Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today I am very thankful ..

Having my reconstructive surgery means I am on the down slope of treatment. You learn so much during this process, and my goal early on has to been to share my experiences with newly diagnosed women so they know what to expect, even if I give up a little privacy. A first-person account is what I needed when I heard those words, "you have cancer" and I'm grateful I can provide that for others.

In that light, I would be remiss if I didn't let you know that half inch thick, post-surgical bandages (stylish though they may be) and a hot flash every 20 minutes round the clock are not a particularly good mix. Stir in a little "not allowed to shower" and "see me in a week" and you have quite an aromatic situation.

In fact,  I probably could have escaped the TSA-sanctioned grope. Nobody would have wanted to get that close for only $12.00 an hour.  I may have caused a few resignations.

I even noticed my husband sliding towards the opposite edge of the bed at night.

My cat though, didn't mind. In fact, at one point she woke me up by stepping on my newly created boobs.


The great unveiling was Tuesday. Still not able to drive, my husband took me to the doctor's beautiful downtown office.

When my name was called, as always, the nurse weighed me. I bet I've been weighed 100 times this year and my weight has always been the same.  But, I was shocked to discover that I weighed almost two pounds more than I did four days ago.

How can that be, when I only ate soup and yogurt for a day or two?

Are pain pills fattening?

(I later googled and discovered it was the implants, so those of you awaiting your surgery, don't be shocked at an extra pound or two afterwards.)

Fortunately, the doctor didn't keep me waiting. I couldn't resist asking him who had designed my lovely halter top, and to my surprise, he said he had. I told him Project Runway was in his future, and he said he gets that a lot.

So much for my originality.

He cut off my bandages, and once we waved the fumes away, I jumped up and walked to the mirror.

Birds started singing. Rainbows appeared. The sun arose with those brilliant rays that only children can draw. For, I was looking at a fantastic result, as close to having two normal breasts as a mastectomy patient can get.

My doctor is a genius.

After 13 months of believing I had no hope of getting good results, that I would likely have to wear a prosthesis anyway, that I would be deformed forever - there is no word for finding out that wasn't true.

Unless they have a word that means surprise, elation, gratitude, delight, amazement, relief, and renewed hope all at once.

Do they?

On this Thanksgiving Day, I first have to thank my old plastic surgeon for abandoning me. Because, he would not have given me these results; and he told me so:  I was too thin, my cancer was in the wrong place, my breasts and been large and wide and my body shape unique, the breast surgeon had taken too much out.. He said he couldn't put a large enough implant in my mastectomy side to match my real side and so I would forever be uneven.

And yet, I was mad when he dropped me.  I felt abandoned.  But, now, I'm grateful.  So, so glad.

This new guy - when I finally got to see him after months of looking for a new one  - he said could fix me and make a match.  By then, though, I had my doubts.  My expectations had been lowered, and all I cared about was being comfortable.

I was wrong.

Having a normal body again has completely changed my outlook.  I have always been positive about my prognosis,  but I was sliding into acceptance that things would never be normal.  I was going to feel like a cancer patient forever - how could I not, with missing/deformed body parts?  But, suddenly, I am certain I'm almost done, that cancer will never return, that this will be a chapter soon closed, and I will look and feel perfectly normal - not a new normal, but the old normal - forever.

I still don't have an inframammary fold because of the less-than-skilled surgery I had by the first doctor. It can be fixed - if I start all over. Had I gotten this new doctor from the beginning, I think, and he thinks too, that I would have gotten perfectly natural results. But, I'm happy with it as is and don't need to begin again for only minor improvement nobody but me can see.

Now, for those of you who are newly diagnosed, a reconstructed breast is an alternative to no breast - it is not the same as augmentation, which is an enhancement to a real breast. The projection isn't exactly the same and of course, I have scars and no nipple.

But, it's near perfect.  In clothes, nobody can tell.  Out of clothes, it still looks good.

I feel whole again. And, I didn't even know that I didn't feel whole. I had accepted that cancer would deform me forever. I didn't even mind; it was the price I had to pay for health.

I thought.

I don't like to expose my doctors on this blog - they didn't ask to be written about so I've mostly used nicknames.   My surgeon, my oncologist, and my newest plastic surgeon - all have given me outstanding and considerate care.

