Yall, I have new boobs!
On Tuesday, December 12, I rolled up to the Surgery Center connected to (but across the street from) the hospital where I’ve received most of my treatments (all but the initial “has this spread” MRI and the radiation) since the beginning of this here ride, and had my expanders replaced with what they call “gummy bear” implants.
(Side note: if you now have THIS song stuck in your head, I’m sorry, you’re welcome, and you’re my people. If you instead have THIS song stuck in your head, you can stick around, but conversation is going to be stilted and awkward. We should probably start drinking. If you have NO songs stuck in your head as a result of my mention of gummy bear implants, who even ARE you? Why is there no music in you? Is your inner juke box broken? But I digress.)
The surgery was FAST! I mean, for ME, of course, it flew by in no time at all; I was prepped, wheeled into the OR and—unlike my port placement surgery and my mastectomy, in both of which instances I distinctly recall the last words I spoke to surrounding medical professionals before I conked out—all I recall before I went under for THIS surgery was seeing a nurse come into the (cold!) OR hugging a folded blanket like she was coming home from the library with a stack of her favorite books, at which point I thought, “Oh, good, I hope that thing is heated . . . ”
Sadly, I never found out, because approximately 40 seconds later, the surgery was over and I was in a different room, and a different nurse was trying her damndest to wake me up (despite my damndest efforts to resist). She kept feeding me sips of cold water through a straw, and asking me if I wanted food.
I kept saying no, and passing back out.
Finally, she asked me if I felt like I was ready to sit up and get dressed.
Again, I said NO.
To me that meant, “Girl, I will LET YOU KNOW when I’ve gotten my nap out and am ready to stagger home and take another one.”
To HER, that apparently meant, “Honey, YES! Let’s take these new boobs out for a spin!” because in response to my (very clear) NO, she said, “How about I go out [to the waiting room] and give [Love Tank] a ten-minute warning to bring the car around?”
Um. Hi, ma’am. In what world does “NO” mean “in ten minutes”? (I mean, unless you’re a small, stubborn child or a network marketing salesperson.)
Nevertheless, next thing I knew, I was upright, and groggily allowing the nurse to put pants on me (side note: that’s when we discovered that I’d accidentally flouted the nurse’s surgery-prep instructions and kept my underwear on when I changed into the hospital gown—a tiny, unintentional rebellion that gave me more satisfaction than it should have, but hey, SHE didn’t listen to ME, either, when I said NO).
And in several more minutes, I was in the car, molars clacking like someone had shoved a set of wind-up teeth into my face, while Love Tank blasted heat directly into my eyeballs and turned my seat warmer to to HIGH to stop the racket.
Here’s the thing though: the nice lady who called me a couple of days before my surgery, to give me instructions on how to prepare for it (back-to-back Silkwood showers, Gremlin rules for food consumption, etc.) said the surgery would take about two hours, and the post-surgery recovery would take about 1.5 hours (or possibly longer, depending). These timelines were confirmed by the nice lady at the Surgery Center desk, when we arrived at 6 a.m. on the day of surgery.
But that IS NOT how things went down.
(And OK. I know (I KNOW) that I am weirdly time obsessed. I mean, if I plan to leave the house at 2:30 to get somewhere, then NO, leaving at 2:33 IS NOT LEAVING ON TIME. I realize this is not universally understood, but dammit, it should be . . . but again, I digress, because time obsession does nothing to curb my unnecessary asides.)
First of all, when I got wheeled into the OR, the clock on the wall was already drifting past the 7:40 mark, when surgery was supposed to start at 7:30. So as far as I’m concerned, we’re already off to a wibbly-wobbly start. But then. THEN, once I’d been booted from the Surgery Center and my teeth had finally stopped clacking in the car, I looked at the clock, IT WAS ONLY 10:47.
So let’s math this:
- Two-hour surgery, starting at 7:40-something = recovery begins at 9:40-something.
- 1.5-hour recovery, starting at 9:40-something = B!@#%&!, it shoulda been 11:15 before you even THOUGHT ABOUT putting my pants on and discovering my surprise underwear rebellion!
