Monday, December 31, 2012


(Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
This marks the 82nd blog post I've written in 2012 (that's twice as many as I wrote in 2011). It's been a good and busy year, and while I have no idea what's in store for me in 2013, I can promise you this: I'll be writing about it. The good, the bad, the uncomfortable and, you betcha: The downright ugly.

This past year has made me reflect a great deal on breast cancer as a whole, and the many ways it taints the many lives it touches. Not just the patient, but ...

Friday, December 21, 2012


It's been a week since my last blog post, the one in which I answered the question of whether or not I think cancer is a gift.

Cancer is still not a gift.

A number of people commented on that blog post, including Ann, who blogs over at the incredible But Doctor... I Hate Pink — and for whom metastasis to her liver means she will never recover. She writes, "If breast cancer is a gift, I'm not exactly crazy about the wrapping paper. My 'gift' looks like a two year old wrapped it, then sat on it." Ann is funny that way. No matter what she is writing about, her pervasive humor seeps into every nook and cranny — every comma, every letter, every word.

But Ann also knows when to get serious, and does so in the rest of her reply...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


My blogging friend Nancy over at the always-insightful Nancy's Point is revisiting the ever-present query of whether or not cancer is a gift. That got me thinking. Is cancer a gift? 

My Big Fat Cancer Adventure began two years ago, when I really did get
Cancer for Christmas. But I'm not seeing that shimmer (or is it glimmer?) of warm and fuzzy light at the end of the proverbial cancer tunnel. Every time I round a bend on The Big C Highway, there's a new roadblock in my way, another hurdle to climb over, another hoop to jump through. It is never ending and, as the great Gilda Radner's Roseanne Roseannadanna character famously quipped, "It's always something."

But back to the concept of cancer being a "gift." Is cancer an opportunity to live your life differently? Yup. But don't we all have that option, every single day? (Yup.)

Is cancer a wakeup call? Yup. Like stepping into the path of an express train could be considered an eye-opening event, cancer stops us smack in our tracks. Many of us live to tell the tale; many of us do not. All of us are maimed. But am I thankful for the train that is trying to run me over? Nope.

Let's try a different analogy: Does the deer being hunted in the forest think the rifle is a gift? Nope.
(Copyright © CamoGirl_18)

I'm here to tell you that getting diagnosed with cancer is akin to having crosshairs tattooed on your back. You will forever be a target of The Big C. And like the deer, you will try very, very hard to outrun this enemy. You'll attack it with your arsenal of surgery and chemicals and radiation and years of hormone-surpressing pills. You'll fill an emotional moat with your tears. You'll find out all too quickly who your real friends are — and you will take this realization like a bullet to the heart. You'll need a nap every day and be unable to fend off your fears in the darkness of night. You'll experience "scanxiety" any time you have to take any kind of medical test. You'll develop PTSD whenever you walk into a doctor's office (especially at a cancer center) or when you notice a new ache or pain. Of course you'll become an expert on nutrition and additives and the many, many things that are harmful in our environment and you'll try to live a cleaner life. (Good luck with that.) You'll exercise less and eat more. (And then you will exercise more and eat less.) You'll pine for the days when you could remember details quickly, concentrate easily, and be motivated in general. You'll curse the necessity of being your own health advocate 24/7, and appreciate your hands-on WedMD degree. You'll wonder how the hell you ever had time to do anything besides go to the doctor and monitor your own health.

Because in the end, it all comes down to this: Cancer is hiding like a hunter in a blind deep within the woods, holding a loaded rifle with its sights set on you and me. 

And that ain't no gift.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Some things never change.

A year ago, I was dreading my first "cancerversary" and so relieved to find my feelings surrounding the date did not reach epic proportion (as I feared they would).

It's now been two years since I got "the call." And I've spent even less time thinking about my "cancerversary" this year than I did last year. Turns out December 8th — the day after the day that will live in infamy — still holds no charge for me. 
Yes, it's been two years since I learned I had cancer. But it's also been five years since I lost my father to mesothelioma, the asbestos cancer he likely acquired while serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII. Rather than rewrite history, I'll save a few minutes (OK, hours) and repost what I typed in this space one year ago. 

Instead of spending time blogging, I'll be spending the day with my mom, doing Christmasy type things, like decorating the tree. (Well, I'll be decorating the tree. She'll watch. So will my husband. Some things never change — and for that I am grateful.)

