Sandy

We live in a flood zone. The map says zone A, which means in a category 1 hurricane, we are susceptible to flood. I always thought that was bullshit and just another way for the government (via FEMA) to milk a few grand from us every year. I guess they were right after all.
After our town issued a mandatory evacuation of our area on Sunday, we debated whether or not to leave. We waited until Monday morning to see the latest weather report and decided we would be better safe than sorry and we left. If it had just been the two of us, we would have stayed, but the thought of possibly being stranded and putting our daughters in harm’s way was enough to make us pack up the car and go.
We had a pajama party at my parents house, the power went out and the wind started howling. The girls did not seem phased in the slightest. I, on the other hand, have bitten off all of my nails that had grown out so nicely post-surgery due to lack of my usual manual labor. I turned off my phone during the night to preserve the battery and woke to many messages from my neighbors. They sent pictures which showed my house with water up the garage door and the mudroom steps. The street looked like a river spotted with houses on its banks and remnants of our fence were scattered across three different neighboring streets. That’s pretty intense imagery for a Tuesday morning.
When we got there to check it out firsthand, we saw that we only sustained a little over a foot of water in the garage (where my husband’s car, baby strollers, supplies, and memorabilia, etc are stored). We were fortunate that the water hadn’t actually reached inside of our house. Other than the lack of power, the inside is totally intact. Since we had just had our trees trimmed Saturday morning, we didn’t have any damage from fallen limbs either. We are feeling very very lucky.
Although we still don’t have power and we are mooching power, heat and comfort from my parents (their generosity is never ending), we are very fortunate. So many of our friends and neighbors have been devastated by this natural disaster. It seems the older I get, the more I realize how much is truly out of my control. We tried to prepare and handle the warnings we were issued, just like my BRCA results (yes, in my mind at least, even this draws a comparison). I heeded the warnings from my doctors just as we did from the town and shot for our best chance of survival. We feel lucky, but our hearts and thoughts are with so many that were not as lucky.

Be Prepared

I am a classic over-packer. The first vacation we ever took as parents, I had a case of organic baby food, a package of diapers, a package of swim diapers, and an assortment of outfits for the baby in each checked bag. My parents were with us and I insisted their bags had the same. My dad swore he would not comply with that craziness ever again. The year before, my bag had gotten lost for 4 of the 7 days we were on vacation. I was not going to take a chance when it came to my baby.
Hurricane Sandy approaches and the warnings and hysteria have already begun. Everyone is on high alert. The supermarket is sold out of shelf stable items and batteries. So, my husband and I bought Fluff, fig newtons and five boxes of the cereal bars that the big girl likes. Along with her Pediasure and pretzels, she will enjoy her ideal menu for days.
Part of me wants to be one of those people who is incredibly prepared and part of me thinks I’m jinxing myself by either being over prepared or by not being prepared at all. I’m over thinking it, it’s not like a tornado. Tornadoes scare the crap out of me. There’s barely any warning for them. With a hurricane, we know what could be coming our way. Hopefully we are as prepared for this hurricane as we are for breast cancer. Hopefully we have mitigated the risk of the storm by getting our flashlights, bottles of water and non-perishables together for our best chance of survival.
After all, didn’t my surgery just prove our resolve to survive? We assessed the odds my BRCA1 results gave me and prepared, as necessary, to eliminate the risks. We are heeding the warnings of our town officials, but we aren’t scared. Sometimes you really have no choice what life or Mother Nature throws at you. You just adapt and survive as best you can. There’s no telling what lies ahead, but we are as prepared as we will ever be.