Instead, here I was ALMOST HOME a full HALF HOUR before I should have even been forced to wake up!
And yes, I realize the surgery probably didn’t take a full two hours, I mean anyone with restaurant hosting experience knows to add a little buffer to time estimates so there’s more pleasant surprise than angry impatience on the customer end. And I also realize that leaving the hospital EARLIER than expected is GOOD news like 99% of the time (and, to be fair, it was good news this time)—but when you’re dealing with a timey-wimey freak who also loves sleeping, ya gotta manage your comms a little better.
Aside from that, though, things went mostly well! One surprise that came out of it was that I did not, in fact, end up with an arm sling (on the radiated side) as the plastic surgeon had predicted I likely would. I’m actually not sure exactly why he ended up changing his mind about that, but perhaps he worked as a restaurant host prior to his current career, and was going for the “pleasant surprise” approach.
Another surprise that came out if it (and as I’m typing this, I realize that this is a little bit of lede burial, so I’m sorry for that) is that when the anesthesiologist was going through my chart and asking me questions prior to surgery, she noted that the results from the echocardiogram I had in the beginning of this whole thing (to ensure that my heart could withstand cancer treatment) showed I had a leaky mitral valve.
Perhaps y’all recall how relieved I was after that initial ECG, which I was told showed good heart function (because, as you may also recall, I have a family history of BAD heart function, so I was seriously sweating that test). And maybe you also recall that prior to starting the Red Devil, when I was nervous about cardiotoxicity from the treatment, Dr. Cool-and-Calm reassured me that the ECG had shown good heart function.
So needless to say, this leaky mitral valve was NEWS TO ME, and I said as much to the anesthesiologist.
She looked back at my chart and replied, “It says ‘mild to moderate’ here . . . ” and gave me a look of suspicion.
And it WAS probably hard for her to believe that NOBODY TOLD ME THIS, but I’m pretty sure I would have REMEMBERED any less-than-stellar news about my heart. Kidneys? Meh. Gallbladder? Maybe not. But for most of my adulthood, I’ve been focused on potential heart issues, so yeah. Nobody told me.
So 2024 will be kicking off with a search for a cardiologist.
But for now, things are good! I’ve had two post-surgery follow-ups with the plastic surgeon, and everything looks good. The single drain (much better than the FOUR I had after my mastectomy) has been removed, and now my only care/maintenance instructions are to lotion up my new girls to help alleviate the subtle ripples I can see under the skin.
Standin’ on your mama’s porch . . .
Chuckin’ out this mama’s port . . .
In other news (with apologies to Bryan Adams), back in October of this rapidly-ending year, I finally got my chemo port out! And I gotta say that of all the milestones I’ve hit during this process, many of which (end of chemo! end of radiation! end of immunotherapy!) came with the opportunity to celebrate by ringing a bell, THIS is the milestone that actually made me feel like I was finally, really DONE with something. I mean, at the end of the chemo infusions, sure I felt like a SMALL box had been checked, but I still had ALL of the things (mastectomy, radiation, continued immunotherapy infusions and chemo pills) ahead, so I didn’t feel anywhere close to done with anything. For that reason, I politely refused the offer to ring the bell, or even to have the nurse take a picture of me NEXT to the bell. In fact, I (accidentally) snuck out of the treatment center before the nurses even had a chance to present me with the chemo completion certificate they’d all signed.
At the end of radiation, I did get my picture taken next to the bell, because I had a couple more milestones (including the mastectomy) under my belt. But there was no ringing. Just a photo.
At the end of the immunotherapy, I didn’t ring or photograph anything, but as I walked out of the treatment center, I did have a moment that felt like an emotional exhale, because from that point forward, visits to the oncologist would be brief, and NOT followed by an hours-long stint attached to a pole (and not in a fun way). (And I did well up a little bit as I left my first follow-up oncologist visit after that, because just being able to walk out the door immediately after seeing him—rather than to a recliner at the back of the facility—made me feel so damn FREE.)
