Bye Bye Boobies: One year later

One year ago today I was lying in a hospital bed at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, extremely groggy and extremely happy. Part of it was from the pain medication, I’ll admit, but most of that happiness was caused by an overwhelming sense of relief.

aftermastectomy

Some women wait years between testing positive for a BRCA mutation and having a prophylactic mastectomy. I waited 140 days. 140 days of discontent. 140 days of suspicion. 140 days of self-loathing. 140 days of feeling like a stranger in my own body.

I went into my mastectomy on the morning of March 13, 2012 with anxiety and excitement, not knowing what would come next. I woke up in the afternoon without my breasts, but with the wonderful feeling of peace. A weight had been lifted: I wouldn’t have to think about breast cancer all the time, and I could get back to loving myself again.

One year later, I can say with confidence that I am once again glad to be me, Rachel Joy Horn. I don’t feel broken anymore, and I’m not living in fear of my body.

It’s been an interesting year, but looking back on it, certain moments that at the time felt awful were just hiccups along the way. Those Jackson-Pratt drains were horrendous, they really were–but whatever. My family didn’t care about them. My boyfriend didn’t mind them. My friends didn’t think they were weird. Despite them being a huge inconvenience to dressing like a normal human being, they didn’t stop me from having fun and being social.

At the time it was playing out, it felt as if the cellulitis infection and subsequent tissue expander removal would ruin my life. I literally sat in the hospital bed, Googling freezing-cold places I could escape to so I would never have to be seen in a swimsuit. But then I found a cotton prosthesis, and my mom made me a kick-ass mastectomy bikini with a waterproof falsie. And so I had One Ugly Summer…One Fun, Sunny, Active, Flat-Chested-on-the-Left-Side Ugly Summer.

One Ugly Summer…

Over the last year, I’ve learned that I have horrible veins and that I have fabulous friends. I’ve discovered that narcotics can give you migraines and that social networking can give you an incredible support community. I’ve realized that talking to doctors is crucial, just as talking to strangers is–you never know who understands and how they can help.

Sometimes I miss my breasts, or more specifically, my breast tissue. It’s a rare moment that I get jealous of another girl’s rack, but it happens. (I’m looking at you, Sports Illustrated cover Kate Upton.) My new boobs are not perfect…but then again, neither were my old ones. They are, however, mine, all 800 ccs and 14.2 cm of them, and they fit me. There are even glorious times when I think that I am the luckiest girl in the world for having them, like when I can wear a backless dress without a bra and not worry about sagging.

dress

Okay, so I’ve never actually worn this dress…but just knowing that I CAN wear it is what matters.

For all of the women going through breast reconstruction right now, I ask you to please be patient. I know that it can seem very disheartening, what with all the scars and the weird shapes and the rippling. But things will look better, just wait…and maybe ask your plastic surgeon about some nipping and tucking.

To my friends and family, thank you for the flowers, the pillows, the sweet treats, the fuzzy elephants, the magazines, the nail polish, the phone calls, the text messages, the cards, the hospital visits…the love.

To acquaintances who have reached out to me with words of support and encouragement, thank you for your courage to speak up.

To my work colleagues, thank you for understanding my circumstances and for accommodating me with such graciousness.

To the wonderful ladies online going through something similar, thank you for your bravery and for your willingness to share your experiences to help me and others like me.

One year has gone by so fast, and I know part of that is thanks to all of you. Before I know it, I’ll have had my implants for ten years and it’ll be time to replace them. But let’s not rush that. =)

 

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My implant exchange surgery is on Monday!

That’s right. You read that correctly: I GET MY SILICONE IMPLANTS ON MONDAY.

I’m going to be honest with you–that’s something I never in a million years would have expected to ever say, write or even think in my life. Me? Breast implants? Nah, never, not for me…but it’s happening! I’ll eat those thoughts with a fork and spoon (just not after midnight on Sunday).

After more than one year since finding out about my BRCA mutation and more than eight months since my original mastectomy, I am finally going to be done with surgery.  I almost don’t believe it’s real, but it is–two breasts, four Jackson-Pratt drains, three tissue expanders, one cellulitis infection, two falsies and many wireless bras later.

I had a pre-op appointment with Dr. Festekjian on November 8. He told me my implants will either be 700 ccs or 800 ccs, most likely Natrelle style 45 silicone. A few posts earlier I said that I probably wouldn’t get those implants because they’re very narrow, but Dr. Festekjian knows that I am most concerned about projection and they offer the highest projection. The total size of the implant (700 vs 800 ccs) depends on the width he needs to cover (13.5 cm or 14.2 cm).

