Bye Bye Boobies: Two Years Later

Today marks the two-year anniversary of my prophylactic double mastectomy at 21 years old. Last year I had a lot to say about my one-year anniversary; this year, I’m going to let photos do the talking.

Let these photos–organized in chronological order starting with March 13, 2012 and ending with last night–serve as evidence that my life has been full, happy, and pretty much awesome since my mastectomy. If you’re considering a mastectomy or you’re in the middle of breast reconstruction right now, I hope these photos  give you confidence and encouragement for your own journey.

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Dating After a Mastectomy: DOs and DON’Ts, part two

Welcome to the second installment of Rachel Joy Horn’s tried-and-true-and-possibly-resulting-in-a second-dinner-invitation DOs and DON’Ts of dating post-mastectomy. Since writing my first post in November, I am still single. So maybe I have no clue what the hell I’m talking about.

A perk of being single is bringing my best friend to the company holiday party.

At least I had a really sexy date to the company holiday party…my best friend Jennifer.

Moving on…let’s start with a don’t:

DON’T get into the nitty gritty details of your BRCA mutation, of your surgery, of your breast reconstruction—whatever it is you’re discussing. I’m not encouraging you to avoid it and I’m certainly not asking you to lie, but there are some details you can share, and there are some that you might consider keeping between yourself, your family and your doctors.

If a guy wants to know about my BRCA mutation, I give him a quick overview of how I came to be tested for the mutation. I don’t focus on the exact meaning of a BRCA2 6056delC mutation (which I’d be lying if I said I fully understand), nor do I obsess over the statistics associated with a BRCA mutation. Instead, I try to deliver the details that make the most sense to understanding why I’d elect to have a prophylactic mastectomy.

When it comes to talking about the actual mastectomy surgery, I start with a basic “I replaced the stuffing on my boobs.” I then elaborate with a much more scientifically backed “I took out the potentially bad tissue and replaced it with implants.” (I think that’s what they write in the medical journals, right?) I avoid discussing the thrilling experience of emptying the bloody goo out of my Jackson Pratt drains, the pathetic feeling of not being able to lift myself up out of bed to shuffle to the bathroom, and the crippling fear of “Oh my god, are my nipples going to make it out of this alive?!”

As one might expect, the breast implants are what usually interest guys the most. Often they assume that I could pick any implant size I want, so I politely correct them (read: laugh in their face–hahaha, you dumb fool!) and let them know that there is a sort of science involved with selecting, based on factors such as a woman’s natural breast size and chest width. They then usually want to know if I “upgraded,” so to speak, at which point I say that I wear about the same bra size I did before my mastectomy.

And this is what a silicone implant looks like.

Ooo, implant. Squishy squishy.

Most of my concerns about oversharing stem from not wanting a guy to think I’m fragile or broken in some sort of way. I also worry about encountering queasy types; call me old school, but I wouldn’t want a date to pass out in the middle of appetizers. So instead of getting too detailed, I make an effort to highlight certain information about my surgery:

DO stress the positives. The biggest and most obvious positive is of course the dramatic reduction in breast cancer risk. But in my experience, there have been additional perks (bahaha pun) to the mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

Before my mastectomy, my wardrobe decisions were dictated by an evil overlord known as The Bra. Support was the name of the game, and if an outfit couldn’t be worn with a bra, it wouldn’t be worn at all. I was often forced to pass up halter tops and strapless dresses, or worse: I’d have to decide between chunky bra straps sticking out of a backless dress, or concealing all of it with a sweater. Talk about a Sophie’s Choice. These days, I can wear backless dresses and halter tops like it’s nobody’s business. My wallet sobs, but my wardrobe has never been happier.

Look Ma, no bra straps!

Look Ma, no bra straps!

If a guy has a sense of humor, I don’t hesitate to bring up the tummy tuck possibility. Using my mom’s mastectomy and breast reconstruction as an example, I talk about how, if I gain enough weight in the future, I could replace my breast implants with stomach fat. This is definitely a glamorization of a DIEP/TRAM flap procedure, and I don’t mention the arduous recovery process, which I saw firsthand with my mom, but hey—it could be seen as a positive. My mom is living proof of this, what with her new boobs and flat tummy. Where I notice a guy losing interest is when I mention “having fifteen kids and completely letting myself go so I gain enough weight to have big ol’ jugs.” Apparently guys don’t like that? Who knew?