Here's my post from December 8th, 2011...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


We know I am a slow writer. But I'm also a slow healer — something I never knew until my bilateral mastectomy nearly 22 months ago. It's been one long, bloody (in the British sense) battle after another with this right (aka "problem child") boob of mine.

After struggling for months with delayed healing followed by the loss of my right tissue expander followed by the replacement of said expander followed by additional delayed healing, it goes without typing that I was greatly anticipating the surgery to exchange my tissue expanders for permanent implants. (Why do they make "exchange" sound so simple anyway, like going in for an oil change?) Turns out I was more afraid of this "exchange" surgery than any of the others. My butterflies felt more like...

Friday, October 19, 2012


I'm bringing back the Six-Word Memoir® challenge! 

Last May, our six word challenge was about cancer in general (see that post here). Many in the blogosphere joined in. Now I'd like to focus on breast cancer and Pinktober. 

So I'm challenging you...

Saturday, October 13, 2012


  1. Visit and Eisai will donate $1 to Metastatic Breast Cancer research.
  2. Sign up for MBCaware emails, and Eisai will donate another $1.
  3. "Like" the 'METAvivor' page on Facebook and another $1 will be donated.
  4. Share an image on Facebook, Eisai will donate another $1.
  5. Follow @METAvivor or Tweet with #MBCaware and another $1 is donated!
  6. There is an important video about Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) created by METAvivor that is phenomenal. Trigger a $1 donation to MBC research simply by visiting the website. 

Friday, October 12, 2012


In honor of the 2nd Annual World Mental Health Day, I'm joining the blogging party (albeit a bit late) in an effort to shed some light on emotional health following a cancer diagnosis.

I'm not a medical professional, but I'm pretty sure whatever mental maladies you struggled with pre-cancer will be exacerbated post-cancer. Your usual coping tools will no longer work. Fasten seat belts. Gonna be a bumpy ride.

NOT READY, NOT SET, GOTTA GO Pre-cancer, exercise was an effective form of mental and emotional therapy for me; it helped to reduce my overall anxiety (I have always been a worrier). Post-cancer I wanted this to be the same. But after a double mastectomy, reconstruction and subsequent healing complications, movement and lifting restrictions by my doctor meant I couldn't exercise for long stretches of time. As in, months at a time (aside from walking, big whoop there). Suddenly my exercise tool was missing from my toolbox. And as you know, being inactive and burning fewer calories leads to weight gain. (Ten pounds over here.) That means more anxiety, 'cause extra weight is a risk factor not only in getting breast cancer, but in recurrence as well.

What I didn't see coming was the lack of energy brought on by a cancer diagnosis. Dealing with having cancer is obviously very emotionally depleting. Your world is turned completely upside down, you spend more time in doctor's offices than you do with your friends, and you have to practically enroll in medical school to understand what's going on in your body. (My brother calls it getting my WebMD degree.) Tack on surgeries, treatment, Tamoxifen, and the lethargy that comes from being in bed and just laying low (my BC sistahs who had chemo and/or radiation really suffer in this department)... well, you can see how easy it is to gain weight.

Some people find that they lose their appetite during times of extreme duress. Some find their appetite increases. I have experienced both of these. When you're healing, it's vitally important to eat healthy, high-protein foods. So you have to keep eating. For anyone who has ever tried to numb a bad (or good) emotion with food, this is tricky territory. My primary care physician set me straight regarding feeling bad about my extra pounds; he looked me straight in the eye and said, "Now is not the time to be dieting." What I heard? "Go ahead, eat the ice cream."

You might be thinking Hey, I can always burn off a few extra calories in the bedroom. And that might have been true pre-cancer. But lopping off body parts chews you up and spits you out onto a very dark and harrowing road, one that takes a loooooong time to find your way back from. So if you had any Body Image Issues before cancer (and lets face it, who didn't?), you'd better grab your crash helmet, 'cause you live in B.I.I. town now —where life is always under construction.

All this post-cancer anxiety may make you want to self-medicate by adding a little wine to your whine. And who could blame you? But you know pain killers and drinking make a bad marriage. You might also be tempted to keep up the pain pills even though you're not really in that much pain today. (Again, who could blame you?) But please be careful on these slippery slopes. Restrict that bad-girl behavior to a few hours, not a few weeks or months, please.