Athletic

The other day I did something I’ve never been able to do before. I bought a bra at the Gap. I have always envied my friends (and Sarah Jessica Parker) for their exposed sexy, slim bra straps. Wispy black strings peeking out from under a shirt. Glittery little numbers showing holiday spirit (you know who you are). This is something I thought my shoulders would never experience, until now.
I’m currently a 34C. I know I won’t be this size for long (I get pumped up again tomorrow), but I couldn’t resist the sale rack and its allure of wireless bras for five dollars. This gorgeous piece of undergarment is coral colored with thin cream-colored lace straps. I tried it on last night (I am not fitting room ready yet) and my husband said, “wow, you actually look athletic”. We both had a really good laugh as that is not something I’ve heard often. Ok, not ever. I was having a real Misty May moment. I may rock some junk in the trunk, but I’m feeling stronger and looking very fit and perky up top. I guess the past three years of lifting children have helped my arms look the part too.
I miss picking up the girls and am hoping tomorrow my doctor will clear me for lifting. I’ve cheated a few times and picked up the baby (I even put her to bed tonight; she’s heavier than I remember). It feels weird and I’m trying to do it as gingerly as possible. I’ve told my mom throughout this process that I wish I had found out about the BRCA gene before I had kids. I think it would have been easier for me, emotionally, to have had my double mastectomy before I had the little ones to worry about. She has played devil’s advocate and asked me how I would have felt if I never had the opportunity to breast feed. It’s an interesting question, for which I will never have the answer.
Before I gave birth, the thought of breast feeding skeeved me out. After, I thought it was the most natural thing ever. I don’t think I would have missed it if I had never experienced it. On the other hand, I don’t like knowing that I can’t do something, anything. So in that sense, maybe I would have felt bad or guilty knowing I couldn’t do that for my kids.
If we are lucky enough to have a third child, I won’t be able to breastfeed. Right now, I feel totally comfortable with that fact. It’s the choice I made. I didn’t want to watch and wait for a bad mammogram. It was a calculated decision, carefully weighed. But let’s see what the pregnancy hormones have in store for me at that time. I could be singing a whole different tune then. For now, I’m going to enjoy having a healthy body and wearing my new athletic look. Maybe I will even find a sparkly new bra that makes me feel like JLo? Not too shabby.

Through Aqua Colored Lenses

Since 1996 I have worn contact lenses to see long distance. Does that make me near-sighted or far-sighted? I can never remember. My contacts have always been shaded slightly the color aqua. Sometimes people ask me, “is that your real eye color?”. I always tell the truth, but usually follow with an explanation that goes something like: “yes, but my real eye color is very close. See?” And then I reach up and push my contact aside to show that, indeed, my eyes are a duller version of what they’ve seen two seconds before they were completely grossed out by someone touching their eyeball right in front of them. What am I trying to prove?
I suppose I’m always eager to show people that although I like my eye color to pop, I’m not fake. So many people have told me to just lie and “who’s business is it anyway?” and honestly, who really cares? All true, but I can’t bring myself to lie. I like my aqua lenses. My real eye color changes with what I’m wearing sometimes, reflecting off of light or colors from my clothing. So tonight after I took my lenses out and got ready for bed, I was kind of shocked to see in the mirror that my eyes looked almost exactly the same as they did when the lenses were in. I quickly got my phone and took a picture to capture the proof. And again thought, who cares? Who am I really going to show these to? And for what purpose?
There’s an episode of Seinfeld when Teri Hatcher guest stars as one of Jerry’s dates. She famously said, “they’re real and they’re spectacular!” She was referring to her boobs, of course. I always thought that was funny and felt proud that (at least before I had kids and maybe for a year in high school – probably when that episode aired), mine were also real and pretty spectacular. So now what? As someone who clearly has a problem being perceived as fake and who, often to a fault, likes to be utterly honest, what am I going to say about my breasts?
I don’t think the question will come up too often. I think people are way more comfortable asking about my colored contacts than if I have implants, but part of me also thinks like when I disgustingly manhandle my eyeball in front of inquisitive minds, I will problem go into a short version of my double mastectomy. I’m compelled to share my story most often as a way to educate, but is there part of me that wants people to know that I altered my body for a medical reason and not for vanity’s sake? I guess, but I’m also really looking forward to lipo and that’s not just because it will make my boobs look more natural. When all’s said and done and though I love to keep it real, I’m still rocking some plastic boobies and enjoying the view through my aqua colored lenses.