Geez, Mom, put those things away before you take someone's eye out.

Geez, Mom, put those things away before you take someone’s eye out.

My final perk is, you might have guessed, visiting the Playboy Mansion. (It seems I rely on this topic a lot when dating…thanks, Trisha.) It certainly is a rare experience, and I’ve found that for some odd reason, men have a lot of respect for Hugh Hefner. I’m not sure why. Now unless you’re all holding out on me and you’ve been visiting El Mansion with your glorious implants, too, I’m going to assume that we don’t have that story in common. But that doesn’t mean your mastectomy hasn’t come with any unexpected perks. Were you interviewed by a news station and you’ve achieved a degree of local celebrity? Did you get a kick-ass new tattoo in honor of your surgery? There might be a silver lining to share after all.

Welp, it’s late and I’m tired, so I think I’ll sign off now. Must log into Tinder and remind myself why being single might actually be a good thing. #guysinLA #areallactors #wouldyouliketoseemyheadshot #crazycatlady?

Dating After a Mastectomy: DOs and DON’Ts

So, Bryce and I broke up. Eight months ago. It didn’t seem like particularly crucial information to anyone’s life so I didn’t feel the need to shout it from the rooftops (and by that I mean, post about it on the Interwebz). But lately I’ve received questions from other women about dating after a mastectomy, so it’s time to come clean about the break up.

Now, before I regale you with my dating experiences as of late, I want to make sure all of you ladies out there know that Bryce and I did NOT break up because of my mastectomy, my breast reconstruction, or my BRCA mutation. In fact, Bryce was 100% supportive throughout the entire process and showed a great deal of maturity, for which I’ll always be grateful. We broke up because at 22 years old, two+ years with the same person feels like a lifetime.

Sometimes I miss that Abe Lincoln lookalike, it’s true. And I definitely miss his puggle Hendrix. But I have, for the most part, been enjoying the single life. And it does make for some interesting reading material for the ol’ blog. So in order to report back to my loyal readers and answer your question “How do you tell someone you’re dating about your mastectomy/implants/BRCA mutation?”, I’ve been doing some research. And I’ve learned some DOs and DON’Ts of dating post-mastectomy. Over the next few months, I’ll be posting my findings…starting with:

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DON’T ask a your date if he or she has Google stalked you. Just don’t. I met a guy at a web developer meetup event, and we went out a few times. During one date, I decided I would tell him about my BRCA mutation and mastectomy, and since he was a computer programmer and had previously told me to check out his personal website, I assumed it was safe to ask him if he’d seen mine. In my head, this is how I imagined the conversation would play out:

  • Rachel: “So, did you Google me and find my blog?”
  • Guy: “Why yes, yes I did.”
  • Rachel: “And what did you think?”
  • Guy: “I thought your decision was brave and understandable. You are very smart and wise. I am in awe of your courage and good looks. Also, your writing is hilarious and the simple WordPress.com layout on your blog is not at all outdated. I would like you to meet my rich great aunt who owns the largest book publisher in the world. Oh and would you like to get married?”
  • Rachel: “OH…um…okay…”

The actual conversation went a bit differently:

  • Rachel: “So, did you Google me and find my blog?”
  • Guy: (confused) “…No…”
  • Rachel: (not convinced) “Are you SURE?”
  • Guy: “…I didn’t see it…” (Probably thinking to himself: Oh my god what is her blog about? Is she a serial killer? Porn star? Cult member?)
  • Rachel: “OH…um…okay…well it’s about breast cancer and stuff…”
  • Guy: (Runs away, screaming.)

OK, so he didn’t really run away screaming, but the horrified look on his face made it pretty obvious that I had made a fatal boo boo. Since I write this blog and I’ve received press coverage for it, I assumed that the guy–being well versed in the ways of the Internet–had already run a Google search of my name and had come across the blog and articles about me. I thought it would be an easy way to cheat and deal with the subject without having to explain it myself.