This leads me to getting a good night's sleep. Remember those innocent moments before you were diagnosed, when you'd be laying in the dark, waiting for sweet slumber to strike? Cancer strips you of that tender time. Cancer steals your sleep and hack-saws your dreams. Nighttime becomes terror time, just like when you were a little kid, except now the scary things are no longer just in your imagination. Knocking yourself out with pharmacology is often the only way to get a good night's sleep post cancer, I am afraid to say. I have had good results with melatonin too. (Always check with your doctor before taking any Rx aids, OTC or otherwise.)

As you can see, a cancer diagnosis has very little positive effect on your mental and emotional health. That's why you need to be prepared.

When you're in attack-and-recover mode, all of the above anxieties are going on all at once. And you somehow get through it — with the (hopefully) loving support of family and friends who bring you food and flowers and cards and comfort whenever they call or stop by, which is (again, hopefully) often. Their attention and distraction enable you to temporarily cope emotionally. But what happens if you don't have such a good support system? What happens when you have to struggle through a lot of this s*** alone? And what happens when the people you have come to depend on are no longer dependable because they need to get back to their own lives? What happens then? 

Ah, the frightful secret: On the heels of healing comes disappointment — in ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our friends, our family, our life. Because, let's face it, everyone wants to get back to "normal." They need to get back to normal. And eventually that is what they all do, because they have to. And you? Well, you'll never get back to "normal." You have to find your new normal. And that sucks most of all.

So you gotta figure out which new tools you need in that lovely emotional toolbox of yours.

The first crucial thing I did to counter my mental maladies was to surround myself with other women who were diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time as I was. I joined an online group at BCO and seven of us then started our own closed Facebook group. I call these wonderful women my rubies; I wrote about them here. And I couldn't have made it through all this BC crap without them. They understand everything I am going through. They lift me up in my darkest hour and cheer me on in my happiest moments. We are always there to listen to each other, 24/7. Though we live in different parts of the country, I was fortunate enough to meet two of my rubies this year, and hope to meet the rest of these wonderful women in 2013.

The second crucial thing I did for my emotional health was to start this blog. In the beginning I was writing to no one, for no one. Because no one knew I had started this thing. Very few people who knew me in "real" life knew I was blogging about life post-cancer. I didn't tell them because I needed to feel free to write about whatever was troubling me without worrying that someone might be offended. Of course, that still happened anyway. (One of my closest friends told another close friend, Be careful what you tell her, or she'll blog about you!) Oh well. The point of this blog was never to please anyone other than me. Call it selfish; call it self-preservation. I needed to get my thoughts and fears and experiences out of my head; it was literally the only way I could make sense out of what I was going through. Writing it out somehow brought me great clarity.

What I didn't expect was to find a rich, wonderfully supportive breast cancer blogging community out here in cyber city. Oh my! Besides finding my rubies, this has been my greatest post-cancer joy. While I have yet to meet any of my "bloggy" friends in person, I feel a great kinship to a great many of them. Just take a look under my "Favorites" heading to find some really inspiring ladies, and even a few men. They work through their mental maladies daily. I'm willing to bet they can help you too.

I still haven't told the majority of people in my "real" life about this blog. And of the ones I have told, very few read it. (Guess you have to have gone through cancer in order to truly relate to it.) So while I don't even know who is reading this, I know that you live in 87 countries around the world and counting. And that completely blows my mind.

Blogging has become a positively essential outlet for my emotional health. I'm hoping it helps you in some way, too. Isn't that what community is all about?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Hats off to the incredible National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), the brains and brawn behind the mission to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020
  • How do they plan to do it? Click here
  • What progress has been made so far? Click here
  • Want to help the NBCC further their efforts? Click here
And, finally...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


It's Wordle Wednesday. And it's Pinktober. That means only one thing: It's time to stop sugarcoating cancer. Enough already. Breast cancer ain't pretty and it certainly ain't pink. (Well, I take that back: The only thing pink about breast cancer is our scars.So rather than telling you how I feel about the deluge of pink that threatens to drown us all this month...