At this point I’ve really stopped worrying about what size my implants will be. I trust Dr. Festekjian’s judgment completely. He did such a good job with my tissue expanders; people are always surprised to find out that my tissue expanders aren’t actually my permanent breast implants.

The night before my surgery I plan to take some photos of my chest with tissue expanders. I really want to create a visual of the different “stages” of breast reconstruction. The final stage photos won’t be ready for a few weeks since there will be swelling after the surgery.

Sigh. It’s happening. Finally.

Expander fills resumed, Making Strides, and a bit of promotion

Last Thursday I had my first tissue expander fill since having the left expander inserted on July 30. It was AWESOME–simple joys, right? I was so excited and anxious that I told myself I was going to let Dr. Festekjian do the fill without numbing me up. Of course I reneged on this decision, since I am a baby when it comes to pain and just the sight of the syringe and needle scared me into the numbing cream.

The numbing cream only delayed the process by a few minutes so it was totally worth it; I could barely feel the needle go in. Dr. Festekjian filled up the left side with 75 ccs of saline. We are going to let the left tissue expander “catch up” to the right tissue expander before we resume fills on that side. Right now my left side is at 325 ccs and my right is at 550 ccs. Each tissue expander can accommodate 750 ccs of saline. I anticipate I’ll need about nine more fills (at 50 ccs each) until I reach the maximum capacity.

On Sunday morning, Bryce and I woke up bright and early for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K walk in Santa Monica. I stayed up late the night before preparing my talking points for the survivor’s speech (or in my case, previvor). Bryce and I both wore Demand Media team t-shirts for the event and pink sunglasses; he looked very sexy in his pair, I must say.

Team Demand Media–I’m so proud to work with these people!

The event was small (compared to the 3-Day walks I’ve done in the past) but very successful and well-organized. There were at least 100 people there, and the sponsors included Demand Media (whoot whoot represent!), Equinox gym, and Go Country 105—my favorite radio station!

My “previvor” speech came after the address by an American Cancer Society rep. Since it was rather toasty outside, I tried to stay concise and upbeat. I ended up ditching my page of talking points as soon as I got up on stage. I mean, who am I kidding? This is MY story—I know it by heart!

I talked about my mom’s multiple cancer diagnoses and how I reacted to each one. In terms of her second diagnosis, I mentioned how angry and frustrated I felt and how many questions I had, and that those questions were all answered when we found out about the BRCA mutation. Then of course I talked about my own decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy, and though I’m fortunate to have that option, hopefully research will make it possible for my future children to have another more “civilized” option. I really wanted to connect a story about breast cancer to the walkers and their fundraising efforts, to let them know that the money they raised was going to help someone in a tangible way.

I walked in honor of my mom and my cousin Robbie.

After my speech, the walk started. We marched around a local park for about an hour; apparently four laps around said park is equivalent to a 5K. Once everyone was back from the walk, Kate (the Demand Media employee who helped plan the event) announced that we’d raised over $18,000! I was very impressed.

Kate did a stellar job organizing the event. It must have been very stressful for her to plan a charity walk while keeping up with her full time job. But she pulled it off and I’m proud to work with her. Good job, Kate!

Thanks for organizing the event, Kate!

Now, onto that product promotion I mentioned in the title of the post. I don’t do this very often so I feel that I’m allowed to include it now!

First off, my fabulous and talented mother Shirley Horn has decided (after much badgering from me) to launch her own online store, called Precious Survivors. What is she selling? Well, that is a good question! CUSTOM DRAIN POCKETS AND MASTECTOMY PILLOWS AND HAND-PAINTED ORNAMENTS! (Gee, that sounds swell!) Inspired by Trisha’s mastectomy and her hunt for a mastectomy bra, Mom created some adorable drain pockets. They have velcro attachments to connect to a mastectomy bra, and they are so colorful and cheerful. And they’re only $6 a pair!

Mastectomy pit pillows made by Shirley Horn

She is also selling handmade post-surgical “pit pillows”, heart-shaped pillows to rest under your arms after a mastectomy. My friend Kim gave me a pit pillow for my mastectomy, and it was perfect; it wasn’t too hard or too soft and my arm rested in the crevice without any pain. The pit pillows currently listed are Hello Kitty print, but Mom will take custom orders for a different fabric.

