Marjorie, Problem Child, Goes to Rehab

So I haven’t written a damn thing in months. I started to write some depressing piece about how down I was feeling a few months ago called “Demons” but the feeling passed and then the moment passed and the few incoherent dribblings I managed to eek out will forever fester in the land of blog post drafts where they belong.

It is now May. The month of my birth. And swiftly approaching is my 44th birthday. 44. A nice round number. It feels like ages ago that my 40th was approaching. We had a party at an Italian restaurant in London. Bill, who suddenly took deathly ill the day of the party — he was literally green and nauseated — managed to drink a Coke, rally and give a heartfelt speech about how great I am. There are pictures of me embracing him following such speech and veering to one side (because I did not want to catch whatever the fuck was ailing him in my delicate condition).

Never in one million years would I have believed you had you told me in advance that I would be as bald as a cue ball for my fortieth. It was such. A weird. Thing.

Moving right along.

When last we met I was going on about how hot I was planning to be super hot this year following Marjorie’s scar revision. (Read my previous post if this is not ringing a bell). Forever the optimist, I kept thinking that “this time around” Marjorie might be okay. That she would come out of it and be better. But the reality is that I am just not sure about Marjorie.

She is not what I would call behaving 100%. You see, radiated skin does what the hell it wants to. It is never the same following the radiation, which affects, among other things, the blood supply, and tends to make things fibrotic (think tight and painful). So when the swelling from surgery subsided and the scar went from looking like Frankenstein’s monster’s forehead to a discolored horizontal line, I noticed the skin around the incision starting to harden up. And telltale signs of the tethering that we were trying to fix in the first place.

The turn of events went something like this: There I was minding my own business abstaining from upper body exercises for what seemed like an eternity and then I had a post-op check-up and got the all clear and then it snowed. Not a little.

So I took it upon myself to go out and shovel the hell out of my considerable driveway, which was the first upper body workout I had done in about 6 weeks. The day after that, I noticed that Marjorie was starting to hint at being up to her old tricks. It was like finding a lighter in your kid’s room after you caught them with cigarettes (or worse) and they swore they would never smoke again.

Shit, I thought. Marjorie is up to her old tricks again. I am assured that shovelling snow did not suddenly cause this behavior, but naturally I began blaming myself for this possible development and wondering why I didn’t just leave the snow and let everyone make fresh tracks in it.

The good news: Marjorie looks better than she did before. She does. I have not dusted off the chick fillets or resulted to spackle and I can wear stuff sans padding and be pretty happy with the result.

The bad news: there is definitely some misbehavior. Marjorie is not, in the esteemed words of Taylor Swift, out of the woods.

Solution: Marjorie goes to rehab.

That’s right, the bitch, in classic attention seeking fashion, is demanding all sorts of special treatment. This includes being massaged with expensive body cream from France and a special scar tweaking rub that I do about twice a day, time permitting, to try to loosen up that area. And we even see a specialist physiotherapist who deals only with problem children such as Marjorie. This is weird because every time you cross paths with someone coming or going from the PT’s office you know this person is a member of the same club and she knows you are too. It isn’t discussed. It is a silent understanding, hanging heavily in the air. All of us ladies and our Marjories.

We are not praying for perfection or even really hoping for normal. Rather we seek improvement; we are just trying to make these casualties of war “as good as they can be.”

This is where a bunch of people will chime in that we ladies are just lucky to be alive and that this is what’s important and we should be thankful for that because it could have been worse.

Here’s a bit of advice. Don’t you ever even THINK of saying that to me or someone like me. It’s dismissive and ridiculous. As if we, of all people, do not understand that having a sightly dented boob and some pain and tethering from scar tissue, or even NO BOOB, is preferable to being six feet under. Ask yourself why you would say such a thing? Is it to make the recipient of the comment feel better, really? Or is it a nice tidy end to an uncomfortable topic that you have decided is no longer worth discussing?

Hell to the NO.

Seeking improvement is a normal human behavior and part of the process of getting on with one’s life. So this should be encouraged (unless of course the person at issue becomes obsessed or unrealistic about what is possible at which point it might become unhealthy behavior).

But just let me try to make her a little better. I can settle for “good enough.”

At the end of the day, the irony is that Marjorie is getting by far more play than her predecessor ever would have on a daily basis, and she cannot even feel it.

What a waste.

2016 Takes Shape

Here we are another year older. And another year wiser. Or not. But I like to think so.

My New Year’s resolution is to try to give less of a shit, generally, which is bound to fail. But I’m really going to give it the college try. Well, selectively. How about this: I will give less of a shit about shit that I deem is less worthy than other shit.

This has been a strange six months for me. I alluded to some of it in Reentry: Part One (no that is NOT a porn) which, sadly, is the last post I wrote and is dated October of last year. I could now go on and on about how I never write anymore, enumerate the various mundane pressures in my life that I feel have kept me from being able to write and have left me feeling inadequate and be all apologetic but as part of my New Year’s resolution, I have decided not to give a shit, right? Besides, I am now writing and that’s what matters.

I remind you that this started as a blog about, among other things, dealing with breast cancer. Incidentally it turned into a blog about whatever, generally, was on my mind and I felt like writing about at the time. It has evolved into a series of posts that are maybe more about the latter and less about dealing with cancer. However, once in a while I feel it is necessary to stir that shit up again. Just in case you thought (hoped?) I had forgotten all about it.

January, they say, is characteristically a difficult month to endure. The pine-scented jingle jangle of the holidays is over, evidenced by discarded carcasses with browning needles here and there. The days are colder and shorter and the bills are higher. It is a time to reflect on what we accomplished and failed to accomplish and we are all suddenly supposed to be better, eat healthier, drink less, exercise more, be more like Tom and Gisele.

For me, it has the added fun-filled benefit of being the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. January 3, I believe, is the day I received a call (and an e-mail, actually) that “yes there is a cancer… but totally ‘routine’ and ‘treatable.'”

There is “a” cancer. Is this supposed to be better than telling someone, “you have cancer?” It sounds like some politician’s passive announcement after having just ordered fighter jets to drop bombs on the enemy. “[Insert middle eastern location] has been bombed in an airstrike. Civilian casualties were sustained.”

