Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My body my choice

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to review a booklet from my breast surgeon on D.I.E.P. flap reconstruction. I wasn't sure how I felt about the procedure but wanted to do some research before making my decision about reconstructive surgery. This was not a decision I could make lightly and there were many things to consider.

When I got home, I read the booklet. I got online and researched surgical videos, internet medical resources and talked to three breast cancer survivors who'd already been through this surgery. All of the information I found was overwhelming and I went to bed feeling bogged down. As I crawled into bed, I lay there and prayed asking God for His wisdom and direction.

This morning, my husband and I discussed the surgery. I shared information with him on what I'd found regarding the surgery and recovery period, complications, etc. After listening carefully to all I shared, he said he would stand behind me in whatever decision I made. So today, I've been doing a lot of thinking and even more praying. As I've processed it all, I've made my decision.

I've decided not to have the surgery and I have several reasons to support my decision.
  1. The D.I.E.P flap surgery is major surgery. It doesn't only involve one surgery but two. The doctor said the surgery would be about 10 hours long. Anytime you're put under anesthesia for any length of time it's dangerous. The doctor said I would be in intensive care for 2-3 days after surgery and have about a month of recovery at home. A recovery period of that length doesn't seem doable. I would need in home care and there's no way my husband could take off work that long. 
  2. Expensive - although the majority of the surgery would be covered by my medical insurance, we'd still have to meet deductibles, and pay our portion of the surgical and hospital bills not to mention labs and other expenses. 
  3. Pain: I'm not really keen on going through a lot of pain again. It has taken almost 3 years for me to get over the last two surgeries. I don't know if my body could handle that much trauma again. I'd be cut horizontally from hip to hip and then have several incisions at each breast site. With all of my other surgeries, if I had these too, I'd look like I'd been mauled by a serial killer.
  4. Why: Why would I want to do this anyway? Would having fake boobs give me more self esteem? I don't think so. Cancer has taken away my breasts, the ones God gave me, so why should I try to rebuild what He allowed cancer to take away? 
  5. Would this change anything about my marriage? Not really. The only thing it would change is to cause us more stress and pain. 
  6. The real reason for surgery? Would I be doing it to benefit my health (as the doctor suggested - I posted about this in yesterday's blog post) or would I be doing it out of vanity? Yes maybe having the weight of breasts replaced would help my spine, but is it really necessary? Couldn't I just continue to do stretching exercises I was taught in physical therapy sessions to help my back? Most of my back problems are from bulging or herniated discs and degenerative disc disease so I don't think the missing breasts are the main culprit of my pain. 
  7. Complications: There's no guarantee I'd survive the surgery without complications? I was reading and studying about that surgery and many times tissue removed from the belly to make the new breasts will die. When that happens, doctors must remove the dead tissue and start over. This dead tissue is called fat necrosis or tissue necrosis. Since I've already had one episode of tissue necrosis after my initial surgery, I think my chances of developing necrosis again are probably very great. 
  8. I'm getting old! At this time in my life I don't feel like I need to go through any more major surgery. I've already had so many. I'll be 60 in December and I want to maintain my quality of life. I'm enjoying going and doing exactly what I want to do when I want to do it. If I have surgery again, I'll have many physical limitations that would prohibit my current plans. 
  9. It's my body! Just because the doctor suggested it and highly recommended it, doesn't mean I have to do it. It's my body and is ultimately my choice. Why do something I don't really and truly want to do?
  10. Boobs: When I want to have them, I can. I have silicone prostheses and when I slip them into the mastectomy bra, you'd never know they weren't real. I'm the only one who knows the difference. When I get tired of the weight of the prostheses and want to take them off, I do! Flinging my boobs across the room has become very freeing and usually brings laughter to family members who are here when I do it. The boobs always wind up in random places like the back seat of my husband's car or on the kitchen counter. How many women can just take off their boobs whenever they want to? Not many! 
So I've made my decision and I'm sticking to it. I'm not going to cave to the pressure of my doctor. I hope she'll be respectful of my decision but even if she isn't, I feel good about it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Where did this emotion come from???

When you're diagnosed with breast cancer, it's customary to see your oncologist, radiation oncologist and breast surgeon at periodic intervals throughout the first 5 years after diagnosis. The visits start out being every three months, then every six months, and then if you're doing well, stretch out to annual visits. Today was my annual visit to the breast surgeon. Although I haven't reached the 5 year mark, she'd moved me to an annual visit because I was doing so well. Today, not so much.