A portion of all of the sales from Precious Survivors goes towards breast cancer programs, such as the Los Angeles Pink Dragons, a dragon boat racing team of breast cancer survivors. Dragon boat racing is a great way for breast cancer survivors to prevent lymphedema, which can be caused by lymph node removal.

If you’re looking for a gift to give a loved one who is about to have a mastectomy, check out the Precious Survivors storefront. Mom created these products based on both of our experiences with mastectomies, so they are definitely patient-approved!

Now onto the other promotion. A few weeks ago I received a lovely email from a woman named Ann Victor, the president of PerfectCami, a fashion company. Recently Ann has designed a line of camisoles aimed at the post-mastectomy crowd. She graciously sent me a few to try out, and I LOVE them.

The camis attach to your bra straps and therefore stay in place when you bend over. I am always worried about people seeing the inserts on my left side; the camis prevent any accidental insert flashing! They also work nicely to cover bra cups and straps. The bras I wore before my mastectomy were underwire and the cups did not extend high up on my chest; the soft bras I use now have more fabric, so it’s difficult to wear any relatively low-cut shirts or dresses without the bra peeking through. The camis hide the bra perfectly.

If you’re interested in ordering any of the camis, visit the PerfectCami website. They come in a variety of colors and styles (I’ve got red lace, black lace, white striped, black striped, leopard and a few more!) and five sizes.

OK, signing off now. I have to get ready for my trip to Vegas this weekend! Have a great weekend everyone.

 

Calming down and getting on with life

Well, immediately following my previous post I lost eight pounds. I guess that will be my secret to weight loss…bitching on my blog!

I’m also happy to report that on Friday evening, Jeani told me to stop taking the Clindamycin antibiotic because the culture from my infection was only responding to the Doxcycline. This was good news because man, was that Clindamycin harsh! I know you all are completely over reading about my digestive patterns, but I’m pretty sure that the Clindamycin was what gave me such bad diarrhea.

Eating a real meal again is so wonderful! Om nom nom!

Not wanting to repeat the Crazy Drain Incident of 2012, I decided to lay low for the weekend. No walks or exercise, just hanging around the house being a lazy bum. I watched lots of movies and TV to the point that my eyes hurt. And let me tell you, all of that hard work paid off, because on Monday morning I got my drain removed!

What a great appointment. Really. Is it sad that a follow-up with Dr. Festekjian can make me so happy?

First he removed my drain. Then he removed my PICC line! AND he gave me permission to swim this summer!!! He said that my infection looked to be completely cleared up and that the following week he would remove the stitches on my left breast. He also did a fill on my right tissue expander, bringing it up to 475 ccs.

I’ve been going back and forth on the question of what to do with my right tissue expander: should I just let it be until I get my left tissue expander replaced, or should I keep getting my saline fills? What do you all think? I’m curious to get the visual on my chest’s potential size, but I don’t want to make this flat-on-one-side situation even more awkward.

I had him do a fill on Monday because the prosthetic boob I’m using on the left is too big…I want to even things out with the right side. It’s just a soft cotton-stuffed pillow shaped like one of the “chicken cutlets” you might use to add a bit of va-va-voom to your cleavage. It came in a pair with the mastectomy bra I bought before my surgery. I didn’t think I’d be needing either prosthetic…good thing I saved them!

Notice the prosthetic boob poking out there! And yes, my iPhone case is a photo of Madeline.

My graduation is on Friday. I was really on the fence about attending. When I first went back to the hospital following my infection I was pretty pissed about missing some senior events (Fountain Run, sorority formal). During that week of moping I tried to talk myself out of going to graduation, citing that I “missed everything else” so “why bother” going to graduation? Danielle brought up a good point, however: it’s my graduation. I’m never going to graduate from USC as an undergraduate again and though it might not seem like a big deal now, would I regret it in the future if I missed it?

OK, so she’s right, and she convinced me to attend my graduation. What I then had to worry about was my graduation dinner the following evening. What the hell would I wear?!

Dressing for my small boobs was hard (see Shopping for the Post-Mastectomy Patient). Dressing for a boob on the right and nothing on the left? OY VEY! Obviously I’m going to be using the prosthetic, but that still presents challenges with dressing. I need a dress that will enable me to wear a supportive bra to keep everything in place. It can’t be low-cut and it either has to have very thick straps or it has to be tight for a strapless bra.

