Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lost for Words

I recently saw my plastic surgeon to discuss nipple areola complex reconstruction and pigmentation. (Tattoos!)  But, I'm using the word "discuss" theoretically since I am unable to carry on a conversation with the man without blushing, stammering and drawing complete blanks whenever he asks a question.

It's so bad, I have to remind myself that in life outside his office, stringing together an entire sentence isn't a problem.  Spitting out a slew of coherent words isn't a problem -- Anywhere else.

But here, in these moments -- it is.

Here, where it matters.  Look what we're talking about, after all.

Some irrelevant words may tumble out.  Questions, I should ask get lost in the sheer urgency to move onto something less miserable.  Something other than this unfinished business.  This personal stuff I never imagined talking about.

Why is it so hard?  I want reconstruction done.  I want to see the end result. See if it's as good as I hear it to be.  I'm ready.

I know these last remaining procedures will never bring back what's been taken.  I'm under no illusions about that.  The scars are a daily, visible reminder that I don't need, but I'm not hoping to cover evidence in order to avoid it, as if some pigment could do that, anyway.  I remember just fine and quite often without the mirror.  Without the reflection staring back.

I'm moving forward, not because "it's what people do," or because my surgeons like to see their work complete. It's about finishing what I started, crossing some imaginary line, breaking the tape.  After nearly two years, it certainly feels like a marathon and I don't mean the cancer.  That doesn't have a finish line.  Just the reconstruction.

It's interesting waiting alone in the exam room among the pamphlets and brochures selling new noses, eyelids, facelifts, liposuction and the ironic, breast augmentation and reduction.  It is painfully clear I'm not here for any of that and I won't judge those that are.  I don't know their reasons for coming here as they don't know mine, but seeing a plastic surgeon never entered my mind before cancer.

I think about the women choosing to come here, seeking solutions to problems carried in their heads. Are they eager to see the doctor?  Excited by the possibilities?  Is communication easier with that patient than one brought in by cancer?

Patients like me, unable to answer my surgeon's questions during our first, long ago consultation, because I didn't have answers, just repetitive thoughts clouding my brain.

"I don't want to be here."

"I can't say how it should look.  I never thought about it before."

"I didn't choose to come to you, like those others sitting in your waiting room."

But, really...I did.

I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  I did choose. Does it compare to women without cancer choosing to redesign a body part?  No, but still a choice.  One more in the long line of decisions cancer forces us to make.

Now, even after so much: Expanders, fills, implants, revision surgery.  Nipple reconstruction and tattoos soon to come, it's still difficult to accept being in this office, talking about this.

The plastic surgeon and the breast cancer patient travel a long road together. It is unlike any doctor/patient relationship I've ever known.

It's very personal.  More so, than other doctors I've met along the way.  Their stuff is all clinical.  Facts, numbers...this is different and maybe that's why I get hung up.

We give so much to this freaking cancer, that voicing my ideas, my private thoughts of how my body should look, is more than I want to share.

But, then I remember.  I did choose to be here and my surgeon can't do his part if I hold back mine.  So, I'll continue to blush and stammer my way through this.  The reconstruction so far does look pretty good, actually very good and the end is finally, finally in sight.



20 comments:

  1. I can so idenify with this. I am close to the finish line...had to answer the same questions(what do you want them to look like, I don't know make them look "normal")I am getting it all done...I have come this far, I want to cross that finish line.

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  2. Love this, Stacey! I think most of us can't help but be modest. I got pretty comfortable trotting the girls out for inspection, but I do remember how odd it was meeting my plastic surgeon for the first time. It's weird having someone eyeball you and say, "So what are you--a (insert bra size here)?" and get it right before he even gets the tape measure out. It was downright trippy when he handed me an implant. I felt like I was supposed to say something but wasn't sure what, so I said, "It feels boobish."

    I had nipple reconstruction and color tattooed in (for single mast) and I'm very happy with how it turned out. Plus this part of it is a piece of cake. Just had local for the nipple build and watched them do it. I never thought I would watch myself having surgery but it was really interesting. Didn't even need local for the tattooing. Which is also a weird experience, the nurse was swabbing me with color swatches like picking out lipstick.

    You'll sail through it I'm sure, and I'm sure you'll be happy with the results. Here's to making the finish line!

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  3. Fabulous, fabulous post, Stacy.

    You're walking toward and right up to the finish line. Break the tape.

    The entire reconstruction process is slightly surreal. I'd love to know the percentage of women who never finish because they grow sick of the entire process. I've met a lot of them.

    At one point I was told I'd probably want to return after a number of years for "touch-ups." I laughed out loud. And it doesn't matter to me anymore.

    hugs,
    jody

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  4. Count me as one who has no desire to finish. Having had ovarian cancer (MAJOR surgery) before breast cancer and has had chemo 3-4 times-- I just can't make myself THINK about another procedure or needles.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story. it reminds me of the journey I've taken . . with a mastectomy & w/tram flap reconstruction in 2007. I elected against the nipple reconstruction and tattooing. It took me three more years before I would undress in a public locker room. For me, that was crossing the finish line.

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  6. Count me in as one who never even considered reconstruction. I was too tired to even think about more procedures. I have absolutely no regrets with my decision. I do everything I can to support the women that decide to go through the process. Keep moving forward, you are almost there.

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  7. Thanks for expressing your angst so well. I am among those who opted against reconstruction, but I fully support those who go forward with it. And I'm thankful to know that the results for you so far are what you had hoped for. Keep up the good work, Stacey. The finish line is in sight! Jan

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  8. I really related to your comment about being someone who would never have seen a plastic surgeon 'before' - me too. I can remember my initial consultation, back in 2008, and how I talked to a man (my surgeon) about my cleavage - or my desire to have one again. An you are so right when you say the relationship between plastic surgeon and bc patient is different than any other... But now I too am near the finishing line... final surgery this week, and it does feel like the end is in sight. All best to you for this next stage.