This year marked the fourth anniversary of my diagnosis. You might be thinking: “well, that’s cause for celebration! Another year and you will reach that magical five-year mark.” First of all, I think the five year mark is properly acknowledged on the anniversary of the termination of treatment. And let’s face that it is somewhat arbitrary. Second, forgive me if I am not all excited about the reminder that at age 39, I discovered one night in the shower a lump in my breast, underwent a number of stress-inducing and physically uncomfortable tests, and found out that in fact, yes, against all odds I had a life-threatening illness that would affect the quality of my life for the next who-knows-how-long. Do I sound bitter? Sorry. I’m not. Just keeping it real. It was a sucky, terrifying experience.

One of the hardest things about it, which I endured in waves rather than as a constant, was the feeling that I was damaged goods. The feeling when standing on the street and observing passersby that I was being left behind while everyone went on with their marvelous daily lives, clinking glasses, traveling to exotic locales, being carefree, running up hills in Primrose Hill Park. Of course a lot of that is bullshit since everyone has something they have to deal with — some a lot more serious and unpleasant than my lot. If life were as pretty as everyone pretends it is on Facebook and Instagram the world would be a different place. But if all it takes is a few minutes of looking at social media (come on you know you felt like pretty girl’s fat ugly friend after you looked at your skinny rich friend’s latest [photoshopped?] vacation pics) to make you feel bad about yourself, is it any wonder that, standing outside, pale and bald (albeit clad in a headscarf and slathered with makeup to disguise such things), I felt a little bit like a loser?

There was something about being in that group that made me feel decidedly uncool, like a misfit, a reject, someone with an issue “normal” people politely inquire about but don’t really understand. What’s more, they generally don’t want to be bothered with it because it is uncomfortable, undesirable, “unfun” and just “un.”

As I said, I didn’t always feel that way. And I don’t feel that way any longer. Maybe other people in that situation never felt that way at all. I think it is my nature to want to be included, to join in the party. So that likely predisposed me to experiencing what I did. That and being teased a lot as a kid in grammar school. Fuck you, all of you zeroes who gave me a hard time back in the day. I forgive you. And in any event I don’t give a shit — my NYR, remember?

But anyhow, I will continue with the point of this whole thing, which is really about feeling better about myself.

As my plastic surgeon friend Beth told me years ago on the eve of my treatment, once you are done with all the draconian life-saving nonsense, you are left with your cosmetic appearance. And thanks to the radiation that I was never supposed to need on my right side following my bilateral mastectomy/reconstruction and chemo, my right boob (remember Marjorie?) ended up healing a little less than ideally. I must interject that implants and radiation do NOT mix well and there is about a 50% failure rate (meaning complete failure) so all in all my result was pretty damn good. I don’t want nobody misunderstanding and failing to be impressed by my rockstar surgeon in London. Because he is a badass, though understated because he is so polite and English and wears nice grey flannel suits and shit.

Anyhow, my right “boob” a/k/a Marjorie kind of looked like Rocky Balboa after a few too many rounds, the main offender being a scar that was tethered and caused a significant dent in the middle. For years now I have been covering that bitch up with good, lightly padded Chantelle bras and those stupid lulu lemon oval pads that come in their wouldn’t-fit-anyone-with-normal-tits-that-I could-never-wear-before-anyway exercise tops. Think ultra-thin chicken fillet sitting on top of that dent to smooth it out.

Without the chick fillet, the dent was clearly visible, particularly from a three-quarter angle. Not ideal.

After I moved back to the US I decided to pursue a more permanent remedy and went to see a couple of plastic surgeons. They decided that what I needed was a scar revision, in which they would open the original incision, remove scar tissue, release any tethering to the muscle beneath and sew Marjorie back up with thicker, better skin a couple milimeters on either side of the original scar.

So that is how I decided to start 2016. And on January 5, I went for it.

This morning I just had my follow-up post-op appointment. Marjorie is looking pretty good. Much better, in fact. She is not allowed to carry more than 5 lbs for another two weeks, and she can’t spin or do boot camp class with the other suburban mommies. But if all goes to plan and Marjorie behaves, it will be so worth it.

I told a couple of ladies at my younger daughter’s new school about the procedure and one said, aptly, “that’s good — it won’t be a constant reminder of what happened.” I thought about it and said, “well, I don’t really give a shit about that — there will always be a reminder… I just want to be hot.”

If all goes well, terrific. If it doesn’t, well, then, I will dust off the chicken fillets and try not to give too much of a shit about that either.

Whatever happens, 2016 is taking shape, people. Happy New Year.

Photo on 13-01-2016 at 13.30 #2

It Does Matter

It’s so easy to hear about someone else’s problem and to make an immediate pronouncement about it. How they should feel, what will happen, what matters and what doesn’t (or at least what should matter and what shouldn’t) in the grand scheme of life. The thing is, sometimes you have to bite your tongue.

Let’s face reality. People do not generally like to hear about other people’s problems because most of the time they don’t really give a shit and other people’s problems are boring, annoying, uncomfortable or some combination thereof. I think that we often lob back a not-so-well-thought-out response because we feel that we have to respond to achieve some sort of closure or resolution. Or just to fill the awkward space after someone pulls back the curtain.

But there is something to be said for the American Indian approach to conversation. A long reflective pause can come in handy. It allows one to collect one’s thoughts and assess the new information. Listening is almost always a good thing. Responding without thinking is often not.

What exactly, you might ask, am I getting at? Well, I’ve been noodling about conversations I’ve had and people’s reactions to things I have shared with them. Most of the time I am blissfully upbeat and am able to cope cheerfully and with a good deal of humour. But I, like everyone else on the planet, have my moments of negativity and frustration. And I often feel that whenever I gripe about something I get that rapid-fire response. Shut-down before the conversation really even starts. Sort of like “well you’ve had your cancer and beaten it so really you should not complain about something as trivial as the way you look.”

No one likes a complainer. But people do need to be allowed to express negative feelings sometimes and just because you are on the receiving end of such does not mean you are responsible for “fixing it.” Nor is it your job to dismiss a person’s complaint with a one-liner, although I am 100% certain that I have been guilty of both trying to fix things and dismissing negative observations with an immediate response on numerous occasions. So this is directed at me just as much as anyone else. I should practice what I preach, after all.