I was obviously wrong. I still had to explain it all to him–the BRCA mutation, the family history of breast cancer, the mastectomy, the implants–but I had to do it while fighting to convince him that I wasn’t hiding something really bad. Oh well. Lesson learned. Instead of asking guys if they’ve Google stalked me, I now try another tactic:

DO look for ways for your date to indirectly mention it (BRCA mutation, mastectomy, whatever “it” is) without knowing…I call these “topic triggers.” A few weeks after the failed date (which was also my LAST with said guy…hmm, I wonder why?) I went out with another guy, who I had met online. In my dating profile, I mentioned that I blog (in addition to other exhilarating hobbies, such as scrapbooking, playing with my cat, and being a grandma). A fellow writer, he was curious about my blog.

I explained to him that my blog is about hereditary breast cancer and preventative surgeries, a seemingly niche topic with a surprisingly big audience online. I mentioned that yes, I had undergone a prophylactic mastectomy and now had breast implants, but most of the conversation was focused on the blog and the actual writing of it. It ended up being a very valuable conversation for me, because he helped me sort through some issues I’ve been having as a writer.

It baffles me that I'm still single.


With a witty OKCupid profile like this, it’s a wonder I’m still single.

This tactic of subtly sneaking topic triggers into the conversation has worked well for me multiple times. For example, I’ve used my visits to the Playboy Mansion as a segue to my BRCA mutation and mastectomy. Guys are usually so excited that I’ve met Hugh Hefner that they don’t get freaked out by the big scary mastectomy topic.

Now I realize that not all of you run your mouth on a WordPress blog or frequent the Playboy Mansion, but there are other ways to sneak in topic triggers. Do you volunteer with any high-risk breast cancer groups or participate in charity walks for breast cancer? Those are hobbies to discuss. Maybe you’ve taken some time off from work for your surgeries and you’re preparing to go back? Talk about your return to the office.

If you try this and it backfires horribly…well…sorry. 5-carat diamond engagement rings are not guaranteed with this method. But stay tuned for more DOs and DON’Ts, and maybe you’ll find a gem after all.

“I could have sworn she had boobs!”

Last night I had a very unusual, albeit humorous encounter with a coworker.

Here is some background on the incident: My company moved offices this week, from our location on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica to a larger space a few miles away. To help us properly bid farewell to our old home, the company hosted a karaoke party at one of our favorite locales, the King’s Head. There was liquor involved.

In general, most of my coworkers know about my mastectomy and reconstruction. Last year I shared a bit about it during a “Think Pink” party, a fundraiser for a breast cancer charity walk the company sponsored. And a few months ago in a team meeting I gave an instructional presentation about running a blog, which focused on how exactly I run this blog. I made the conscious decision before my mastectomy to tell people about it, coworkers included, and they’ve all been extremely supportive and flexible, for which I am grateful.

When a coworker approached me at the bar yesterday and sheepishly mumbled “I have to tell you something,” I didn’t know what to expect. We do not work together closely, and I don’t know him particularly well, but we had talked the week before at a party, so I assumed it was related to that.

“I saw you on HuffPo Live,” he confessed. I was not expecting to hear that. Two days after Angelina Jolie’s announcement in the New York Times, I participated in a segment on HuffPost Live about my decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.

“Were you browsing yourself or did you see a tweet about it?” I asked.

“No, I go on the Huffington Post all the time. I saw something about Angelina Jolie and then clicked and said…’Whoa! I know her!’ and it was you!”

And now for the kicker:

“I was watching it and I stopped for a moment and thought, I could have sworn she had boobs! Last time I saw her, she definitely had boobs…And I looked around behind me but no one else was around the office but I wanted to ask them, ‘Doesn’t she have boobs?'”

I lost it. I started cracking up. After howling for a bit, I explained to him that I’ve really “always had boobs” and that I just “replaced the stuffing inside.” And I also said that my plastic surgeon obviously did a good job because he wouldn’t have known had he not watched the HuffPost Live segment.

I must applaud his courage to approach me about it. It was certainly an unusual way, but hey, why not? I’m glad he did.

