Bye Bye Boobie

And so the adventure begins. We will be kissing one of The Girls goodbye. Wait, maybe I should rephrase that. Chuck can kiss her goodbye, everyone else can just wave.

I met with my breast surgeon yesterday. Chuck came with me; he didn’t go the first time but, frankly, as my husband, I figure he has a vested interest in my boobelage. Not, perhaps, as intimate as my own interest, but still. And the doctor pointed out that he might very well also have an interest in my overall health. Since I can be a handful, I am glad he thinks I’m worth it. Technically I’m two handfuls right now, but after we kiss the Left Girl goodbye (again with the phrasing) I will still be a handful. Anyhow, I’ve decided on a complete mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy (which actually has an official, medically-ish name that starts with onco- but I’m too lazy to look it up). This will not 100% guarantee that I will not need radiation (a two-hour commute plus wait time plus treatment time every weekday for six weeks), but there’s a pretty darn good chance I won’t. That was a consideration. I think the recovery part of the journey is going to be emotionally exhausting and I really don’t want to add that stress unless absolutely necessary. Additionally, without the MRI (for which I was thankfully not chastised) we don’t have as much information on the State of the Lump as we could have. Also additionally, it is large enough and in such a location that a lot of tissue is going to have to come out anyhow. Also additionally as well, I have wondered if adding to what’s left of the left one would be as attractive as starting from scratch. So, for me, a mastectomy is best. Chuck, the doctor, and I agree. We didn’t ask The Girls but they usually don’t have much to say anyhow (except in a push-up bra, when they scream, “Look at us!”).

I met with my plastic surgeon last week. (I swear, it’s like an assembly line; one person does on thing and another does the next. The scheduling is murder, but there is comfort in knowing that every step is being performed by an Expert in the Field.) We discussed options on how to level the playing field, so to speak, after Lefty Lucy (pronounced Lefty Lose-y) is partially or completely out of the picture. She will fill in Lefty Lucy with either body fat (tummy tuck! or an implant) and reduce Righty Tighty (who got her name since she will be all firm and perky again) to match. The good news is that I have plenty of body fat to work with. But that’s also the bad news. Apparently your flap can die. (Medical terminology is a hoot when they use words you know. Like the time I sliced a big chunk of my left pinky off and the doctor said it would “remodel” nicely and look normal when it healed. They were wrong. The color scheme is okay, though.) In any case, they can’t do the DIEP flap (“deep flap”–love it!) until I get my BMI (Body Mass Index) down enough to statistically improve the chances significantly that the removed/relocated tissue will not die. Granted saying goodbye to Lefty Lucy will reduce it by a good chunk, but not enough. There is a LOT of me to love. I have to tear down before I can rebuild; lose some weight to that I am statistically better suited to a successful tummy tuck. Thankfully (oh, so thankfully!) I’ve been on a diet (mostly just portion control as I may or may not have previously mentioned) and already have the mindset to make this thing happen; all I need to do is up my game a bit to make it happen sooner. I have about 35 pounds to go. Once I get there, we will re-evaluate and when everything looks good, I’ll get the DIEP flap tummy tuck to create Lefty Lovely and reduce Righty Tighty (who may end up with a new name at that point). Which means, ugh, two surgeries, but it also means survival, good health, and good body image, so I cannot complain too much. Worst case scenario, they can put in an implant. I’ll go through the waiting, frustration, and indignity of being a One-Boobed Wonder for a while to try to avoid that.

Here’s the game plan: wait for The (Presumably) Nice People at the Hospital to call.

It’s not as worrisome as it sounds; I just wanted to go for dramatic effect. What the (Hopefully) Nice People will do when they call is tell me what time to be at the hospital on November 17 (I already know that much) and how to prepare for it. I may go into detail about what will happen but, remember, everyone’s journey is different, so don’t go by what I write to plan your own journey. You are starting in a different place than I have, so your path will be different, even though the final destination (a great life!) is the same.

November 17 was the day I was going to meet the Renny Gang at Texas Renaissance Festival. Since I knew that wouldn’t happen, it became the day before we finally got to hear Spilled Whiskey play at Roadhouse Paige. I am pretty sure I won’t be up for that, although I will probably be home from visiting the (Quite Likely) Nice People at the Hospital by then.

