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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Graduation, my return to work, and a bikini top!

Wow…what a weekend!

On Friday I graduated from USC. It seems like only yesterday my parents dumped me in my freshman dorm with a pile of stuff, and now eight semesters, 128 units, a few scholarships, and quite a few dollars later, I am officially a graduate!

Here’s just part of that pile of stuff from my freshman year. I think I cut out that picture of Michael Phelps and put it on my binder.

Graduation, or the Dementor Convention as I like to call it, was a long affair. The first half was the main ceremony in which the graduates were recognized “en masse.” Christiane Amanpour was our commencement speaker. She did a good job, though the speech could have been a tad bit shorter. Honorary degrees were bestowed (if you donate enough money, you too can receive an honorary degree from USC!) and we heard from the valedictorian (“Well I didn’t vote for you!”). At the end all of the dementors (read: graduates) were shooed away to their satellite ceremonies.

I dun gots me an edumucation!!!!

My satellite ceremony was held on the football practice field. Since the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences is so big, we were split up into four random groups by major. My major, Narrative Studies, is really new and no one knows about it (I think there were like, five of us graduating with that major) so we were clumped in with the English department.

The satellite ceremony was short and sweet, even with the reading of each graduate’s name, so we were done by 12:45 pm…just in time for lunch! My parents and I piled into the car (which Mom had sneakily parked in a NON-EXISTENT SPOT, that trickster) and headed for Canter’s Deli…om nom nom!

At Canter’s we grubbed on everything in sight. I did stay true to my vegetarianism by avoiding the corned beef, but it was difficult. Corned beef from Canter’s is sooooo delish. During lunch we were interviewed for a Travel Channel show called Food Paradise. Apparently they are producing an episode about famous delis, and anyone who knows my father knows that he is a deli EXPERT. They got quite a few good sound bites from us.

My graduation dinner was on Saturday evening at Baleen, a restaurant in Redondo Beach. What a great event…my mom did a terrific job organizing it. There was so much food and everyone had a fun time. On Sunday we celebrated Mother’s Day with a family brunch and then some nice long naps. I gave my mom a Magic Bullet, the most sentimental and heartfelt gift EVER.

And the award for Greatest Mother’s Day Gift EVER goes to…

Today was my first day back at work. I work as an Associate Editor at Demand Media in Santa Monica, if anyone was wondering. I feel like I’ve had quite a few first-day-backs recently. I was actually excited to return since I’ve been pretty bored at home…but of course the Internet died around 2 pm and I had to go home early since I couldn’t get anything done without teh Interwebz! Hopefully it doesn’t crap out again tomorrow and I can actually get stuff done.

Now, I’ll address what you’re all dying to hear about: A BIKINI TOP. To be specific, MY NEW BIKINI TOP.

That’s right…I, Rachel Joy Horn, the boobless wonder, purchased a BIKINI TOP. That I will be WEARING. THIS SUMMER.

“…WHAT?!” I know, you’re shocked. Believe me, I was too. During the pity party I threw for myself after my tissue expander was removed I vowed that I would NOT appear in any sort of bathing costume this summer. It would just be too embarrassing and ugly, I thought. Instead I would wear a ridiculously oversized t-shirt like the fat kids wore during summer camp, because that would not draw any unwanted attention to me whatsoever.

Well, things changed when I started wearing my cotton prosthesis. I realized that I could trick the world into thinking I still had a left breast. So on Saturday morning I bravely ventured into Target’s swimsuit section, ready to break that vow.

I pulled out every bikini top that had adequate coverage (e.g. not triangles) and good straps. My mom, the expert seamstress, gave me guidelines for what kind of top would work best to support a prosthesis. I had brought one of the cotton forms with me and tried it on with each bikini top. At last I zeroed in on the perfect top: it had thick straps and a sturdy hook in the back, and it provided good coverage that could hide the prosthesis.

My new bikini top…yeahhhhh!

My job now is to actually find a waterproof prosthesis that my mom can sew into the bikini top. She said she could just use one of the cotton forms, but my concern is that I will become a human sponge. I’d rather find a gel insert that doesn’t absorb water. Does anyone have suggestions?

 

Fear

I know the title of this post is not very SEO-friendly, and I don’t care. This is probably as stream-of-consciousness as I’ve ever written.

