*warning: graphic and transparent. What else would you expect? 😊
Today is my last chemo infusion. I have been looking forward to this since I started chemo, but I’ve been even more excited since infusion #5 because I could see the light at the end of THIS tunnel. I emphasize “this” because I still have to get through all the chemo side effects from infusion #6, some of which linger for months, and I still have several metaphoric tunnels to navigate this year. The cancer trial and journey doesn’t end with the end of chemo. Although, I am so excited that chemo will end!!! 🎉🎉🎉 I will continue to come in every 3 weeks for my Herceptin infusion for an entire year. (October). Herceptin is a targeted therapy drug for HER2+ cancer cells. But it is not chemo, so no more cold cap therapy either and I shouldn’t have all the side effects that chemo brings. My thinning hair should start growing back and hopefully my eye brows and lashes.
The next “tunnel,” “hurdle,” whatever you want to call it is the biggest one. The first and largest of my surgeries. Here is where I will part with a part of my body that has been with me for nearly 35 years. The part that adolescent girls look the most forward to getting. The part that gives shape to the most womanly curvaceous parts of our bodies. The part that most consider the most beautiful part of the female form. Yes, they take a lot of abuse over the years, with breastfeeding, in my case 7 babies, with stretch marks taking up residency with each pregnancy, and gaining of weight, and with gravity not being kind to this area of our bodies most specifically. My breasts.
So some may think, “you get new boobs!” But with cancer, it’s not like that! I never asked for new boobs, I never wanted new boobs. I was very happy with the ones God gave me, well maybe not “very” happy, but at least they were mine. And every stretch mark tells a mostly happy story. I’ve looked at them through every change in size, shape and pull of gravity, in the mirror. I have grown pretty attached to them and will be sad to see them be cut up and completely changed to NEVER look the same.
I choose to part with them freely and without pressure, knowing I’m making the right choice, so that I hopefully will never have to go through this again. And yes, that’s worth it to me. My husband absolutely supports my choice. Even though it affects him also, no matter what I choose, because yes, he is just that wonderful and genuinely supportive and selfless. He also never wants to see me have to go through breast cancer again or for me to have the risk of metastasis or reoccurrence. And I never want him to have to go through this again either.
Now I will have something very different, with new scars and marks that will tell a completely different story, not such a happy one this time. I will turn it into a story of triumph but it will be tainted with scary moments, sad moments, sick moments, painful moments, sacrificial moments, real life moments.
I suppose I will have to process the loss in my own specific way. Not comparing it to anyone else and how they would feel or comparing it to any other type of loss of limb, organ or part of a person because we are all individuals and process things differently. Our experiences are our own. So understand this….before you start a sentence with, “well at least…” it doesn’t help.
4 weeks from today a breast surgeon, one of the most respected in the state. One that can’t weigh more then 100lbs soaking wet (why do we say that, who weighs themselves soaking wet?). One who is a cute, adorable blond who hugs me tight every time she sees me. One in whom I can see her compassion for me in her eyes every time she looks at me. Not the “feel sorry for you” kind of compassion but the “I’m in this with you and I’ve got your back,” kind of compassion. She will remove both of my breasts in a “skin sparing” double mastectomy.
This is the treatment option I have chosen, to give myself the best possible chance of never having a reoccurrence of breast cancer. She will remove both my nipples/ areolas for the same reason. Along with my breast tissue she will also be removing anything that could be left of the tumor that chemotherapy has mostly or possibly, completely eradicated. I will be deemed “cancer free” after this surgery, if my excised “sentinel” lymph nodes come back clear of any cancer cells, which is the expectation after chemotherapy.
I am 47 years old, and hopefully have many many years left to live and don’t want to go without breasts for potentially 30-45 years! There are so many different choices to make with treatment and surgical options. I chose a double mastectomy to minimize any chance to have breast cancer again. With immediate reconstruction using the DIEP procedure, so my new breasts will be as natural as possible.
