Sunday, April 13, 2014

WRECKING BALL

Flowers from my garden

Back to the hospital I went for what I hoped was going to be the last surgery for me for many years.  You would think I would have become used to this but I still felt kind of nervous on the way there.  As I noted before, you sometimes hear these stories about people that go in for some kind of routine surgery and then some weird thing happens and they die on the operating table.  That is always in the back of my mind I guess.  Plus the anesthesia always freaks me out.

After I said the painful goodbye to Mike and was wheeled off on my own I started to get a little bit more nervous.  I had no idea what to expect but I was confident I was in good hands.  Literally.  Once I got into the operating room and had the shot of stuff that knocks you right out, I had one last glimpse of my surgeon setting his iPod into a dock.  I remember wondering what music he might be listening to while sculpting my body into something new and improved.  Then I was out.

I woke up feeling worse than I had ever felt in my life.  I was pretty sure I was nearly dead and had no doubt been hit by a wrecking ball then run over by a huge truck hauling something very heavy and then dragged around for several hundred miles.  I was pretty drugged up and not quite sure what was going on.  My surgeon came to see me and started calling me “dopey”.  That stuck for the remainder of my stay at the hospital which was several days.  You have to remember that there are two recovery spots on my body with this type of surgery.  One is in the abdominal area where the tissue was removed and then the site on my chest where this was transplanted.  In order to keep the blood circulating properly with the reattachment of the blood vessels, I had to stay warm.

My beautiful family at home - Fall 2008
There was a blanket on me that felt like parchment paper and had tubes in it and was hooked up to a machine that was pumping heat into the blanket.  I would get to the point sometimes where I was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stand the heat and wanted to just rip off the blanket and all of the other machines I was hooked up to and run screaming out of the hospital.  I never did that though.  I kept asking myself, “What the hell was I thinking?  Why did I do this?”  Those first 48 hours were just awful.

When I was finally able to sit up I was so dopey that I could not hold my head up.  However, after a few days things started to get a little bit better each day.  I still had not actually seen what I looked like.  Nor did I seem to care at first since all I wanted was to sleep so that I couldn’t feel anything.  Soon I was eating and starting to feel a bit more human except that I was afraid that if I moved too much I would bust open everywhere and my guts would come pouring out.  Eventually I could get out of bed and finally I was able to go home.  I was to see the doctor once a week for the next month or so.

My Dad and I - Manitoulin Island - Summer 2013
When I got home I was finally able to see how things looked.  I went into the bathroom and surveyed myself in the mirror.  I looked like a train wreck again.  I had staples on the incision from one hip bone to the other.  My new breasts were also stapled on the top and bottom of each breast kind of in the shape of an eye and then up into my armpits.  There was still swelling, etc…so it was hard to judge but I could already tell that it was going to look good.  It struck me that maybe it was hard for my family to imagine what I looked like and it is hard to explain so perhaps they might want to actually see it for themselves.  Some of them did and they were absolutely amazed.  Although it was a bit unsettling to see so much metal I think.    

Just being home makes you feel better.  The next day a couple of my friends came over and I was trying to describe things to them until I finally said do you just wanna see?  They both immediately said “YES” and pretty much jumped on me.  They too were amazed.  Dr. Reconstruction is an artist and because this is his craft he wants to do the best possible job for every one of his patients.  He is very talented.

Wrecking Ball - Miley Cyrus


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Saturday, March 29, 2014

CUTS LIKE A KNIFE


Summer 2013 - Quebec City, Quebec
During the summer of 2008 I made the decision to explore the options for breast reconstruction.  I researched some names of surgeons in the Ottawa area and booked some consultation appointments. 

These surgeons are very busy and there are not very many of them in my area.  I knew that I would have to find someone that I felt very comfortable with since this was such a personal thing and a major surgery.  It was important to me that I was in the hands of someone that I could trust. One of these surgeons periodically gave a general presentation for a large audience to explain the various procedures and options available for women considering reconstruction surgery.  He provided photos and diagrams and it was extremely informative.  I was able to make my first appointment with him for the fall of 2008.

From the very first meeting I liked this surgeon (who I will refer to as Dr. Reconstruction).  Dr. Reconstruction was awesome.  He seemed to have so much passion for what he did and I really considered him an artist of sorts.  He said that “no woman should have to go through this breast cancer crap” and I honestly felt that he was committed to helping as many of us as possible to feel “normal” again.  I jumped on another learning curve to find out everything about breast reconstruction.

Friends - Bridal Veil Falls - Summer 2013
There are several options for women post-mastectomy.  The first option is to do nothing.  The second is to use prosthesis but that did not work out for me as I have already explained in a previous post.  The next two options include implant reconstruction or natural tissue reconstruction.  I was not a candidate for the implant surgery due to the radiation treatments that I had.  So that just left me with the natural tissue reconstruction option.

This is further broken down into either a TRAM Flap or Latissimus Flap procedure.  For either of these the patient needs to be a non-smoker, have no significant other pre-existing health problems or certain previous abdominal incisions.  Some women have this type of procedure done at the time of the mastectomy.  The surgeon that did my mastectomy did not recommend this.  He felt that it was better to heal properly and live with the results of the mastectomy for at least a year and then you would better appreciate the reconstruction.  I could not agree more.  I think if I had of gone into an operation room with my breasts intact and then come out with something completely rebuilt with the scarring and bruising then it would have been quite a shocker.  I mean it was a shocker to come out with no breasts at all but then I kind of got used to it and healed and then was able to have a greater appreciation for the art of reconstruction.

There are several advantages to the TRAM Flap surgery including the fact that the breasts are made of natural tissue.  The thought of implants and exposure to synthetic materials was not for me.  Just like the prostheses and wigs I guess.  Since the TRAM surgery uses your abdominal tissue to rebuild the breast, a tummy tuck in the process was a major bonus to consider.  Hell ya!  Women pay big bucks for that.  There are disadvantages of course and it is a very long procedure with decreased abdominal strength, much scarring and unpredictability of what the new breasts will look like.  The recovery time is also quite lengthy.

Me - Summer 2008
The way it works is that the surgeon transfers a section of skin, muscle, fat and blood vessels from one part of your body to your chest and creates a new breast mound.  The tissue for rebuilding could come from your abdomen, back or buttocks.  For me it was going to come from my abdomen and Dr. Reconstruction said he was going to spare as much muscle as possible so that I would retain as much strength as possible in my abdomen.  Due to the intricate nature of the reattachment of blood vessels which is critical to the survival of the transplanted tissue, my surgeon made sure that I was not a smoker or diabetic.

I also had to think about expected outcomes.  I knew that this surgery was not going to make me look like I was before and that it would not bring back any sensations that you feel in a normal breast.  However, I knew that it would make me feel better in my clothes, in swimsuits, help to diminish the reminders of the cancer, and generally just make me feel better in many ways.  I knew that this was an amazing opportunity with some risks but I made my decision to do it.  The surgery was scheduled for October 6, 2008.

Cuts Like a Knife - Bryan Adams


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