Bye Bye Boobies: finding the silver lining of my mastectomy

Bye Bye Boobies: finding the silver lining of my mastectomy
Courtesy flickriver.com

Think of the tune from "Bye Bye Birdie" while reading this as that's how I've been searching for humor in this odyssey that began in June. Only sub the word "boobies" instead of "birdie". It's quite catchy.

Last Tuesday I underwent a bilateral double mastectomy with the first stage of reconstruction. It's a fancy way of saying I got my boobies cut off. Not quite so drastic as "off" but whatever tissue I had under my skin to fill up a size DD bra is now gone. I am at the moment, looking like a female version of Frankenstein crossed with a 12 year old girl who hasn't quite hit puberty. Just without the neck bolts.

Back in 1931 when the original Frankenstein was filmed, there was a scene in which he throws a little girl into the water. I find a certain symmetry to this scene as the monster which was created takes the life of a young girl. Well, it makes sense to me even if it's difficult to explain.

So here I am a week later. I never really knew what to expect, even though I'd seen pictures and had thorough explanations. I never really gauged the pain or the emotional after effects enough. At first, all I cared about going into the surgery was that I was going to wake up. I have severe anesthesia anxiety and was certain I was not going to come out of it Surely I'd be the rare occasion of a slipped scalpel.

My plastic surgeon had come in and drawn pictures all over my boobs and I couldn't imagine what I would look like when I actually did wake up, if I did. And I did.

I was as out of it as a person could be taking an extra long time to come out of recovery. Where the anesthesiologist said it takes an average of 15-20 minutes to wake up, it took me an hour and a half. Hey, who said I was average? My husband said when I opened my eyes I broke into a shit eating grin. I was still alive!! I had never been happier to see my family.

Trying to sit up for the first time gave me the reality slap of a lifetime as to what my body had just gone through. I felt (still do) like there are cement blocks sitting on my chest trying to weigh me down. I had a catheter in and while it's nice to not have to get out of bed to pee, eventually you have to. Getting out of bed was an event, making me wish they'd put the catheter back in. After you've been catheterized peeing is a pain in the ass. No easy feat. You can sit there for an hour and nothing comes out. So, having remembered a little trick from my last caesarian section, I asked for water with a straw. Blow bubbles into the water and viola!! Pee's a flyin'. (someone out there will thank me someday!)

And then I looked at myself. Because I'd undergone radiation in my right breast ten years ago, I had to have two different procedures. The right side had to be partially constructed from skin and tissue from my back. Increase pain factor by about a zillion. The up side? At least my right breast isn't totally flat. It's a tough moment - to look at what has become of your body. But looking ahead at what will be is essential. Soon my boobs will be the highlight of my body.

I came home on Thursday not really feeling a whole lot better but "I was doing great" according to the nurses. Problem with me is I am totally ADD and cannot stand sitting around. I have spent the last four days doing absolutely NOTHING. I AM GOING CRAZY.

Well that's not totally true. I get to empty my drains twice a day. I actually look forward to it as it's something to do. Of course this makes me look even more freakish as I have four long tubes coming out of my sides and back, draining fluid that would otherwise be building up inside my body. I have a very fashionable drain belt that I put each little drain bottle into. It's a great investment and one that I highly recommend if you are having to face this.

Showering is swell fun. I get to tie all my drain bottles onto a long piece of ribbon (or string) and wear it like a necklace. Between my bald head, my scars and my tribal looking necklace I could be on the cover of National Geographic.

So, where is the silver lining I was supposed to talk about? Well, it's here.

I no longer have to wear a bra. At the moment I feel as though I am wearing one that is too tight when I'm not wearing one at all. But I've hated wearing one for many years, so there's that.

Instead of putting on a top and feeling too busty, I look like I put a board under it. It's kind of fun being small again.

I also get to pick what size I want to be. That's a real perk. I can be not too big, not too little. I can be just right, like the baby bear's porridge.

I will have perky boobs. No more sagging or stretch marks. No more having to adjust my bra straps to hold up the girls.

No more headlights. I can freeze to death and you'd never know it.

I have reduced my risk of a cancer recurrence from 87% to 5%. It's not perfect odds, but I'll take those over the two cases of cancer, the two lumpectomies, the 20 chemotherapy treatments, the 35 radiation treatments, this mastectomy and the continuing saga of reconstruction. I have told cancer to go fuck itself.

Now there is a silver lining.

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