I’m a crier. I cry when I’m upset, happy, angry (after a few choice expletives are dropped and punches thrown, of course), embarrassed, frustrated, etc… I cry watching the news, I cry over books, I cried watching a baby being born, hearing a beautiful piece of music, I even shed some tears when Uncle Jesse’s grandfather Papouli died on Full House (have mercy, that shit was sad).
Remember this commercial?
I would sob every time it came on the television, which in the 80’s, was at least 30 times a day. I was a stingy kid, especially when it came to my money or M&M’s, but this commercial always reminded me that I would do anything, even hand over my piggy bank, for my older sister, Brie. She is my Jimmy.
Yes, I cried watching it just now. And I would still do anything for Brie. Some things never change.
I know I’ve practically beaten this statement to death, but I’m going to say it again. The journey of finding the lump in my breast to going forward with the double mastectomy has been an emotional roller coaster. It’s the Great American Scream Machine, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Tower of Terror all rolled into one ride. I’ve cried a lot over these 5 months since the mastectomy. I cried from pain, from frustration, from being in my head and wondering if I did the right thing…
A few weeks ago I was looking through my filing cabinet and shredding documents, one of my favorite pastimes. I’ll shred a number of medical documents if they’re no longer pertinent, or if I can easily get the information online, which is quickly becoming the norm.
I have a lupus section, a cardiac section, a lady bits section, an oncology section, a pulmonary section, a lab work/tests section, etc… It’s one of the few things I keep organized in my life. While going through the onco section, my hands landed on this…
The results from my breast MRI. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed the date circled at the top. 4/14/14. I remember calling and making the appointment last year on April 11th, knowing the insurance authorization would expire on the 16th. The scheduler gave me attitude when I mentioned that fact, but she was nice enough to squeeze me in Monday the 14th.
That is the test I almost blew off, for no other reason then that I didn’t want to have another fucking test. Because I KNEW it would come back clear, especially since I had a clean mammogram not even 8 months prior. You know how the story goes; that test rocked my world and turned things upside down.
It dawned on me as I was holding the papers in my hands, that it was 4/14/15- exactly one year later, and a week out from the second stage of my mastectomy/reconstruction.
I burst into tears.
Are you shocked?
Those who know me do know that yes, I am a badass who faces adversity in true warrior fashion; but, deep down, I’m very sensitive, I often get in my head, and humor is my defense mechanism.
Throughout this process, so many have said to me “oooh, new boobs!” “What size are you getting? How big does Steve want ’em?” and “I’m jealous!” Even I got caught up in cracking jokes like, “Go big or go home!” but the truth is, there is nothing to be jealous about.
A mastectomy is not a “boob job.” When a woman (or man) gets a breast augmentation, a silicone or saline implant is placed behind his or her nipples and breast tissue, thereby enhancing the natural breast. Me, I have 2 silicone implants held up by skin- there’s no nipples and now scars in their place, no nerves (no feeling), no natural breast tissue… no breasts to cover my foobs, which are now just 2 sacks of gel.
It’s a common misconception, that a mastectomy with reconstruction is a “boob job” and even I went through a learning process throughout this experience. I have no feeling in my breasts, my armpits, and the axilla area under each arm; the feeling may or may not return. Although both the breast surgeon and plastic surgeon were OK with my keeping them (the mass in my breast was lobular, not in the milk ducts), I opted to not have nipple-sparing surgery. A small amount of breast tissue is left behind in nipple-sparing surgery, and albeit small, there is a risk for cancer to occur. I could not imagine going through this process, only to develop cancer because I decided to keep my nipples. There is also the risk of not enough tissue being left behind, leading to decreased blood supply. My breast surgeon told me that sometimes the nipples become a dusky shade of blue, and in extreme cases, they become necrotic and fall off.
I spent the majority of my first 6 years on earth blue due to lack of oxygen, I did not need a reminder of those times. And of course, my loving husband pipes up, “Oh my God, Mar, what if a nipple fell off IN MY MOUTH!?!!?” (I do not make this shit up, folks)
My nipples were cute, and I miss them terribly, but blue Smurf nipples that fell off in Steve’s mouth? Off with the nipples.