Green Grass

You know I don’t like to focus on the negative, especially since I am so grateful for having reduced my risk of breast cancer from almost 90% to less than 1%. However, the last few days have been decidedly more difficult than the initial two weeks post-op. And not in the way I had expected.
I am particularly frustrated by the emotional aspects of recovering with children who are so young. They still need me for so much. And I want to be the one to do everything for them. Sure, I haven’t minded giving up diaper duty or cooking every meal and all the loads of laundry. But those are just the mundane details of our days together. They aren’t the things that matter most.
I want to pick them up when they cry at night or when they fall and get hurt. I want to rock the baby to sleep and give her a bottle without worrying she’s going to either hurt me by accident or hurt herself by falling from wherever we are sitting because I can’t physically hold her. I want to be able to swing my big girl around and hold her hands when she asks me to dance with her. These are the pains that Tylenol doesn’t mask.
It was easy the first few days back home when the narcotics and physical limitations left me lounging in my bedroom all day. But now that I’m up and at ’em, participating in (not leading) the everyday routines, the lack of control and independence has me feeling like a drug addict jonesing for a fix. Twitchy and helpless is my new normal. Trying not to micromanage everyone around me while they do my job for me…well, it sucks for everyone. I’m the bitch and can barely help myself. Man, what kind of boss would I be if I ever had such responsibility outside of the home? I can’t imagine I could ever care about a job as much as this one. I am COO of the household and my employees are probably at the coffee machine saying, “it’s only a matter of time before we bust outta here and get to retire”. I suppose it’s the same no matter where you are in life. You want a break from your everyday and when you get it, it’s often not that great after all. The grass is always greener.

Tough

Yesterday, I saw my breast surgeon for her follow-up. I was pleasantly surprised when I was shown to an exam room right away. I thought I wouldn’t be waiting that long until she came in, so I took my preemptive Percocet for the drain pain of my next appointment scheduled an hour later. I was feeling pretty great and excited to tell her how happy I am with the results and how grateful I am for her prowess in the OR. Well, I was waiting for longer than I had expected and by the time she came in, I was much less coherent. It’s ok, because as any college chick can attest, you don’t have to be coherent to let someone feel your boobs. And usually, it’s better when you’re not. Instead of an awkward kiss goodbye, I received the official pathology report: my bill of good health.
After that appointment was done, we hopped into a cab and made our way to the plastic surgeon’s office. I suppose one of the drains decided to make its home in my body, because it did not want to be yanked out. But like an overdue baby, it had to come out one way or another. So it was cut out of me with several skilled, but scary snips. No anesthesia, but I’m glad I had that Percocet. Wowza!
My older daughter smacked her nose on the headboard of her bed the other night. I heard the wailing cries and went as fast as I could to comfort her. No blood, no bumps, but probably hurt like crazy! As I held her head in my lap and stroked her hair, I told her, “Hey, you’re tough, you’re gonna be fine and you know why? Because you’re like Mommy and Mommy’s the toughest!” She smiled and I said, “who’s tough?” She pointed to herself. “And who’s the toughest?” She pointed to me. “And who’s so wimpy?” She pointed to my husband. We all had a pretty good laugh over that. Although the last part isn’t entirely true, I’m pretty proud to be the toughest Mommy I can be.

Sweet Relief

Ya know that scene from the 40 Year Old Virgin when Steve Carrel gets his body hair waxed? That’s how I felt today when I got two of my drains out. Holy Shit!!! (And then add every other profanity that he screamed too). I told the doctor that the extraction ranked up there with childbirth and my epidural never even kicked in when I delivered my older daughter. Fortunately though, it was quick and had that same sense of release once the alien-like object was out. I was definitely not prepared for that feeling though.
I haven’t been feeling all Mary Sunshine for the past two days. At one of my drain sites (I had a total of four), I was having an allergic reaction and every time the tube moved, I was in pretty significant pain. For those that have the pleasure of not knowing what a drain is (like me, blissfully ignorant, a week ago), it feels like you’re an octopus. Long tubes hang out of your body with a squeezeable plastic bulb at the end. It collects the excess fluid your body outputs after this kind of procedure. Twice daily, I have to empty the bulbs and record their outputs (in milliliters) to report back to my doctor. Fortunately, half of them had begun to produce almost nothing and were ready to come out. Thankfully, they were the two that were most irritating.
I’m always at odds now when I have to go back into the city for an appointment. It’s a minimum of three hours out of the day and away from my girls. My doctor gave me the option to wait until Monday and while I didn’t want to leave my girls or ask my dad to drive me once again, the pain was overwhelming. I had to get them out.
I know the big girl is still feeling my absence. Even though I’m at home now, I’m not the same super involved Mommy. I have to rest and I can’t swing her around or cuddle up close. That has truly been the most painful part of this whole experience. However, now that I’m two drains down and two to go, I’m less worried about snuggling. The big girl, at least, can sit by my side while I read her a book. And although it’s still tough with the little one, she did get to lay in my lap for a little while today. For me, that offered its own sweet relief. All in all, many milestones to be thankful for today.