I’m looking back, trying to reconstruct (no pun intended) the past eighteen months of my life. How I was then, how I am now. And how my thoughts and feelings have evolved with the passage of time.

I’ve boiled the whole breast cancer ordeal down to two phases. Phase One: kill the enemy. Take no prisoners. This was the honey badger phase. If you don’t know what I am talking about read some of my early blog entries and you will find that the honey badger became my mascot early on in the process, primarily because it’s one naaaaaasty lean, mean killing machine (and secondarily because Randall’s ridiculously effeminate narration on YouTube makes me giggle my ass off).

The goal of Phase One was to eradicate the disease. It felt urgent and critical and it was not difficult for me to be single-minded about the process. The mission was to do whatever necessary to maximise my chances of beating this fucker. So basically I got down to bidness PDQ and that was that.

Throughout treatment I remained hyper-focused on my mission and had only one speed: full steam ahead. I did what I did because I had to do it so I didn’t waste a lot of time being sad about the process. I just pushed through it and tried to amuse myself and others by, among other things, wearing absurd outfits to chemo and walking around London in a pink wig, because I had no choice and I knew it would be over eventually.

At the same time, however, I did spend time considering Phase Two. Phase Two would involve my eventual cosmetic appearance. As my plastic surgeon friend pointed out, once the cancer is a distant memory what you are left with is your reconstruction. It might not seem that important in Phase One but it could later so it needs to be considered carefully from the beginning.

As one relative aptly put it while we were awaiting a diagnosis, “well it’s really going to suck if you have to cut off your boobs, because you have nice boobs.” Yes, I thought. It will suck. And in fact it did and does suck.

Knowing that I had to do it didn’t make it suck less; it merely made wallowing over the suckiness somewhat futile. But still, sometimes I allow myself to wallow just a little bit. Mostly by myself in the privacy of my own home, like while I am curled up on the couch at 11:00pm having just finished another episode of Mad Men courtesy of Apple TV. What? Oh I am only on Season 2 and yes I know I am about the only American left who hasn’t watched every season. Sue me.

Sometimes I do feel that it would be awfully nice to have real breasts again. Something soft that bounces when I run and something with nerves that might notice if I inadvertently walked into a wall. Sometimes I do feel that I am missing something. Something feminine. Something womanly.

In her Op-Ed in the New York Times, Angelina Jolie wrote about her decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer for which she is a BRCA gene carrier. Ms. Jolie lost her mother to ovarian cancer and very recently, her aunt to  breast cancer.

Ms. Jolie’s doctors estimated that she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer. So she decided to be proactive. She underwent radical surgery so that she would significantly reduce her risk of enduring a Phase One. She went right to Phase Two. It was her choice and in my opinion it was a good choice, a choice I would have made under similar circumstances.

As it turns out, I did not have the “luxury” of foresight with my disease (btw I am not a BRCA gene carrier). So for me Phase Two was not something that I chose but rather something that I had to do. It had no choice but to remove my right breast, although I could have kept the left breast. My thinking was logical. I sort of felt like I might as well just be rid of both if I had to lose the one. That way at least I would be symmetrical, make the plastic surgeon’s job easier and not have to get screening on the left side all the time wondering if disease would develop in that breast.

The decision to remove one or both breasts preventively is controversial. Some believe that doing so is a “psychological” choice rather than a medical one. Meaning that what could arguably be adequately monitored with screening tests and physical exams needn’t be surgically removed simply out of “fear.” That sounds pretty judgmental, don’t you think? Reading such things caused me to revisit my decision. And I can safely say that if faced with the dilemma today I would do the exact same thing I decided to do eighteen months ago.

For me, the decision to remove both breasts was practical. It turns out that my breast surgeon agreed. After telling him that my inclination was to do a “double” I asked him what he would advise his sister to do under the circumstances and he didn’t even hesitate. After all, I was relatively young, at 39. I have a lot of life to live yet. I, like Ms. Jolie, have small children.

Unfortunately for me, unlike Ms. Jolie, I lacked information that would have enabled me to take action before Phase One became necessary. Therefore, Phase One interfered somewhat with Phase Two because I had to (rather unexpectedly) undergo radiation which can cause a host of problems, including affecting the blood supply to the treated area, increasing the risk of infection and of developing a hard scar capsule around the implant. Furthermore, I was not able to keep my right nipple because one of the tumours was too close to the nipple. Again I decided to just take them both off, because they can do pretty groovy nipple reconstructions by cutting a bit of skin from the top of the breast, shaping and suturing it and then eventually adding a tattoo.

Nipple-sparing mastectomies are possible but the nipples do not behave the same way as before and they may lack sensation. And of course there is always that small risk that cancer will develop in the nipple.

So, here we are five months following my implant exchange surgery. My new boobs have softened and settled. But there are a few issues. The incision on the right side (the side that was radiated) is a bit hard and therefore slightly distorts the shape of the implant from a certain angle. Also, the skin over parts of the implant is so thin that I can sometimes feel rippling (sort of like wrinkles) of the implant beneath the surface.

Despite these issues, the overall result is good. Especially considering that I had radiation. Both implants remain soft and in a bra or bathing suit things generally look pretty okay.

But still, sometimes I do feel odd. I look at my reflection and I am confused by the change. The girl with long hair and big boobs has been replaced by a slimmer, smaller- and higher(!)-chested version with short curly hair.

Thanks to an infection in March, which gave me and my plastic surgeon a scare, I have not had my nipple reconstruction yet, so I sort of feel like Barbie (well, maybe a brunette Skipper Barbie because I am nowhere near voluptuous enough to be real Barbie). And I am bothered by the “seam” that the scar on the right has created. We might be able to improve the distortion with some fat grafting (during which some fat would be sucked out of my stomach — bonus — and injected in the small space between skin and silicone implant).

I know that I cannot expect perfection and I do not, particularly with an implant-based reconstruction following radiation, which is known to be problematic. I know that beating the cancer was more important than my cosmetic appearance and I accept that.

Overall I feel pretty good, but I do believe I will feel better once I have my little tweaks. The scars will continue to fade and once I have nipples, provided that goes well, my new twins will more closely approximate the real thing.