After visiting what seemed like every store at the Camarillo outlets, I finally walked into J.Crew and found heaven in the form of a pink strapless dress. It’s tight enough to support a strapless bra and a prosthetic, and the fabric is thick enough to hide awkward lines or lumps from that bra combination. I feel like a ballerina when I wear it because of the color!

Hey…wait a minute…I thought you were missing a boob?!

So now it seems that things have calmed down around here. Having my tissue expander removed last week really felt like it would be the end of the world–at least the end of MY world. I was dreading summer, especially living in Southern California. But now I realize that hey, it’s just one summer. One Ugly Summer. I can deal.

Now, for all those who are wondering what I ACTUALLY look like, sans prosthetic…here are some fun pictures! Isn’t my bra great? Freakin’ optical illusion.

P.S., if you’re reading this: HI DR. KARAM!!!

 

Cellulitis 2012: Out Goes the Tissue Expander

Hi everyone. I apologize for not writing in a few days. While it’s true that I am insanely bored at the hospital, by the time I actually have a free moment to sit down and type out a blog post, I am usually exhausted and my eyes hurt too much so I nap instead. This one, however, is going to be exceptionally long. Get ready!

The last time I posted was Friday morning. My IV port had to be changed again since the Vancomycin beat up the first one too much. A new IV was put into my right hand.

Around noon I had an ultrasound on my left breast to check for fluid pockets. Images from the ultrasound revealed that there was one big pocket (I think about 5 cms) and possibly two smaller pockets. A few hours later, I was taken back to radiology to have that pocket aspirated. The radiologists inserted Lidocaine into the area to numb it up then used an ultrasound to locate the exact location of the fluid pocket. They then inserted a big ol’ needle into the area to extract it. In reality, the needle wasn’t very big at all, but since the ultrasound video magnified it it seemed like an eight-inch needle was poking around my body.

The fluid from this pocket was sent for a gram stain and a culture. The initial gram stain did not reveal any bacteria; however the culture could still grow into something after a few days.

When I returned from the aspiration, I noticed that the infection seemed to have spread around my breast. It all seemed very red. I was nervous. Friday was a very emotional day for me; I spent a lot of time crying and wallowing in self-pity.

My parents finally found out I was in the hospital on Friday evening. They had been on a road trip to the Grand Canyon since Tuesday April 24. I did NOT want to ruin their vacation by telling them about my hospitalization. I know, I know…I’ve heard from plenty of moms that it wasn’t MY choice if my parents wanted to come back early, and that parents want to know everything no matter the circumstances. But honestly, my family has had really bad luck when it comes to family illnesses and vacations and they deserved to see the Grand Canyon. Plus, I knew that my parents were planning to head up to our house in Yosemite after visiting the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t overly fussed about them not missing the Yosemite portion of the trip, since they can go up north another time. Instead of leaving Barstow to head north on Saturday morning, they stayed south to get into Los Angeles.

By noon on Saturday they were at the hospital. It was nice having them there, because they are medical-savvy and know how to talk to doctors. Having been through her own double mastectomy, my mom is familiar with the terms, processes, and side-effects. My dad, on the other hand (or should I say “foot”…wait for it!) , spent quite a few months in and out of UCSF in 2011 due to an infection on his feet. He had an IV of Vancomycin, too.

My friend Kaitlin stopped by the hospital on Saturday afternoon. It was such a pleasant surprise. She brought with her a book and an adorable little stuffed animal elephant. I immediately latched onto the fluffy gray creature. His name is Kapow and he’s my lucky elephant.

Kapow transfers some of his luck to me, trunk to nose.

On Sunday my infection did look better, and my veins were feeling even worse. The Vancomycin is so harsh that it burns my veins. Every time a drop went through the IV port on my hand, I could feel it sting. We had to take that IV port out. A transport nurse tried to place another IV; he poked me one more time and it still didn’t work. At that point, he made it clear that I couldn’t be poked anymore because the risk of infection was too high. If they wanted to put in any more antibiotics or draw anymore blood, I would need a PICC line, but the staff members who put in PICCs don’t work on the weekends.

Dr. Galanis, the Chief Plastics Resident at UCLA, came by to say that he was putting me on an oral antibiotic for the day and night and that I should be prepared to go into surgery on Monday morning, which meant no eating or drinking after midnight. Nothing was for sure yet, but the fact that my infection was getting worse was an obvious bad sign. If you want to see what the infection looked like before my surgery, please email me. It’s not a pretty pic, but I’m happy to send it to you if you think you have an infection.

