Artificial puberty, round two

At age 25 with plenty of planned years of awesome boobage ahead of me, I never really considered not having reconstruction after my mastectomy. Although the reconstruction procedure added 4 hours to my surgery and meant considerably more pain and discomfort, there was and is something important to me about maintaining these bastions of my femininity – and I think it goes deeper than just wanting to look good in a tank top, although that’s certainly a consideration.

I found this beautiful quote in the book Reconstructing Aphrodite, a series of essays from women who decided to rebuild their bodies after the devastation of a mastectomy. It really spoke to me, and I hope it will speak to you too.

From the moment I was diagnosed with breast cancer and faced a possible mastectomy, I knew I wanted reconstruction. This response was out of my own sense of art, symmetry, and aesthetic. It was the same response I would have to a tooth extraction or the loss of any body part. It speaks of how I approach an environment that to me is visually out-of-balance.

How could I be concerned about something so superficial while facing cancer? Perhaps because I did not believe that I had the worst disease in the world. Princess Diana said, “The worst disease in the world is the lack of love.” Mother Teresa said, “The worst disease in the world is to be nothing to nobody.”

I live in the abundant love of God amid friends and family who express God’s loving kindness. We are surrounded by survivors of all life’s troubles and grief, surrounded by hope, peace, and joy. I saw the choice for reconstruction as only one of the endless ways to create beauty in my world. It was my surgeon’s sense of art and beauty and her respect for the female form that gave me the confidence to pursue this path.

Yesterday I had my second expander fill. I popped another Ativan beforehand, so that I could remain calm in the face of the MegaNeedle. Alas, I do not possess quite the same level of mental zen as the author of the above quote, although I have been doing a variety of yoga poses to ease my tense back. Child pose is THE BEST.

I was too calm about the fill, perhaps, because the MegaNeedle got the best of me this time. I felt everything as my right breast was punctured. I shouted out in alarm more than pain, because I was so surprised to have any sensation. The plastic surgeon apologized, but said it was good news, because it could herald the return of feeling in my breasts. Sweet! Maybe I won’t have to go the rest of my life unsure whether or not I’m having a nip-slip.

It’s quite weird to be numb across such a wide swath of my body. For example, I noticed that the DermaBond skin glue the surgeons used to close up my wounds – which, as I previously mentioned, looked like the Joker’s face – had started to crack, peel and fall off. I’m sure that if I had sensation, that would be unbearably itchy, but I can’t feel a thing. Side note: Can you believe that after surgery they still patch you up using things that can be found at OfficeMax? Staples, thread, glue? What year is this?

Anyway, the plastic surgeon noticed it, and accelerated the process by peeling off the remainder of the DermaBond with sterile tweezers. Again, I’m willing to bet this would be uncomfortable if I could feel it. When she was done, I was absolutely stunned. The dark, bumpy, scarlike appearance of my wound was approximately 95% due to the DermaBond itself. The actual scar is probably less than an 1/8 of an inch thick and is currently sort of a medium-pink, likely to fade to skin color within a couple of years. Although scar tissue is basically the least of my worries, considering that my life is literally on the line here, I can’t lie: I’m happy that I’ll be able to bare sideboob with abandon by 2015.

Every time I leave USC, I pass a promise on the wall:

USC's Promise

I never fail to marvel at the hundreds of thousands of scientists who work every day to heal people like me. After my diagnosis, I read the book The Emperor of All Maladies, a biological history of cancer written by an oncologist. It was like picking at a scab – painful at times, but equally addicting – and it gave me an enormous appreciation for all that we’ve been able to achieve in the long history of cancer. Gordie read it too, and is considering getting a tattoo of a crab in my honor. You guys, I SWOON.

85 thoughts on “Artificial puberty, round two

  1. My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer in October, 2011. She had had reconstruction surgery a couple of years before she was diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer. Although not as young as you but at 42, she was shocked. However she did not have to have a mastectomy but in my opinion it’s almost worse to not have a mastectomy.. I say this because she has to have mammorgrams and do self checks frequently just in case the cancer comes back. With a mastectomy there is a very low percentage of having a chance for it to come back. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have a mastectomy but at least you can say you have your peace of mind.

  2. Lesley says:

    whoaa blowin up girl! already famous – forget the encyclopedias. love it.