But, on occasion I do get pissed off. So let me be pissed off. You do not have to remind me that what’s important is that I don’t have cancer anymore. I know that. And please do not tell me that my cosmetic appearance doesn’t matter. In a world obsessed, and I mean obsessed with breasts and the female form? Please.

It does matter. It matters to me.

Marjorie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

You may recall if you read We Welcome With Joy… that I decided to call (temporarily of course) my new boobs Jane and Marjorie Doe.  It wasn’t lack of imagination on my part. Really. Maybe it was a cautious failure to commit. Or maybe it was that I hadn’t had time to think about it before I spontaneously decided to write that silly blog post in the form of a birth announcement for a pair of silicone breast implants (for crying out loud).


About two and a half weeks ago I woke up one Monday with that nasty norovirus that has been felling people like spindly trees. Or at least I had something like that. And for 24 hours I felt like absolute crap. The next morning I felt so much better I decided to go out and buy not one, not two, but four bikinis in preparation for a warm weather trip in my near future.

But then on Wednesday and Thursday and come to think of it Friday and Saturday and gee for quite some time I never really completely bounced back, despite my recent pneumatic enhancements. I had this tired feeling behind my eyes. Didn’t feel rested when I woke up in the morning. I chalked it up to a still-compromised immune system following last year’s treatments and the fact many others I knew were taking a while to recover from said virus or some illness similar thereto (sorry but I used to be a lawyer so I have to throw in some official-sounding lawyer speak from time to time just to feel important).

Finally at the end of last week I started to feel like myself again. Although I did notice that I had something brewing on top of my right eyelid which was both attractive and comfortable. Oh dear, I thought. In response, I hurled into the rubbish this wand of gunk I bought duty free last year to make my eyelashes grow faster — which probably didn’t work anyway — figuring I had kept it too long and contaminated myself. Then I proceeded to self-medicate with ophthalmic erythromycin from the medicine cabinet and to cover the bump with make-up like any self-respecting woman who has a life and things to do would do. It just so happens that I was going to the eye doctor anyhow for a retina check on Tuesday and I figured he could look at the bump and prescribe whatever was necessary at that time.

I got through the weekend fine. Went to dinner on Friday and got home at a reasonable hour. Didn’t drink much. Went out to a school function Saturday and got home later and had a little more to drink but still not that much.

Then Sunday came along. I woke up tired. Nevertheless I went to the gym and had a decent workout. Didn’t feel bad while doing it. But when I came home and the endorphins wore off I took a nosedive. Before I knew what hit me I was ordered to bed by my husband. I didn’t even eat anything after lunch and let me tell you that is unusual.

Monday I felt a little better but not great. Tuesday morning a little better but still not fabulous. I canceled my workouts for both those days.

Then I proceeded to get ready for my eye appointment. And thus began the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I started the day worried about how I was going to have to go on vacation with a nasty bump on my eye. I left the house at 9:30 am in plenty of time to get to my 10:00 am eye appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital. All I had to do was get on the Northern Line and go a few stops to Old Street and follow the painted line on the sidewalk to the hospital.

But naturally there was a signal failure “in the Bank area” so the train took 15 minutes to even arrive. I sat down on a bench to wait. It was hot so I whipped off my favourite green cashmere hat which I had bought at the Malo outlet in Connecticut about 15 years ago. I was there waiting for so long that my husband who had left the house ten minutes after me showed up and waited with me for a while. His train came first. Then my train finally crawled into the station and once I got on it and the doors closed I realised I had lost my fucking hat. Ah well, I thought. I’ll go back and look for it later.

The train went a stop or two in about six minutes and then when we arrived at Euston it just stopped altogether. For a long time. The conductor said because of the signal failure we wouldn’t be moving “anytime soon” and people who could use an “alternate route” should do so. I disembarked and started the long vertical journey to daylight. Once out of the station it took me five minutes to hail a cab. I was half an hour late to my appointment.

Luckily the ophthalmologist thought my retinas looked fine and dandy but that bugger of a cyst was infected so he prescribed an antibiotic. “It could take a long time to settle,” he warned. He informed me sometimes even after the infection is cleared up the bump will remain for weeks or even months or like, forever at which point he could flip the eyelid over, make an incision and scrape it out. The cyst not the eye. But still. Ew.

After that I went back to the tube, hoping to avoid a similarly unsatisfying journey in the opposite direction. I was a bit grumbly at this point because I wasn’t looking forward to searching for my hat which I kind of knew wouldn’t be there. Big shocker; it wasn’t. Some asshole stole my old, used, green hat. I hope they get the shingles, which I had on my head last year. Unless of course someone who couldn’t afford a hat got it in which case I am glad they now have a warm head and hope they do not get the shingles. I’m not completely heartless, people.

So I exited the tube and walked home, still grumbly but now because I was thinking about the fact that I had to take antibiotics for a week four times a day on an empty stomach which would interfere significantly with my snacking habits. And would likely result in another oral thrush infection which seemed to accompany most courses of antibiotics I’ve been on in the past year. Fun times.

Later that evening, as I was tucking in my eight-year-old, I noticed that Marjorie (a/k/a my right breast) was sore. Come to think of it she’d been rather bitchy for a couple days… and then I noticed she was discoloured. Red, to be precise. Along the bottom and inner side. And then I touched her and she felt hot. Oh shit! I thought. Marjorie has an infection!

I examined her in the mirror for a minute and then I phoned my surgeon on his mobile. He agreed I needed to be seen the next day. Before bed I did the unthinkable. The ultimate no-no. Late-night internet research on my presumed condition. The outlook was grim. In most cases meds don’t work, I read, and they have to remove the implant.

The next day my surgeon examined me and said I needed an ultrasound and to be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics. The ultrasound of Marjorie was unimpressive. The doctor found less fluid around her than he expected yet he was able to extrude some and send it to the lab. They haven’t been able to grow anything yet but we’re still waiting to hear if anything pops up.

So here I am sitting in the hospital on my sixth round of IV meds. Marjorie looks better than 24 hours ago. Redness is down, soreness better and no longer hot. I’ll tell you what: she had better simmer down and behave because them four bikinis ain’t gonna look so good with only one boob.

I’m hoping they let me out of the clink tomorrow because I just about went completely mental by myself in the hospital all day. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with my obsessive tendencies. Alone with my impatience.