This is NOT a tummy tuck my plastic surgeon, a completely different surgeon than my breast surgeon, tells me. Don’t mistake it as such, he forewarned me. The goal is not cosmetic enhancement of your tummy, it is successful tissue transplantation and reconstruction of your breasts which is a long and complicated procedure and is safer not adding unnecessary time to with cosmetic touch ups and elective add ons.
I chose this procedure because I have no desire, and never have to have anything artificial placed in my body. I have not wanted it for cosmetic reasons and still do not out of necessity either. Not to mention the potential risks and side effects that can come with an artificial implant option. That is me, that is how I feel and that is my choice. For someone else that may be what they choose, and that is fine for them.
The DIEP procedure will go deeper than a traditional “tummy tuck” all the way through the fascia to the muscle and in some cases, though they try to attempt a “muscle sparing” dissection, in 5% of the procedures they have to take muscle. The key to success is the vasculature that feeds the tissue. They have to take healthy vessels that are large enough to reconnect to achieve adequate blood flow and circulation to the transplanted tissue. I will have abdominal tissue (fat) and blood vessels placed within my breast skin through the cuts made when my areolas and my natural breast tissue and any cancerous cells that may still be there, are removed. Then the abdominal tissue vessels will be reattached to vessels in my chest to create new healthy living breast tissue. The incision of the abdomen will go from hip to hip and will be just below the belly button area. The incisions on my breasts will be where my areolas and nipples are excised.
There will be other necessary follow up surgeries and procedures, much simpler day surgeries. They will occur three months apart from each other to follow this huge surgery. They will cosmetically complete the look, symmetry, shaping, scar revisions, nipple creation and areola tattooing. So that in the end, I will have the most natural looking and feeling breasts that modern medicine can create while maximizing the hope of breast cancer never returning to wreak havoc in my life again.
My plastic surgeon is an incredibly experienced, kind and humble man with a great bedside manner. He specializes in and has done so many of these procedures that he says in 20 years he has stopped counting, but probably has done 1 a week for 20 years! 😮 The surgery is long. The mastectomy itself, is done by my cute, tiny and adorable breast surgeon whom I love, Dr Kruper, its about 4 hours at the beginning of the surgery. Then my plastic surgeon, Dr Tan, and a second highly experienced micro-vascular surgeon, take over for the dissection and reconstruction. The total procedure lasts 12-14 hours. The hospital stay will be approximately 5 days and the recovery will take 3 months.
Please, if I may ask for your continued prayers for me. Please pray everything would go smoothly today. That my chemo side effects would be minimal and subside quickly. That my body would recover quickly and thoroughly to be strong for surgery. That the toxicity of chemo would not create additional complications or future health issues. That my surgery would be a success and that God would guide the surgeons through that success. That healing would be as painless as possible. That my healing would also go smoothly and with minimal scaring. That there would be no complications. That my husband would be given peace throughout the procedures and strength throughout my recovery. Thank you in advance for all your continued prayers, support, encouragement and good thoughts. You all bless me so much. I am grateful beyond words.
Chemotherapy ends today, but the effect cancer will have on my life is not over. Not by a long shot! But today I am thankful for successful endings. I am grateful for medical science, that despite the toxicity of treatment, can effectively treat the cancer that was growing and multiplying quickly inside of me. So fast I could feel it by touch. That was scary! But chemotherapy stopped it and shrunk it fast, possibly killing it completely. We will know soon.
I am thankful to my Savior who has faithfully walked with me through this journey, and all my journeys, that make up my story and my testimony. Who has guided my decisions. Who upholds me with His righteous right hand. Who shines His light upon me and through me and gives me peace that surpasses all understanding. He fights for me while I rest in Him and enables me to just be still. He fills me abundantly with joy as the trials I face allow me to persevere in my faith, shaping me in maturity and wholeness so I will lack nothing. He gives me strength and makes me brave. He blesses me immensely in the process because He is a good, good Father. Yes, I’m so eternally grateful. He fills me with an anchor of hope as I trust in Him. My cup overflows.
There is hope beyond this!
God, take the glory! All of it! I lay my crown of glory at your feet.