It was very relaxing not being connected to an IV at all on Sunday. I could shower and actually use both hands (during the first shower I had a plastic glove over my hand to protect the IV) and I could move around without worrying about accidentally pulling out the IV. I spent a lot of Sunday reading the book Kaitlin brought over, called Bitter Is the New Black by Jen Lancaster. It was a quick and somewhat mindless read about a former sorority girl turned business exec turned unemployed mess. I breezed through the entire book in one day, and was pleased by the happy ending, in which the writer gets a book deal! (Oh please let that be MY happy ending!)

On Sunday at midnight I started my eating and drinking fast. Not eating was easy. The heavy antibiotics have temporarily killed my taste buds and ruined my digestive system; whatever I eat comes out the other end pretty quickly. That doesn’t give me much incentive to eat. Drinking, however, is difficult; since I’m so used to being poked for veins, my natural reaction is to drink as much water as possible in order to plump them up. But I had to avoid the water so I wouldn’t be sick if I needed anesthesia.

On Monday morning my parents came over early, as did members of Dr. Festekjian’s team (Dr. Galanis included). They said it was highly likely that I would have the tissue expander removed, but they would leave the ultimate decision to Dr. Festekjian. He came in about an hour later and told me it would have to go because we were “fighting a losing battle.” At that point, I didn’t care anymore. I had read online about many women who stayed on some awful antibiotics for weeks, suffering the side effects, only to have to remove the tissue expander anyway.

Around 11 am I had a PICC line installed. A PICC line is a central venous catheter, a more permanent form of an IV; it goes through the arm and hooks up with a major blood vein near the heart. It can withstand the beatings from tough drugs like Vancomycin, and it can also be used to draw blood. While I’m here, I’ll never have to be poked again! Whoohoo!

Around 1 pm I was taken down to the OR to have my tissue expander removed. I woke up later in the recovery room and demanded ice. Whatever anesthesia they give me at UCLA is great; I am never nauseous after waking up and can guzzle water like it’s my job.

I was moved back up to my room about half an hour later. Someone from Dr. Festekjian’s team (I was still kind of out of it so I don’t remember who) came by to tell me that they had found some additional spots of infection near the tissue expander. They are culturing those right now.

In order to give me some nourishment, I’ve been hooked up to an IV drip since yesterday. There was also a drip for pain meds.

I felt fine when I woke up today. In the afternoon Dr. Galanis took a peek at my left breast (or total lack thereof at this point!) and said it was still red but it looked better. I have only seen the top of it through the tight bandage; it looks like a wrinkly skin crater. Ewwwww.

My parents visited in the morning, and then I was surprised by two friends from work, Garineh and Mia. They came with a card signed by everyone who sits around my desk and a Jamba Juice…perfect! Jamba Juice is the only food I’ve been eating. About an hour before they arrived, some beautiful yellow flowers were also delivered from my team at Demand Media.

Mia (on the left) and Garineh (right) came to visit me from work! Please note my lovely halter bra and drain. Yep, I have another drain.

And now I am going to tell you all the highlight of today…drumroll please…

I got to see a doggy!!!! After hounding (bahaha) the UCLA People Animal Connection for three days, we were finally successful in getting a real live dog to visit me. His name is Scout and he’s 10 1/2 years old. He’s a German Shepard mix and he is so sweet. He sat on my bed and let me pet him for half an hour. His owner, Beth, told me about the strict requirements for volunteer dogs. It was very impressive–she should be proud that her dog was accepted at UCLA!

Scout was so friendly!

I hope that I can continue to bother the People Animal Connection in order to receive visits from more of my four-legged friends. Animals brighten my day so much. I must figure out a way to sneak Madeline inside. Let me know if you have any ideas! Now off to bed.

Oh hey…

…so…happy!!!!!!!!!!!

I went out to dinner with Bryce, my good friend Alyssa and Alyssa’s father Bruce, and now I’m exhausted after two delicious drinks so I will just leave you with that beautiful GIF animation. Please note the awesome look I’m donning: a white compression bra under two ace bandages! Gotta flatten to stop any other fluid from forming!

Since my previous recognition post was so well received,

I think it’s appropriate that I write another one! It’s also quite relevant.

This one is dedicated to everyone’s favorite (okay maybe I’m just a bit biased) person: my mother, Shirley Horn! Yayyyyyy.