I did learn one thing, though. I’m committing to a name. Regardless of her fate, Marjorie it is. She has earned it after all this drama. All this classic attention seeking. She has really made a name for herself.

Drop and Fluff

You must think I’m a bit of a tease. Talking a good game about the big reveal in my last post and then going all radio silence on you for nearly two weeks. Sorry. But have you tried that cod recipe yet? It’s pretty delish…  See Main Course.

So here I am three weeks post op and things are looking and feeling pretty good. These puppies are definitely an improvement over the hard-as-petrified-wood expanders that preceded them (husband says they are “night and day” and I have some idea why he thinks that, considering my right “boob” was previously only a couple of inches under my collar-bone for crying out loud). Also there are no metal parts that can set off anything at airport security. So I can stop carrying that surgeon’s letter around declaring that I have legitimate bionic bits should anyone suspect I have a couple of ak-47s under there.

Now I just wait. Wait and see what will be. How they settle. Whether that right side behaves or whether it decides to get all sclerotic and tight and squeeze things out of shape… creep back into collarbone territory. I tried reading a little on the internet about what to expect after implant exchange surgery and there is a lot of talk about “dropping and fluffing,” which also applies to good ole breast augmentation post op. These are terms I had never heard before — not sure if they use them here in the UK or whether they just say “settle and soften.” But the former sound exciting and a little bit naughty, don’t they? Like something someone who isn’t paid nearly enough would do to one of the male actors in a certain kind of film before the cameras start rolling… If you don’t know what I’m talking about you need to get out less and rent more pay-per-view.

Sorry. It’s nothing that exciting. The process of dropping and fluffing seems to be about the newbies finding their right spot after the muscles and the skin round them chillax a little. I don’t know what to expect and have learned throughout this ordeal to expect the unexpected… although I certainly hope not to wake one morning and find that one boob has taken up residence under my armpit or some bizarre such thing. Seems unlikely so I’m not going to worry too much about it.

It occurred to me as I was thinking about the last year that much of this process (being sliced and diced and blasted with drugs and radiation and then sliced some more…), well it’s really been an exercise in patience and tolerance. Now I am being patient again, or at least trying to. I’m back at the gym, but can only work out my lower half, of course. Today at the grocery store I bought too many things and had trouble carrying the bags the one block home because I knew they were heavier than what I should be carrying at this stage. So I stopped and rested at the bank on the corner. And for a few more weeks I will dutifully continue to forego my lacy fluorescent bralettes and opt instead for an armour-inspired sports bra to hold things in place and encourage the twins to behaaaave, baby. Yawn. Borrrrrring.

But that will all just be a flash in the pan.

When I was first diagnosed I spoke at length to my plastic surgeon friend, Beth, who encouraged me to find a good cosmetic surgeon from the outset because, as she put it, once the cancer part is over, what you are left with is your cosmetic result and that becomes your focus. There is much truth to this. At present, my focus is indeed on my cosmesis. But that in and of itself is a beautiful thing. Because even if, in the end, the cosmesis is not ideal, it sure is nice not to be living, breathing and sleeping cancer and the killing thereof.

The key is not to become obsessed. And not to be tricked into the pursuit of perfection, which is something that befalls many who go under the knife for cosmetic reasons whether it be purely by choice or in order to reconstruct something that needs reconstructing for some medical reason (such as a dog bit your face off or you had cancer or what have you).

When I stand in front of the mirror, it is impossible for me not to see that things have been done to me. Strange things, at this point, given that there is still tape over my incisions. I try not to dwell on it. Or if I even begin to dwell I am reminded (often by my husband) that few people our age look “perfect” even without having had all this crap befall them. He does have a good point… I mean I am forty. And a forty-year-old person has (usually) forty-year-old body parts. Forty just ain’t twenty, is it now?

You know something? It is odd that ageing is a foregone conclusion, that by virtue of being alive we age. But by virtue of being human we fight so desperately against ageing and, in many cases, fear and loathe it and all that it brings.

I say bring it on. When people bitch about ageing, I get it. I do. There is a lot about it that isn’t very fun and so much of it is out of our control. But to be able to age, that’s why I did all the shit I spent the last year doing, isn’t it? I did all of that so I can watch my children grow up and find their own way and experience all of those bittersweet things that life, that ageing, brings with it.

Besides, forty is the new twenty, at least as far as my tits are concerned. Now if you’ll excuse me I have some dropping and fluffing to attend to.

Photo on 21-02-2013 at 13.21 #2

We Welcome With Joy…

So I always wanted a third child. Looks like that’s probably not in the cards, although technically it isn’t impossible… but anyhow in light of recent events I think I am owed a birth announcement.

Therefore, tonight I write to welcome with joy… our new twins.

I haven’t named them yet. It’s just too soon to tell. They are so young, so new, so… covered with tape. I figure it would be wrong to pick names before I get a proper peek at the goods. That day shall soon come. On February 14 we will go for their unveiling. Maybe Cupid will shoot me right in the ass at that time and two wonderful, catchy, witty names will pop into my head. Until then let’s call them Jane and Marjorie Doe.

First impressions are good. They seem well-behaved, rather soft and pleasant. A more pleasing slope. Less fembot more female. And I swear about an hour ago when I bounded down the stairs I felt an ever so slight bounce in the pectoral region.

My mother flew over for the birth and then got stuck here because of the superstorm that dumped over three feet of snow on her hometown in Connecticut. But that was nice because then she just got to spend more time with me and my girls and of course with the newborns.

Waking up after being out for two hours with different body parts is a strange experience. I guess anyone who has had reconstructive or cosmetic surgery knows the drill. But when I look back over the year I have had a lot of different looks (and not just in the pectoral region but certainly there). It’s weird because I have gotten used to each look and now I really cannot remember very well what my original “twins” looked like or felt like. Not really.

Sorry girls, but you’ve been replaced — and oh yes I forgot to add that they are indeed identical. Sometimes surgeons use fraternal twins but mine definitely share the same DNA, so to speak (I asked).

I know it’s customary to enclose, or in this case, attach a photo of the babies in a birth announcement. But I don’t want to get kicked off Facebook for inappropriate content and considering the amount of tape on Jane and Marjorie at the moment it wouldn’t really be a very good picture. It’s better to use your imagination anyway. (Let’s face it, 99% of the time with this subject matter the imagination is better than reality because we don’t all look like the girls in FHM).

