Sunday, March 3, 2019

A place in the life journey? Sooner than expected.

February 2018

I thought I would have about ten more years before experiencing what I did yesterday.

Because of family history, I am on the every-6-months plan for mammograms and clinical breast exams. For the last few years, I've taken those days off of work, done my checkups, and had good afternoons. Taking two days a year to contemplate my own mortality and receive validation of health has been a good practice.

Yesterday was, I thought, another one of those days. I'd expected to get through the tests and consult in the morning, go downtown for a sunny day of window shopping and lunch, and come home in the afternoon. Maybe I'd do some housekeeping, maybe I'd have energy and creativity enough to cook a fun dinner. Hero and I would go to bed early, chat and snuggle, and get a long Friday night's sleep. But that wasn't the day I got. 

I've had troublesome breasts since I was fourteen years old -- over thirty years ago now. My first fluid-filled cyst aspiration was quite the thing: x-ray-guided needle and dark bluish-greenish-brownish fluid filing a giant syringe, and my dad waiting in the corner of the procedure room, wishing my mom had been available to take that afternoon's parenting responsibility.

Self breast-exams during my teens were problematic. I had dense, fibrous breasts. It wasn't easy to know what I was feeling, nor whether it was normal. I'd usually settle for normal-ish, unless something seemed new or painful. As my breasts increased in size (I was a D-cup at 14), those exams were harder to do. Too much tissue, too few options for spreading it thin enough to really get a good feel of it all.

Fast forward a few years: my mom had her own mammogram that showed calcifications. She was 49. Her sister had died from breast cancer 18 months before. I was a senior in college. Mom had just a small cluster of cancer cells, but she took no chances with lumpectomy. That bad breast was removed, and she had a new one constructed from her belly fat. She's survived with no recurrence for 25 years so far.

For me, I went on with years of birth control and babies and nursing. Nursed each son for 2 years or more. (I figured, if breast cancer runs in the family, I'd better use 'em before I had to get rid of them.) My breasts got bigger and bigger over time, especially after the nursing years. Age 40 is when I started the six-month plan for rounds of mammos and breast exams.

It's rough when you start a day with one expectation and have it turn into something very different. After my first mammogram today, I went on to my breast exam. Usually, my nurse-practitioner will get the mammo results, do my exam, and talk about scheduling our next visit.

This time, she walked into the exam room and simply said, "Well, I'm about to ruin your day." I've been seeing this NP for years now. She helped me through my reduction surgery, and has helped calculate the likelihood of my getting breast cancer in my lifetime. She's shrugged her shoulders with me when my mom's genetic testing came back with no known genes for cancer. (Then why do we get it, dang it?!)

Today, she was her straightforward, no-nonsense self. "The radiologist sees some calcifications in both breasts, and they're suspicious enough that we'll need to take some more pictures today." All right, then. She proceeded with the rest of the clinical exam. No signs of lumps or bumps or puckers or bulges. Just tiny couscous-sized bright spots on the x-rays.

I had to wait until the post-lunch shift for the second mammogram. In the meantime, I went out of the clinic and into the main part of the hospital. There's an atrium-like area where I went to sit. I sent a text to Hero, telling him my day had changed, and why. He expressed concern. Offered to call. I knew that if I heard his voice, I'd just start crying, so I wrote back with a no. Instead, I sat there, breathing slowly. Praying. All those Bible verses I'd memorized in Sunday School swirled in my head. The valley of the shadow of death, you know?

No good could come of not eating in the interim, and I went to the cafeteria. I happen to love cafeterias: so many food choices, all ready and waiting to go. I chose to make my own salad, and got a side of sweet potato fries. Hospital cafeterias are good people-watching places, too. You can look all around and wonder at the stories of all those different people. There were medical students and janitorial staff, older people who appeared to be patients, and families. There was one young family of people who where likely Mennonite or Amish. They had a toddler-sized child with them, swaddled in blankets and not walking. The father carried the child wherever they went. I wondered about their lives' stories.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

First week of 2017

We've just put away most of Christmas today, cleaned, swept, mopped, and gathered up the scattered cat toys, dancing to Lyle Lovett and Greg Brown the whole time. Now the corner where the tree and all have been standing just holds the vacuum cleaner. The return to non-holiday season is plainer. But I like the space.