Blessings

When I was younger and someone said “Count your blessings”, I never thought much about the meaning. I was probably mad because it’s usually an expression said in response to someone being ungrateful. When you’re in the thick of a difficult time, it seems almost impossible to see everything you have instead of everything you’re losing.
In the days leading up to my surgery last week, I often thought “I don’t really have to go through with this, it’s not like I have cancer yet.” Of course, I did go through with it and indeed, my doctor just called me to say my pathology report was perfect – no signs of cancer at all. Thank God!
Tragedy happens every day. We lose loved ones, we lose money, we lose body parts. Most often, it feels, we lose our minds. Getting caught up in the sorrow and mourning these losses is normal and absolutely part of the process. But when we are ready to look from the other side, it feels amazing to recognize everything we have.
The tremendous amount of support I’ve received has been overwhelming. An abundance of delectable goodies, flower deliveries, gifts for me and my girls; I’m blessed with friends and family who have shown how much they care. More than any material thing I could ever have, I am blessed with true friends and a wonderful family. Now with the report from my doctor, I am blessed with good health. I may have lost my breasts, but what I’ve gained is so much better! More blessings than I can even count!!

Home Sweet Home

Phew! So far my homecoming has been smooth and easy. My plastic surgeon told me before I left the hospital to ignore all of the residents and nurses that would tell me I couldn’t shower when I got home. Thank God, because my first post-op shower felt like I was bathing under a waterfall in Shangri-La. So luxuriously warm, cleansing and refreshing. My husband helped me wash my hair but I was pleasantly surprised that my arms had good enough range of motion to wash some of it myself. I put some comfy clothes on and a hideous, but warm Hello Kitty robe and sat in my recliner waiting for the girls to come home (thought it was best for me to get settled before they were here. And please note, I hate Hello Kitty on adults but my Mom thought the cartoon cat and its pink bows would be fun for my big girl to see on me, she was right.). When my older daughter came up to see me she was so excited that I was home and so gentle and protective. She was thrilled to see I had kitties on me and her favorite color: pink (good job, Mom!). This experience has only solidified the fact that three year olds are incredibly resilient and that mine is a sweet and thoughtful little doll. She asked where my “boos boos” were and I vaguely gestured to either side of my chest. Then she asked if she could fix them. I wasn’t sure what that meant so I asked her to start by fixing my feet and telling her that gentle high fives, getting lots of rest, and watching her sing and dance are the best medicine. I have enjoyed many performances in the past 24 hours. I’ve been instructed by my little Doogie Howzer, MD that when she covers me with a blankie, I get better but I should not take it off because then I will get sick. As you can imagine, I’m constantly being “cozied”. And thanks to the tremendous support from our family, I’ve gotten better rest here than I did at the hospital where nurses came to check my vitals and administer antibiotics when I didn’t want them or take an extra half hour when I did want them. Did I mention how happy I am to be home?
For once in my life, I don’t feel over anxious about the little things that seem odd to me. For instance, my left breast has a hollow feeling to it and when I touch in certain spots it almost seems to ripple. And one or two of the drains leak a little bit causing my special tank top to have a small stain. Fortunately, my plastic surgeon called to check in on me tonight and he said everything I’m experiencing sounds totally normal. He described the tissue expander like a beach ball. They have a capacity to hold 600 mLs of fluid, but have only been filled with 275 mL so far. So it’s to be expected that this rippling, hollow effect is occurring. I’m not sure what it would be like with a different surgeon, but my doctors have been so wonderfully caring. It makes a big difference. Even before I was officially his patient, he gave me his cell phone number and again, told me before I left the hospital that I can always call him. I know he has a family of his own, including a young son. I’m sure he’s got other things to do on his Sunday evening, but he never sounds rushed and he made the effort to call me! I can’t reiterate enough that picking a surgical team that you feel comfortable with is of the utmost importance. I trust them implicitly and don’t feel the need to second guess anything they tell me. It’s very reassuring.
It’s been harder for me with my younger daughter, trying to find a way to reassure her when I really can’t hug her or get that close to the little wiggle worm. She sat on my lap for a minute today and my husband and my mom lean her down so I can kiss her but that lack of physical connection weighs heavily on me. While I was so concerned with how my big girl would fare, I overlooked my own emotions with the little one somewhat. Fortunately, she’s at an age where she won’t remember this experience and is quite easily distracted. I can hear her giggle and walk around downstairs and I know she’s having fun. That’s really all I could ask for. Being physically present and chatting with my big girl has proved very important for her. She keeps asking me “you’re not going anywhere, right?” every time she leaves my room. I love that I am staying in one place at home where she can rely on me. In a few days, I will go back to the doctor for follow up appointments, but I hope this time she will know for sure that I always come back. Home is certainly where my heart is.

