Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bruised, Battered, Thankful

This is not the year-end post I had envisioned, but as we know, life doesn't always play out the way we'd like it to.  It can change in a matter of seconds by something we never even see coming, like a cancer diagnosis or sometimes, by a force we do see, but simply can't avoid quickly enough.

Which is what happened to me and my family this past Sunday while on our way to a tree farm to cut down our own Christmas tree.  It's sort a tradition, started about four years ago, only this time we never got there.



While driving on a narrow, curvy two-lane road with a slight incline on our side and a lake on the other, from around the next bend came a car already swerving out of control.  Like something from a chase scene in a bad movie.  Very surreal, watching it speed side to side, heading toward the wire guardrail on the lake side, thinking we can get past this, only to realize that was not to be, as the 17 year-old driver spun the steering wheel and careened straight into us.  With no where to go, we took the impact.

I remember seeing the front of his car crash into ours, the unforgettable sound of crushing steel, the white of an airbag, then silence for a split second before the sound of my children's cries.

The four of us walked away.  My children, thankfully, completely fine with a new appreciation of mom and dad's fanaticism regarding seat belts.  My husband and I took more of the force, being in the front, but despite bruises and the sorest ribcage one girl could ever imagine, we're okay.  We are thankful.  It is clear how much we could have lost in those moments.



There's more I want to write, but I'm tired and my thoughts are scattered.  I just wanted to touch base with our cyber community and wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and an even better new year.

I want to thank you for sharing my stories and experiences in 2011, especially being there when I had to say goodbye to my boy, Goliath.  Ironically, the car we just lost was purchased two months after getting Goliath, with the intention of driving around with our new big dog.  Weird to think we've lost both in such a short time.  In 2012, we'll need to figure out how we are more than the sum of a car and a dog.

Perhaps there's some greater meaning to it all, but right now, I can't imagine what that is.

I don't want to be a Bloggy Downer, that's not my intention or how I feel.  I'm grateful we're all still here, getting ready to welcome a new year of wondrous possibilities.  I look forward to catching up and continuing to read all your blogs.

I'm sure I'll have an interesting thing or two to write about next year.  Upcoming visits with my oncologist and breast surgeon, not to mention, the possibility of saying goodbye to my plastic surgeon.  Assuming neither implant shifted upon impact the other day.  Things are feeling a bit off.

Stayed tuned.  I'll see you in 2012.

Be well and stay safe!!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Tale of Tattoos

My intention for this post was to solely be a reflection on the events of last Tuesday.  Tattoo Tuesday.  But, that was before reading Being Sarah's post, The N Word.  Sarah has inspired me to screw self imposed word limits and offer more description with regard to the actual procedure, not something I'm all that comfortable with, but here goes.

For all the ladies contemplating tattoos as part of your reconstruction...This one's for you.

I went into T-day with unanswered questions, anxiety and zero expectations about the procedure I was about to undergo.  The only thing I carried with me was the desire to do it.  I had been living "unfinished" for quite a while. The whole two & half years since mastectomy, I suppose.  I finally felt ready to move forward.  I wanted this to improve what I had, but I was unsure how tattooing nipples and areola could restore what was taken away. Wouldn't it just be more of the same?  Fake?  Reconstructed, not real.

I went alone to my 1:30 appointment, as if there's some honor in carrying the load myself or maybe, by going alone I could believe it was just a "simple procedure."  That it was nothing, not a big deal, but I was only fooling myself, because, of course, anything having to do with reconstruction, both physically and emotionally, is a huge deal.

Stepping off the elevator, down the hall from the operating room where I had my mastectomy, two reconstructive surgeries, and nipple reconstruction, I realize I have history here, in this building.  Whether I like it or not.

When I check in with the receptionist she hands me a Consent for Surgery form.  I'm surprised it's needed for tattoos. I look at her and ask, "Is that what they're calling it here?  Surgery?  That's not what they say in the back alleys."  The receptionist said I was funny.

