It's been a wild ride this week.
One day before my first chemo treatment sounded like a great time to schedule a plastic surgeon consult, so it was there I found myself man-handling silicone implants, weighing them in each of my hands, pressing against the cool surface, poking, prodding--then looking ahead to a few months and trying to picture them in me. There are several styles to choose from: shapes, consistencies, teardrops, saline, etc. Another option is to take a meaty section of fat off your bod...
and apply it northward, having it serve as your new breast flesh. (The doctor rules that I don't have enough of this to even use this option! Small victories.)
One misconception is that this is an opportunity to manufacture the ideal set of breasts for myself; that there is a silver lining in all of this: "At least you get big, perfect boobs." Sorry to break the news, but reconstruction is entirely different than cosmetic surgery. The whole surgery, the “reconstructing,” is a surgeon trying to do their best with very little. A mastectomy is a very invasive and serious surgery that voids your chest of milk ducts and all breast tissue. You know, so the cancer is cut the fuck out and then some.
At the end of the visit, the medical assistant hauled in a picture album that resembled many of the albums I have from high school--with the clear sleeves and out-of-focus disposable camera shots slid in behind. In this album were nude, headless shots (like a compendium of sexts gone awry) of real women who've had reconstruction after single or double mastectomies. The results are far from ideal. First, there is significant scarring, and second you often don’t get to keep your nipple. The doctor did assure me that some superstar tattoo artist named Vinny exists, however, who can draw on a 3-D nipple like a boss and make them look uncannily real.
Sorry to sound harsh, but I'm not "lucky" by any means. I understand how the uninformed can perceive this "opportunity" as such - I used to think the same thing.
Lastly, the 8-week recovery period is rough. A new cancer buddy of mine (the one from the waiting room!) just had the operation the other day. Right now, she says she feels like her arms are tied to her sides and that she’s been kicked in the chest by a horse. While chemo sucks in its own rite, I have to say I am glad for the 3 months I get to wait for THAT feeling.
The very next day was Day 1 of 12 consecutive weeks of chemo (then 12 more after the surgery). Every week I'll get an infusion of Taxol (a chemo drug) and every 3 weeks I get the targeted therapies along with it for the type of cancer I have (estrogen positive, and her2 positive, which is unfortunately aggressive).
The only hiccup was my reaction to the Benadryl administered through the IV, which ironically they give you to prevent an allergic reaction. I tweaked out. I began shaking uncontrollably, I had vertigo, and I was extremely scared - which exacerbated the teeth-chattering and trembling. A few minutes later, when I started feeling slightly less loopy and the room wasn't spinning on its axis, I just looked over at Mike and started hysterically laughing. For a minute or two. I couldn’t stop. The nurse couldn’t help but laugh back at me. I took that as, Oh, this must be normal. No…she later said she’s never seen anyone react like that. She even brought another nurse to come in and witness my laugh attack firsthand. In the end I came down from it, and everything was okay.
Wednesday Night / Thursday Morning (Day 2)
They give you a steroid, which can make you feel like a million bucks for 24 hours or so afterward, sometimes longer. So at night, after I got home from treatment after being at Dana Farber from 9am - 7pm, I was buzzing around doing laundry. Today (Thursday) I went for a run, and I went in to work all wide-eyed and alert. But I am starting to feel my face flush, and I'm worried about the nausea, the neuropathy, and the fatigue that is likely to crop up when the steroid wears off. I'm obviously hoping the side effects are minimal. They get worse week after week, the nurse said.
It was time to pick up my wig on my lunch break, so I chatted with Abrasive But Well-Meaning Wig Shop Lady as she placed the styrofoam head with wig affixed into the zebra-patterned shopping bag. Suddenly, she stopped and plucked something up from the desk and threw it in the bag before handing it to me.
“What was that?” I asked, peering into the bag.
“A pin.” She picked it up and showed me. It read, “Caution, HOT STUFF!”
I smiled, but thought, Is she kidding? Is this some sort of empowerment thing? Does she expect me to put that on my fucking shirt as I’m wearing a wig and feeling and looking like complete dog shit?
“It's for the oven,” she explained.
“You gotta keep these girls away from heat,” she said, patting the shopping bag. “They're made of synthetic materials,” she went on. "They flame right up. So, I got these pins for people attach to a dishrag as a warning. So, you know, when people open and look.” She made a gesture of opening an oven and leaning down.
It took me a minute. Then I gasped, “That really happens?”
Then half a second after I said that I thought, this would be exactly something I would do - forget that I was wearing kindling on my goddamn head, and up I'd go in flames.
“Happens all the time," she said. "They’ll lean down, open the oven, then fwooop! The wig singes right up. I’ve ordered linens too, they come in a couple weeks. So,” she pointed her finger at me, "You should also stay away from grills this summer. And bonfires.”
Lesson # 993 of this whole insane debacle. Don’t wear your wig and check on the meatloaf midway or innocently flip a burger on the Coleman because you'll LIGHT YOURSELF ON FIRE. Fwooooop.