But, when you are given a cancer diagnosis, you are referred to people you have no knowledge about. If you have invasive cancer, you have to make decisions quickly,  and you don't have time for detailed research and interviews. And, reconstruction  is not the same as augmentation - it's a special skill.  You sort of have to take things on faith and trust your instincts.  And, as I learned with my original choice of plastic surgeons, your instincts can go quite wrong.

So, I am going cut a corner for you, and tell you that Dr. Jeffery Sweat was my plastic surgeon. He was caring, understanding - and, from what I can tell, very, very skilled. If you are in Sacramento and are able to get him through your insurance, then you should. I hope he doesn't mind my mentioning him. Of course,  there are probably other great reconstructive surgeons in Sacramento - but Dr. Sweat  I'm sure of.

This year, on Thanksgiving, as we share what we are grateful for, he - and all my caring doctors: primary care, surgeon, oncologist and plastic surgeon alike - will be  who I will mention around my Thanksgiving table. In their own ways, each one of them gave me my life back.

And, I'm very thankful.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


With expander a week ago

Even with swelling, they look good!


  1. SO very happy for you! Your photo looks terrific. More importantly, the upbeat and positive tone of the post is perfect for Thanksgiving.

    I'm done with recon also (and happy with the result), and have one more herceptin and the port comes out on Dec 10. Thinking back to where I was a year ago - I'm not sure I would have thought I'd be so much back to normal by now, but I'm glad I am.

    Thanks for posting, and happy thanksgiving!

  2. I'm SO HAPPY for you!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Congratulations!!!
    Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. You really look great Ann! So happy for you! Newly diagnosed women will be grateful to know this is possible. They still need to realize that the reconstructed breast is a numb breast, but at least they can LOOK good. You really do look good. Great! Really great! And more comfortable too. Bye Bye expanders!

  5. I'm so thrilled at your results. So much to be thankful for after a rough year, and you took us through your journey with humor and reflections that I'll be sure to point to in your blog when (I'd like to say if but it will probably be when) another of us gets the words "breast cancer". I feel we walked this journey together so thanks.

  6. Wonderful, just wonderful. I have bilateral expanders and I love seeing how immediate the "my breast is directly under my collarbone" look changes as soon as the exchange is completed. ALso -- I think naming GOOD physicians is just fine. Naming the ones who don't work out -- that's dicey. But a positive, anecdotal, personal recommendation of a caring and effective plastic surgeon -- particularly one who specializes in reconstruction -- makes sense.

  7. You look awesome! I started following you right after your diagnosis, which is when my lump was being biopsied. I lucked out, but I have really appreciated your humor and honesty on this blog. I was thinking of you on Wednesday, when I was getting my boobs squished again, and was so thankful that things have worked out, despite a very hard year for you.

  8. Yay! You look fantastic! Happy Thanksgiving 2010!!

  9. Cool, your Surgeon has done a fantastic Job, although as mentioned, you might be without Nipples, But in clothes nobody can recognize it.

  10. I'm so happy for you, Ann.

    I'll admit, I am a little teary...

    You ARE beautiful!


  11. you look fantastic!! I'm so happy for you!

  12. What a fantastic job! I know how amazed I am with my reconstructed breast and was hoping that you would be able to experience that moment of awe, too. And TaDa, your moment finally came! Hooray, you! I never bothered with a nipple either and it is still weird not having sensation in that breast but with clothes on no one really notices and it makes me feel better. I am so very thankful for your happy ending.

  13. So good to read your story.I am sure there is so much anxiety and worry in every patients heart and every one who reads your blogs will go back with a smile and wish you luck for the best tomorrows.

  14. It is amazing what great reconstructive work can do for one's self-esteem. Like you, I also had great doctors who made me feel whole by their handiwork.

    Part II comes when one is trying to find a bra to meet one's reconstructed-breast needs. I just found a terrific bra and cancer recovery shop that I had to rave about in my blog.

    Great posting, as usual!! And like you, I'm grateful.

  15. You look great. And your post inspired me. Thank you so much for posting.

  16. OK, I'm getting worried. Where are you? Hope all is well.


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