I sat down and tweeted my solo status and almost immediately, Sherpas Nancy's Point and Jodyms virtually sat with me and I feel less alone.

A nurse I know takes me into the exam room, where the big chair looms in the middle, under the bright light.  She describes the procedure.  I sign more forms.  My surgeon walks in. He inspects his previous work since he hasn't seen his nipple creations in over six months.  He then takes a beloved Sharpie and measures for position and size and sends me to the mirror to check it out.

I've paused here in writing, because how do I describe what I saw?  Two large dotted circles surround little handmade nipples which bear little resemblance to the real thing. How is this going to possibly work?  I really don't know.

I say the position is fine, the size, too big...porn star big.  Well, that's what I think, but I say it with my opinion omitted.  We agree he'll stay well inside the circle.

He shows me the ink colors he'll use.  A trio of pale, peachy browns and it's all very surreal.  Should he numb it all before he starts?  I don't know.  I still don't have much feeling there.  He pokes around a bit and to my surprise, it hurt.  Just goes to show you how long it's been since my mastectomy.  Time enough for nerve endings to regenerate.  I think how happy my breast surgeon will be to hear that news.  He usually asks if any feeling has returned.  Now, I can tell him, a big yes to tattoo needles!  Not much else though.

I'm numbed up then, but even so, the procedure is uncomfortable. A lot of pushing, pinching.  The tool used is loud. My surgeon and his nurse stand on either side of me trying their best to be normal.  Like we're all just hanging out in the afternoon looking at artwork.  As if the act of tattooing areola is something ordinary, when it's really the opposite...extraordinary.

When it's over, I glance down to see two large, reddish circles staring back me.  I'm reminded of my youngest son's newest obsession.  Drawing funny faces filled with big circle eyes and noses, all put together in a collection he calls, The Book of Funny.

Sigh...I have become a living, breathing canvas for The Book of Funny.  Maybe in the big scheme of things, among all the steps along my breast cancer road, tattooing is kind of funny.  Maybe a book showcasing all that's funny, is exactly where I belong.



Somewhere in my brain I hear the nurse say the redness will fade in time to reveal the true pigment and now I'm finished.  I ask my surgeon if this is the end for the two of us, after more than two years.

"That's up to you."

Thanks.  It's been up to me right from the very first day, with the detection of "something" on a routine ultrasound and now I'm here to finish it, but in the end he tells me to come back early next year offering one last lingering thread to grasp before snipping.  Before pushing me out of his nest.

I head home, keenly aware of pain and bandages across my chest one more time.  The next morning, I'm sad to see red, crusty gauze in the mirror.  I've lost count the number of times I've peeled away bloody bandages before showering.  Here was yet another.

I steel myself for the picture of funny I spotted the day before, big red circles laughing back at me.  The bandages come off easily.  There's no blood.  Just pigment, now a dull red, less menacing and I see for the first time the reasoning behind the size.  My scars are hidden behind the tattooed areola...and it all makes sense.  I feel like I've been let in on a secret.  Something all the surgeons always knew.  Tattoos are called a finishing touch for good reason.  I'm surprised.  I never expected to actually like it, but I do, more than I ever thought possible.

Adding tattoos brought about a vision I hadn't seen in a very long time and I'm buying into it.  I'll take it.  I like looking at what's been created, reconstructed out of nothing.  Just some stretched muscle, skin, silicone implants and now, peachy pigment.

Not bad.

I have to say, nipple reconstruction and areola tattoos are a very personal choice.  I understand when enough is enough and why some women choose not to move forward.  It had not been an easy decision for me and it took quite a while to get there, but, I'm glad I did.

I had told my surgeon before he left the room that day, I was satisfied and as I said it, I believed that was good enough.  I had gone far enough, but now, one week later, I'm more than satisfied.  I'm pleased...and it took tattoos to do that.

Who would have thought?


