So, okay, maybe not next week.
But it looks like I'll be back to work for a week, maybe two, and then they'll take my boobs off and put inflatable balloons in. And I think? I will also lose a nipple. Which is completely weird to think about. The plastic surgeon said that her goal is to make me look normal in my clothes, which has nothing to do with “nipple-sparing”. (All these great terms I'm learning...) I don't think I've ever looked normal in my clothes, so that sounds like sort of a bonus to me. She is not promising I will look normal out of my clothes. She is clear on that. Implants do not feel like real breast.
I've actually been asked that by friends. If I get fake boobs, they want to squeeze them to know what they feel like. Many friends at work, actually. I imagine when I come back, there'll be a huddle in the "phone room", where everybody's squeezing my new fake boobs. There's so many good reasons the docs seem afraid to walk into that room. They walk into some strange things sometimes.
I think all of this has been a lot to process. I mean, that's a first world problem, right? The luxury of being able to be home to “process.” There are women who have to work through chemo. There are women who can't afford chemo. There are a lot of women who get to “process” things while being the sole breadwinner and caregiver for their kids. There are women who have to do this alone.
I am a lucky bastard, and I know that. I am grateful for the people I love and privilege I've got.
I'm writing on my deck, on a sunny September morning. My back yard comprises of mostly uncontrolled, wild sunflowers. There's a chill underneath the morning breeze, and the bees and wasps, though active, are moving slowly enough that I could catch one with my bare hands if I wanted (I don't; just saying I could). They're sluggish. The darker part of the year is coming, and if I don't pick my peppers soon, they won't be any good. I'll be making cornbread today, with my fresh peppers in it. I'm ready for the coming darkening of the year; am really looking forward to it. I think I'll be something different next year. And some part of me needs to curl up and hibernate under seven quilts until then. Like Inanna preparing for her way to meet Ereshkigal.
The plastic surgeon talked a lot about two things: infection and scars.
Infection is a concern anytime you're going to break skin. The bigger the cut, the more fuss you're doing, and if you're putting anything artificial into a body, that risk becomes greater. But the factor she's most concerned about is my “active infection,” to which she means the cooties I had in my pleural space. “But,” I say, sort of dumbly, “it's gone.” Blink. Blink. “I had six weeks of IV antibiotics, and then several more weeks and am still taking moxy-floxy (which is a high-octane, broad spectrum oral antibiotic), and then I have to finish up with doxy until the bars come out.” Do we still believe that there's cooties in my pleural space, when there is no pleural effusion, even after the second surgery, and my CBC, CRP, ESR and all the other alphabet soup of blood tests are completely dead normal?
I mean. I am the most bacteria-free person I know right now. I mean, sure, my skin has the same cooties as everybody, but my insides have been shocked sterile by now. I have to take probiotics supplements so that I can digest my food properly.
But I think medicine is still full of boogity-boo. And I think people think magically, whether they want to or not. She said she doesn't know the statistics of getting an infection after you've had an infection (which, by the way, was NOT systemic, and she's not going to BE doing anything in the pleural space). She wonders if the antibiotics I'm taking are suppressing some hidden infection. I'm not saying she isn't a brilliant surgeon or that she's wrong to be concerned. I just think medicine is partly as much magic as it's always been from when we first figured out how to create fire. And that's a little bit reassuring. Because magic is something I can work with.
Yeah, infection is a risk. Yeah, it's a higher risk because we're lopping off two boobs, and putting in two inflatable balloons. And if either or both get infected, they have to come out. And then I will be boobless, I guess.
And she talked a lot about the scars. I have scars all over my torso, so adding more doesn't feel like a big issue to me. They have to re-open the scar under my left breast, and the one under my right, which was from April. The plastic surgeon was showing me slides, photos of women and pointing out how the scars are often not noticeable. I already have noticeable scars, so it's just a moot point. At the beach, I imagine people will wonder if I survived an attack by an alligator.
You know what scars bug me? When I'm showering, I'm still washing over dried blood under my left breast from where the latest incision is, but what I notice most are the IV scars. The PICC line scar is still there. The arterial line that the last anesthesiologist comPLETEly butchered is still painful. He stuck me three times, and there is still a yellow-purple bruise as further testament, as if the three scabs aren't enough. When you're in the ICU, and your doc is putting an A-line in your patient, you don't realize that the patient will know if she or he had to stick multiple times. You aren't aware of the bruise that will be there, and will still be hurting your patient two weeks later.
I still have a scar from the nurse that set the wrist IV at UCH when I was there for the effusion. And a little scar on my right hand from the first admission to the U. Those are more than two months old, but they're still there. The scab from the nurse who did the most recent IV at Mayo just came off today. It's still pink, with a small dot of blood. I don't know who hit me with what but on my left upper arm, there is a gigantic yellow and purple bruise from the OR at Mayo. I mean, it looks like someone took out a crow bar and whacked me with it. I have a photo of it somewhere, because I was impressed. I don't know what the hell they did to me there.
I didn't know, as a nurse, that my patient will be sitting on her deck, often MONTHS later, remembering that I put that IV in. She remembers my face. She cares more about whether or not I was kind to her than whether I got her on the first stick.
There's little birds that come eat at my smorgasboard of sunflowers. Beau is sprawled out on his back in the sun, paws in the air. Sometimes he flips over to talk to the little birds, in that weird staccato speech that the birds don't seem to respond to. I wish I knew what he was trying to tell them. And why he thinks the staccato speech is better at communicating whatever it is rather than his mrow-ing speech he uses with me.
I have no big conclusions or neatly-written endings for today. I think I'll walk before I make my cornbread.
Okay, so all I did was a 4,000 step walk, came home and threw together cornbread (a 10 minute effort) and am having to lay down flat on couch, unable to do anything but type. So, maybe a little optimistic about ability to go back to work next week. I am deconditioned, I guess. No narcotics so far today, just tylenol and ibuprofen. I'd rather not take any yet, but I really need to be immobile and horizontal. Dammit.
I should have realized that. I took Chase to school yesterday (and he drove on the way up), and stopped by to see Jane. Granted, Chase's school is a 50 minute drive north, but still. I could only stay an hour at Jane's, and was wiped out. I went home and went straight back to bed.
What a pain in the ass this all is.
Well. There it is. Something really good about today, though, is that RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars is on tonight! I know it's also a football game tonight, apparently a real one. I'm totally going to play the Breast Cancer Card, though, and claim the downstairs tv for RuPaul. It's not like it's a Packers game, anyway. Mark and Chase can go watch in the basement or our bedroom while I watch my drag queens with a glass of wine. Breast cancer has to be good for something, right?