I’ll tell you what, I’ll take a picture of them with their clothes on when things have settled down a little. And I’ll attach it to a later post. Maybe I can do a redux on my earlier post, entitled Boob Retrospective, and go through the last year of transformations leading to this ultimate step.

Well I have to go now because the girls are tired and it’s their bedtime. I forgot how much work newborns can be. At least these two only get me up a couple times a night so far and they don’t seem to eat much. It’s nice they can sleep in my bed but it will be nicer when I don’t fear rolling over on one of them and injuring her. Should be a-ok in a few days.

Sweet dreams.

Top Bollocks

So, I’m living in London, right? Might as well take advantage of that and learn some really useful expressions. And try them out. Feel how they roll off the tongue. Such as the title of this here post. Top bollocks.

Now if you don’t know what bollocks are (yes I do realise that this is a household word for my British readers) it’s most literal meaning is testicles. And of course used as an exclamation it means, among other things, rubbish, in the British sense of the word (a/k/a crap). But what, exactly, are top bollocks?

My husband came home the other day and asked me to look it up because he’d heard it at work and wasn’t sure what it meant. “I think it means boobs.” Said Bill. Well, sure. That’s the obvious answer. But it occurred to me that it might have more than one meaning, particularly if it’s being used so liberally around the office.

Anyhow, I told him that I thought it also meant something good — like the bees knees or ne plus ultra or the like. You know how they made us yell out “top banana” at the Panto (if you don’t know what a panto is you will have to look it up because it is too lengthy an explanation but let’s just say it is a quintessentially British form of entertainment involving, among other things, acting, singing, making predictable off-colour jokes and beefy men in drag) for no apparent reason? Well if we have “top banana” why not “top bollocks.”

So naturally I looked it up on Urban Dictionary and I was right. One of the meanings is “something or someone that is the best in their company or position.” See here for examples of sentences using this brilliant term. Oh and yes it also does in fact mean boobs. As in, “she has lovly [sic] top bollocks.”

Well after about a nanosecond I realised that I had to write a post about top bollocks. It is so apt, you see. Because as you know I’m going in on Tuesday morning to get my very own set of “lovly” top bollocks and I’m fortunate enough to have a surgeon who is the top bollocks. I’m not making that up. He is. It even said so in Tatler’s who’s who a few months ago so it must be true.

You really don’t want just anyone fiddling around with your bits and pieces. You want the very best. The top bollocks himself.

This brings me to another term, one that I had never heard or indeed read before this evening. I came across it quite by accident whilst (oh yes I did just write whilst) looking up the expression “plumb forgot.” I had never written that down before and wasn’t sure about it. And to my great delight, the word “plumb” was used in the definition and example sentences for another really excellent expression. One that has catapulted itself to the very top of my list. I’d even venture to say that it is among the top bollocks of expressions and I am now going to try and use it as frequently as possible, although perhaps not in polite company.

The expression is “fuck eye.” Now don’t go confusing this with the verb “eye fuck,” which as you know or could probably guess if you are not a daft prick means to fuck someone with your eyes. No, not literally, just, you know, give them that look like you want to.

No. Fuck eye is a noun, not a verb. And here’s what Urban Dictionary has to say about it:

1. fuck eye
1. A person who can’t read a tape measure, cannot reasonably determine if something is plumb/level/square, or cannot tell if two (or more) different objects are the same color. Generally speaking, someone you don’t want doing any type of finish work on your house.
2. Someone who, at an early age, has been hit about the head something fierce, and now one eye wanders.
1. Johnny: Ma!?! How does this picture look on the wall?
Ma: Johnny, have your brother hang it. You’ve got fuck eye, son. It’s not even close to level.
2. Dude 1: Dude, seriously, you’re not even looking at it with your right eye.
Dude 2: Dude, you know I got hit in the head with a baseball when we were kids.Dude 1: Oh, that’s right. I forgot you’ve got fuck eye from that! My bad.

Um, if you don’t think this is funny you are a right wanker. “You’ve got fuck eye son.” I mean, seriously. I’m still laughing about it and I looked it up by accident about two hours ago. And try saying it, as I imagine it, with a Texas accent, which makes it even better. I have to believe that this is a very American expression.

So, to conclude today’s lesson, let’s use my British meets American expressions in context, shall we? Mix things up a bit, just for shits and giggles.

Friend: “So, Emily, are you excited about getting a new set of top bollocks this Tuesday?”

Me: “Why yes I am rather chuffed (that’s “pretty stoked” for my American readers). I’ve got a top bollocks surgeon who is the top bollocks himself.”

Friend: “Brilliant. You would hate to have some fuck eye do the job.”

Me: “Indeed.”


Well, here I am one week before the last “major” step in my fun-filled journey. That’s right, people. It’s D-day. Time to get my new tits.

I guess C-day would be a more apt description of the event since Ds are not in the cards. Actually I have no idea what cup size they will be because we are sooooo scientific and just above all that pettiness — we go by cc’s, not cup sizes. Where was it that I read or heard or saw in some 80s movie that more than a handful is wasteful, anyway (cough… bullshit)?

So I’ll be all cliché and ask you to please send me positive vibes next Tuesday at 9:00am Greenwich Mean Time (and those of you who started to cry after you read that I will, alas, not be restored to my former bodacious glory can pray for a miracle after you stop blubbering. Just stop it. You know who you are).

Seriously though. It has been nearly a year since I went to the very same hospital where I’ll be going next Tuesday, let a man draw all over my boobies with a Sharpie, waved good-bye to my husband and was wheeled into the OR (or the theatre as they call it here — sounds so dramatic doesn’t it?) for the removal of my breasts. You know, it’s a funny thing. I was not nervous. Not at all. I slept like a baby the night before my double mastectomy. Because I wanted that cancer out of my body and frankly felt as though the day couldn’t come soon enough.

I’ve had a year to think about that now. I’ve been through a lot and have gained some perspective. For one year I have had expanders for boobs. Expanders are like implants but they are not meant to be permanent. They are place-holders, pocket-preparers, envelope-makers. Each expander has a metal port into which a hypodermic needle can be inserted (once it has pierced the skin covering the expander — you cannot see the ports) either to inject or remove saline, thus changing the size of the “boob.” And I’ve tried just about every look under the sun. From “pumped up” to pretty darn flat and everywhere in between. This is for a number of reasons, having to do with slowly inflating to create a good pocket and allow the tissue to stretch and recover around the expander, and having to remove some liquid temporarily to get a good angle during radiation treatments.

