Friday, May 31, 2013

Life Update: Part 2

Yet another post where I have procrastinated long enough! I have been wanting to write down my thoughts and do a recap... but also NOT wanting to do it at the same time. I do that often... struggle with wanting and not wanting to do something. It's kinda like weeding the garden... You don't want to do it, you need to do it, and you know starting is the hardest part. But when it's all done you feel soooo much better. And you can feel good that it's done. For me, keeping this blog has been kind of like a form of therapy. In telling my story and releasing some of what has happened in my life I get this great sense of relief afterwards. I can tell when I am need of writing too because I get really agitated and nothing I am doing makes me feel at ease. As soon as I sit down and start getting things down on paper, whether through journaling or, less privately here on the Internet, I soon see that this is what I have been needing to help me chill out. It's just that bit of release of "stuff" in my brain that is in need of purging - and then I'm good.

So. You wanna hear all about my new nipple? Of course you do! ;)

Surgery was scheduled the day after we returned from our Young Adult Cancer Retreat adventure in Calgary on April 25... (Hard to believe it was already over a month ago). It was in a private surgical centre in Vancouver and the procedure was going to be about an hour long. I was freaking nervous as hell while Mike and I waited in the patient change room for Dr. Van Awesome to come mark up my foob.

Was I anxious about the surgery itself with the whole 'going under the knife' thing? Not as much. Nervous about what I was going to be like AFTERWARDS due to the anesthetic and pain killers? Through the roof worried! Scared that the new nip would take forever to heal and that I would regret my decision? Very much so.

But Dr. Van Awesome came in, told me this was going to be much easier than the last operation and explained it was normal for me to be nervous either way. She also assured me she was going to do a fantastic job and that I could relax knowing it was going to turn out fabulous. I breathed a little sigh of relief, knowing I would be in good hands. Then there was the anesthesiologist who pretended to not understand why I was so anxious but reassured me that I would do fine in recovery as it was not nearly the amount of anesthetic that I had during my mastectomy. Like he knew?

Entertaining myself to distract the mind
After a change room photo shoot of random "Not bored, but trying to distract myself and get my mind off this" pictures taken by my dear Mikey... I was off to the OR and was told Mike would see me about an hour after the surgery in the second recovery room.

The procedure itself in detail as explained prior to the surgery: The fake boob would have a circle cut into it... that circle of skin would be origamied-up into my new nipple and then a skin graft from the side of my body near my scar from the mastectomy would be used to fill the space where the circle had been removed from. Kind of acting like the areola. If that makes sense. Next up would be the finishing touch that Dr. Van Awesome insisted on doing to perfect her 'work of art'... She was going to take fat from my stomach (aka liposuction) and inject it into my chest just above the implant where I had this caved-in indent from the mastectomy.

Fun times.

So there I am laying on the operating table, my mouth starts to get dry and pasty as I am getting an IV in my hand for what felt like the one hundredth time this year. Then I felt a stinging go up my arm as one of the nurses asked me where I live on the Sunshine Coast. And before I could answer I nodded off into anesthesia land.

Waking up I was of course extremely groggy and I took an hour and 45 minutes to recover in the first recovery room. Much longer than most people apparently. But it was not just because I kept falling back asleep from the anesthetic... it was because I was first nauseated. Gravol. And then shaking uncontrollably. Ativan. Then in a lot of pain in my stomach from the lipo. Oxycontin.

Super messed up in the second recovery room
I was on a crap load of drugs. Not to mention the anesthetic and the other drugs I was already given for pain before I woke up. By the time I was coherent enough to stand and make my way into recovery room number two I was hiiiiigh as a fricking kite.

I don't remember much from this time except how difficult it was to understand my nurse's accent as well as insisting that Mike shoot video and take pictures of me while I was getting assistance putting on my sports bra. (The heck?) ...I also recall Dr. Van Awesome making a few appearances to tell me what a trooper I was, how well the procedure went and that she was very touched when I told her what name I used for her on my blog.

Icing the tummy and feeling pretty miserable
I don't remember how I got pants on. I don't remember my first pee. I don't remember leaving the building. I don't remember misplacing my favourite black bandeau bra. I don't remember Mike pointing out the new Victoria's Secret on Robson. I don't remember the drive to the ferry. I don't remember being on the ferry. And I don't remember going to bed that night.

The next few days were also a blur, although I do remember them for the most part. In short: I was very sick. I was very sore. Very depressed. And very much a wreck. Read further for the long version if you dare... or care! ;)

Then days 2 - 4, in true Ashley form, I reacted exactly as I did the last time I was given an anesthetic: vasovagol (fancy word for fainting), panic attacks and, my favourite, puking.
Don't remember taking these cause I was cooooked!