I waited for almost an hour to see the doctor. She's an excellent doctor so I don't mind waiting for her. I know she gives her patients her undivided time and attention. When she came into my exam room, she greeted me like she always does with a big smile and a "What's up?" I shared my concerns and then she began the exam. She found a place on my chest wall that caught her attention. As she began palpating it, I winced in pain. "That hurts?" she said. I nodded and asked what she thought it might be. She said she wasn't sure but definitely wanted to check it out since it was outside the surgical field from my last operation. She instructed her assistant to schedule an ultrasound and then turned back to face me. "So, when are you going to have your reconstructive surgery," she said. I was puzzled. I had never mentioned anything about reconstructive surgery and in fact, had never even considered it. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, all I wanted to do was get that nasty stuff out of my body and fast!

The doc sat there a few minutes and waited for my response. I told her I didn't know I was even a candidate for reconstruction since I'd had both breasts removed. "Oh, yes!" she assured me, " You can always have reconstruction even years after surgery. I highly recommend it and in fact, it's important to your overall health." When I asked her what she meant by that statement, she explained, "When your body is missing the weight of your breasts, your shoulders and spine try to compensate for the loss and begin to protectively curve forward. When that happens it can cause back problems and spinal misalignment. If you do the reconstructive surgery, you'll be replacing that weight and your body will respond accordingly."  As I listened to her, I felt this overwhelming emotion rising from the depths of my being. It was as if I was being handed a silver platter with hope sitting in the middle of it. I didn't understand what I was feeling but I knew I needed to process it. The doctor must have noticed I was dealing with something because she rolled her stool over closer to me and as she put her hand on my knee, I began to weep. I apologized after crying for a few minutes and she told me not to worry about it. She said she could feel my pain. At that point, I shared about the difficulties my surgery had caused in my marriage and the dam burst. I couldn't contain my tears any longer. The doctor grabbed a box of tissue and gently placed it on my lap. She instructed me to get dressed and said she wanted to give me a little time to regain my composure. I was thankful she'd left the room.

I removed the white linen robe and placed it on the chair in the exam room. As I gathered my clothing and began putting them back on, I wiped the tears away. I looked in the mirror and saw smeary black streaks running down my face. I made a mental note to wear waterproof mascara to my office visits from this point forward just in case I was caught off guard by another sneaky emotion.

The scheduler was kind enough to allow me to sit in her office for a while so I could calm down. She got an appointment for my ultrasound tomorrow afternoon. I'm not too concerned about the suspicious place the doctor found, but I guess I should be. I'm more concerned with whether or not I want to go through another surgery.

The doctor had given me a booklet describing the D.I.E.P flap reconstructive surgery. Basically what the surgery involves is removing abdominal tissue and using it to build and reform breasts. It's like getting a tummy tuck and boob job all at once. It's about a ten hour surgery and requires about a month of recovery. It's not an easy surgery. I tucked the booklet in my purse so I could read it when I got home. I needed to talk everything over with my husband and I wasn't sure I was up for that discussion just yet.
DIEP Flap reconstructon

Thankfully, the doctor assured me that my insurance would completely cover the surgery should I choose to do it. Even though it would be a delayed reconstruction, by law, the insurance company had to cover the surgery since I'd had bilateral mastectomies performed.

Now I face a huge decision. Do I have the surgery to replace my breasts or don't I? If I do the surgery, I will have a lengthy recovery period. It seems I've just finally started to feel good after my last surgery. I'm going to do a lot of research and give this matter a great deal of prayer. I'll keep you posted. If you would, please say a prayer for me to have clear direction on this matter. Thank you in advance.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Freshly mown grass

Me on the far right, sun in my eyes!
This afternoon, I was trying to take a little nap. I don't usually take naps but I really needed one today. I'd been up since 5:00 a.m. and I was dragging so I lay across the bed in our guest room hoping to catch 40 winks. As I lay there with my eyes closed, I heard one of my neighbors on his riding mower. He was out cutting the grass. As he made pass after pass, I couldn't help but remember my childhood. I'd always loved the smell of freshly mown grass because it signified the approach of Summer to me.

Daddy would always get out and cut the grass with his push mower. I took great comfort in knowing he was home and he was busy making our yard look nice. Our yard was very large so that meant Daddy had a lot of pushing to do. Our yard wasn't flat either, so it took some muscle to get that mower up and down the hills. With sweat upon his brow, Daddy worked hard to get the yard done while we were usually playing. We never hired anyone to cut the grass. Daddy was meticulous in performing yard work and I don't think he would've trusted anyone else to do the job as well as he did.