I’m scared. On Monday I wrote about the pain in my left breast when I lifted up my arms; I stayed home from work to rest. On Tuesday, it got worst. I stayed home again and developed a throbbing headache. My parents left for a trip to the Grand Canyon that day, but I still drove over to their apartment in Redondo Beach because I knew it would be more peaceful there and I would have access to the vast medical supplies of The Horn Pharmacy.

I slept for a lot of the day but my head really, really hurt and I felt kind of nauseous too. At first I thought it was because the only thing I ate during most of the day was sour gummy worms (…you mean you wouldn’t consider half a bag a nutritious meal?) But it just kept getting worse. Nausea for me seems to occur in the form of burps. I know that’s weird, but I’ll have a burp stuck in my throat and it just won’t come out and it’ll make me uncomfortable and almost sick until it’s belched out.

I really didn’t want to call my parents but I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a fever. I was slightly concerned that the pain associated with the tissue expander was linked to the headache and nausea.

Called Mom; she told me where the thermometer was located. 99.8 degrees. She told me that if it was worse in the morning, I should call Dr. Festekjian’s office.

Bryce came over in the late afternoon and took excellent care of me. He even bought chicken noodle soup and removed all of the chunks of chicken because I’m a vegetarian (yes, I’m aware the broth itself is made from chicken stock–I don’t care.)

I took some Tylenol and that really helped my pain. My temperature was down to 99.1 degrees when I finally went to bed.

This morning when I woke up my temperature was even lower, I think it was down to somewhere in the 97 region. Score! I felt that was a good sign. But I felt even more nauseous today; every time I tried to rest my head on a pillow, it was uncomfortable because there was a burp waiting to escape.

I had hoped to drive back to USC earlier today, but since I felt queasy it seemed like a bad idea to drive. So I stuck around Redondo Beach and realized that my limbs were really sore. It was the same sort of dull pain I felt during my hospital stay and after that awful weekend of “hunkering down” while waiting for my drains to be removed. I knew I needed to move my legs a bit, so I went on a walk.

A VERY short walk. I don’t know if it was the fact that I wore my Northface jacket and that made me hot, or if I really was starting to burn up from a fever, but I could barely get a quarter of a mile without feeling sticky and dehydrated. I turned around, went home, and chugged water.

My temperature started to rise after that. First back up to 99 degrees, and then throughout the evening it got progressively higher. When I went to bed it was 100 degrees.

Sleeping was awful. My head hurt and it seemed that every pillow made it throb. I was also freezing when I crawled into bed but by the time midnight hit, I was drenched in sweat.

So that’s where I am now: sweating, awake, and with a 101.1 degree fever.

That’s why I’m scared. I thought, for a while, that I had the flu. I know it’s going around and a few close friends have had it during the past few days. But why would my temperature be so high?

I am so worried I have an infection. After showering today I looked at my chest in the mirror and realized that my left breast is bruised; the skin has a slight purple tinge to it, and it’s not just in one spot–it’s everywhere.

At 3 pm on Thursday (which I guess is actually technically today) I have another fill appointment with Dr. Festekjian. I texted Maria yesterday to clue her into the fact that my left breast didn’t look too good and to make sure Dr. Festekjian himself would examine it. I am so scared for that appointment.

First of all, I doubt I’ll actually get a tissue expander fill. The first time I had a fill, only the right side was filled up with more saline because the left side was “still a little pissed off.” The left side now doesn’t just seem “a little” angry–it looks like it needs to meet with an anger management therapy group. If my fills are delayed, that means that my exchange surgery will be delayed, and I NEED to have my exchange done by June 30th.

That’s just the first problem; if that is the only thing that’s wrong, then I’ll take it.

But what if I do have an infection? Infections are not good. At all. What if Dr. Festekjian tells me I have to start over with my tissue expander? I don’t know what I’d do. God, I really don’t know. There’s no way I would have my implant exchange by June 30th, I know that. And I just don’t know how I would deal with my lopsided appearance. I’m fine with having smaller boobs; people know I had surgery. But if I had a B cup on the right and a flat chest like a nine-year-old boy on the left, I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to leave the house. I wouldn’t go to graduation. I wouldn’t go to my grad party. I wouldn’t go to work.

It’s fine that I am sick right now. It’s the shittiest timing ever: I missed the senior goodbye banquet at my sorority tonight; I’m not going to be able to participate in tomorrow’s Fountain Run; I probably won’t get to go to my last sorority invite on Friday. But those things I can accept if my tissue expander survives. Missing them would not be in vain.

So that’s it I guess. The 3 pm appointment with Dr. Festekjian will hopefully soothe my worries.

