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Monday, September 29, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reconstructing Emily

Tomorrow I return to the OR for my latest stab (eek) at reconstruction. To recap: In August 2012, I had a double mastectomy, and tissue expanders were placed then. A couple months later, during chemo, I developed an infection and my tissue expander was removed and replaced with a new one. Then I did radiation, and my skin fried so bad that it broke apart at the seam. The expander was removed and replaced with a soft saline implant. Same thing happened again, and the implant was replaced again. Finally, in August 2013, the implant on the left side was removed. Each time, the most damaged skin was cut away. Since last August, there's been nothing there. I've been holding a little crocheted booblet of my own design next to my heart since then. Over the summer, I had a fat graft, taking a small bit fat from other, um, more endowed parts of my body and pumping into the vacated boob spot. The goal was to use the fat to nourish the tissue post radiation. Tomorrow, we will do that again, except with a lot more fat.

This will be my 7th surgery. Why the fuck am I doing this?

It's a real question. It's one I've asked myself many times. Why am I putting myself through this process? Why not pull out the other implant, and be done with it? I've considered it. A lot. After all, what's my motivation here? Why am I doing this? Is this an anti-feminist act? I am subjecting myself to pain and countless surgeries just to satisfy some societal requirement that my body be pleasingly "normal"?

Reconstruction wasn't something I spent much time thinking about in the days before my mastectomy. I visited my plastic surgeon the day after my diagnosis. He talked a lot about the process, promised to take good care of me, and I was kind of like, "Thank you very much, I don't really care."

I think immediate reconstruction is often presented as the most favorable option because our surgeons are worried about the shock of suddenly having nothing where there was something. I think, as a whole, they worry that we won't be able to handle it, and that immediate reconstruction offers comfort from the loss. Having had it and lost it, I don't really think that's true.

Last summer, after my implant was taken out, I placed my hand flat against the left side of my chest, and felt my heartbeat. I hadn't felt it there since I was a kid. In a way, it took me back to my kid body, which is really just my body. The same one I've had. As separate as I've always felt from it, it is where I will always live.

This surgery tomorrow will focus on injecting small amounts of fat into the strong strips of scar tissue, with the aim of breaking them down. This has shown to be an effective technique, and I hope that after I'm healed I will finally have back my full range of motion. After that, we'll see. If my skin heals enough that a little implant can just be slipped in there, maybe I'll do that. Maybe I'll have to do an expander again. Maybe I'll do this weird space aged suction bra thing. Or maybe I'll decide to leave it be, and take out my other implant.

When I felt my heartbeat against my flat palm all those months ago, I understood the loss more profoundly than I ever had before. Without the stand in, the implant, I was able to truly know that things would never be the same. And as hard as that is to learn, it's necessary. It's necessary to know that "reconstruction" is a misnomer. What you get isn't a functioning, feeling, warm breast. It's just an implant, numb and dumb. I won't get back everything I lost. I just know that I've got to get as close to feeling good as I possibly can.

Right now, I feel I'm on that path. I hope that when this is over, I will no longer feel deep loss when I brush my hand over my chest. That I won't reflexively cover the left side of my body every time I lean forward, and every time I feel self conscious. Whether I ultimately decide to finish reconstruction or not, my hope is that in the end I will not be haunted by this scar. Instead of aiming to reconstruct my breast, which is impossible, I aim to reconstruct myself. To make myself again out of parts old and new. 

To make myself whole, whatever that means.


Saturday, September 27, 2014



For one who went away last night, under the sliver of a crescent moon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Aura Redux




Aura photography from a Chinatown crystal shop. Left, just after chemo, right, today. They have you sit in front of a grey screen, and put your hands on metal sensors, and they take a polaroid with a strange steel camera. The left side is what's past, the top is now, the right is what's coming. A dark aura (a see through one) indicates physical depletion; white light is uncertainty. Whatever you believe, it's fun to do, with a pretty picture besides.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

28 grams

I've been thinking lately about weight, and waiting. Waiting for this experience to be over, though by now I know there's not a fixed day. Weight, as in the heavy lightness that now sits on my chest.

Before, my breasts were things to be reckoned with, cajoled into supportive, wired, multihooked bras. When I weighed myself, I always thought, "Well take off ten pounds for the boobs." (They don't count, obviously.)

They were so heavy that I dreaded the way they would look in old age, a hubris I can only laugh at now. But they were so, so heavy. Except in water.

I don't know how to swim...I took a class at the Y once, but didn't completely learn. But what I did experience why the way my chest held me up in deeper water. At home, in the bath, the same thing happened.

Tonight I take a salted bath and note my lack of buoyancy. The saline pouch on the right side of my chest sits comfortably, inertly. Left side just quivers at being exposed to the light and heat.

On my path report, I learn the truth about the weight. Right, 752 grams, left, 780. Just over a pound and half each, nowhere near the five I'd overly generously estimated. They loomed large in my mind, I guess.

But hang on, back to those numbers. Right, 752, left 780. They were mostly symmetrical, so does that 28 gram difference, that one ounce difference, account for...what? The tumors, I suppose. Added up, just ten pennies' worth of death.

Those ones are locked away in a freezer somewhere, and they can't hurt me anymore. (Played on repeat.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Immune System FTW

Guys. GUYS. Some early results from the trial I'm participating in:


"One of only a few vaccines of its kind in development, GP2 has been shown to be safe and effective for breast cancer patients, reducing recurrence rates by 57%. Further, women with the highest overexpression of HER2 (known as HER2 +3) had no cancer recurrences when they were administered the vaccine after completing trastuzumab (Herceptin), a type of immunotherapy drug known as a monoclonal antibody." (emphasis mine...damn right)



If this is as good as it looks, then it's huge. Fucking huge. Go hug a goddamn scientist.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mourning Phase

So, let's talk about clothes. I like 'em big, I like 'em shapeless, and most of all, I like 'em to be seriously deficient in CMYK. Here is a picture of my dresser drawer: 


A rainbow of flowy, stretchy, grey things. So the other day, when I saw an infomercial for Suzanne Somers's 3 Way Poncho, I actually thought "the black one's not half bad."


Sometimes I scare myself. 


But what's this all about, really? Is it just about hiding out, and waiting until I'm old enough to buy some Eileen Fisher and call it a day? Or is it some elaborate ritual that I'm instinctively taking part it, thanks to my high school years of devotion to Thomas Hardy?

The color black best represented the Victorian act of mourning because it symbolizes the absence of light and in turn, life. It was an instantly recognizable sign that a loved one had departed this life. It is also said that wearing black for mourning comes from a Roman idea; the mourners could prevent being haunted from the ghost of the deceased by cloaking themselves in black. 

Who is the loved one here? (By the way, "loved one" does not mean just someone you love, it means the dearly departed.) Is it the breast, the body, the old self?

I realize I'm asking lots of questions, and not answering any. Welcome to my brain. More clarity later loves, I swear it.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Postludes


Why do I identify so much with the jilted, post bc? (What's the correct term there? bce? abc?)

Also, note to self: stop forestalling joy. Had a chance to buy Karen o tickets but didn't because I wanted to "think about it." Now sold out of course. Isn't this something I was supposed to have learned from this instructive, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger cancer experience? Oy.