November 17 is also the Friday before Thanksgiving. We’ve been planning for a year to host Thanksgiving again at our house. We had a blast last year (although I was so out of practice that, even with Superior Assistance by Friends and Family, dinner was about 2 1/2 hours late). Not knowing when Lefty Lucy was going to vacate the premises, we thought maybe if everyone brought side dishes we could wing it, since Chuck prepared the turkey and the ham last year and would do so again this year. But I’m worried that I won’t have the stamina to have visitors for an extended period of time. The flip side of that is that I’ll be horribly disappointed at not seeing folks. No right answer, no wrong answer. We’ll figure something out. What I’m thankful for this year is that we caught the Pink Menace in time to send Lefty Lucy packing and get Right Tightly a new sister.

 

 

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I’ll give you something to cry about…

I broke on Thursday. I don’t break easily but, like a beautiful and delicate wine glass, when I do break, I shatter into a million tiny pieces. (You KNOW I’m going to bring up wine if I can.)

I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. That’s not part of this journey. No guilt, nothing like that. It’s just that I was–and still am–completely overwhelmed by the whole situation. There are So Many Things That Must Be Done by So Very Many People in So Many Locations That Are at Least an Hour from Home.

I have to admit I started in a less-than-stellar place. Work has been very stressful lately. There should be a legal limit on the number of times a person feels compelled to say, “Are you freakin’ KIDDING me???” in a single day. But, alas, there is no limit, so Chuck has heard it at least five or six times a day for the past few months. He also hears the occasional colorful language (as my mother used to call it) and a slam so good I wish I had actually said it to the recipient’s face instead of safely out of earshot. He loves those–I see him laughing from across the room.

During an informal departmental phone call on Thursday, I told the newest member of our team about my diagnosis. No, I don’t talk about The Girls with everyone. Even tipsy I limit it to every second or third person. But I felt like he needed to know why I had so many doctor’s appointments. After the call I was fine. I mentioned to Chuck that I’d told Chris and Chuck didn’t realize I was talking to him. This happens a lot; I talk to myself, sometimes under my breath, and there is no possible way he could have known I was talking to him. When he asked me what I’d said, the waterworks started. I wasn’t upset that he hadn’t heard me; it was more like I’d already reached my quota for the day/week/month on how many times I could talk about The Situation and My Health Issues.

You know that release of pressure when a fire hydrant is opened? That was me. They were getting ready to take my picture to put next to the definition of Hot Mess in the dictionary. It was ugly. And, for the record, it’s damn hard to put on makeup when you are crying. There is not enough foundation in the world to cover the redness and, besides, tears make your mascara run. This is the kind of frustration that makes you cry even more when you are already frustrated because you are crying. Ugh.

So, splotchy face and all, off I went to my noon appointment to get an MRI. Got about halfway to Austin and realized something felt wrong. What was wrong was that my appointment wasn’t until 2:30. It was my Friday appointment with the plastic surgeon that was at noon. Bam! More waterworks. I turned around and drove the 30 minutes home, wasting precious Paid Time Off on absolutely nothing. Abso-freakin-lutely NOTHING. Except an opportunity to cry some more and grab some Kleenex to put into my purse for the next trip.

Needless to say, Chuck went with me on the second trip. Thank heavens, because I obviously am going to have to learn my limitations (which are MUCH more limiting than I’d anticipated) and rely on him for support. I like being able to take care of myself; I don’t want to lean on anyone. I have asked Chuck, though, not to help me, but rather to prop me back up if and when I DO fall. He’s agreed. He’s good at that.

So we get to the place for the MRI….no, scratch that. We get to ANOTHER LOCATION three blocks away from where I need to go to get my MRI and I was already running late (surprise!) and have to get back in the car and find the right place. Crying as we go, of course, because apparently my tear ducts needed a good workout. We get there, get checked in, paperwork incomplete, and start the process.

ARA Diagnostics has hired an angel from above in the form of Kyle. Kyle is a gentle, friendly young man who can stick you (insert an IV or draw blood) with literally no pain. (I am using the correct definition of literally here.) Everybody with medical issues needs a Kyle somewhere in the process. This kid calmed me down in about 20 seconds just by saying it would be all right. He has a gift. I guess you could call him a phlebotomist savant or something. Turns out, though, that he was wrong. Very wrong.