The other day I had a strange experience. I attended an exercise boot camp with a couple friends. There I was, struggling on a treadmill at an uncomfortable incline, jogging at an impossible pace (interval training is a bitch, particularly uphill), for me, not having been much of a runner for the past ten years. There was a big ole mirror about two feet from me and I didn’t recognise myself. I looked so slight and sort of weird. And then I realised it was because those jugs of mine weren’t there any more. And what was there wasn’t moving at all (I mean AT ALL). That plus the short hair made me feel kind of boyish. And it dawned on me that my boobs were really part of my identity.

It was just weird. I thought, “gee, my shoulders don’t look as broad as I thought they were.” And “gee, I’m awfully scrawny and lanky…” And I guess it’s because my boobs were sort of my thing, not that they were all-defining or anything but let’s just say they were one of my things. And now they’re not. It’s kind of an odd experience, really.

There are other physical changes too, which no doubt contribute to the sense of otherness. I work out more than I did before this happened. And I am a little older now. So yeah, maybe I am a little more sinewy and lanky. I guess it’s the new me. I’ll tell you something, though. The new me is definitely ready for some new tits. I hope that they move, even a little. These expanders have been better than nothing, for sure, but I’m so over them.

Want to get technical? Here’s the plan: my surgeon is going to go through the same incisions that were made during the first surgery. I’d say my healed incisions are about 3 1/2 inches across the very centre of each breast. He will remove the expanders and pop in — now here’s where it gets creative — my cohesive gel silicone implants. These implants are silicone, yes, but they are “gummy bear” implants, so-named for their cohesive rather than liquid silicone structure. They are still in clinical trial in the US even though they have been around for some twenty years (I don’t know why — ask the FDA). They are particularly appealing for breast reconstruction because they are anatomically shaped (think more tear drop less m&m but they won’t melt in your mouth or your hands) which is supposed to impart a more lifelike look to my breasts. And if I got stabbed in the boob they purportedly wouldn’t leak ooey gooey silicone all inside my insides. Rather, they would stay together, just like a harpooned gummy bear (thus the nickname).

Here’s the bad news: implant reconstruction is tricky in people who have undergone radiation. Radiotherapy damages the blood supply to the tissue that has been subjected to radiation and it also increases the likelihood of capsular contracture — or hard scar tissue — forming around the implant. It also increases the likelihood of other complications none of which I am going to discuss or am particularly concerned about. There’s always something, for Christ’s sake. The gist is that after radiation things can get kind of fucked up and sclerotic and sometimes skin and tissue don’t behave properly. Ah well.

I’m hoping that this doesn’t screw up my results too badly on the side that got zapped. Six months following radiation, that side is already firmer than the non-radiated side, which is nice and soft and ready to behave. The surgeon will try to release some of the scar tissue on that right side in the hope that the new implant will settle and form a better more natural shape. Not so firm and not so high.

I figure if it really gets bad I can just use that boob as a drinks table. Screw it. At least I won’t be setting off any more metal detectors in the airports of the world. Because I really wanted to learn how to say “I’m not packing, I just have breast implants with metal ports” in Thai.

Anyhow that’s about it for tonight’s instalment. Feel free to ask me any questions about any of this. Really you can. I like to be technical. And you might be curious. Or not. Whatever.

One-Trick Pony

So it’s sort of my anniversary. Or should I say cancerversary? Wait… I think I just threw up in my mouth a little in the face of such a cheesy, fabricated word. Anyhow, it has been a year since my diagnosis. To be completely accurate it has been a year, two weeks and one day. The date I got the call (“yes it does show a cancer … but you’ll have perky tits forever”) really isn’t what I think of as the anniversary, however, considering I was at least 66 2/3 % convinced that the results of the biopsy would not be good a week before the call came in.

I was not being pessimistic, people. I was being realistic. I had looked the radiologist in the eye, said “I am a big girl; what do you think” and she had levelled with me. She was “reasonably concerned” there was cancer present. So although lots of well-wishers told me not to worry and that everything would turn out fine I kind of knew that wasn’t how things were likely to go down. That was when I started dealing.

Which probably explains, at least in part, why this past December was such a tough month for me, as I mentioned in a previous post.

So how is this relevant now that December has come and — blissfully — gone? Well it got me thinking. That’s sort of a lie, actually. Because I am always thinking. In fact I wish I could turn off my brain sometimes. But it got me thinking, specifically, about what the hardest things have been about this experience to date. And I came up with something sort of interesting and to some people, maybe unexpected.

When I think back over the last fourteen months, from finding a lump in the shower, to the investigations, to confirmation that something sinister had taken up residence in my body, to surgery, chemo, radiation and all the delightful direct effects and side effects of such, to recovering after it all, the answer is as clear as a bell.

The hardest things have been (1) the waiting period between finding out that I might have cancer and formulating a plan of action (surgery + ?) after I found out I definitely had cancer, with a little bonus period after my surgery during which I had to wait yet again for more detailed pathology results leading to a further plan of action (chemo + radiation) and (2) most of the month of December, about a year from the beginning of all this crap. So there’s a pattern here, see it? It’s before and after. Those have been the hardest times. By far the most stressful. Not during. Hmm.

People who have been through this or something like it and those who have cared for them or who otherwise know warned me that the initial waiting period would be the worst. And that I might feel “down” after it was all over. The waiting was awful. It was terrifying and just plain old difficult to bear. I concur. But I did not feel down right after the treatment was over. Maybe a little adrift at times, but not really down. Until December when I got hit with a bad cold and a nasty clenching crimp in my back. That reminded me of being weak. Of having limitations. And things sort of deteriorated from there. Part of it was an obvious thing. I did not feel good physically, so it follows that I didn’t feel so hot mentally. The cold persisted and turned into a sinus infection and the back persisted such that I was uncomfortable for a good part of the day, every day. That doesn’t make for a great mood. I was downright cranky.