Monday, December 5, 2011

Random Thoughts

I'm living on the edge here.  Posting random thoughts without the safety net of a rough draft.  I just don't feel like it today.  Forgive the upcoming ramble.

When days pass and I don't post anything new, I sometimes wonder why I bother with rough drafts at all.  Why don't I treat my blog like a diary and just write?  Why try to craft the perfect sentence?  Who cares, really?

When I was 11 years old, I started a journal after reading the book, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.  In that story, Harriet, carried a notebook with her where ever she went.  It was a companion, a place to share her observations.  A safe haven for all the thoughts and fears she wasn't brave enough to voice.

Something about that struck a chord and on October 16, 1975, to be exact, I started writing in a composition notebook and didn't stop until February 26, 2001. I wrote nearly everyday for 26 years.  In the time since, I would occasionally wonder why I stopped, why it no longer felt right, so today, out of curiosity, I found that last notebook and read its last entry.  It takes place three days after my wedding and 11 months after my mother died.  I didn't intend for it to be the end, it just was.  Blank pages fill the rest of the notebook.

It's my guess and I'm no psychoanalyst, but I stopped writing because life as I knew it, was drastically changed.  Glancing through that notebook, something I never, ever do, I realized most of my writing that last year talks about encountering life's dividing line.  I clearly felt the first part of my life was over.  No going back.  I no longer had a mother.  I had a husband.  I had a very different life than the one written by a young girl growing up or a single girl in college or a young woman with a big job in the big city.  With my current perspective, it's no wonder I stopped.  That girl was gone.

The interesting thing here is why I started writing again after so many years.  The catalyst pushing me to unburden myself through writing, as those when I stopped, was again, a life changer.  Hello, breast cancer.  When there was no one left to turn to who would understand, no one with an ear left to listen, instead of speaking the words aloud, I wrote them.  Not in a black & white notebook this time, but on a laptop, sharing with an invisible audience, and it felt right, but I edit.

Some of these posts are just too personal to go out without rewriting.  Tempering, in a sense, some raw emotion that might seem a bad fit for public consumption.

Along comes today and I'm uneasy.  My first instinct is to blog about it, but can't.  I'd have to write it out, revise it, make sense of it.  It could take days and in this case, I'm in need of instant gratification.  That's why I remembered the notebooks. How it used to be, when I wrote freely all the time, head to pen, without stopping until I said all I wanted to say. Can I allow myself to do that now or do I need to edit myself simply because my personal dilemma is going public?  I'd like to think I can just put it out there.

Tomorrow, I step again onto the path of breast cancer reconstruction.  My plastic surgeon has a whole hour of precious time blocked out just for me...and I'm not excited.  I'm very hesitant actually and can't figure out exactly why.

Tattoos.  The last phase of my 2.5 year ordeal, seems anything, but final. There's inner turmoil because tattoos, by nature, are permanent reminders.  A lasting souvenir, commemorating a journey's end, but how could it, when this journey is never truly over?

What happens next?  Am I supposed to walk out of his office as if things are all right in my world?  Just move on? Like the questions asked by Nancy's Point the other day.  I don't know that I can return to who I was just because my reconstruction is declared finished.  I'm changed and not only physically.

There are constant checks and recurrence fears, coupled with guilt that I should quit whining and (here it comes), be grateful it's not worse.  I am grateful, but that doesn't take away the worry.  Still there's something more here today. I don't know what it is.  Tattoos aren't that big a deal in the long run, and I should stop making it an issue...at least that's what I tell myself.  It's not really working.

I sometimes think my blog posts should contain a definitive answer to whatever I'm questioning.  That's probably why I revise so much.  I'm always trying to tie up loose ends into a neat, complete package, but on this day, writing off the cuff, I can't do it.  I don't have an answer to why tattooing yet more physical evidence of what I lost is bothering me so much.  This procedure is supposed to help it all look better, not worse.  I just hope it does.

I hope this post makes sense.

Anyone else face reconstruction procedures with trepidation?