Monday, October 24, 2011


Let's talk food and conversation post-surgery — specifically, food delivery by friends and family while a patient (that would be me) is recovering. 

The people, they come with the meals. As in, they bring over the food, they sit down and they eat it with us. 

Perhaps this is peculiar to my circle of loved ones; my family lives thousands of miles away, and two out of my three siblings (plus my sister-in-law) have traveled to see me post-surgery. My husband has taken off work to take care of me, so I don't really need (or want) anyone staying at my house. Lucky for me, they all stay with my Mom.

But let's get back to mealtime...

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I haven't looked at myself yet. Haven't been able to take a shower so it hasn't been an issue.

But then Dr. C. unwraps my mummy-esque torso. I stare straight ahead. As my compression vest and bandages fall away, I feel — what's the word? — Oh yeah. Free! My skin hasn't felt air like this in many days. But the pleasant sensation of having nothing constricting me is fleeting; it's replaced by a strange, awkward feeling. If I didn't know better, I'd think I had two water balloons tacked to my chest. Oh wait. I do. They're called Tissue Expanders (TEs). They're filled with 400ccs of saline a piece (and held in place by my recently moved chest muscle); the TEs job is to hold the space where I used to have breast tissue. They also stretch my skin. Eventually they will be replaced with implants. I refuse to look.

Husband hands Dr. C. a slip of paper with the cc's my drains have been outputting since surgery. Good news: The drains can come out. (Yippee! One step closer to stepping in hot water.) Husband distracts himself by looking out the window as Dr. C. quickly pulls each foot-long piece of tubing from my body. To be honest, I can't look at that either. (They really should get some paintings on these walls...)

Finally, all four drains are gone. Next he pulls out the teeny, tiny threads that connect my pain pouch to the center of my chest. I don't feel it. Probably because my chest is still numb.Then he applies antibiotic ointment to both incisions. My left one is 3 inches long and runs across the center of my "foob" at an angle. My right incision, on the cancer side, is twice as long; the scar snakes up under my arm. (That's where they took out the lymph nodes.) Then he paper-tapes gauze over both incisions and slips me back into my surgical vest.

I fumble with the fasteners; my hands are shaking. Avoiding looking at yourself creates a lot of tension, apparently. Husband comes to my aide, carefully zipping my vest closed. Husband noticing that I can't hook the eye on my vest? Definitely a moment.

So I am in heaven without those stinkin' swingin' drains. I feel like celebrating. (Can I have a drink yet?) Dr. C. says I can take a shower. Whew who! Back home, I grab my spa robe and head for the bathroom, then realize I can't take a shower without assistance. Duh. Can't lift my arms. Can't shut the shower door. And yeah, you know what is about to happen next: Northern Exposure.

Because now I'm in a predicament. I haven't yet seen myself naked, and I have to get naked in order to shower. And that means I have to be naked in front of Husband. For the first time. Without. My. Breasts.

I have to get past this hurdle.

Husband sets a plastic bench inside our walk-in shower; my soaps and shampoos are within reach on the floor. A hand-held showerhead is hanging above me. He turns the water on so it can start to get warm, then leaves me alone to collect myself. If only it were that easy.

I can't get my dressings wet but I can shower; I can't remove my bandages, but I can remove my vest. As the sound of the water beats down on the bench and the room begins to slowly fill with steam, I carefully unhook my security blanket, and the constricting pressure I constantly feel evaporates. I take a deep breath and look past the hazy mirror at my little "mounds." Well. Not so bad! I don't look as odd as I imagined. I'm not flat chested. There is something there — it's just covered in bandages. Appearance-wise, I can deal.

The weirdest part is how I feel. Wearing my surgical bra masks the artificial feeling of these dead weights that are temporarily a part of me. They are awkward and foreign. Despite my numbness, I can feel their fakeness. That is the part causing me the most anxiety.