I know now that everyone and his dog seems to have had a nasty cold over December — some even got two colds. I am not special in that regard. It just especially affected me because it made me think about feeling unwell and the last time I had felt unwell was while I was undergoing chemotherapy. It was a lack of patience on my part. An “I’m well now and it’s over and there is no time or space for being sick because I refuse to be limited.” And the back thing was similar. It screwed up my workouts, deprived me of endorphins, made me lose a little muscle. Made me see a dip. I don’t like dips. I’m into crescendos.

I feel much better now. Much. It’s a new year and I have a feeling that despite the conventional wisdom, thirteen is going to be my lucky number. Or at least better than twelve, which, as a friend put it who also had a hell of a 2012, can totally kiss my ass.

In retrospect, although undergoing treatment was not pleasant, it really wasn’t that hard, relatively speaking. My mission was clear; beautiful in its simplicity. It was sort like I became this one-trick pony and the pony’s focus was this: kill it. I was an assassin. Single-minded, willing to do whatever it took to carry out the hit. The wire had already hit my numbered Swiss account and I would go and go until the hit was carried out.

What else made it bearable? It was temporary. I’ll shave my head today, but my hair will grow back tomorrow. I’ll feel shitty and have metal mouth and queasiness today but I will have my appetite back tomorrow. You get the gist. It was something to slog through, not a permanent state of affairs to which I had to adjust. And I started to write and then I learned a hell of a lot about myself.

I was also incredibly fortunate to handle the meds pretty well. Although I rested in bed on the afternoon following treatment and went to bed early every night, I wasn’t in bed all day and I still exercised and generally enjoyed a good appetite. None of my side effects landed me in the hospital, even though some were infuriating (such as the swollen thumb episode).

What’s my point? I don’t really have one. I’m just musing. People say I have been strong. That I sailed through treatment. I don’t really know if that is true. Maybe it was just easy for me to have a singular focus and to get through something I needed to get through. Put all life’s little stresses on hold. Sleep well at night because I knew what mattered and what didn’t. Wasn’t going to get worked up about the little bullshit over which I had spent plenty of time obsessing in the past. Big deal.

We’ll see how the next couple of months pan out. I have a date on the calendar for the acquisition of my new tits. That’s pretty exciting. Sort of. If you told me I would move to London and a year and a half later be going in for a set of silicone tits — ahem — after having had my original tits removed — I would not have believed you. I still find it hard to believe except that anything has to be better and more comfortable than these saline expanders with metal ports that feel about as hard as boulders sewn under my skin. I’m ready to move on. Ready to take the next step. We’ll hope for the best. See where it takes me. Plan on bikini shopping in the near future.

And then the world is gonna be my oyster again, bitch.


Titty McTittenheimer

Have you seen the movie Friends with Kids? There is one particularly uncomfortable scene where the couples go for a ski weekend in a log cabin where Jon Hamm (you know, the hottie from Madmen), having had a few too many (one over the eight for my English readers), refers to Megan Fox’s character as “Titty McTittenheimer.” This, during a rant in which he declares that the romance between the male protagonist and Megan Fox’s character will never work because she is basically just an immature pleasure-seeking pair of tits who isn’t interested in settling down.

Why the fuck am I telling you this? You might ask. Well, ever since that scene and my deflation many months ago (see Smaller Tits in Sixty Seconds if you have no idea what I am talking about), I have wanted to have a reason to write a post with this title. And the day has come, my friends. The day has come.

I realise I ain’t no Megan Fox. But a year ago I had a reasonably sized set so it wouldn’t have been totally out of the question to refer to me as Titty McTittenheimer. What? About a month ago when I went to my plastic surgeon, you may have read, I was turned away… no enhancement to be had. Some mumbo-jumbo about wanting things to settle down a bit more post-radiation. I walked out of that office rather pissed off. Realised I had been totally prepared to bust out of there, literally.

Last Thursday I went back. Expecting to be turned down for the second time in a month. Turned loose once again on the streets of London sporting the small-chested waif look. Listen, by the way, if you are flat-chested or small-chested, please do not be offended. This isn’t about you and how great you look flat-chested. Because I could give a shit that being flat-chested is a good look. It is a good look and I even got used to that look on my own body. You can argue all you want but believe you me it is just plain weird to have a very different-sized body part that has been a part of you for most of your life suddenly gone, or at least drastically changed. It may be a good look but it just hasn’t been my look. You dig?

Anyhow, about five minutes after I went into the office I found myself on the table getting bigger jumblies by way of a magnetic device resembling a stud sensor, a generously sized hypodermic needle and some saline.

I went to a dinner party that night and in front of all the guests I asked my husband if he noticed anything different about me. In case he needed help, I gestured to my chest. Don’t worry, all the guests are friends and knew what was going on. Not that I mightn’t have done the same in front of complete strangers, mind you, because Honey Badger really does NOT give a shit.

Then it dawned on me. I have truly become shameless. It’s sort of free license for me to be the complete ass that I always have been. Now I just have an excuse.

I can now get away with statements such as “hey, how do you like my tits?” And “want to have a feel?” And these are received as completely normal and some people even take me up on the offer. (NB: do not have a feel uninvited because I been working out and I’ll kick your ass, MF). Our friend Peter wanted to know if my temporary boobies were filled with air. I said hell no, it’s helium! Wouldn’t that be a trip. So to speak.

Okay let’s get serious for a moment. What the heck is going on? So we are doing this all in preparation for phase two of my reconstruction, or as my friend Mark puts it, my “intercambio de tetas” a/k/a tit exchange iffa ju don speek eh-Spanich.

We are “preparing the pockets” for my silicone buzzies. I am supposed to get them in February. And finally after some progress I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or should I say the mountains at the end of the valley. I told my surgeon I was going to rewrite the song All I Want for Christmas in light of recent developments. Stay tuned for my inspired version in a future post…

The last year has been a real doozie. And soon I will put myself in the hands of my surgeon once more (well, not just any surgeon, but Mr Titty McTittenheimer, to be precise). This time the directive will be a little more lighthearted. This time he won’t be excising a life-threatening tumour to save my life. This time, he will be, simply, making me my own version of Titty McTittenheimer. Restoring balance and order to the universe. What goes up must come down. What gets cut out must be put back. And so forth. You know the drill. Just call me TM for short.