 

Second tissue expander fill, and volunteering for The Jester & Pharley Phund!

On Thursday afternoon I had my second tissue expander fill with Maria at Dr. Festekjian’s office. This time, Maria put some numbing cream over each tissue expander port. During my first fill Dr. Festekjian skipped straight to the biodine cleaning agent, so it was too late to put on the numbing substance; that’s why I could feel the needle pinch. At this appointment, however, I could barely feel anything–it was great! I will definitely be asking for the numbing cream from now on.

Maria put 50 ccs of saline into each side. I was a bit bummed that it wasn’t more, but I also understand that she wants to be cautious about not irritating my tissue and muscle too much. At least she filled up the left side! I am now at 350 ccs of saline on the left and 425 ccs of saline on the right.

After Maria did the tissue expander fill, Jeani (Dr. Festekjian’s assistant) came into the room to talk to me about silicone implants. She had a handy little spinning paper tool that let her see the minimum and maximum size for a silicone implant based on the width of my breast area (which Dr. Festekjian has determined to be 14 cms on each side.)

She also brought with her a few sample implants! I “tried” them on for size, which was fun but also strange! At this point I don’t really remember what my breasts looked like before surgery–I’m so used to the small size now. That being said I definitely want to go back to my “normal” size. Next week I am going to bring in one of my bigger bras and try on the different implant sizes with the bra. I’ll post pictures to get my readers’ opinions!

I didn’t feel any soreness after my tissue expander fill. However on Sunday and again this morning I’ve been in pain, particularly on the left side. When I raise my arms too high or stretch them to the side it hurts–a short of sharpness pulses through. I’m not sure what’s causing it, but it might be my sleeping position. On Saturday night I slept for a while on my stomach, which is the first time I’ve done that since before my mastectomy. I feel fine while I’m sleeping–no discomfort or soreness. Last night I slept the same way for a while and the pain is back again. I just don’t understand how the pain could be related to the sleeping position–wouldn’t my right side hurt a lot more, too?

Tonight I need to make an effort to not roll onto my stomach while sleeping. I took some pain meds this morning and decided to work from home so I could rest my arms. Hopefully the pain improves throughout the day!

Now for something more uplifting:

On Sunday I was lucky enough to help out a great cause during the LA Times Festival of Books at USC. I volunteered at the booth for The Jester & Pharley Phund, an organization which focuses on helping sick kids and promoting literacy. The story of the organization is touching: it centers around a book called The Jester Has Lost His Jingle, written by a young man named David Saltzman. During his senior year at Yale, David was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. The Jester was created for his senior project. He died right before his 23rd birthday in 1990. The Jester is about finding happiness, laughter, and hope in an often depressing world; in fact the title character brings laughter back to the world after he talks to a little girl with a tumor.

After David’s death, his family worked to keep their promise to him that The Jester would be published. And they certainly fulfilled it! Over 325,000 copies have been published, and they are now taking orders for the first bilingual (Spanish-English) edition of the story.

David Saltzman, author of The Jester Has Lost His Jingle.

The Jester & Pharley Phund is the non-profit organization run by David Saltzman’s mother Barbara. Not only does the Phund donate copies of The Jester and the accompanying dolls to children at hospitals, its members also run literacy programs like Read-A-Thons in local schools. While volunteering yesterday, three of my fellow volunteers were fifth-grade students and their teacher who had learned about The Jester through a school program.

Barbara Saltzman and her staffers Amy and Connie were all very welcoming and grateful for the help. I stayed for about 2.5 hours and helped to sell books. When I left, Barbara gave me my copy of the book, signed by the Jester’s Mom!

It was so refreshing helping out yesterday. I love the way the Saltzman family has turned a sad story into an inspirational message. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of the book, please visit the To Order section of TheJester.org.

After helping out at the booth, I went exploring around the Festival of Books and I met up with Teresa (from The Dog Lived blog) and her boyfriend. I stumbled across Teresa’s blog when I was doing a Google search of Dr. Karam way back in November. She was one of his patients. She turned her story of breast cancer and her dog’s cancer (he’s an adorable Beagle named Seamus) into an awesome blog, and soon that story will be turned into a book! I can’t wait to read it. It was really nice to meet Teresa in person…now I need to meet Seamus.

Well, that’s all for now! Gotta get back to work.

 

Well, it’s been over four weeks since my mastectomy!

