Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Back to Square One

I'll ask forgiveness in advance if I don't make a whole lot of sense. I'm medicated.

I finally got the call for surgery yesterday. My fabulous doctor (I really can't say enough about his fabulousness) put me on the emergency surgery list which meant after the regularly scheduled operations were done for the day the gotta fit you in or came in off the street and need surgery patients get to go.

Let's pause and talk about food. I love food. I mean, I LOVE food. So fasting and I don't really mix. I was ordered to fast from 9 am yesterday morning so I did get to have breakfast and more importantly coffee but by 1 pm I was hungry and by 4 pm I had to go to bed because I was downright bitchy.

We arrived at the hospital for 7 pm and got prepped. I was expected to go into the OR at 9 but alas a baby needed to be born ASAP and well, let's face it, that's a no brainer (the anesthetist (who, by the way, was Yum-my!) told me after the baby had been born in distress but was doing better so yay!)

So at 10 pm they wheeled me into the OR and got busy. I got home at 1:30 this morning.

The doctor removed the implant, removed the skin that was all gross from the big purple lump, fixed the flap and put a new expander in. In a month he'll start filling it again and then hopefully, in the early summer I'll have the swap out surgery again (the one I just had in January).

It's been a long road and it's taking a toll on my family, even though they'll never say that out loud. I'm so lucky to have them.

So, we're back to square one again. I'm okay with that. It needs to be done right or I'm going to end up having way more surgeries than this.

On an even more positive note I didn't start crying in the OR this time until they put the oxygen mask on my face....that's a record!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Now That's Some Good Advice

I stopped into my school today to pick up some books I ordered. Despite not being there I'm still a book-a-holic and when that Scholastic catalogue comes in I can't help but buy some. God knows what I'm going to do with my collection of 5000 picture books when Connor outgrows them and I retire. Save them for the grandkids I guess. My kids will never have to buy books for their kids.

Anyway, I spoke with my principal about my upcoming surgery and my frustration with not knowing when it will be and how long I'll be out. And he said to me....
"Just take care of yourself. We miss you here but you know, no one is going to take care of you. You have to take care of yourself."

At first I was taken by surprise. I was thinking, WTF? Y'all don't give a shit??  But then I got it. I got what he meant.
You see, he was my boss when I first got diagnosed but he was new to the school and had never worked with me before so all he had to go on was whatever the outgoing principal told him and perhaps what other teachers had told him.

I'm good at my job. No, not good, I excel at my job. And the whole 6 months I was off for treatments all I wanted to do was go back to work. And when I did get back my classroom was in such a state of disarray and chaos that I truly questioned why I went back and went home in tears most nights.

The next school year (last year) was better - way better and I felt like things came around. And this year...well the first 4 months were the best ever.

But now I'm home again. And my classroom again is in disarray. I felt nauseous just going in because I am an OCD organized, clean freak. And my partner is polar opposite. And without my being there to organize us.....

I can't even go there, I'm getting palpitations.

But the thing is, my principals advice resonated with me then.

No one gives a shit. They really don't. That's not to say that no one cares. My friends care. My family cares and even the colleagues I'm close to care. But at the end of the day - you have to look after yourself because no one else is going to.

So I've changed my way of thinking and my drive. I'm not anxious to get back to work. If my upcoming surgery puts me out for the school year - so be it. I'm taking care of me.

I am replaceable at work. Maybe not by someone as amazing as me, or maybe by someone even better. But I'm not replaceable to my family. Or my friends. And they are who matter.

I am looking out for me. I will sit my fat ass on my couch and watch Let's Make A Deal and go on Facebook 10 times a day if that's what my doctor orders. I will no shovel. I will not carry the laundry basket. (but I'll do the laundry if someone else will carry it) I will take care of me.

Now before I go....I don't want this misunderstood. Because my family takes care of me like nobodies business and so do my very close ones.....this post was mostly about my attitude towards my career.

Friday, February 14, 2014


Limbo  noun \ˈlim-(ˌ)bō\
1  often capitalized :  an abode of souls that are according to Roman Catholic theology barred from heaven because of not having received Christian baptism
2 a :  a place or state of restraint or confinement
   b :  a place or state of neglect or oblivion limbo
  c :  an intermediate or transitional place or state
  d :  a state of uncertainty

Source: Merriam-Webster online dictionary

I fall under definition in red.

My doctors office called me last night and said there was a chance I'd be going in for my surgery today, this afternoon. I was ordered to fast from midnight last night and await their phone call this morning.