Monday, October 1, 2012


Today is the first day of Pinktober. Rather than rehash my feelings about the pinkification of breast cancer (read my October 1st post from last year here for that), instead let's act with love and make history together by signing up for the HOW (Health of Women) study. 
What is HOW? It's an international online research study that will track thousands of people over time in an effort to determine not only what causes breast cancer, but how to prevent it.
Who is HOW? Dr. Susan Love's Research Foundation is behind this ground-breaking study.
Who is eligible? EVERYONE! It doesn't matter if...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


It's Wordle "Word Cloud" Wednesday! (To participate, see the last paragraph.) I had an interesting week that involved a dinner where I had to be "on" and a dinner where I got to be "off." (Guess which one was more enjoyable.)

Yesterday, I saw my plastic surgeon for my three-week post-surgical checkup. He is pleased with my progress, and...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Each time I am about to have surgery, I make a solo sojourn into the mountains. I take no prisoners, no compadres. I have to do this alone. (Just like surgery.)

It's my attempt to quiet my chattering mind, but it also gives me a calming memory from which to draw upon during the various periods of anxious waiting, waiting, waiting that I experience on surgery day.

First, there's the waiting for water I cannot swallow because it's after midnight. Or the cup of joe I smell in the morning as my husband sips it while reading the paper before we leave. I am too nervous to focus on words.

Then there's the waiting in the passenger seat of our car as we drive to the hospital in the inky pre-dawn light...

Monday, September 24, 2012


I want to give a shout out to two Shannons. Both are breast cancer sistahs that I met online. They don't know each other, but were recently "introduced" online via yours truly. (I met one of them in person earlier this year, and hope to meet the other one day soon.)

Shannon #1 lives down South and is six weeks out from surgery to correct a botched reconstruction.

Shannon #2 lives up North and is in surgery today, also to correct a botched reconstruction.

Both of these women had completed their reconstructive journeys...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


It's here! The first Wordle Wednesday.

And I am feeling so much better! In the past two days I've released myself from the mental, physical and emotional shackles of surgery and have actually gotten out of the house! I've spent time with friends, eaten sweet confections, visited the beach, and even taken photos of a local 9/11 memorial. All that adds up to a vastly different word cloud for me today than the one I posted just two days ago. (Ah, The Power of the Wordle!)

I invite you to join me ...

Monday, September 17, 2012


I am feeling so much better! I had to kick my fever to the curb first, though. Once it was gone, my mood lifted, I regained some much-needed energy, and I could feel myself starting to heal... BIG sigh of relief over here.

I've decided to post a weekly Wordle. What is a Wordle? It's a word cloud generated from, well, words — your words. It's a great way to give expression to what you're going through at any given moment...

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Have you ever walked yourself into surgery? As in, walked with your own two feet from the pre-op area (where they strap the pic line onto the back of your hand) into the OR? Neither had I. 

The hospital where I had my exchange surgery last week is "trying something new." Instead of being wheeled in on a gurney, I had the pleasure of walking (with a nurse) in my faded gown and anything-but-sassy, mustard-yellow, hospital-issued socks down an icy corridor — straight into the operating room. 

Once inside, they untied my gown and asked me to climb onto the surgical table. I was pleasantly surprised — it felt so soft, like a pillow-top mattress covered in warm flannel. (Turns out they just got new table pads. Score one for me.) As for the "trying something new," I reckon that just means less gurney guys in the wee small hours of the hospital morning.

Prior to my stroll into the OR, while waiting for the day to commence with my husband, we spoke to the very pleasant anesthesiologist about my vomiting tendencies. She assured us she would minimize the chance of this happening.

And so, after 19 long months, I finally, finally have the final surgery to remove my tissue expanders and replace them with permanent implants...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


(Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
Last night, on our way to a Labor Day celebration dinner with friends, I looked up at the sky and suddenly asked my husband to take a quick detour to the top of a nearby hill. I simply can't pass up a good-looking sunset.

It always pays to be camera ready.

My first camera was a Minolta SLR. Got it as a high school graduation gift from my family, and I loved it. Used it frequently, and for years. Until I dropped it at the Emmy Awards.

Now before you get too excited ...

Saturday, September 1, 2012


(Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
Today is the final day of Marie's JBBC Challenge, and I have to admit this photographing of ordinary things has been one of my favorites. Got my creativity flowing again. (Thank you, Marie!) So to close out the week, I'm posting my favorite end-of-summer recipe for Zucchini Bread. Enjoy!