But on that note, I am finally posting the links to all of the interviews I did following Angelina Jolie’s prophylactic mastectomy announcement. The morning after AJ’s New York Times column went live, I received a very early phone call from a sorority sister at ABC News, asking to interview me for a story. A few minutes later, I spoke on the phone with a woman at the UK’s Daily Mail. Then later that morning I saw an email from a friend in Germany who had written an excerpt for a newspaper about me.

The days following AJ’s announcement were pretty crazy for me. I received an enormous amount of traffic to the blog and quite a few media inquiries. Here’s a round-up of all of the publicity:

It was pretty freakin’ sweet. The on-air interview for Australia’s Weekend Sunrise was interesting; I was at the Beverly Hills studio at 3 pm on Friday, streaming live to Australia, where it was already Saturday morning. Here are a few pics:

Here I am waiting to stream into Weekend Sunrise. Notice the great "view" of Los Angeles behind me.

Here I am waiting to stream into Weekend Sunrise. Notice the great “view” of Los Angeles behind me.

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And here’s a pic a coworker snagged of me during my HuffPost Live interview, which she tweeted. I promise I was not bored, just intently listening!

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I had a mastectomy before it was cool…#hipstersofmastectomies @AngelinaJolie

My Medical Choice by Angelina Jolie

Last night, actress Angelina Jolie went public in the New York Times with her decision to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy. She revealed she carries a BRCA1 mutation, and that her mother passed away from cancer at the age of 56.

In her piece, Angelina writes about her children wanting to know if she would succumb to the same fate as her mother. She talks about the cancer risk associated with her BRCA mutation and the various steps of the surgery. These sentiments are all familiar to any woman who carries a hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk, but what resonated with me the most in her writing was this:

But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.

Thank you, Angelina, for sharing your story. Every time a woman is brave enough to open up about her experience with hereditary cancer–from Angelina Jolie to Giuliana Rancic to Christina Applegate to my dear friend Trisha to ME!–there is limitless potential for making a difference. How many women will opt for BRCA testing because of Angelina Jolie? How many high-risk women will be more inclined to consider preventative surgery? Even if just one woman takes action, Angelina Jolie’s revelation will be worth it.

You go, girl. Thank you for joining the ranks of selfess women who have opened up about their mastectomies.

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.

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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.

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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. =)

 

Talking to your kids about cancer

This is a guest post written by mother, two-time breast cancer survivor Shirley Horn. I don’t have Internet access in my new apartment, so I haven’t been able to post lately. But I’ll update you all soon! For now, enjoy my mom’s writing.

Decisions about parenting are like decisions about breast cancer treatments:  only YOU know what’s best for your children and yourself, regardless of what any of your close or not-so-close relatives or friends have to say about it.  When you’re faced with a disease as daunting as cancer, how to tell the kids is one tough part of the process.

My husband is Jewish and very traditional in his cultural and secular views. “Don’t tell the Kinder,” is a phrase I’ve often heard in our 24 years of marriage. (“Kinder” is Yiddish and German for “children”.) With my husband and his generational peers, it’s a deeply held belief that children should be allowed to keep their innocence as long as possible, unburdened by the woes of the world. When Rachel was very young, it seemed a good mantra to uphold and I wanted to protect her from everything that was bad or sad.

Shirley and Rachel in 1990 in England

We had just moved from Massachusetts to California when I was diagnosed the first time.  My daughter was 9 and she was settling down in our new neighborhood and making friends in her new school. Although she was a bright and precocious fourth-grader, we chose not to share the news with Rachel until we knew as much as we could know about my cancer and treatment plan. Since I had a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy, it was an outpatient procedure and although we told her I was going to have an operation, I was home when she got home from school that night and functioning fairly normally. A couple of weeks after the surgery, we were off to a family reunion to celebrate our old uncle’s 80th birthday.

Chemo is, of course, a different story, and one not easily hidden. If the sight of Mom going bald isn’t enough to scare the wits out of a child, watching Mom with her head in the toilet heaving her guts out several times a day for a couple of days every week will certainly do the trick. (Or at least make your kids think twice about eating Dad’s cooking!)