The night before my surgery (AKA Titty Tuesday), I was bouncing around like a pinball, giddy with nerves and excitement as I was finally getting the expanders out. I didn’t sleep very well from December 1st to April 21st, as the expanders made it damn impossible. Over those almost 5 months, I built up a tolerance to the pain-killers I was prescribed, and I got too nervous at the thought of having to take a such a large dose of oxycontin to sleep. As I said, I resorted to herbal remedies when sleep deprivation really started to get to me.
I tried to use the magnets to hold up the paper, but then you couldn’t read my sign. Magnetic hooties are a hoot!
The morning of surgery was uneventful. Steve and I had to be at the hospital by 7am, I signed in and within a few minutes I was being taken back to the pre-op area. My nurse was Jill, the same nurse I had before my butt hole surgery. You know you have surgery far too often when the staff starts to recognize you! She was fantastic, and I once again made it a point to contact her nurse manager and tell her how great Jill is. Please, as a nurse and a patient, take the time to do this!
The usual pre-op routine, IV, getting in a gown, signing a million papers, answering a million questions… etc… and eventually I was told I had about 5 minutes until I was going to the OR.
A trip down memory lane… The Hooters Girl days!
Chicken wings and boobie tassels!
I’m almost sure I was asleep less than 5 minutes after I got into the OR. I don’t even remember trying to fight off the meds and keep my eyes open, and before I knew it, I was waking up groggy in the PACU.
The surgery to swap out the tissue expanders for implants is a fairly easy procedure, most usually done at a same-day surgical center. But, due to my medical history, mine was done at the main hospital and I was admitted overnight for cardiac monitoring.
In the morning, I was woken up at the ass crack of dawn by a handsome fellow wanting to check out the new goods. He said he was in the OR assisting Dr. Fahey, and that everything went quite well.
When a good looking doctor is staring at your chest at 6am and informing you that your new rack looks great, you smile, nod and say “thank you!”
But inside I was all…
I was not at all prepared for looking down and seeing my permanent “foobs.” They appeared so drastically different compared to the expanders I had in place. As uncomfortable as they were, the expanders made my clothes look great. These new girls? I wasn’t sure they would fill any of my bathing suits.
My first week home I cried. A lot. Not shed a sweet tear like when Papoulli died, but full fledged ugly cry face. Steve would find me in different rooms sitting down and crying. I missed my nipples, I missed my natural breasts, I missed my pretty bras, hell, I missed the expanders. But every time I looked in the mirror, I would burst into tears. In reality, they looked great- round, perky, symmetrical. Dr. Fahey is an exceptional surgeon. But they weren’t MINE.
I didn’t go ahead with a mastectomy/reconstruction to look good in a bathing suit- I did it to prevent and hopefully save my life from a disease that tormented so many women in my family. Breast cancer tried to come after me at 32, 14 years sooner than it killed my grandmom. I not only did this because I was scared, but because I didn’t want to live in fear. That’s not my style.
One morning before I hopped in the shower, I was looking in the mirror and getting teary eyed. Then I came up with the bright idea of trying on my bras to feel more me, and to give my foobs a boost. Because nothing makes you feel more like a woman than when your hooties are pushed up to your chin.
I don’t know why, but each one I tried on made me more angry, and I heaved each one a little harder into a pile.
Enter Linky Cat, stage right.
That fuzzy little fucker walked in the room, sat on the pile of bras, looked up at me with his sweet kitty face…. AND PISSED ON THEM.
Again, something else I couldn’t make up if I tried. It’s like he pissed on all my hopes and dreams of ever feeling like myself again.
*Tiff- If you read this, I am NOT giving you the cat piss bras! You’re getting the bras from when I gained all my steroid weight!*
After I yelled at my douche canoe of a kitty and threw my urine soaked bras in the wash, I went back up and stared in the mirror. They’ll never be the breasts I was born with and got me so many tips in my bartending days (God bless the Wonderbra!). The scars will fade, and eventually I will have them covered with tattoos. But, they’ll never be the same.
Yet, these new foobs of mine should ensure that I won’t hear the words “Marla, you have breast cancer.”
And that, makes me teary eyed and emotional.
In a good way.
Thanks for all the love and “support.”
One Wig Stand is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about breast cancer among young women and improving the lives of patients through its targeting programs. I wrote that on Instagram, they contacted me and asked if they could use my quote on their website.
I’m a survivor
MarlaJan - the girl, the nurse, the patient, the part-time super hero... Tales of life with lupus, congenital heart disease, fake boobs, and an out-of-order baby maker.