Friday, August 31, 2012


Twice a year, my dear pal P. and I celebrate our birthdays by taking each other to our favorite spa.

Yesterday was my turn to be pampered, and we got in plenty of quality GTL (Gym, Tan, Lunch) time. The kicker, for me, was the quote that was printed on the front of our lunch menu. It so aptly describes the process of getting through a cancer diagnosis. 

Don't cha think?

Thanks to P. for another awesome birthday celebration. It made the ordinary, well, extraordinary!

(This post is part of JBBC's Celebrating the Ordinary Challenge.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012


I am enjoying one of summer's simple pleasures: A perfectly round, perfectly ripe, perfectly delicious, perfectly delightful tomato.

Much like a mate, finding a good-looking tomato is easy; finding one with substance that's also nice and sweet? Now that's another matter entirely.

Until now.

(Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
For lo, I have discovered the lovely Kumato®— a super-sweet and small (just an inch and a half in diameter) tomato that is brownish-green on the outside and reddish-green on the inside. Yes, quite unusual but OH so delicious! I buy them by the 6-pack at Trader Joe's for the very reasonable sum of $3.49. They're imported (thank you, Canada!) and their flavor can't be beat. They don't even need to ripen. Just pop 'um in the 'frig. They are consistently yummy, I swear. 

And no, this is not a paid announcement. Just sharing a little culinary secret with my besties!

PS Hats off to the JBBC challenge — for were it not for Marie, I would never have given the Kumato its due!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


(Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
Ordinarily, I try to spend a few afternoons a week each summer swimming in the pool. I use my noodle and do a variety of contortionist water aerobics moves. I am quite the sight. (So much so, one of our dogs insists on keeping watch over me whenever I'm in the water.)

With my surgery fast approaching, however, my days in the deep end are dwindling. And I'm oh-so-weary of the hot waters of reconstruction anyway. I'm jonseing for a calm, cool, uncomplicated end-of-summer slide into fall.

So I guess if I want to cool my jets, I'd better get splash splashing before Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


It is Day 3 of Marie's Challenge.

I haven't been hiking in several weeks because it's just been too damn hot. But this morning, I brave the sun and head out early — with an umbrella. (Something I have never done before.) A biker passes me and asks if I am expecting rain, which is pretty funny since I live in a desert-like climate and we won't see rain in these parts for several more months. (Certainly not like the rain Isaac is about to usher in to the Southeast U.S.). I simply reply that I am ever hopeful.

(Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
Just as I am ever hopeful about seeing flora and wildlife when I go hiking. And today I was not disappointed. I came upon a few sunflowers — the last vestiges of summer in an otherwise stark and arid landscape. I move in closer for a better shot, and am surprised (just as I was yesterday) by the tiny creature I find ... this one hard at work (dare I say it?) busy as a little bee.

I continue hiking for another 20 minutes, then turn around. (Too hot.) As I round one of the final bends, BAM! There they are: A family of deer crossing the trail directly in front of me. (I love when this happens and have written about this before here, but they are always such a treat to see!) I count six of them as they make their way gingerly down the steep hill, across the dusty trail and down into the forested gully. My little camera doesn't zoom so well, but you can make out four of them before they disappear into the thick, dry brush:

(Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
At the top of the ridge, I take a moment to look out over the landscape of this place that I know and love (and have written about before). Next week, I head into my sixth (count 'um, 6!) surgery, the one I have been looking forward to since this breast cancer journey began, the prize at the end of the struggle. Though my path hit several snags (whose hasn't?) and my surgery was shelved for a year while my body took its time healing, the day is finally arriving. A full 19 months and two days after my bilateral mastectomy, I will have my tissue expanders finally removed and exchanged for implants. My left expander has been in since February 2011; my right since December 2011. That is a long time in the life of a tissue expander.

(Copyright © 2012 The Big C and Me)
The loss of freedom is indescribable, so hell yeah, I can't wait to experience the "feeling" of having implants. And getting a semblance of my former self back. Though my chest will forever be a "no feeling" zone, at least I can rid myself of the unpleasant sensation of carrying around bricks. (And you ladies who have been through this know what I am talking about.) The sensation is akin to wearing a very tight bra that is holding, well, bricks, that you can never take off. Ever.