(Disclaimer: My situation as described here is not typical AT ALL so don’t let it scare you if you have a breast MRI scheduled.) A breast MRI is done face down with these two openings for The Girls to hang low and, yes, they wobbled to and fro, but I did not tie them in a knot or a bow. You know you were thinking it. Problem is, the support structure you lay on only comes about halfway up your rib cage–right to your diaphragm. You know what happens when you take all the extra weight I carry and lay it on top of something that’s cutting into your diaphragm? You don’t breathe. I was pretty sure I couldn’t take 13 minutes of holding my breath, let alone the intense discomfort. One of the nurses kept telling me to put my arms out and not prop myself up on my elbows but I was pretty sure I was gonna die if I put my full weight down.  So, four tries later, including the wiggling/crawling into place because I was too low on the table, I gave up. It was not going to happen. I so vigorously tried to get where they needed me, I even bent the IV needle. But Kyle’s stick was SO GOOD I didn’t even feel it. I’m telling you, he is awesome.

Thursday started in tears ended in tears. No MRI. They are talking about a sedation MRI and giving me oxygen, but there is not enough Demerol on this green earth to keep me from panicking in that machine. They are going to have to knock me out and roll me onto it and then roll me back off when it’s over. Two days later, and my arms, chest and abs are still sore from trying to lay down and wiggle into place and breathe at the same time. I’m not sure what my breast surgeon is going to say, but I’ve got a call in to her.

At least I’m all cried out. For now.

All I want is to-do but there is a lot of doo-doo to be done first

Yesterday I found out my Invasive Lobular Carcinoma is a mere stage one–yay me! It’s a  “well-mannered” cancer, according to my oncologist (who is thankfully not quite young enough to be my grandson, but almost). I almost feel guilty about having such a polite and unassuming cancer–it’s slow-growing by nature, and my numbers are somewhere between pretty darn good and fabulous. There are lots of numbers and you want some of them high and some of them low and I’m still wrapping my head around it. I am grateful and lucky. I know that on the Richter scale that measures the devastation that cancer can wrought, I’m looking at a mere tremor.

I met with my oncological surgeon today. This is where we start talking about next steps. I thought (or hoped), however, that the next step would be scheduling surgery. I’d already scheduled my after-surgery follow-up with my oncologist. But, no. You have to do the things before you can do the things that have to be done before the thing gets done. Before I can do anything I have other things to do. So it’s do, do, do, and then I can do. It’s doo-doo.

I don’t really mean that, of course. I like it when people put some extra thought into yanking off my body parts. It’s only difficult because I am emotionally prepared NOW and all of the (necessary) delays are very draining. I’ve started cancelling plans (what was to be my first visit to Steampunk November and our gang’s annual visit to Texas Renaissance Festival) and I think I’ll have to cancel more (we were going to host the family Thanksgiving dinner again this year). I’m trying to avoid bringing my life to a screeching halt up ’til the surgery, but I couldn’t wait until the last minute to cancel out on my friends. Cancelling some of the travel, though, freed me up to attend the Merry Marketplace (craft show fundraiser) here in town and hear Spilled Whiskey play at Paige Roadhouse, but now I think those plans will have to be cancelled, as well. But I don’t really know. I definitely won’t try to get a booth at the Merry Marketplace, dangit–just in case. So this is another list of things to do that I can’t do because of the things I have to do. In other words, I cannot do because of the doo-doo that I have to do before I can do the things that are keeping me from doing the things I want to do.

What’s next? Call the plastic surgeon. Get an MRI for an even more detailed look at my breastage. Visit the plastic surgeon. Re-visit the oncological surgeon. (Spell-check doesn’t like oncological but danged if I’m going to try to find another word.) At the moment we’re looking at a lumpectomy and radiation vs. a mastectomy. Either one will be accompanied by a breast reduction on the right boob to more closely match what’s left (or reconstructed) on the left. Considering the fact that I was thinking double mastectomy and complete reconstruction only two days ago, these are not bad options (although the tummy tuck to harvest some fat tissue is possibly off the table). I haven’t had a really in-depth conversation about the perkiness factor yet–I think the plastic surgeon is going to be my go-to for that to-do in the middle of all this doo-doo. The oncological surgeon did give me some hope for a possibly more youthful appearance, though. At my age, I consider youthful-looking boobs to be those of a 30-year old. Not asking for the world, here.