A few weeks before my chemo began, I sat Rachel down one afternoon and explained.  “Mom’s sick.  I’ve got something called breast cancer. That’s why I’ve gone to the doctor a lot lately and went to the hospital last month. I’m going to be OK, but I’m not completely done yet. Soon, I’m going to start taking some medicine that is really strong and powerful.  The medicine is going to make me sick, too, but just for a little while. It’s even going to make all my hair fall out, but it’s going to make me better so the cancer doesn’t come back.” I think I said a few more things and then I asked Rachel if she had any questions. She said, “May I have a cup of tea, please?” That’s when I knew she’d be OK, too.

Rachel went wig shopping with me. We made a day of it and went to a cool shop that had a large selection of wigs and hats. She had fun helping me try on the wigs and she even got to try on a few. Together, we selected my wig (which I ended up wearing only once) and we each picked out a cute hat. She was part of the discussion when I decided to get my “G.I. Jane” haircut before chemo began, and she defended my honor when the kids at school teased her about having a bald mom.

We were fortunate to have several wonderful friends (mothers of Rachel’s friends) who pitched right in and drove carpool, brought over meals and invited Rachel for sleepovers during my treatment. Rachel herself maintained a cool and calm composure; I don’t ever remember her showing fear or being upset. If she was, she never let me see it. Even at 9, her protective instincts were there.

How old should a child be before you suspend the “Don’t tell the Kinder” rule when it comes to something like cancer? Not every 9-year-old child is capable of handling the Big C with the poise and maturity that Rachel showed. Your 7-year-old may absorb the news and deal with your illness by becoming Florence Nightingale and never leaving your bedside. Let your motherly instincts and intrinsic understanding of your child’s disposition guide you.

I found that being straightforward with my daughter and involving her in the process was the best course of action then.  12 years later, when my cancer returned and I discovered that I carry the BRCA 2 gene mutation, it was still the best course of action.

Shirley and Rachel at graduation in 2012

Shirley Horn is a retired marketing professional living in Redondo Beach, CA. She is an avid paddler for the Los Angeles Pink Dragons, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. She is also an artist and sells her work, along with custom-made mastectomy drain pockets and pit pillows, on her online store Precious Survivors.

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!!!

 

Shopping for the Post-Mastectomy Patient

Let me start this post with a warning: Dad, you might not want to read this. It’s about me…shopping…for clothes. (“But why do you need more clothes?!” I can hear the groans from miles away.)

We’re more than halfway through April and I live in Los Angeles. Temperatures are steadily rising, and twenty-somethings are shedding their winter coats. It’s officially sundress season. And let me tell you, I need a new sundress—desperately. My current collection is becoming old, worn, and ill-fitting. I want a dress that is long enough to wear to the office, but that isn’t overly formal.

I received a few gift cards for my birthday, so on my lunch break yesterday I ventured to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica to hit up the haven of cheaply priced colorful goodness known as Forever 21. I love Forever 21. Every time I go in there it looks different. There is so much selection and it is so inexpensive. It’s the perfect place for getting out of your fashion comfort zone.

After twenty minutes of rack-searching, I headed to the fitting room with six sundress options. The results? UGH.

Shopping after a mastectomy sucks!!!!

Dresses that would normally work for me, such as an empire-waisted frock, look awkward now. I can’t fill out the top of those dresses, so I have to try a smaller size; but when I go smaller, my hips and tummy don’t fit!

Trying out a style with less support around the bust doesn’t work, either: having smaller breasts makes everything else appear bigger, so although I may fit into a dress, I feel fat in it.

These are three of the Forever 21 dresses I tried on yesterday. I liked the one on the right the most but still didn’t buy it.

There were two dress options that were EH. They didn’t look bad on me, but I wasn’t in love with them. In the end I left dress-less (though I did buy a really cool soft bra!). I didn’t like the dresses that much and Forever 21 clothes tend to shrink, quickly taking them out of the office-appropriate zone.

But I still really want a sundress! So now I have a dilemma: do I go to a nicer store such as J.Crew and buy a more expensive dress now, or just wait a few months? The problem with buying any dress or top now is that it might not fit me in two or three months when I get my silicone implants. At the moment, my tissue expander breasts are probably around a small B cup. Tomorrow I get my second saline fill; they will probably become a large B cup. Next week they could be a small C…and you get the picture. I’m probably going to end up with something that looks like a D cup (about my size before surgery).