For now, I take my hike and drink in the view so that I have a pretty mental picture in my head before my friendly anesthesiologist sends me off to slumberland next week.

This is me this morning, all Mary Poppins-like.

Just another ordinary day.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Nothing is ever quite as it seems.

(copyright 2012 TheBigCandMe)
I went outside this afternoon to take a photo of our Crepe Myrtle tree (I'm taking part in a one-week blogging challenge that was started by Marie over at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer). The abundant blossoms don't last very long, and they are so pretty, so pink. They never fail to make me smile each summer.

So I got up under a tree branch and positioned my camera just so, in order to get a glimpse of the vibrant pink blooms against the bright blue sky.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this little face peering back at me from behind the lens.

Sometimes the obvious is right smack in front of us, but we can't see it because we're too busy looking for the pretty.

A perfect metaphor for life, don't you think?

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I'm taking part in a one-week blogging challenge that was started by Marie over at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.

As Marie puts it, this challenge is "about celebrating the ordinary simple things we can sometimes take for granted each day. Will you join me in finding one thing each day to take a picture of to remind us of the simple ordinary pleasures in life?"

So of course I said YES! If you have a blog too, you can join in by posting your photo on your blog and then leaving a link at JBBC. If you don't have a blog, you can still participate; just go to Marie's Facebook page and upload your photo there. Marie will be posting everyone's photos on Facebook as well.

This little duck symbolizes the past two summers I've been physically and emotionally staying afloat while navigating the wonky waters of reconstruction. I've had to do a lot of wading (and waiting) while my body took the time it needed to heal. For the most part, I've been able to chill out with a smile; after all, I'm still here. Still swimming. Still enjoying the sunshine. So many others are not. 

I am a lucky duck.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Forgive my posting another saying, but I couldn't resist... it's a good one. (PS: I'm currently working on a piece about anger, so stay tuned!)

Monday, August 13, 2012


I'm willing to bet this statement is true 100 percent of the time when it comes to cancer. 

Is it true for you?

Saturday, July 21, 2012


I finally got around to giving my blog an official logo! It was designed by a lovely woman named Sumera. I love it, and hope you do, too.

I'm still tweaking the redesign, so please bear with me. Hopefully I'll end up with a blog that is both pleasing to look at and easy to navigate.

In the spirit of my new dancing woman/tree, I hope you embrace a little piece of nature this weekend! Enjoy.

Monday, July 16, 2012


The last I wrote of my journey with reconstruction (see Delayed Healing), I was trying in vain to save my right tissue expander. Allow me to catch y'all up on my physical progress since then. I'm including photos to help anyone out there who may be struggling with delayed healing issues. First, let's backtrack to a year ago.

July 6, 2011
July 2011 My original right incision never healed closed after my mastectomy on February 3, 2011. After repeated surgical interventions to debride and re-suture and heal it, a pinhole developed through which fluid seeped at a consistent pace. The pinhole grew from a tiny dot to the size of a large pinhead (see photo). Because it is an actual hole and not just yellow/green tissue (see Delayed Healing for pictures of that), my plastic surgeon, Dr. C., and I decide it is time for the right tissue expander to finally come out. I make peace with this decision.

July 6, 2011 In the hospital under anesthesia, Dr. C. cuts into the healed portion of my old mastectomy scar, excises the expander and scrapes away the scar tissue that has built up over the past five months. This tissue will be sent to the lab to make sure I don't have an undetected infection as well as to check for cancer cells. 

This is my fourth surgery on this side (not counting in-office stitching). The fourth time I undergo general anesthesia in as many months. The fourth time I try in vain to heal this wound. (But who's counting. Oh right. Me.)

I wake up and don't feel nauseous (always a sign of operational success!) and am sent home a few hours later. With another damn drain in a different place (which means another awful scar). I'm wrapped tight as a mummy in an Ace bandage and not allowed to shower. Which is alright by me, because I'm dreading having to look at my mutilated self.

July 10, 2011
Despite the internal and external trauma of delayed healing and the subsequent removal of my tissue expander and scar tissue, the AlloDerm that Dr. C. placed in righty during my mastectomy is holding up just fine. That's the good news. But I'm now left with a crescent-shaped mound resting above my inframammary fold line, and a sagging, scarred pile of skin above it. Just call me Uneven Annie.