I remember being so scared. So unsure of what was happening with my body. Being so f-ed up on so many drugs and wishing that they could all just leave my system instantly. I was also in so much excruciating pain in my tummy and just so completely afraid of having to be taken to the hospital if something bad were to happen that I began to fall into that oh so familiar dark tunnel of fear. The worry of hospitals, ambulances and being rushed into emergency seemed to engulf my mind. The thought of being in a vehicle made me even more anxious as it always does when I am this freaked out and my head spun like crazy as I began to feel more and more nauseated. I was freezing cold and shivering uncontrollably while simultaneously sweating and feeling that overwhelming panic of "WTF is happening to me!?". And as my face grew hotter and hotter my ears began to ring and I could no longer hear Mike trying to say calming soothing words to me. And that is always a sure sign of a fainting attack right there.

The fear that overcomes me at times like these is so unbearable that I wish someone could tranquilize me for several days until I can wake up feeling more human again and the memory of the trauma magically wiped from my mind.

After several ups and downs of anxiety attacks I remember Mike holding my hand and telling me to give all my worry to him. "Put it all on me" he would say. But I couldn't find a way. I just kept spinning and my vivid imagination took me on yet another scary ride of my own worse case scenarios... ambulances, hospitals, IVs, cancer, doctors, tests, waiting, MRIs, more waiting, more cancer, lack of control, pain, fear, loneliness and dying.

Mike and I must have hung out in our small bathroom for 4 hours on the third day of my recovery. I knew I was going to be sick. I knew I needed to be close to the sink where Mike could soak a cool facecloth for me when the heat would surge up into my head and the panic attacks would start up. I soon realized that if I could just try breathing slowly with Mike doing the same in rhythm along side me then I could potentially calm myself down. This didn't work at first, but eventually, after throwing up I was able to find some comfort from the in-and-out of my breathe and also in the hope that I was passed the nausea portion of my recovery.

I don't like feeling this way. No, this was not the easy recovery period I was told I would have. I knew I was going to be healing and was going to be resting for 7-10 days but I was not prepared for this to be just like the last time. I didn't think I would still only be able to eat liquids 4 days after the operation. Didn't anticipate the pain. Feared the fainting, panic and puking but kept trusting the professionals when they said it wasn't going to be as bad as the first surgery.

Then a sadness overcame me that week. I was once again being kicked down. I was back in the space that cancer put me. I felt like I was a patient again. I was recovering from surgery for a second time and doing it miserably. I was sore, weak, loopy and anxious. I kept thinking that this had to be the last operation. Never again would I be able to have another surgery. And I worried about getting cancer again more so in that one week than I have in the last 3 months. And all the while I became more and more deflated. I felt so alone really, even though I had Mike by my side. And I felt pathetically useless because I couldn't (once again) use my left arm for anything which reminded me so much of the last surgery. Then I worried that I was going to need even more physio and have even more PTSD issues from this latest experience. This "easy" surgery!

Let's talk about that actually... The "easy" surgery... hehe... I laugh now, but oh man... I was not prepared. And you know, I am actually glad I wasn't prepared. Because if anyone had warned me about the pain I would feel from this procedure, I probably would not have gone through with it.

But first lets talk about the nipple: I can't feel it. It's numb. I felt no pain from the operation. And for the first week all I could see was this mound of gauze and I wasn't supposed to look under it. The second week the gauze was removed and replace with another. And the third week I had graduated to no more bandages.

The skin where they took the fat grafting from: That hurt a tiny bit. Mostly when I would try to get up or move too fast. Even today it hurts if I roll on my left side or reach above my head (yes, my arm movement has almost gone back to normal - hooray!) But the pain here was nothing compared to the pain in my stomach and my upper chest from the fat stealing and injection.

Holy brutality batman.

To think that there are actually people in this world who VOLUNTEER and WANT to do liposuction is just beyond me. The pain I experienced from this was so intense the only way to describe it was to imagine the following: Picture a metal ice cream scoop. Now imagine it going into the lower part of your tummy beneath your navel and fricking scooping out all your tissue from left to right.

It was f-ing BRUTAL. No other way to put it. People are INSANE that do this willingly.

The progression of bruise healing throughout the weeks
Now that I have just officially sicked myself out again by that mental image... I am gonna add to it by sharing some lovely photos of what my poor belly looked like after the ice cream scoop. (In reality, it's actually a little tube that goes in one side and sucks everything out in a "fanned" motion so not to leave any noticeable 'holes'. Like a fat vacuum. Nasty right?

A glorious rainbow of colours
Fat injection region
Ok... and then there was the injection site... Pretty sore it was. But not nearly as bad as the tum tum. And I must say, for the 'easy' surgery, the pain I felt from the suckage/injection combined was definitely 10 times worse than the pain I had after my mastectomy. Which actually kinda shocks me but makes sense when you think about the fact that I have no nerves left in my foob, which explains why I can't feel the new nippy.

Which leads me to something I obsessively do every morning when I wake up these days...

Because I can't feel the nipple, in the last month since the bandage was removed I often will feel the need to check up on it. Have a peak to see how it's doing. Monitoring it. Making sure it's still hangin' on. So whenever I wake up in the morning I find myself looking down and making sure it's actually still there. Not like 'was it all a dream?' type is it there?... More like, has it bloody-well fallen off?

