Friday, October 17, 2014
Day 98 of 100 Days of Good Karma.
I met with the surgeon today. For the sake of discussion, we’ll call her Dr. Smith.
The appointment with Dr. Smith was intended to be a review of ultrasound images to see how the cancer is responding to chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, due to a scheduling mix up, my ultrasound appointment was scheduled for next week so there was no way for the images to be available at today’s appointment.
But since I had Dr. Smith’s undivided attention, I hit her with a few questions on surgery.
Dr. Smith warned me that a surgery discussion was a little premature because we don’t know for sure yet how the cancer is reacting to chemotherapy. She was willing to answer the questions she could though.
She scared me but I got some good information too.
I learned Dr. Smith was only one of two surgeons who would be working on me.
Dr. Smith’s focus is to remove the cancer and not be distracted by the cosmetic part of surgery. Dr. Smith recommended a plastic surgeon, we’ll call him Dr. Jones, who specializes in handling younger women in need of breast reconstruction. After she does her part, Dr. Jones will step in and do some work toward the reconstruction process. Dr. Smith said we’d talk more about reconstruction when surgery was closer.
I’d heard there would be drains limiting my movement for a few weeks, but I didn’t know what ‘limited’ meant. She said it I’d need some help for a week or so after surgery.
I’d heard I would be down for 6-8 weeks. She said no, and furthermore, she said she doesn’t want me getting surgery information from anyone but the surgical team because it’s invariably going to be wrong.
Dr. Smith recommended a single mastectomy over a lumpectomy because cancer was found in the biopsies in multiple areas of my breast. I figured this would happen and asked her what I’d look like afterwards. I pictured the Harvey Dent of boob jobs – boy-flat on one side with a regular breast on the other.
Dr. Smith said me no, emphatically no, when I told her this.
She said there will be a scar about the width of her hand but she doesn’t just cut off my breast. She leaves the shape of a breast and puts a spacer in to hold the shape. I probably won’t have a nipple or areola on that side, but I can put on a shirt the next day and no one will know I had a mastectomy.
I started crying, partly out of anxiety, partly out of relief.
I don’t love the idea of part of me being scooped out like an avocado, but I didn’t realize how much the thought of only having one breast bothered me until I said it out loud.
And of course once I started crying I couldn’t stop.
Dr. Smith apologized for making me cry, then mentioned a tattoo artist she’d heard about who specializes in nipple tattoos.
“Vinnie?!” I asked, laughing through my tears. “I think I saw that on Facebook.”
“You’ve heard of him!”
(If you’re interested in getting a Vinnie, this is their website: http://vinniemyers.com/home.html. Here is a YouTube video talking about the process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Itj5z5eilo. Warning: Graphic images. I’m not 100% sure about doing this yet, but it’s good to have options. Also, I have to admit, it’s the one tattoo I could live with for the rest of my life.)
I like the way my surgeon makes me feel like I’m part of the team. It changes surgery from something that is being done to me into something I am doing.
A minor difference on paper. A big difference in my head.
She kept touching my arm, and leaning in. She’s a close-talker and I can understand why.
Surgeons are hands-on kind of people, and I’m like a skittish horse. To do her job she needs me to be okay with her touching me.
My surgeon is a sweet woman, but tears aren’t her specialty. She was kind and understanding and listened to my concerns. When the tears didn’t dry up she fetched an expert on crying – a social worker who has pulled me off the ceiling more than once.
For the sake of conversation, we’ll call her Fran.
Talking to Fran helped more than I can say. She’s been through some of what I’m going through, including a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery.
She listened to all my fears about surgery:
Fran understood and validated all my fears, but she didn’t sugar coat the process. She answered all the questions she could.
Fran is an exercise junkie, too, and I was pretty happy to hear she’d done P90X six weeks after surgery.
She said looking at herself afterwards was hard to the point of tears, but she assured me that she got through it, and so can I.
Fran used both Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones for her surgery, and she told me they were both wonderful.
Today’s silver lining: I’m still scared of surgery but the fear is a little more manageable today than it was before the appointment.
I have a few months until surgery. First I have to see how the cancer is reacting to chemotherapy (I wish a horrible, painful death to each and every cancer cell). After that we’ll have a better plan for what lies ahead.
What’s your silver lining today? I love comments!