There's a knock on the door. I open it, and find my husband holding a large black plastic trash bag, a towel — and a roll of duct tape. This does not look good. The potential crime scene does little to quell my growing angst. I close the door and tell him I'll call him when I'm ready.

But I'm never quite ready. I let another few moments slip by and still I don't feel any better about any of it. And I'm wasting water. So I bite the bullet and call him back in. And we begin the very delicate dance of preparing me for the most vulnerable shower of my life.

Off with the vest. Husband pauses just long enough to review the situation and announce, "They look good." We don't dwell. He continues on, wrapping the folded towel around my neck. I hold it in place while he cuts a hole in the top of the garbage bag and slides it over my head and shoulders. Then he duct-tapes the bag to the towel. I can reach my arms out from underneath the garbage bag (think Velociraptor) but trust me, it ain't pretty.

Husband assists me into the shower and I take my place on the bench. He points the hand-held water spout directly at my head. He'll never make it as a Barber, but he does spend the next five minutes carefully washing my long hair. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry; my emotions are as jumbled as the drops of water streaming down my face. I try my best not to let any moisture get through the garbage bag and onto my bandages. We are only partially successful. Next time will be better.

With my hair complete, I ask Husband to leave me alone for a few. He is reluctant; scared that I will slip and fall (even though I'm seated). Since I'm able to hold the shower faucet at hip level on my own, I want to relax a while and enjoy the warmth of the water.

The freedom I feel in this moment is nearly indescribable. I've made it through surgery. My drains are out. I've had a shower and my hair is clean. I've faced my most dreaded fear — looking at my new self in the mirror — and survived.

I may be sitting on a bench inside a plastic garbage bag, but I'm home, and I'm free (though not home free). I'm latching onto this slice of freedom and not letting go.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Exactly one year ago — October 1, 2010 — I had the mammogram that would alter everything. (It's sort of ironic that I found my cancer during the very month that has been hammered into our heads as the month to get a mammogram. So I guess that's the good news.)

Much has been written about the Hunt for Pink October, and prior to being diagnosed myself, I was blissfully unaware of how breast cancer survivors might feel about all this pinkification. My involvement in the surging sea of pink prior to my diagnosis was one of abject commercialism. In the world of women's consumer magazines (where I used to toil), the pages of each October issue were flush with pink products. We had to create 'thoughtful' stories structured around a breast cancer theme, drum up reasons to buy rose-colored, rhinestone-encrusted compacts, and entice readers to want to do downward dog on a pretty-in-pink yoga mat. It was all part of the job. We were providing a service (albeit a branded one) in which women not afflicted by the disease could in some way show their support (via the "percentage of proceeds donated") for those that were. And we were doing our best to educate the masses about breast cancer with our articles. But let's be honest: Advertisers loved seeing their "pink'd" items showcased on our pages — and that kept the wheels of profitability greased and spinning. 

Did I ever stop to think how "Pinktober" felt to a woman who actually had breast cancer? 


Then I got diagnosed. Now I know. It sucks. Pinktober is just one ginormous reminder that I didn't dodge the bullet. And no pretty-in-pink yoga mat is gonna change my status now. 

(Copyright The Big C and Me)
Speaking of hues, who chose pink as the color of breast cancer anyway? 'cause I think they got it all wrong. Blue — now that's a color any survivor can wrap his or her head around. What BCer doesn't feel blue? Not all the time, of course, but I bet we feel blue more often than we feel pink. Yes? No?

You want to see real breast cancer pink? Check out a sistah post-surgery. No matter the color of our skin, our scars are the same: pink.

My one-year marker is the first of many dates I'll be noting in the coming months. The best place for me to reflect on these types of things is on the trail. We had a little rain today, and storm clouds were still swirling overhead, so after dinner, my husband and I went up into the mountains and were greeted by a rosy sunset of spectacular proportion. 

The Hunt for Pink October? I think I may have found it. In shades of blue and pink.