Here’s the backstory on why I’m writing about her today: Bryce left this afternoon around 1 pm (after cleaning the apartment and bringing me lunch, what a sweetie) and I sat around in bed for the next six hours. My body ached. Maria, the RN I have been emailing at Dr. Festekjian’s office, told me that I should rest my upper body this weekend. But the lack of movement is making everything hurt! I feel like the way I felt three days out of surgery. Meh.

The drain site on my left is also looking really infected. It’s an angry red and it’s oozing. I think it might have just gotten too loose, and so excess fluid (that should be suctioned through the drain tube) is now exiting on the outside of the tube. When I move, it hurts; it feels like the tube is stabbing me.

I lost it about half an hour ago and just started crying. I felt lonely and angry and I was in pain and I wanted to eat something but I didn’t want to get out of bed because it would hurt. I wanted to go on my computer but my eyes hurt from watching movies and being online so much these past few days. My roommate Danielle is away this weekend, and Bryce couldn’t come back over since he has to watch his dog. So I decided to text my mom.

I begged her to come over and told her she could bring Madeline (the doggy) and said that I wanted her to go with me to see Dr. Festekjian tomorrow afternoon. I was so scared she would say no, she can’t come over. I knew she was making a really nice dinner for my dad and was probably tired from the past few days (we had house guests visiting).

Imagine how happy I was when she texted me back and said “Absolutely. We’ll leave in fifteen minutes.” But then I stepped back for a minute–was I really that surprised that she agreed to come take care of me?

I know she’s supposed to be there for me because she’s my mom, but she always goes above and beyond. Last April when I had to go to the emergency room, she drove all the way down from San Francisco to be with me–even though by the time she arrived, I was already out of the hospital!

When I had my prophylactic mastectomy on March 13th, she volunteered to sleep at the hospital overnight with me. It had never even occurred to me during her surgery in November that someone should stay overnight with her at the hospital. I ended up telling her not to sleepover because I felt well enough and had good nurses who responded quickly to me, but it was still a thoughtful gesture.

The two of us before Mom’s surgery on November 9th!

After I left the hospital and returned home, she had transformed my bedroom into the perfect healing unit, moving her pillows and bedside table in so I wouldn’t have to reach far for anything. She constantly kept my water refreshed and brought me snacks in bed. Every time I showered, she helped me deal with the dressings on my drain site before and after. It’s a yucky job, but she’s always up to it!

This all coincides, you know, with her helping to take care of my dad and the blind diabetic dog! Whether she’s changing dressings on my drain sites, changing the dressings on my dad’s foot wounds, or giving Madeline insulin shots, it seems she has earned the title of Dr. Horn.

Dad has always wanted a doctor in the family–it seems that, without even realizing it, he got one!!! And she’s the best one around. She probably couldn’t have performed Dad’s cardiac surgery last February or improvised as Dr. Karam or Dr. Festekjian during my prophylactic mastectomy, but the fact that she can provide emotional support as well as medical help should make up for that. Dr. Shirley Horn is the best!

Mom and Maddy, out for a bike ride in Redondo Beach last summer. Maddy the Blind Diabetic Dog is lucky to have such a fun person!

 

The Jackson Pratt drain saga continues

The drains are STILL here. STILL. It’s been sixteen days and they’re still here, attached to my body like freaking tentacles or something.

I feel like I’m subhuman. At first I joked about that–about being some kind of mutant–but that was okay, then, because I wasn’t going outside of the house that often. It didn’t bother me when people passed me as I went on my daily walk.

This is how I feel, except my hair doesn’t look that good and I’m not smiling.

But now I feel fine physically and I can pretty much do anything, so of course I’m out and about at the mall, restaurants, the library, the grocery store. And I am SO self-conscious about these drains. The problem is two-fold:

  • They look weird–I’ll be the first to admit it. Especially now that the one on the right is extra long, they are hard to conceal. Every time I walk by a little kid I imagine that kid going “ohmigawd Mommy what is WRONG with that lady?”
  • I can’t wear what I want. I’m pretty much limited to shirts that are either short/cropped or have buttons or a zipper. I can also wear sweatshirts and baggy shirts, but those just make me feel even worse. Not only am I a mutant with tubes, my only option is to look fat and frumpy with the tubes.

And now, on top of all these vain problems I’m having, my drain on the left keeps popping out of place! I was avoiding going to work and school because of these damn drains. Last week I was supposed to take a midterm on Thursday, but my gracious professor said I could reschedule it.