In the meantime, here I sit, pen in hand (or laptop in lap…whatever), waiting for the doo-doo to be wiped out so I can do the thing I have to do before I can do the things I was going to do since I can’t do the things I was going to do that were on my to-do list.

It ain’t courage if you don’t have the option of running away

Last night I was proud to attend the annual fundraiser for our local Breast Cancer Resource Center.

This is where I decided to let some of my local friends know of my diagnosis.

It was emotional; I got hugs, kisses, tears, and one fabulous offer to go get drunk–and I’m pretty damn sure I’ll be taking up that offer. (I would be a lush if I weren’t so lazy.) In any case, I was in a room full of survivors and it was gut-wrenching and tear-jerking. I was inspired and, frankly, a little bit overwhelmed.

Today, I got a call from Dominique, one of the technicians at The Center for St. David’s Breasts (you really need to read my posts in order to understand this one) who was checking up on me. I was flattered and touched. She said she knew when she saw my diagnosis that I’d be strong and able to handle this journey quite well; she even thought I’d be an inspiration to others. Which, of course, motivated me to write this post. 🙂 Maybe my story can help people. It’ll be good for a couple of laughs along the way, in any case.

It doesn’t take courage to fight breast cancer. Courage is when you have the option to run, to hide, to lie your way out of it, to pretend it didn’t happen. I’m not courageous. Given the choice, I will avoid confrontation, pain, and accepting responsibility every time. Every. Single. Time.

What it takes to fight breast cancer is fortitude. My back is against the wall and this is a fight I have to fight. No, that’s wrong. It’s NOT a fight. It’s a journey. It’s a path I must follow. Like Yoda said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” (Yes, I did have to Google it.) And, for me, “do not” is not an option. I’m not finished yet; I’ve barely begun. (I’m 58 and consider myself a late bloomer.) So there is only “do.” And I will. And it will take fortitude and emotional strength and perseverance and sheer will and discipline and, hopefully, grace and dignity. And humor, because I find life to be highly entertaining and amusing most of the time.

But not courage. Never courage. Because I’d really rather not be here and rather not have to take this journey. But I will.

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed are they who go around in circles, for they shall be called the Big Wheels

And after this evening’s attempt at riding a bicycle after well over 30 years, a Big Wheel is just about what I need right now. Except I couldn’t even ride it!

If you don’t know me, you don’t know that there is a lot of me to love. A lot.LOT. I refer to myself as a “little dumpling” but I’m only little because I’m short. I’m doughy and I giggle and if I weren’t married I’d be best off if I swiped right on the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

In any case, I’ve been trying to lose weight; not by dieting, but by eating less. Yeah, I am playing mind games with myself. But so far, so good.

So I decided to add some activity to increase my metabolism and burn some calories (160 of those suckers in 1/2 cup of Blue Bell Dutch Chocolate).

So we bought bikes. We didn’t spend a fortune–Chuck got a Mongoose and I got a purple one. Wal-Mart had to order it for me because their online presence said they were Available Only in Stores. And after they ordered it the website said Out of Stock so I might have gotten the last reasonably priced purple bicycle on this green earth. Except the two they had in stock but had been displayed outside and were all rusty. Those don’t count.

My wonderful Chuck put them together. He know how to do that stuff. Apparently it’s an art form, which you start to realize when you look at all those brake and gear cables–kind of like a spider and a puzzle procreated.

“They” always say that you never forget how to ride a bike. I think that’s true; you start off a little shaky but some muscle memory wakes up and remembers the last time the asphalt kicked your butt (or knees, elbows, face) and your body does everything it can to keep you on that bike and propelled forward.

And then comes the moment of truth: you have to pedal.

Unencumbered pedaling isn’t too hard, but when your beer belly is the size of a keg, not a growler, your knees have nowhere to go when your pedal reaches the top of the rotation. You know how your dog looks when it’s trying to scratch a spot it can’t quite reach and it back paw just kind of flails around scratching the air? That was my right foot. And then my left foot when I tried again. And then my right foot again, because sometimes I am a slow learner.