There's something you should know about me. I'm a planner. I'm so OCD about planning that I plan for planning. No joke. So to be given 12 hours notice of surgery - something I'm terrified of facing....well, that doesn't sit well with me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not mad at the doctor, just stressed with the situation. I'm happy that he's trying to expedite this. I understand why it's imperative to have the surgery sooner than later. I've got a nasty purple/black lump on the side of my breast filling up with fluid that could, at any time, pop open and expose my implant to the world, not to mention set me up for infection.

But 12 hours notice does not allow me time to prepare myself mentally for going under the knife again. I need to time to calmly think about why it's necessary and important. I need time to prepare my children. I need time to arrange for childcare and school transportation because my mother, who usually takes care of those things for me, is on a cruise and the moment and blissfully unaware of what's going on at home. I'm glad for that, I'd hate for her trip to be spoiled with worry.

So this morning I waited, hungry, tired, scared and desperate for coffee for the phone call telling me what time to be at the hospital. At 10:30 my doctor's secretary called to tell me that there was no OR time available today and that I'd be having surgery next week or the week after. It's not like OR time falls from the sky and so, unfortunately some unlucky person is going to get bumped on my account. I'm sorry for that. I'm sure it will be frustrating. It won't be someone critical, like a cancer patient. But he is a cosmetic surgeon so I'm sure there is someone out there getting a boob job or liposuction just because they want to and well, that poor person is gonna have to wait. My boob is literally about to pop.

So now, here I sit in limbo. Waiting. Waiting for the call to tell me when my turn is. Waiting to see if this means I'm off work even longer.

I'll admit I was relieved today. I wasn't ready. I didn't have a chance to properly prepare the kids. I wasn't feelin' it.

Of course it also means I psyched myself up for nothing and I've go to do it all over again next week.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nothing Worth It Is Ever Easy

I've lived a pretty charmed life. Really, I have.

I didn't grow up rich, quite the opposite in fact. I didn't get everything I wanted. (though I did get everything I needed) 

I didn't have a lot of friends growing up, a few close ones but I was also bullied. Elementary school holds a lot of terrible memories. High school was much better but I'd never go back.

And yet, I feel like I've lived a charmed life. I have my dream job, my husband who I love with all my heart, three perfect children and some amazing friends and family.

But nothing in my life has ever been easy.

I got diagnosed with cancer at 37 years old, on the youngish side by breast cancer standards. I was one of the >1% who had occult breast cancer. Lucky me! Not only do I get breast cancer but I get an ridiculously rare one that makes diagnosis and treatment tricky. Thank God for my amazing team of doctors.

I made the decision to have breast reconstruction because, while I could have lived the rest of my life with one breast (and probably quite happily), healing from cancer isn't just physical, it's mental too and for me, I needed to feel physically whole in order to heal mentally. I want to look in the mirror and see two breasts. More importantly (as trivial as this sounds) I want to look down and see cleavage.

So I made the decision, despite my fear of surgery, my worst of which being I'd die on the table and leave me kids wondering why their mother opted to do something so vain  - something that ended up taking their mother away from them when they were mere babies. Yes, my oldest is 14 but she's still a baby in the grand scheme of things and still needs her mother.

But again, nothing for me can ever be easy.

After my first surgery I questioned why I'd even done it. I felt horrible, I was in pain and dealing with other demons. But it got better and once the doctor started to fill my expander and my new breast began to take shape, as it were, I started to feel really happy about my decision.

One month ago I had the second part of my surgery, the take out the expander, replace it with a silicone implant and reduce my left breast to match the new one.  And as you can see from my previous post, I was so happy with the results. I have the boobs of a 20 year old.

But remember, nothing for me is every easy and so, I had complications. First, an infection at the drain sight. Remarkably in all my surgeries this was my first infection. But it scared me nonetheless.

And then, a small purplish black bump appeared on the side of my new breast. Small at first and then it grew. Naturally it appeared after I'd been released from weekly visits with the Dr. I wasn't supposed to see him again until March. But this thing was big and ugly and scary looking. So I called him and went to see him.

So here's my diagram of what happened.

Now, my diagram is a little oversimplified but it will all make sense in a second. See, the flap is the muscle and tissue that the doctor took from my back and brought forward to build a new breast. But that brown part should be totally enclosed, a full circle to encapsulate the implant. But in my case part of the flap failed (separated) as shown in the nifty diagram so now the only thing separating my implant from the world is a paper thin layer of skin. The big purplish black bump was fluid that my body would have otherwise absorbed taking the path of least resistance and pushing the skin out.
The doctor stuck me with a giant needle and drained a lot of the fluid but it just collected again. And the thing is, skin wears.  We shed layers of it in small doses everyday. Eventually that paper thin layer of skin would wear away and expose my implant opening me up for infections and a new world of surgeries.