You see, the new nip is a strange thing. First of all, this whole recon business is kind of bizarre in itself because I went from having a nippleless Barbie mound for nearly 16 months to having a fake nipple in a matter of hours. The cool thing is that it is actually made out of my own skin. It is tissue that was removed, sewed back on and could have potentially decided not to comply with the healing process. Known as 'rejection'. Luckily for me, it has proven to be healing quite nicely in the last month, and although I still have a running stitch tied off on it and a few more dissolving ones hanging out to hold it all delicately together, it definitely is doing it's job in healing each day. Pretty amazing what can be done these days...

But it is still looks weird as heck to me! And any time I have accidentally hit the poor little thing, it feels like it is hanging on by a thread. Which more than freaks me out each time that occurs of course. Thankfully the worst thing that happened was that it started to bleed once after I smoked myself with my own fist while trying to pull on a shirt. I feared that I would be set back that day and worried that I would soon find myself back in Dr. Van Awesome's office getting more stitches... But gratefully, the new nip continued to heal.

I even gave it a few nicknames actually... "button boob" and "jujube nip"... Currently it is working it's way through the scabbing process and is looking a lot more nipple-like each week... but two, three weeks ago it was another sight I tell ya! I kept comparing it to one of those weird purple speckled 25 cent candies I used to beg my parents for change for at the mall when I was a kid. It's round, blacky/purple, yellowy in some parts, scabby and creepy looking. It's like a a few raisins mashed up and formed into the shape of a circle. It's like a creepy little sewed on button that I so easily hit because I am still not used to the extra protrusion... Each time, having to double check to make sure it's still attached as I said before.

OK you get the picture. It's quite foreign to me. And it's fake. But even though it isn't a real nip and was made by the hands of a talented plastic surgeon, I gotta say, looking past the scabbiness, it's pretty damn good. At first I worried that it was too low and I had a mini freak out about it not lining up with my other side. Upon further inspection though, I can happily say that it is indeed in the correct place. Dr. Van Awesome did an amazing job and despite my recovery from it all being a bit of a hellacious mess, I am pretty pleased with the results... Even if I still can't quite see the final product yet because of the wonderful scabs. (The full healing will be at least another month or so away apparently, at which time we will talk about the finishing touches of getting the tattoo/pigment addition) Goodie!

As for my poor tummy... it is not nearly as sore as it was - thank goodness. The bruising is almost all gone but the internal scarring is still there. Sometimes when I get out of bed in the morning it really hurts and I have to be patient and remind myself that it is going to be awhile before the scar tissue breaks down. I can still feel a section of hardness in behind a swollen area on the right side. I swear it feels like someone embedded a chunk of cheese under my skin. Let's just say I shall not be doing any ab workouts any time soon.

But alas, I made it through another crazy reconstruction surgery ordeal...and I am just so thankful that it is over. I did it! I am here. I am healing. I am making my way through. I am getting used to the new body. Trying not to accidentally catch the nip on something or punch it when I get changed. Finding out that I can't get away with wearing thin layers anymore due to the permanent nipped-outness. Realizing that I was actually getting used to my life having one mannequin boob and now adjusting to the newness. Can't get away with only covering up the one side now if I make a quick dash with no shirt through the kitchen into the laundry room! Getting used to the fact that I have something goin' on now down there on the left side. Even maybe feeling a tiny bit more like a complete female again.

Hmmm? Still haven't decided on that last one quite yet.


  1. Whew, Ashley, it sounds like you have been through the ringer. No wonder you needed time before writing (AND no wonder you needed to write)! I wish you increasingly quick recovery and loads of lovely rest. Kudos to you and Mike for getting through. ~Catherine

  2. Wow - what a recovery process! So glad you're feeling better and more whole now. Can I just admit that I totally teared up at my desk at work just now reading about Mike telling you to give him all your worries and holding your hand and sitting in the bathroom with you? Seriously - how sweet is he??

    1. Awww Jill... this gets me teared up reading this even a few months later... Isn't Mike the sweetest? Love to you. xo

  3. do they not give you a chest block or anesthesia ? I had Lipo prior to dx of cancer, and I didn't feel a thing. I also requested anti-nausea med's before being put to sleep, because I do remember the shaking and nausea.

    Your graphic description of the reconstruct scares the hell out of me, but that will be a long way away for me. So for all of your reader's, listen up.
    Ask for the med's
    demand the med's
    chest block for reconstruction and mastectomy
    and if they tell you, you don't need it, scream BULLSHIT, and ask for it anyway, Better YOU be comfortable - than in pain.

    When they do LIPO, they should be injecting Lidocaine at the same time.
    I am wondering if they DID NOT do that for you?

    the tattooing also scares the bejeezus out of me too..

    Keep us posted.

    1. This is the first I have ever heard of a chest block. I was given anesthesia. I also dont know if they did the injection either... A whole lot of "not being in the know" I guess! lol

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