It’s frustrating. I like to shop, but I need to be fiscally responsible. It doesn’t make sense to blow money now on items that might not work in a few months. But…meh! I want a sundress!

I think the key to shopping successfully after a mastectomy but before the final reconstruction surgery is to look for more loose and relaxed styles that one can “grow into.” For me, tight items will look awkward now and will definitely not fit in a few months. I want to avoid dresses that are too shapeless, such as large smock or sheath styles, because then I might feel frumpy and look like I have something to hide. I think that an A-line style with a belted drop-waist could be my best solution.

What do you think? Any suggestions?

 

Tissue expander fill #1

Yesterday I had my first tissue expander fill at Dr. Festekjian’s office.

For those of you who still aren’t sure of how the breast reconstruction process following a mastectomy works, here’s a rundown: after Dr. Karam performed the mastectomy (removing all breast tissue) portion of my surgery on March 13th, Dr. Festekjian came in to insert saline tissue expanders underneath a layer of my pectoral muscles. These tissue expanders are essentially little baggies that create a pocket in the muscle. They have a needle port on top, and over time, additional saline is inserted so that the baggie and the pocket can grow. Once the tissue expander has been filled enough and the muscle pocket is large enough, the tissue expander is removed and a permanent silicone implant is inserted into the pocket.

During my initial surgery, Dr. Festekjian put about 300 ccs of saline into each tissue expander. This is a pretty decent amount of saline, so when I woke up from my surgery, I actually had breasts–yes, they were small, an A cup, but there was still something there on my chest.

Yesterday Dr. Festekjian took a look at both sides. I was concerned because my left breast seems to be bigger than the right. It had only started to look like that a few days after my drains were removed, so I was worried that I had a fluid buildup. Dr. Festekjian said that there was no fluid (yes! The evil fluid, defeated!) but that the tissue on the left was “still a little pissed off” (wise words) and that it was swelling. He decided to expand only the right side, in order to make them match a bit more appearance-wise but also to let the left side heal more.

Maria, one of the RN’s in Dr. Festekjian’s office who is pretty much awesome (she removed my drains last Monday), did the fill. Sidenote: I really like Maria. She is very understanding and has a lot of patience. I took some before and after pictures, a picture of the tools, and also a video of the fill happening. Since I have to run to work right now, I’m only going to post the pictures.

These are the tools that are used for the tissue expander fill: the giant plastic syringe is where the saline goes, and the little green needle is what is actually inserted into the skin. The two connect at the top of the needle, and the saline is slowly pushed through the syringe into the needle and then into the tissue expander.

Before going to talk to another patient, Dr. Festekjian used a magnetic device to “locate” the tissue expander port through my skin. He then marked it with blue ink–“X marks the spot”, redefined! He disinfected my skin with some sort of brown substance, I think it was iodine. He then made sure I was OK with Maria performing the fill. He said he could do it himself, but I was already scheduled to see Maria the following Thursday for my second fill and I totally trust her, so I was fine with it.

The fill itself did not hurt, but I felt the needle prick for sure. That was the worst part (as it always is). I thought I would be able to feel the saline going into my tissue expander and making my muscle tighten, but I didn’t feel it at all. Maria was very slow and steady with the saline syringe.

She inserted 75 ccs of saline, removed the needle and then put a bandage over my skin where the needle had been. I could see a difference in that my breast didn’t look as droopy. I took a before and after picture, but since I have my bra on for both it’s kind of hard to tell. The biggest difference you can see is the fact that my bra doesn’t look as saggy.

On the left: before the expansion. On the right: after the expansion. Note that only the right side (in this case, looking at me, the left side) was expanded.

I thought I would be in pain after the fill. A lot of women experience tightness (from the muscle stretching) and have to take pain meds. It’s been almost 24 hours and I haven’t felt any pain at all.

My next fill is going to be next Thursday. Fingers crossed that I get both sides expanded! Jeani, Dr. Festekjian’s wonderful assistant, booked me for my next five fill appointments, every Thursday starting yesterday. We’re not sure I’ll need that many, but it’s nice to have them planned out.

I’m happy now. This process is really happening! My reconstruction is starting!