So, we're beating it to the punch.

I get to have more surgery. Soon. Like in a couple of weeks. Yay me. (this would be a great time for a sarcasm font) The doctor is going to take out the implant, fix the flap and either replace the implant, put a smaller implant in or put a new expander in. By the way he talked today he's leaning toward a new expander. Which means another surgery will follow in a few months to put a new implant in. He'll make the final decision in the operating room.

I've had time to process this now. I had my moment of tears, anger, regret, anger, tears and more anger.

Now I'm resigned to it.  I'm frustrated because it means more time off work, it means my summer plans are all shot to hell and it means I'm living in medical limbo for another several months. It means more stress to my family. It means more stress to me. It means a whole lot more fear for me. The same fears I faced when I got diagnosed with cancer. The same fears I've faced each and every time I lay down on the operating table and cry, praying that God will let me wake up again to see my children.

I hate this. I really, really do. But I've learned that your cancer journey isn't over the day you get your 'no evidence of disease' report. It's not over after your hair grows back and your memory returns. It's not over when your scars heal.

I am not whole again yet and my journey won't be over until I am.

One of my first thoughts, after my family,  when my doctor told me I'd be having surgery again was about my job. I love my job, passionately. And I miss it. But this time is different. Because while I am angry that I will be missing more time and worried that I'll lose my position in my school and get stuck in a school I hate and wondering what my colleagues are thinking (or saying), I'm reminded of something.

I'm here. I'm alive. I got to spend the last three years with my kids and my husband and my friends and family. I might be am replaceable at work. No matter how good you are at your job, everyone is replaceable at their jobs. But I am not replaceable to my family and friends. And my life is important to me. I want to live it happily and to the fullest and for me to be able to put cancer behind me I need to feel physically whole.

So as much as it sucks ass.....I'm going under the knife again. Lucky me.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Afraid of a Little Kitty?

In May of 2011 we had to put our cat Snickers down. She had a giant growth under her tongue that the vet suspected was cancerous. I love my pets but didn't see the need to put her through the pain of testing and surgery just to extend her life for my benefit. She's an animal and wouldn't have understood why she was in pain and unable to eat.

Anyhow, about a week later we got another cat.  This is Chicklets on the day we got him. 
He's a cutie, isn't he?

He was a pretty cuddly kitten, loved to be petted, snuggled up next to you on the couch and was playful. For the first couple of weeks after we got him he would sleep with us at night in our bed.

He eventually grew out of his lap cat ways, more so when we brought him home a playmate, this little guy....Licorice. Licorice, though a year younger is the dominant cat in their little hierarchy. 

But every now and then Chicklets still comes in for a cuddle. 

One night, just a few days after we first got Chicklets I woke up in the middle of the night because he was licking my right armpit. I remember it like it was yesterday. I thought maybe he liked the salty taste (it was hot and I was sweating) 

He did it again a few days later.

If you google 'cats smell cancer' you will read hundreds of stories, both in credible media and some not so much, of cats and kittens licking, pawing or otherwise focusing on their owners body, in particular, the area that is cancerous. 

Is it a coincidence then, that my brand new kitten went several times for my right arm pit, the very one in which the cancerous lymph nodes were discovered....a mere 9 days after we brought him home? 

I'm sure many of my readers will think I'm a total crackpot for even suggestion that my kitten detected my breast cancer before I did. Maybe I am. 

But any cat owner will tell you that cats have some kind of wisdom,  beyond our comprehension, you need simply to look into their eyes. They know things. They are deep. They aren't like other animals; a person chooses a dog and as long as you love it, feed it, play with it and walk it, the dog will love you back. No, cats are not like that. They choose you. You can give it all the food and love and attention in the world but if the cat doesn't like you, it will never like you. And by God, you'll know it. 

What's this all about you ask? Well, I am thoroughly convinced my cat Chicklets detected my breast cancer before I was aware of the lump that led to my diagnosis. 

And because of that, I'm terrified of my cat. 

I love my cat, I pet him everyday, feed him, etc. but on those rare occasions when he feels the need to jump up into my lap for a cuddle it scares the living hell out of me. 

He's done it twice in the past past 4 weeks since my surgery. Once he felt he needed to climb up on me while I was laying down and slept on my hip (because I wouldn't let him climb up all over my sore boobs) 

Last night he felt the need to snuggle up on my lap while I played candy crush. 

And I let him but the whole time he was there, all I could think about was "Why are you here? Why do you need to sit with me? What do you want? Are you trying to tell me something??"

I'm sure my cat just wanted a little love, but it doesn't make me feel any better.  Does he know something I don't? 

I sure as hell hope not.