Well there’s NO reason for me not to go to class to take it today…I’ve studied for the midterm, I feel good, I’m ready to participate. But my stupid drain is popping out. That’s going to look really awesome to all of my peers when we’re in class and my drain pops out and gross bloody fluid drips all over the floor. Yes, I’m going to be super cool after that. “Awkward Drain Girl.” That’s what they’ll call me.

My 22nd birthday is in exactly one week and all I want is to get these drains out. Last week I was pushing for Monday–haha, funny joke! On Monday, when Dr. Festekjian said to give it a few more days, I was pushing for Thursday. NOPE. Now I’m not even going to think about getting them out this weekend because that would surely make it not happen.

On Monday they were outputting about 35 ccs per day–SO CLOSE. Now they’re playing a cruel, cruel trick on me by creeping up there again, to about 40-45 ccs per day. WHAT THE HELL. That’s all I can say. I am so angry about it.

Drains, what’s your problem? I just had my entire chest removed. My breasts are gone. I’m 21 years old and I look like a fat nine-year-old boy. My nipple is “iffy” and I have to worry about it dying. All I ask is that I can cover all of this up with a cute shirt and cardigan or a nice dress and pretend for a few hours at a time that I’m normal. Why, drains, is that so freakin’ hard for you to accept?

 

Two weeks after the mastectomy…

and despite my positive attitude throughout my last few posts, I’m feeling pretty downtrodden right now.

On Sunday night my drains seemed to be going down and one of them even broke. I went to UCLA Medical Center to see my plastic surgeon, Dr. Festekjian, yesterday at 11 am in the hopes that he would remove my drains.

Incase you're wondering, here's a nice little pic of Dr. Festekjian. Click on it to read more about him!

Not only did he say he wouldn’t remove them yet, the way he fixed my broken drain makes me feel like even more of a mutant! It’s nothing major but the reason it broke in the first place is because the drain tube wasn’t pliable enough at the bottom, causing the top of the bulb to snap off. He had to add extra lengths of a more pliable tube, so now the drain tube is even longer and more awkward and harder to hide. MEH.

He did check on my “foobs” (fake boobs) to see how they were doing. The tissue expanders looked good, but he said my left nipple looks questionable. He is concerned with the amount of blood flow going to it and wants me to keep checking on its progress. I’m supposed to take pictures of it daily to see if it changes for the better or worse.

I’m pretty upset about this. I opted to have a nipple-sparing mastectomy because I didn’t have cancer and didn’t have to worry about getting rid of “everything.” I thought, hey, this won’t be so bad–I’ll still have my nipples, everything will still look like ME except it will have new stuffing. Now I’m running the risk of something actually happening to my nipple. What if it dies? What if he has to remove it and I have to get a fake nipple tattooed on? Nothing on my left side will be me anymore at that point.

I’ve never given much thought to nipples until now. I’m sorry if this seems too graphic or vulgar for anyone, but it’s the reality of the entire situation. Women who have these kind of surgeries–preventative or not–have to worry about this sort of thing. I’m just very angry right now that my “brave” and “smart” decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy is now giving me this anxiety over my aesthetics and what is rightfully “mine.”

The other day I stumbled upon a blog called Wearing my BRCA genes. It’s written by a young woman who, like me, found out very young that she had a BRCA mutation. Unfortunately she was also diagnosed with breast cancer. =( Her blog is really great. One of my favorite posts contains a poem she wrote called “Healthy Skin.” When I first read it, I just thought it was beautiful. Now I think it applies to me and I want to share it with you all. Maybe you can understand how I’m feeling about my stupid nipple.

“Healthy Skin”

By Cara, from Wearing my BRCA genes

The color of healthy
skin is pink. Peach if
you’re a Caucasian coloring
with crayons.
In shadows black skin
emerges, but the best
we can hope for is pink
underneath. Blood,
oozing, is a good sign,
scary as it is.

Cream is slathered
on the skin, like icing
on a cake, the surgeon said.
Covering up the black
and ushering in the pink,
the blood, the blisters
that pop and reveal soft
pink, underneath.

I hope for pink, because
it is the color of healthy
skin.

“In shadows black skin emerges.” Go away, black skin! Leave my nipple alone!

I think I need to start writing my own poetry about this. I like poetry.

Ugh, my Jackson Pratt drain broke!