Time passes. My incision heals. For. The. First. Time. EVER. (I guess my body really didn't like that right expander.) My biggest challenge now? Disguising the fact that I'm now a one-boobed wonder when I leave the house.

The easiest way around this is to wear a structured bra that clasps in front. (This workout bra is by Danskin; I bought it at Walmart.) I don't fill out the cups, but that doesn't matter; when I wear this baby, I look "normal" in clothes. Only when hugging me would you notice a dent. (So I don't hug too many people.) The plunge design of this bra allows me to finally wear regular tops. (I've been living for months in surgical vests 24/7... they provide compression for the fluid build-up and a way for my bandages to stay put. I will not miss them.) What a relief to leave button-down shirts on the hanger.

November 30, 2011
I also begin physical therapy twice a week to regain the range of motion on my very weak right side. And I'm beyond relieved to hear neither infection nor cancer is found in my scar tissue.

December 1, 2011 One week before my one-year cancerversary (see that post here), I have my fifth surgery. Dr. C. inserts a new right tissue expander and fills it to 200 ccs (rather than the original 350 ccs like my other side). For the first 25 days, all goes swimmingly. My incision looks to be healing. I'm back in my surgical vest and recovering while also preparing for Christmas. But I overdo it, eagerly handing out gifts from beneath the tree I also helped decorate. What was I thinking? I notice a tiny spot of yellow on my bandage that night.

January 5, 2012
December 28, 2011 I notice a larger yellow spot on my gauze pad this morning. Here's the weird thing: The spot isn't on my fresh incision line. It's along my OLD incision line — an area that wasn't even cut during my last surgery! Truly, this is my Achilles heel. I feel like I just found out someone or something died: My hope.

Despite all this, and for reasons unknown, the tiny area does not develop into an actual hole like it has so many times in the past. It simply weeps. Kind of the way I do when I stop to think about how long I've been struggling. I use less antibiotic ointment this time around because I read somewhere that too much can inhibit healing. Dr. C. doesn't think this has anything to do with it, but I'm willing to try. Maybe this is why it's not getting bigger?

February 29, 2012
February 2012 Sometimes I have seepage after I shower, so I cover my incision with a big, waterproof bandage. Afterwards, I have to press down on the area above my expander to force out the accumulated serum that continues to build up inside and around my expander. Still, the area continues to improve. (Fat fingers crossed.) A yellow scab forms. I am cautiously optimistic. 

But the feeling is fleeting.

March 5, 2012
March 1, 2012 I shower with my waterproof bandage, and afterwards dab alcohol gingerly around the tiny scab. Lo and behold, the tiny scab comes off. Yippee! This means I'm healed! I quickly grab my magnifying mirror — and to my horror I see there is a tiny black hole instead of fresh tissue. Healed skin never resided behind that scab; it was all just an illusion. 

I almost drop the mirror. Instead, I start to cry. I can't take this anymore. I have been tolerant. I have been compliant. But it's been 13 bloody (in the British sense) months and I'm SO over this physical and metaphorical black hole. Part of me wants to keep denying that I've got a medical problem with no solution. Another part of me is pissed off and ready to take on someone, anyone, by the horns. The rest of me is just tired. Luckily I have an appointment in a few days with Dr. C. He will know what to do!

March 6, 2012 I'm feeling frustrated, confused, impatient — dare I say it: I'm in a mood. My pinhole continues to ooze. I explain the whole thing to Dr. C. He listens. He empathizes. He looks. He presses. He squeezes. Then he shakes his head. I have never seen him this perplexed or down. Then he drops the bombshell: He is not sure what to do with me.

What do you mean, you don't know what to do with me? You're a doctor! I'm doing everything right and this is all very wrong. I say nothing about getting a second opinion, but I'm absolutely thinking it — and he must be a mind-reader because he suggests I get one. (How many doctors do you know who are willing to tell you that? It takes a lot to admit defeat. Or at least profound frustration.) I'm also wondering why he hasn't shared my case with other surgeons and collectively figured this out. Again, he reads my mind: He tells me he has a colleague at UCLA that he wants to discuss my case with. 

I would like both of those things: A second opinion, and you discussing my case with your colleague. There. I said it. And man, it feels good.

