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.

Advertisements

Final fill update and implant exchange surgery scheduled

I’m the worst blogger, I know. I’m sorry. I moved into my new apartment in September and I still don’t have Internet, but I don’t want to get it until I get a TV, which should be around November 10. For now, I have to mooch teh Interwebz off of work and my friends. But it is really awkward to post a new blog entry at work, when all of my blog posts have pictures of my boobs. It just doesn’t seem like the best idea, you know?

Let me update you on my breast reconstruction status: I had my final tissue expander fill with Dr. Festekjian on October 4. He filled each expander up to 700 ccs of saline. My expanders can hold up to 750 ccs, but Dr. Festekjian discouraged me from filling anymore. He said that the expanders already felt very firm and that the skin was tight, so more saline could be painful for me.

Stopping at 700 ccs was fine with me; I’m (at last) happy with the projection of my tissue expanders. You can’t see much of a difference between 650 ccs and 700 ccs, but here’s a comparison:

My implant exchange surgery is set for Monday, November 19, which is the Monday before Thanksgiving. I’ll be taking Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off work, then Thursday and Friday are vacation days. I should be back to work the following Monday.

Here’s me and my 700 ccs of saline on each side!

Last Wednesday was Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day at UCLA Medical Center. I went with my mom and Bryce to show some love for Dr. Festekjian. I’m actually really glad we went; I didn’t think I’d learn much, but I asked Dr. Da Lio (another plastic surgeon) about the differences between silicone implants and “gummy bear” implants.

I’ve been hearing a lot about gummy bear implants lately, and I wanted to know what was so great about them. Dr. Da Lio told me that UCLA does offer gummy bear implants (a form of very dense silicone implants), but they are not yet approved by the FDA so patients who opt for them must participate in a study. He said they’re firmer than silicone implants and that they retain their shape when cut. But the negative is that they are not a perfect circle (unlike other implants); if they flip around under the muscle, the breast shape will change. They are not guaranteed to flip, but Dr. Da Lio said that upper body exercise could make it happen. I like to kayak and I want to get into weight lifting, so the risk of gummy bears flipping is there for me. Silicone implants it is!

I’ll be going in for a pre-op appointment with Dr. Festekjian on November 8. I already know that he is going to order a few different sizes of silicone implants for me, but hopefully he’ll give me some idea of the actual numbers and sizes.

Once my implant exchange surgery is done, I should be finished with surgeries. Since I had a nipple-sparing mastectomy, I don’t need to worry about nipple tattoos. But when I was at BRA Day, I met a tattoo artist named Ruth Swissa who does medical tattoos for breast reconstruction patients. Her work was AMAZING! She had a bunch of temporary 3D nipple tattoos. They looked SO REAL. She had one on her arm and if I didn’t know anything about mastectomies or breast reconstruction, I would have been really freaked out by it because it really did look like she had an oddly-placed nipple! To any of my readers who are going to have nipple reconstruction: email me if you want a few of the nipple tattoos! I snagged some and would gladly mail a few to you.

OK, I’ve been mooching off of my friend’s Internet for too long. Happy Halloween, everyone! I leave you with this picture from Saturday evening of Bryce and me. Can you guess who we are?

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.