I was really, really hoping I would get my drains out by Friday, since I had plans to see a lot of people on Saturday. Well, no such luck for me: they were still producing about 50 ccs of fluid each on Friday. The assistant at my Dr. Festekjian’s office, Jeani, did tell me to keep in contact with her via email over the weekend to see if they would be ready to pull on Monday.

Well I walked in the door at my parents’ house today around 5 pm, took my shoes off, dropped my bag, and looked down to see that my drain tube was dangling by my side. I’ve gotten relatively used to this unpleasant site; my drain tubes have come detached at a few random times. Only this was different: the drain bulb broke! The area where the bulb attaches to the tube just broke off completely. So basically…the drain won’t work.

I got in contact with the plastic surgery resident on-call at UCLA Medical Center. I explained to him what happened, but also made sure to note that my drains were very low (30-35 ccs, yay!) and that I had already planned on going to see Dr. Festekjian on Monday morning to get the drains removed. He told me to wrap the drain tube in a zip lock bag and to tape the bag and tube together.

Pop quiz: which drain is messed up?! It's really hard to tell, I know.

Once I taped everything together, I emailed Jeani at Dr. Festekjian’s office. Fingers crossed I get the drains pulled tomorrow!!!!

In other news, I still feel great! I’ve stopped taking pain meds completely; the only time I feel any kind of pain is when I twist in an awkward way or bend down really far. I’ve been going on long walks (2-3 miles) every day, which is great–I love getting out of the house. I’ve also been driving for the past couple of days–I started on Thursday the 22nd.

On Saturday my roommate Danielle and I had a dinner party at our house near USC. I have been so bored and lonely at home (no offense, Mom and Dad) so I was really looking forward to the dinner. We decided to do Mexican food. Bryce (my boyfriend) made enchiladas, and Danielle bought taco meat, tortillas and a bunch of the necessary sides (sour cream, salsa, etc). We set up stations and made margaritas (yes, I’m off of my antibiotics!)

This dress, from H&M, is very similar to the one I wore last night--you couldn't even see my drains!

It was sooooo delicious and so much fun to see my friends. We had about 12 guests over. Danielle let me borrow a simple black dress with a drop waist. I attached my drains to a belt, and you couldn’t even notice them underneath. A few of my friends said that they actually forgot I had had any surgery because I looked so good! That definitely was nice to hear.

The only thing I missed out on last night was the pinata. In honor of Danielle’s 22nd birthday, I bought a Justin Bieber pinata and stuffed it with candy and random goodies (temporary tattoos, cheap sunglasses, Mardi Gras beads). I wasn’t going to attempt to whack that thing. I dislike Justin Bieber, but I don’t hate him enough to screw up my upper body after my mastectomy!!!

Molly takes a swing at the Justin Bieber pinata as Bryce holds it. Yes, Bryce held the pinata. He is a trooper.

Around 10 pm, after most of our guests had gone home, Bryce and a few other friends and I went to another friend’s St. Patrick’s Day party (yes, one week after the fact.) We were so cultured last night: Mexican food and Irish drinks (though I don’t particularly like Guiness.) Again, it was really nice hanging out with people, and no one could even tell I was recovering from surgery. We stayed until about 1 am and then headed home for the night.

Danielle poses with the Justin Bieber pinata after its defeat. Happy birthday, D!

Honestly, if you had told me before my mastectomy that I would be hosting dinners and going out to parties less than two weeks after the surgery, I would NOT have believed you. I’m just so amazed by how great I feel. I’m going to go back to work tomorrow, too.

If any young women are reading this who are considering doing a preventative surgery, I think it’s important to remember that younger bodies heal faster. I watched my mom recover from her mastectomy in November, and I talked to and read responses from other women who had gone through a mastectomy. In all of their cases, it was a long recovery. They weren’t up and moving a lot for at least two weeks; they weren’t going back to work for at least a month.

I really did prepare myself to be out of commission (in bed, sleeping, not driving, not working even from home) for at least two weeks, with the possibility of a third. Totally NOT the case for me. Yes, everyone is different, and everyone going through a mastectomy needs to take the proper measures to allow their body to recover. You do need to take work off. You do need to stay with someone who can take care of you. You do need to lay low for a while. But if you’re young, you probably won’t need to do that for too long. Take everything you read about mastectomies with a grain of salt, because most accounts are not coming from woman in their 20s. Consider how your experience as a young, healthy woman will be a bit different.

Well that’s all for now, folks. Fingers crossed the drains are pulled tomorrow!