Seven months today and counting since I’ve had my surgery… I’m really looking forward to the time when there is nothing more to report! In the past month my healing progress has continued to inch along in the right direction. I think I am only at about 80% of my usual energy levels, which is an improvement, but still frustrating! On the downside, the whole area is still pretty numb. That’s no fun. It still feels quite stiff and uncomfortable too.
On the upside it DOES feel like the newly healing parts are finally integrating in some way to the rest of my body. For the first six months, it felt as if my new breasts were sort of sitting separately to the rest of my body, like some rubber mounds that had been pasted on to my chest. Now, I can feel there is better blood flow than before, and the skin surface is not as cool as it sometimes was, when clearly the blood was having trouble getting to the skin surface. So that’s a good thing. And my breasts have softened up quite a bit too so I’m very glad about that. Still lots of healing to go under the scar areas but on the whole, much better.
With my stomach, what felt like a hard plastic disk beneath my skin now feels like a dense mass of scar tissue. Sometimes I think I can almost can see the internal scar mass sitting beneath my skin, about the size of a side plate surrounding my belly button area and roughly 1- 2 inches thick. I don’t know if I’m just imagining that, but it’s what it feels like. Still not great but definitely better than before. I’m very sure that my lymphatic drainage massages have made a big difference there, because the swelling has gone down a lot. And I think the acupuncture with moxa treatment is helping to improve circulation too. I’m having both those treatments fortnightly now.
The other treatments I’ve discovered that appear to be working well are silicone strips over the scars on both stomach and breasts 24/7. Before I only had sheets of silicone gel that you cut up and place on the breast scars overnight, but I found this silicone tape online and that has made putting the silicon on, and leaving it on both the breast and abdominal scars, much easier. It smooths out the scar lines so there are less bumps along them. And when I was researching internal keloid scarring, I discovered an ayurvedic herb called Gotu Kola, which is highly recommended for this kind of healing, so I bought some of that in the US and I imagine that is working a bit of magic too. When I read the list of what it improves, I thought maybe everyone should be on it!
So that’s the update on progress so far. Quite boring for those of you that don’t need the medical detail but I think helpful for anyone reading this if they are about to embark on a similar journey. Other people’s blogs on this topic are always interesting to me so as it has helped me to know what to expect, so hopefully this will help others to know that they are not alone, especially if their healing is like mine – long and slow! But the good news is that it IS happening, slowly but surely!
I’ve also been back to see James, my surgeon, to talk about my follow up surgery in the past week. He thinks I’m doing well and gives my surgery outcome A- so I’m pretty happy with that! Hopefully we can upgrade to a straight A after this next surgery. In simple terms, the follow up surgery is recommended as part of this whole procedure in order to neaten up the scars. There is nothing wrong with my scars, it is just what they usually do for the best outcome.
The surgery should only take about 2 hours and then two or three days of recovery in hospital, followed by a few weeks of rest at home. I will not be rushing anything! I’ve found it really confronting to be considering more surgery (and more injections and more pain and more incisions and more dressings and more blah blah blah ….everything that goes with it!!) But I don’t want to have come this far and not have the best possible outcome so I will endure! If I’ve had a 12 hour surgery then I can be brave and do this one too.
My big decision is going to be what I do about my nipples – or lack thereof. I lost the right one in the post surgery recovery because my blood supply was not strong enough on that side to sustain it. I have the areolas (nipple surrounds) on both sides but only the actual nipple on my left. So now I have to decide do I just live with the lopsided look I have now, or do I remove the existing nipple and even it up? Usually they can surgically reconstruct a nipple but given the blood flow on my right breast was not great last time, James is reluctant to try again in case the reconstructed area dies on me (that would be a bit devastating!) So if I removed the nipple on my left breast, I would then be even and have no nipple show through under clothing which could be quite a bonus! (There has to be something positive!) From a cosmetic point of view that would make sense. But it makes me too sad to think about losing ANOTHER sensitive feminine thing that I dearly love – on top of losing Martha, my fashion business, my original bosoms and then our dear Lou. All feminine, all beautiful, all very special to me!
So my head is saying “Just go ahead and remove the remaining nipple and even it up” but my heart is saying “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! We are not letting go of anything else that is part of us. It is pretty and it is ours and NOOOOOOOOOOOOO don’t take it away!!” That’s making me cry just typing that so I think I know what the decision is going to be. Keep it as is and just have the uneven look as a badge of honour that I was brave enough to do this brutal surgery. Once I remove the nipple I can’t get it back so it would be pretty scary for me to decide to take it away.
Sometimes I don’t know why I share all of this personal detail (a woman’s nipple is pretty personal!) but I do want people to know that type of issues you have to deal with in going through a surgery like this. It’s not all over in an instant and the impact is long lasting. It’s not so much the physical appearance but the sensation of touch that has gone forever, and the loss of part of me that is so precious and feminine to me is what hurts the most, seven months down the track.
James said, “We can do whatever you like but I’m a bit attached to that nipple. It has valiantly hung on through this surgery!” (And of course I said “Well I’m quite attached to it too!”)
And then I think of Martha who had her entire left breast removed, back to the chest wall when she was only 36. Back then the doctors wouldn’t let her have a reconstruction because her cancer was aggressive and they said they wanted a clear view, in case any cancer came back. (I don’t think they think that way any more). So she was brave and got on with it, much more lopsided than I will ever be. (Not that you could tell when she had clothes, or even swimwear, on). She was so brave and didn’t complain. I do feel very sad for myself going through this sometimes, so I can only imagine how other women feel going through much worse than I have to conquer breast cancer.
So, I can be brave when I think how small my challenges are relative to that. I might change my mind, but as I am writing this now I think I have made my decision. I will be lopsided but I will be me! I’ll keep my left breast intact. It will be numb, it will be scarred but it will have a nipple and be as much of me as it can be, so I’m going to be proud of that. Who cares if it’s not even? Only me. I can’t bear to donate any more of me to this “cancer prevention cause”. Especially not something as personal and feminine as a nipple. I will be happy with what I have and grateful my appearance is 99% right.
That’s it! It’s staying! Decision made. Surgery is in June. Forward we go