It's been mighty cold by us this last week. Cold enough to force us to warm up the cars for at least ten minutes before driving to work in the mornings. Cold enough for Spark's cheeks to still be ruddy hours after he gets home from school. Cold enough to prompt me to leave two taps running, one in the bathroom, one in the basement, so that the pipes don't freeze.

Primo turned sixteen last weekend. Having a birthday that always falls over the schools' winter break is a mixed bag. Primo chose his activity and whether we had a meal out at a restaurant. We went to see the latest Star Wars movie at the super-deluxe theater that offers real foods brought to your own motorized red leather reclining seat. After the show was over, we were all too full eat a special meal. Perhaps we'll make it up later, and have some cake, too.

Sixteen's the age around here that kids usually get their drivers licenses. Due to a number of factors in our summer and autumn schedules, Primo has deferred his driver's ed coursework until this coming spring. In our city, kids have to take the courses privately. Primo will be paying for half of the cost of lessons.

Sparky will be turning twelve at the end of January. He's firmly hanging on to childhood so far.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Breast reduction: it's good for me!

Today is eleven days post-op, and my first day at home alone. It's really quiet in the house. The cats are napping. The weather is cool enough to keep the windows closedI slept until 10am, dipping back into the sea of dreams until she wouldn't have me any more. 

Hero is back to work, and the boys are in school. I made myself toast and coffee, nothing more, and went straight to the couch.  I've been ordered to strict relaxation, no exercise, for the next ten days.

The surgery went well! More than three pounds of tissue removed from EACH side. I requested that the team remove absolutely as much as possible, while leaving blood supply for the nipples to remain viable. Looks like the size will turn out to be around a full C cup after the swelling goes down.

The surgery was set for 2pm, and we had to arrive at the hospital at 12pm. I started fasting after dinner the night before. I was surprised to have a good sleep and wake up just feeling excited the morning of the operation. Hero got the boys off to school while I slept in. I took a final shower with surgical soap, and packed a small bag. Then we tried to stay calm and waited for the right hour to arrive.

At the hospital's surgery center, everyone was kind and efficient. I was giddy. I think I surprised the staff by how happy I was to see them. We picked out the best veins for the IV, got through all the questions and vitals quickly, and then I rested for about an hour. They put me in a gown that had an inflatable liner; a hose was connected to it that blew warm air into the gown and kept me warm.

About 20 minutes before surgery, the anesthetist came to meet with me. Then cam the anesthesia staff, surgery interns, and surgical nurses. I introduced Hero as my delightful husband. It was very pleasant to say hello to everyone who would be working on my transformation! 

The last person to come in was my surgeon. He looked energized, which was a good sign to me. I gave him my requests: living nipples, no square corners, and breasts as small as possible. He told me that the corners might be unavoidable, because that's the nature of the surgery. But he'd try. He could definitely go small, especially compared to where we were starting from.

As someone who has had breasts larger than a D cup for nearly 30 years, my memory of being relatively breast-free is based in pre-pubescent childhood. Really. I think I was wearing D cup bras when I was about 14. Significantly sized breasts run on both sides of my family. You look at family reunion photos, and there are just rows of giant bosoms all lined up. If a woman hasn't got a large bosom, she's either not had children yet, or she's had a reduction surgery.

I woke up in my hospital room, with nice nurses checking my vitals and providing me pain medication. The procedure had taken just two hours, and I had done well!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Rescheduled Spring, rescheduled surgery, readjusting

It's April tenth. We've had snow on the ground every morning for the last week or so. And it's two and a half weeks until my breasts are no longer a J-cup size. Wahoo! 

I am counting the days. I am reviewing photos of successful reductions. I am planning on shopping for bras. I am looking for a used recliner for post-op sleeping. I feel like I am preparing for childbirth. But I'm planning for a new post bust-o-riffic life.

This surgery had been scheduled for the end of February. I had sort of planned my 2016 around that date. (I've actually been getting prepared and medically assessed for this surgery for over a year.) My employer adjusted for my work schedule and brought on a temp employee to be trained to cover during my absence. I would have been healed and back to work by now. Instead, my health insurance company required more information, and that delayed the operation by two months.

The wait is almost over.

You probably have at least one friend who has very large breasts. You may have a few friends who can relate their experiences as a big-bosomed woman in the U.S. today. There are social aspects of living in a female body with big breasts. There are physical issues that can develop. There are psychological ramifications that can occur over time. I could write and write about the funny parts of bra shopping, the wonder at the idea of being able to see my feet without bending over, the hopes for movement and exercise opportunities. You can look that stuff up.