Better Than Expected

I have mentioned before that my general attitude when facing a challenge is that I hope for the best, but expect the worst. My hopes and the good vibes and wonderful thoughts from friends and family certainly paid off. As my doctor said, “it was a perfect surgery”.
The anticipation during pre-op had gotten the best of me and I was a bit of a weepy mess. But as soon as I saw my team, I felt totally at ease. My plastic surgeon took purple marker and drew all over the old boobs. He was marking the natural curvatures so he could perfectly place the tissue expanders that are now inserted under my pectoral muscles. Then the anesthesia team came in and introduced themselves. I made sure to tell them that I get very nauseous, so they gave me “the works” in my drip to prevent that and put a patch behind my ear. Finally my breast surgeon came in and said it’s go time.
She walked me down the hall to the small corridor outside of the OR where my plastic surgeon was waiting to escort me the rest of the way. The room, with all of its big lights and serious looking machines was intimidating. However, both surgeons stayed right by my side laying warm hands on my arms as I stretched out in a T pose (legs straight, arms out). They calmed me by asking distracting questions and joking about being ready for cocktail hour at 8am. The anesthesiologist gave me the good stuff and then all I remember is waking up as they wheeled me to the recovery room.
At this point, I looked like a trout with my mouth wide open, because I forgot to tell everyone that I get lock jaw. So I freaked them all out because once they took the tube out of my throat, my jaw wouldn’t close. Apparently that’s not a great sign. I tried to close it myself but couldn’t, so an oral surgeon came in and popped it back into place. After a few blow job jokes, I went back to sleep.
I’m not sure how much longer it was until I woke up and saw my husband standing next to my bed. Once I saw him, I was happy and knew everything was all good. As the anesthesia wore off, we chatted and I was not in any pain at all. Over the last forty eight hours the pain has increased, but its much better than I thought it would be. The high tech pain management system they had me on allowed me to press a button every 8 minutes to add more happy juice to my IV. As I tapered off of that I’ve been on Percocet and Tylenol.
Recovery, so far, has been more uncomfortable than painful. It feels like an elephant sat on my chest or someone took a sledge hammer to my ribs, more sore than pain. And while I thought I’d be flat as a 12 year old boy, I have a pretty solid B cup already. Although there’s a straight line covered with bandages across both breasts, the lack of nipple isn’t freakish. I may sing a different tune once the dressing is off. I can keep it on and shower with it until my first follow up appointment next week.
First I have to go home. My surgeon gave me three criteria for my release: getting up to pee, eating solid foods and getting off of the IV. Hooray, I’m there! Now part of me is thinking, “cool, get me the f outta here”. And the other part of me is a little scared to go home. I’m acting totally like myself so I know that that part won’t freak the girls out, but it’s still difficult for me to move around without wincing at the discomfort and I don’t want the girls to see that.
Overall, I think they’ve been doing really well at home, but my husband and my mother tell me that the big girl is asking for me a lot. I hope that just my presence at home will be good enough for her. I won’t be able to hug them or pick them up and I’m going to be resting a lot. But like everything else has been, I’m hoping it will be better than expected.