measure, Measure, Measure: Eyeballing the nipple zone doesn’t lean toward symmetry, especially when the targets aren’t exactly symmetrical. Enough said.
  • What’s Beneath Really Does Matter: For years women have been purchasing lingerie to feel more confident. Turns out temporary nipple tattoos have the same effect.
  • Laughter is the Best Medicine: My breasts still don’t look even or close to normal. They don’t. The left still has a diagonal scar that runs from my lower sternum to under my armpit. The right side scar matches but is slightly smaller. Stepping back and noting that I am putting on temporary nipple tattoos to help make the above look normal made me laugh.
  • Happiness Can’t be Bought: But self-confidence can! I was happy with my health yesterday. This afternoon, I’m feeling a little more secure in my body. I think it has little to do with the actual result of the tattoos and everything to do with the fact that I took action. 

As I type this and prepare to push "PUBLISH", I think back to a phrase from MedX tweets: “The opposite of privacy is vulnerability.” At the time I responded that I agreed but it was the openness that led to building of a supportive and authentic community. And I still believe that.

I cannot be any more vulnerable. I am talking about my nipple tattoos publicly in a forum that doesn't ever go away. But I’m not talking to hear myself talk and I'm not talking to make anyone feel uncomfortable (unfortunately some, no doubt, will). I’m talking to all those women out there who are like me. And I'm talking to all those women who one day will be in a similar situation.  I am reminding them that they too have the power to help make themselves feel whole and self-confident again, even if they don’t look it.

Know you have options and please know you’re not alone.