I'm in my early 40's now, and done with having babies and the years of nursing; I want to be free of these floppy weights. I've even considered having a mastectomy and not just a reduction: if it had turned out that I carry the BRCA genetic mutations, I would have enthusiastically said goodbye to my breasts altogether. Breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers regularly occur in one part of my family. But we don't carry any known genetic markers for those cancers. So this surgery, by dramatically reducing my breast tissue mass, is going to reduce my breast cancer risk. My geneticist is happy about that.

My surgeon estimates I'll lose between six and ten pounds in just a matter of hours. There will be microsurgery to re-connect the blood supplies for the remaining tissues. I'll end up being more than fifty percent smaller and lighter. I may even have breasts that look like they're 20 years old again. Wouldn't that be something?!

February and the very coldest days again. But a change is coming.

That's right, in the -10'sF here. In our drafty old house, that means blankets swaddling cold ankles when one's in the living room. Indoors, we wear layers of regular clothes, hooded sweatshirts, outdoor vests. Hats help keep us warm in bed. But the sparkling sunshine is beautiful and distracts us from the chill.

I have a new radical hope that's getting me excited. It's going to be a permanent physical change and identity shift. My insurance company has finally agreed with me that, after 20 years of outrageously sized breasts and ALL that that can mean, I can qualify for breast reduction surgery.

And I am so ready. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

JUNE 2015

Part of this healing process is stories.  Reading stories.  Last summer, I was reading about three books a week, just eating up the words like a ravenous animal.  I submersed myself in deep pools of other lives, other places, other eras, other wisdom.  What was being washed away?  What would be revealed?  I took notes and covered legal-sized pages with notes on Louise Erdrich's novels.  I randomly chose and read books from the fiction section of our local library.  I pre-read the series openers of Primo's next free-reading books.

In the autumn of 2014, I started working on a travel photo book editing project.  I went through thousands of photos of beautiful places and celebratory people,  What was I learning?  It was great to be earning money just sitting at home, working on a computer on the couch. I was present and available for my sons after school.  I went to weekly therapy until the month of November, when the project got busy enough for me to stop losing two hours a week to the appointment.

Now we've gotten through the school year. We're preparing for our FIRST family vacation that isn't just a weekend away. Got the car spiffed up with new spark plugs, timing belt, brakes, the whole shebang. Feels like it's almost new, which is pretty good for it having 124,000 miles on it. It's actually the first car I've owned from the current millennium, and it's a 2004. Such luxury is unexpectedly welcome.

Spark graduated from his dyslexia program a couple of weeks ago.  I had the privilege of giving a speech at the ceremony, and in my anxiety, I procrastinated writing the speech the night before. I printed it in 18-point type and practiced a couple of times that day. Whew. It went fine, and Sparky smiled for his photograph. We ate cake in the basement of the Mason's building and then skedaddled. It's been fantastic not having three hours' worth of tutoring/waiting/driving every week.

Back to this summer's stories so far: for entertainment during the Spring's first round of photobooks, I've been watching M*A*S*H on Netflix. (Primo has figured out how to use Chromecast, and I'm able to send a show from my laptop to the TV without using a remote. It's crazy. I guess I'm at the age and tech level where a teenager is required for television viewing.) The boys have both noticed and commented on the stories in M*A*S*H, and asked questions about why TV shows today aren't like they were 30 years ago.  That would have turned into a longer conversation than they wanted to hear. Personally, I am in awe of Alan Alda's skillset. He's still going strong! And Gary Berghof's ability on the drums is admirable.

I've been reflecting on the way M*A*S*H influenced me when I was growing up. Liberalism, humanitarianism, pacifism and distrust of the military are some of the values that still ring true to me. Enjoyment of sarcasm and crazy humor, too! The sexual innuendo is mighty thick for watching with the kids, though. Primo seems old enough to ask questions and know the difference between an old TV show and what's actually okay.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Slipping off into a summer depression

I can feel it coming on. What do you do when you feel the darkness rising?

Noticed the sadness while I was in a meeting today, and I remember this brand of heartache.  I haven't been sleeping well, and can't seem to get enough hours in the bed. I don't feel like taking care of the household chores, nor making any food that's good for us to eat. Working at the office feels like a struggle each and every hour.

I took some Rescue Remedy lozenges, drank extra water, and am going to be taking a walk. I don't want to go down into the depths of the depression. Not me. Not this time.