We tried raising my seat (on the theory that it would put my belly a few inches higher) and my butt appreciated it, but my legs couldn’t have cared less. They were totally oblivious to our efforts to accommodate their needs. So after I stood there and boo-hooed like a baby whose butt had recently been kicked by the asphalt, I decided to shelve the bike-riding thing for right now. My ever-patient Chuck, who has been looking forward to riding even more than I have, is going to have to ride without me or wait for a few more pounds. It’s going to be a goal until I can get a little bit less belly. I’m pretty sure sit-ups ain’t gonna happen; toe touches might be a good start. (I can’t see my toes when I stand up, but I know they are down there because I need a pedi right now.)

Because nobody should have to wear Spanx in order to ride a bicycle.

And Big Wheels have a similar knee-to-belly situation going on. So that’s not an option, either.

What happens when purple meets pink?

Today is the first day I’ve had breast cancer. Well, actually yesterday, because it’s after 2 a.m. And I suppose, technically, that I’ve had breast cancer for a while, but I didn’t know it until today. Yesterday. October 5, 2017. Whatever.

About a month ago. I found this big honkin’ lump in my breast. Didn’t hurt. But…lump…breast…yeah, time to go to the doctor. While I’ve never been much for self-examinations (they just always feel like boob to me), I was a little surprised I hadn’t noticed this one. (Note to self: just because you can’t feel a lump when you are lying down doesn’t mean there isn’t a lump. Stand up, you fool.)

So I went to the doctor’s office. I’d planned on going anyhow to ask for Assistance in No Longer Being Morbidly Obese. And Leslie, the nurse practitioner, being, well, a medical professional, sent me off to St. David’s Breast Center in Austin. (I tend to just call it the Breast Center because otherwise I think of it as a Center for St. David’s Breasts. This is how my brain works.) I may end up sharing the hilarity that ensued while beginning my Journey to Better Health in another post, but this one is about my lovely purple world (purple being my very bestest, most favoritest color in the whole wide entire world for the past 50 years or so) colliding with pink. Breast cancer pink. Titty pink, if you will.

Here’s what happens to your world when pink meets purple: it changes the color. It’s still purple, to be sure,  but it’s a new and different purple. A purple you’ve never experienced before. A purple you hadn’t planned on having, and one you will have no matter how much you love your old purple. And I love my old purple. I went for years wearing something purple every single day. Might just be nail polish, or eye shadow, but by gosh by golly, I was wearing me some PURPLE. I’ve had a purple car, lived in a purple house, eaten off purple dishes, had a drawer full of purple undies, and worn lavender essential oil as my fragrance. My status as an afficionado is not to be questioned.

When pink invaded my purple, the byproduct was three words: Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. The word cancer is scary, but the word invasive is more so. That means my pink is no longer self-contained and is searching for new worlds to infest. Beyond the milk-producing lobules (I’ll say it for all of us: ewwwww) and onward to Outer Boobdom and possibly beyond. We don’t know yet. This route cannot be found on Google Maps.

So how do I feel? Fine, for the most part. I think. I mean, I can’t un-cancer. How lovely it would be, wouldn’t it, if you could un-cancer yourself and the world around you? I’d say there is no use crying over spilt milk but that makes me think of my cancerous lobules and that is a very unattractive word–like globules without the g. Let’s just say I’d rather spend my energy exploring my new purple, following the path to wellness, and maybe learning something in the meantime.

I have some friends and acquaintances who’ve had their worlds turned pink by breast cancer. My beloved friend Jena has trod this road already–different histories but the same cancer. She dealt with it with grace and finesse and a stainless steel backbone. (I can hear her laughing from 300 miles away and it hasn’t even been posted yet. You did, Jena, you did, even if it didn’t feel like it.) My journey is just beginning, and hers has reached a happy ending. Everyone’s path is different, but someone who has navigated some of the pitfalls can be such a comfort.

So my next step is to join forces with Texas Oncology and put together a map of my path. And read up on my pinkness, but only at doctor- and Jena-recommended websites because I don’t plan to scare myself to death before I can even start treatment. I mean, really. Some websites can, I’m sure, make a completely curable cancer sounds like the Black Plague. Hell, they can make the common cold sound like the Black Plague.

Maybe having my purple changed by pink won’t be so bad. It is, after all the color of hope and strength and courage. We’ll see.