Years later, after we were grown and our parents had moved to another house, Daddy got a riding mower. We were all thankful he wouldn't have to struggle against that push mower any longer. It didn't take him long to cut the grass at their new location. The yard there was much smaller and very flat. Sometimes, when I'd go over to visit, I'd pull into the driveway to see him circling around on the riding mower. He'd smile and throw up his hand in a wave.
I'm on the back row between my Mom and my Aunt

But usually a few weeks before Easter, Daddy would stop mowing the grass. He'd let it get tall and shaggy. He knew, when we were children, Mama would want to hide Easter eggs and short grass isn't good for hiding. Later on, as we started having our own families, Daddy did the same thing for the grandchildren. We'd all gather at my parent's house for a huge Easter egg hunt with all the little ones. After a huge dinner of ham, potato salad, green beans, rolls, and some kind of dessert, we'd take the children outside and let them run wild and free through the tall grass. Daddy would laugh as he'd watch them head out and then he'd watch for the one child not finding quite as many eggs as the others. He'd make a special point of going to help that one fill their basket. In my mind's eye, I can still see him stooping low to point out an egg hidden beneath a bush or lifting a little one to retrieve an egg hidden in the V of a tree. We all had such fun back then!

As the neighbor finished up the last few passes on his lawn, I began to tear up. I hadn't realized how much I've missed my Daddy. Easter will be here in a few days and as I walk out to my car to go to church, I'm sure I'm going to glance around my yard hoping to see an egg hidden here or there. But there won't be any. None of my grandchildren will be with us this year for the holiday. They have plans with their own families, and that's okay. At least I have precious memories of Daddy at Easter and the smell of freshly mown grass to remind me of days long past.

Isn't it funny how something like listening to the soothing sounds of a lawnmower running can bring up memories like that? I hope you have some special memories stored away, too.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Challenge

Earlier this week, I began writing my book. Six months ago, I felt God prompting me to go ahead and begin working on it. I'd prayed and prayed asking Him if I was to proceed. I wanted to do it but was scared to death to start. I've never written a book before but I felt God wanted me to use my breast cancer journey to touch the lives of others. I was compelled to write my story.

Yesterday, I worked on the book for 8 hours. I was able to get through the introduction and the first three chapters. Today, I have writer's block! I am overwhelmed and can't think straight so I stopped working on the book. Maybe I need a day off to gather my thoughts. The difficult part isn't in compiling the material, I already have that pretty much done. For the past two and a half years, I've been blogging about my journey. I've been diligent to record every detail. But shifting all those blog posts into a book format is challenging. I want this to be exactly what God wants it to be not what I want it to be. So I'll take some time to pray about the direction He wants me to go. There's no hurry and no deadline so I'm not going to let Satan pressure me into making wrong choices. I know God has a perfect plan and He's going to reveal it to me as I trust Him.

I always wondered how writers could take years to complete a manuscript. Now I understand completely. Writing, reading, re-reading, editing....it's complicated and exciting and fun all at the same time. I'm thankful for computers and the ease in which we can write these days. I'd hate to think I had to peck out the words one letter at a time on an old typewriter. I remember how challenging it was back in the 70's when I was taking typing in high school. My typing teacher, Mrs. Brake, didn't have much patience. It didn't help that there were several members of the football team in our typing class. They didn't want to learn typing. They just wanted to goof around and be silly. They distracted the class, especially when Mrs. Brake stepped out of the room for a minute. I remember once, one of the football players took a little screwdriver and loosened the platen on the typewriter. The platen is the round cylindrical part that moves back and forth as you type. When Mrs. Brake returned to the room, he acted like he was typing the assignment rapidly. As he hit the return lever to move to the next line of type, the platen went flying across the room with a great force. All the students cracked up at what we knew was a silly joke. Mrs. Brake was not happy. She yanked the guy up out of his seat an sent him to the principal's office. We began to tap away at our lesson and the room was quiet until someone in the back of the room couldn't contain their snickers any longer. One muffled laugh set of a chain reaction and soon the entire classroom was hysterical. Mrs. Brake got so frustrated she walked out into the hallway until we calmed down. By the time she came back into the room, the bell had rung and class was over. As we walked down the hall to our next class, word of what happened spread like wildfire. I don't know what ever happened to the football player but I'm sure he got a few extra pats on the back from his teammates and a lot of the students in our typing class. I don't remember what happened the following day in class but I'm sure Mrs. Brake gave him the evil eye and dared him to pull another stunt like that again.
Royal I used in high school

I still have my old Royal typewriter. It's an antique and the one I first learned to type on. It takes great effort to depress the keys and doesn't have a correction tape. If you made a mistake, you'd have to roll the paper up, erase the letter(s) with a correction pen and start again. When White Out or Liquid Paper correction fluid came along, it was so much easier. At least the correction fluid didn't rub a hole in the paper like the correction pen did if you scrubbed too hard to erase the mistake. Thankfully computers afford us the opportunity to delete mistakes quickly. We can backspace, replace, or delete with just a keystroke.

I just realized I'd written more than I intended on this post. Maybe I should have stuck with the book...Oh well, tomorrow's another day and I can always pick up then.

For those with breast cancer, mundane tasks like grocery shopping can be a challenge. Before cancer, grocery shopping was a pleasurable ...