Newly energized by anger, I go home and contact a friend who had reconstruction (see my Get This Party Started! post). She gives me the name of her doctor. As I'm about to dial his number, my gut interrupts: Don't call this guy. Why? Because I suspect he's the same surgeon that Dr. C. is going to confer with. I don't make the call. I listen to my gut.

I turn my attention to a woman I know online who is an expert on tissue expanders. In addition to her vast technical knowledge, she keeps a database on leading surgeons (as well as clunkers who should never work on a woman again) in dozens of cities across the U.S. She tirelessly volunteers her time helping breast cancer patients navigate the tricky, murky waters of TE Land. I lay out my tale of woe and ask for a referral or two in my area.

She emails back the same day, but I am unprepared for her reply: "I think you need to give up the ghost on implant-based reconstruction only. There is some reason your body is reacting in this manner and I do not think that current methods of trying to resolve the problem are working now or will work in the future."

March 13, 2012
And, just like that, my merry-go-round comes to a screeching halt.

I'm in a funk for three days. Pissed that someone could thwart my hopes to heal with one blunt email. The truth is, I'm unwilling to undergo more drastic surgical measures to "fix" my problem (i.e., a skin graft from my back, or taking fat from my belly to make a boob). I'm stubborn. I've been suffering through this for far too long to just "give up the ghost." But maybe that's exactly what I should do. Give up the ghost of what I want for what I can realistically have. (Like getting cancer wasn't enough of a kick in the mouth! This whole recon thing ain't for the faint of heart.)

March 14, 2012
March 14, 2012 Something amazing and unthinkable has happened overnight. My pinhole is no longer a pinhole. My incision is closed. CLOSED I tell you! I can't believe it. I was religious about taking photos of myself throughout this process; see it for yourself.

Miraculous, right? Guess I had to get good and mad in order for my body to release its need to seep. I was living in limbo land for so long that when I finally stopped crying and feeling sorry for myself, so did my body. And in that moment I took back my control. I was able to let go emotionally. And I began to heal.

March 27, 2012
March 27, 2012 I see Dr. C. again. He is visibly concerned about my plight. (He doesn't yet know that my pinhole has healed. I don't tell him; I want to hear what his colleague had to say first.) I'm sitting in my unopened, button-down shirt. Before he begins, I ask what the other surgeon's name is. (HA! I was right. It is the same surgeon who operated on my friend. The gut never lies!) Dr. C. says both he and the other Dr. C. think I need a Latissimus Dorsi Flap due to my compromised healing. And that's when I open my shirt. I flash him my healed incision and stop him cold in his tracks. (How often do you get to flash an unsuspecting man?) His mouth literally drops open. He is shocked speechless. He knocks on the wall for luck. "This is completely unexpected," are about all the words he can muster.

I no longer want a second opinion. (Kinda already got one.) The seeping and weeping has ended. I am healing. It will take a few more months. I can do this.

July 15, 2012
July 10, 2012 I see Dr. C and it's official: I am completely healed! Here the hitch: During normal reconstruction, saline is injected into tissue expanders over a period of time to stretch the skin and help prepare it for final implant surgery. I have 350 ccs on my left side from my first surgery, and 200 ccs on my right side from my TE reinsertion surgery. This is not ideal because A) they are not very big and B) they are uneven in size. I won't be as big as I was before, but Dr. C. is confident he can make me match (using implants only) on the surgery table, and with a good result. I do not need a skin graft. If I didn't trust this process completely before today, I do now.

Dr. C. does not want to compromise my skin integrity by stretching me further, so I will not be getting fills every couple of weeks like we originally planned. He has, however, decided I can have one fill (more for the experience, I think, than anything else.) Though he's never allowed a patient to do so before, he lets me push the saline through the syringe, giving myself the long-awaited 50 cc fill on each side. (It's only been 17 months. What's my hurry?)
(Illustration courtesy of; all reconstruction photos © 2012 The Big C and Me)
On that note, my friends, this blog is officially up-to-date with my real life. It is tracking true to life events. (That's something I've been trying to do since I started writing back in April of 2011.)

When I finally have my exchange-to-implant surgery (didnt I tell you? It's scheduled for September 5, 2012!), my posts will be in real time. 

Woot woot!

EDITED TO ADD: To read what happens after my exchange surgery, click here.