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  9. Stacey, you are such a great writer. Now, quite your blushing and get your nipple!
    :-) Lisa

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  10. Maryann, thank you for commenting and good luck getting to the finish line. If I can get there, you can.

    Hi Jackie, it's nice knowing I'm not alone. I figured I couldn't be the only one shy in this situation. I can't believe you watched! Don't think I'm ready for that, but I'll let you know.

    Jody, yes, that's an interesting question. I haven't met that many women who haven't completed reconstruction or for the matter, many women who didn't opt for it in some way, but I know there are those who'd rather use a prosthetic. And I agree, I can't imagine going back for pigment touch-ups either. Enough already.

    Carey, you've been through so much. Totally get your decision. Thanks for writing and I hope things are better these days.

    Anonymous, like Carey, that's a lot to go through. It's no wonder you reach a point of saying, no more. I never want to undress in a public locker room! Good for you!

    Thanks, Alicia. I never considered not doing it. It's so interesting how different we all are.

    Hi Jan, thanks for your comment and kind words. I know, I can almost see the finish.

    Sarah, your final surgery this week? That's the story here. Best of luck with it and I'm sending healing thoughts your way. Hopefully, recovery will be smooth sailing.

    Lisa, you made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that!

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  11. Thanks for posting this. I chose not to have reconstruction, so this is really an interesting and not often heard point of view. It's such a personal decision and I fully support what you are doing!

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  12. I seem to lurch between relief that I did go through with reconstruction to wondering why I bothered. Depends on what day you ask me. It's such a personal decision and so fraught with psychological issues not to mention the physical trauma that one hardly knows where to begin. And just another reminder that all this crap never really ends......but I think you hit the nail on the head...it's about what you're comfortable with. Not what society expects. After all you're the one that has to deal with all of this. Love and hugs. xxx

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  13. I have NO problem undressing in a public locker room. It is part of my outreach. I have had conversations with other women who had mastectomies years ago, before recon like mine (DIEP flap) was possible. I've talked to women who have friends who have been through BC and they want to know what to say. The only times I think twice are in the summer at the outdoor pool (the only time I am in a locker room that isn't adult only) when little girls are present. I don't want to make other mothers explain something too early.

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  14. Stacey,
    Great post on a sensitive topic. I am scheduled to cross the nip line in June...some days I am so sure about my decision, and other days I want to cancel surgery. To be honest, I never thought about undressing in public until I read the comments on this post. Hmmmm....much to ponder on. Thanks again!

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  15. Stacey, I soooo relate! As I mentioned in my last post, my last surgery involved the nips part of reconstruction. They are still underwraps and I am quite apprehensive about the upcoming unveiling...

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  16. I did not have reconstruction, for a variety of reasons I will not go into here. But I did meet with a plastic surgeon way back at the beginning, before my mastectomy and all the rest that followed. I remember standing there in my undies and paper robe open in the front. He wheeled his stool up in front of me, grabbed my gut in his hands and said I was the perfect candidate for a tramp flap. I had the gut to spare and tiny breasts. He seemed quite happy about it all and I don't mean disrespectful, just confident that he could do a great job for me. I was happy that my gut had been deemed as such a wodnerful thing as I had never seen it in that light. Alas, it is still with me:)
    Great post Stacey, congrats on being so close to the finish line!
    Deb

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  17. Thanks, Katie. I'm actually surprised at the number of women commenting that have opted not to have reconstruction. For the women I've met in person, reconstruction seems to be the majority.

    Hi Anna, yeah, I guess I do have moments where I wonder why I keep going, but in the end, I want to see the best result possible. I know some women feel differently, but I don't want to accept what cancer's forced on me, in this way, anyway.

    Carey, I can see why you'd think twice there. It's actually really thoughtful of you to be concerned about that. Thanks again for writing.

    Kim, good luck in June. I've scheduled mine for early May, but still question if it's needed. In the end, I know it's not, but it's wanted. So, I'll go. Now, tattoo day, that will be interesting!

    Hi Nancy, thanks for taking the time to comment while you're recovering. I hope you're feeling good, or at least okay. I'm looking forward to any reflections you might share on this.

    Hi Debbie, I know exactly what you mean about the gut. My surgeon actually referred to it as belly fat. Gees, who wants to hear that, but I understand he's got my interest at heart. I think my problem is just being too sensitive to it; which is part of the problem and the catalyst for the post. Thanks for writing.

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  18. I did have bilateral DIEP surgery and nipple reconstruction, and have lovely breasts as a result. If I had it to do over, I would pass on the nipple reconstruction and head straight for the tattoo artist; that's who does the miracle work. For photos and more thoughts see my blog here: http://bit.ly/acupJS

    Your story is beautiful, honest, poignant, funny--you are a gift to all of us.

    Jamie @ibeatcancrtwice

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  19. Jamie, I've heard several people say they'd skip the nipple thing and just do the tattoos. I may feel that way one day, but right now I want to keep going and do it this way. Thank you for your kind words. They mean more than you know and I will check out your photos.

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  20. How I ache for you, Stacey. I wish I could wave a magic wand and all would be finished for you. I did not opt for reconstruction after my bilateral mastectomy, but I completely understand the rationale of those who do. I'm so glad you are so close to the end. Keep on keeping on.
    XOXOXO,
    Jan

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