  3. […] Every time I leave USC, […]

  4. The Frantic Blogster says:

    I don’t really know what to say. Some of my relatives had cancer so I know how scary and painful it can be, though I can’t speak of first-hand experience and I don’t mean to sound pretentious. For what it’s worth, I think you’re really brave and inspiring to go about it with such a positive attitude.

    I also really liked the Mother Teresa and Lady Di quotes. I think they’re truer than true.

  5. […] now I know that the statistics aren’t just a number, they’re true. I just read a blog about a 25-year-old who was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to get a mastectomy (removal of the […]

  6. jenfbs says:

    I am truly amazed at what a brave woman you are. I see in my own life woman who face their circumstances with grace and humor just like you and I think you are terrific.

    I have a friend who just last year had reconstruction of her both breasts. She told me now that she has all the cancer and reconstruction lingo down pat she’s going a couple of new nipples once she get’s the tattoo lingo down.

    My best to you….

  7. Sandra says:

    Good luck, great attitude. Fight the fight and beat the boobs.

  8. Malkire says:

    Wow, your story is incredible, raw, honest…thank you.

  9. How brave you are? Cancer takes so much. The 20s are the years to enjoy your youth and beauty. Thank you for sharing your courageous story. I stand with USC and the world. Let’s make cancer a thing of the past. With much respect, Kristi from Hallelujahhighway.com

  10. Happylovejoy says:

    Love the photo… there are many clinical trials that are offering alternative treatments for cancer patients.. and this is especially helpful when standard treatment of care is not working. It gives hope to the patients and their family and provide valuable data for researchers to keep looking for cures. One day, cancer WILL become a disease of the past. Good luck dear and take care of yourself.. =)

  11. Just found your blog today. Thanks for being so open about your journey in dealing with cancer. I have had some thoughts about surgical scars recently – they are an outward sign to the world that you are LIVING your life. You do not passively sit by and let what happens, happen. You choose. You step forward. You bend your body to your own will. You choose to remove some things and have scars instead. Wear them proudly as badges of your courage to choose.

  12. Came across your blog today.Quite insipiring.You may be getting inspired by others.But by your atitude you have really inspired me.Keep going the same!

  13. Kat says:

    You are so brave. I wish you a speedy recovery. Blessings.

  14. lindsaycolle says:

    My Grandma passed away this week after a 3 year long battle with breast cancer. I hope and pray that you can overcome this obstacle and I wish you the best in your journey. I truly believe that someday Breast Cancer will be a disease of the Past. Thank you for your post and inspiration.

  15. girl, you are amazing and strong and brave! I’ll be praying for you and your journey. I hope you will go to God for strength.

  16. Grumpa Joe says:

    An excellent essay on the trials of a boob reconstruction. My wife had a mastectomy when she was forty. Her boobs were one of her proudest possessions. She was devastated to say the least. In her day (1979) the reconstructive process was in its infancy and because it was the beginning the process was primitive. She opted to not have a reconstruction. She chose instead to hide her body from me and from the world. She went through many prostheses over the years before she finally died from heart disease. She was so worried about a return of her cancer that she failed to remember that her family had a long history of heart disease.
    Stay strong time will heal. Stay positive, and think about only good things.

  17. chadwoolley says:

    I’m in awe. You are my new hero. Hang in…

  18. keep positive. it’s good for your body and spirit. :)

  19. Hope says:

    I salute to you sister. My prayers and wishes for you to stay as brave as you are now. You are a true hero.

  20. Great story! Goodluck on your journey!

  21. kalyncweber says:

    So very inspiring! I can feel your strength!

  22. It’s a fantastic book, and a difficult read. I myself abandoned it, but you have indeed inspired me to pick it up again. Keep strong :)

  23. mrsdeboots says:

    From a dermatological perspective…
    Massage (nothing fancy, basically kneading) is the best thing for scars.

    From a human perspective, this is beautiful. I’m glad I read it, as it contains books I now want to read and the musings of someone who has been thru a difficult ordeal yet handles things with a sense of humor.

  24. ADdaddy says:

    I think you made someting that would be considered very serios, quite funny. by just reading it would be hard to believe it was a true story… good spirit. N good luck.

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