I apologize for not writing for some time. Life has been busy! But busy in an oddly normal way. Aside from the slight difference in my appearance, most everything seems to have returned to the way things were before my surgery. I went back to work last Tuesday, I’ve been going to class, and I’ve been out and about with my friends and family. The only thing is that I’m feeling fatigued and I want to know WHY! (More mention of that towards the end of the post.)

On Wednesday the 4th my sister Wendy visited us from Boston with my niece and nephew (ages 13 and 15, respectively). It was awesome seeing them. I have six nieces and nephews (and I love ’em all!) but have always regarded Matthew and Nicole as my younger siblings. I lived in Boston when they were born and I grew up with them.

Thursday the 5th was my 22nd birthday. I had work and class, so instead of rushing out to Redondo Beach after class at 8 pm to try to get dinner with my family, I decided to go out in nearby downtown Los Angeles with my friends. It was really great: not only did I enjoy everyone’s company, I also felt so normal! Danielle let me borrow a really cute crop top and I paired it with a black high-waisted skirt. No one could tell that I had recently had surgery.

Here’s a pic of B Boy and me on my birthday. We started the night at the rooftop bar at the Standard. Please note Marissa photobombing in the background.

During that awful weekend before my drains were removed I was concerned that my drain site was infected. Maria from Dr. Festekjian’s office said she might put me on antibiotics, but I cautioned her that my birthday was later that week and that I would prefer not to be on medication. Luckily I didn’t have an infection, so I was OK to drink on my birthday! My friends bought me some pretty delicious drinks (birthday cake shots and mojitos, anyone?) All in all it was a very successful night.

On Friday evening my parents, sister, niece, nephew, Bryce and I all went to the Melting Pot in Torrance to have a birthday/pre-graduation celebration. My birthday was on April 5th; Bryce’s 23rd birthday was on April 10th; and my nephew Matthew’s 16th birthday is on April 14th. We’ve got an abundance of Aries! Dinner was delicious but very filling.

Last night (April 10th) we went out to dinner for Bryce’s 23rd birthday.

The next day we met up with the Berkeley Cuzzins who had driven down the night before to spend time with fam. The cousins are: Marc, Naura and their two kids, Julia (16) and Charles (14). All of the kids (Matthew, Nicole, Julia and Charles) descended on USC on Saturday morning so I could show them around the campus. They’re starting to think about college, so it’s important that I brainwash them and make them want to go to my alma mater.

They really liked USC, especially the tour of the Frat Row…why am I not surprised? After USC we visited Venice Beach, a place I affectionately like to call the Berkeley of the Sea. Venice Beach is amazing. I love to see the reactions that people have to it. The boys LOVED it–they thought it was hilarious. The girls, on the other hand, were slightly weirded out by it.

After Venice Beach I was exhausted. Really, really, REALLY tired. I’m not sure if it was because it was hot outside (about 85 degrees) and we were walking around all day, or because I’m not as recovered from surgery as I thought I was, or both. The next day (Easter) I was still pretty tired too. I went to Bryce’s house for a late lunch and by 7 pm I had passed out upstairs.

So that leads me to the point of this post: when will everything be back to normal? Not to toot my own horn, but I look great after surgery. I feel chipper and if you ran into me on the street, you might never know what had happened. But there are times when I just feel exhausted! And I don’t know why. Are the activities I’m doing really that tiring, or is my body still in recovery mode?

I am itching to get back to my spin classes. I almost went to a class yesterday afternoon at YAS in downtown LA. At the last minute, I decided to email Jeani at Dr. Festekjian’s office to ask her opinion. She talked to Dr. Festekjian and told me to hold off on spinning until I see Dr. Festekjian again and can get his blessing in person.

I was disappointed…I really need the cardio workout! I feel like such a slug. But at the same time, I don’t want to rush it. What if my fatigue really does have to do with my surgery? Spinning might make me feel great for a few hours, but I would feel awful if something happened to jeopardize my tissue expanders and I knew it was because I had pushed myself too hard, too early.

Tomorrow morning at 10 am I have an appointment with Dr. Festekjian to get my first tissue expander fill. Hopefully he’ll give me the OK to go back to spinning. I think I’ll also post some “before and after” pics from my fill (rated G, I promise!)

I’m looking forward to getting the show on the road, but I hope the fill doesn’t hurt. Does anyone have any advice for making it as comfortable as possible?

Check out these ADORABLE cake pops that my friend Kate sent me last week! So yummy and so cute.