But getting the port out.
Man, that was a feeling worthy of all the clanging chimes (except the “doom” ones; not those). I mean, just knowing I’d be able to get the port removed was huge; my fear had been that, once I’d completed my immunotherapy, Dr. Cool-and-Calm would suggest leaving the port in for awhile, “just in case.” (I’d heard tell of such stories, where people had ports in for YEARS after finishing treatment, and I had been clenching all the things in preparation to be one of them.)
Although I’d been under general anesthesia for the insertion of the port, I was, happily, awake for the removal. There were no particular pivotal moments during that procedure; it was relatively quick, Love Tank got to stay in the room, and there wasn’t much pain (just some squickiness on my part, because I was thinking a little too much about what was happening). But afterward, seeing it lying there on a little strip of gauze, rather than forming a green-ish lump under the skin just below my right clavicle, was a watershed moment.
Now, the port scar is healing nicely, and . . . y’all . . . I’m thinking about going full bore into my midlife crisis and getting a tattoo to cover the scar.
I have two (small) tattoos already, both acquired in college. The first was with my friend Margo; I visited her at her college in Texas one Spring Break, and we decided that on that visit, we’d get tattoos together.
(I tell people that I may have actually gotten the world’s first tramp stamp; when I chose my design (a koi fish, ’cause I’m a Pisces, yo) and told the artist where I wanted it, he said, “I’ve never put one HERE before!” At the time, my primary concern—having a mother who, unhappy with her own weight, was constantly warning me (apropos of nothing) that I, too, would one day be trading my spindly little ass (NO, she did not use that term) for extra pounds—was finding a place on my body where the tattoo (a) could be hidden for professional situations, and (b) wouldn’t get all stretchy and warped if and when I became overweight and/or pregnant. So, middle of my lower spine it was! But wow, do I digress.)
My second tattoo, I got later in college, with my friend Truth; we’d both recently lost a good friend (to cancer, as a matter of fact, and now that I know what I know, it kills me that at the time, I didn’t know to ask any of the questions, so to this day I have no idea what stage the cancer was, where it was in his body, or even how he discovered it in the first place; I just know he left school and returned to his home town for treatment, during which time I saw him twice (and the chemo port snaking out of his chest once), and then he was gone)—and Truth wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate him.
“But I need someone to go WITH me,” she said.
I said OF COURSE I’d go with her, and she replied, “No . . . I mean I need someone to get one, too.” And I guess she figured I was a likely candidate, since I already had one.
Plus, she offered to pay for mine.
So I said yes. She walked away with a red peace sign on the back of one shoulder, and I walked away with an ankh on the top of my left foot (again, keeping with my previous tattoo placement strategy).
Since that time, I kind of intended to get more tattoos (for awhile in my mid-20s, I even considered breaking my own rules and getting an arm band, or at the very least, something cool on my outer arm right below my shoulder. But then I met and married a man who was not a fan of tattoos, so I thought, “Welp! Probably won’t be doing that anymore!”
But now, I mean . . . I love Love Tank, but if shitty experiences like this teach you anything, it’s that some fucks can just be dropped and allowed to roll into the gutter. (Love Tank himself is not the gutter-fuck, and certain opinions of his still matter to me, like whether I’m a good parent, or a kind person in general—you know, shit like that—but at some point, I gotta assume that if getting my boobs removed didn’t send him running for the hills, a tattoo shouldn’t, either.)
Mind you, I still haven’t 100% committed to this plan yet, but if I do it, I know what tattoo I’m getting, and y’all, it is CHEESY AS FUCK—but meaningful, because it’s in honor of the tattoo my dad had on his forearm. I say “in honor of,” because by the time I came along, my dad’s tattoo had seen better days—in fact, it wasn’t entirely obvious what it even WAS. The age of the tattoo (which he got when he was a kid, and so by the time I came along, it was already decades old), combined with skin damage he endured as a firefighter basically means that the tattoo I remember was a greenish-blue amorphous blob running from his wrist to his elbow. My sister remembers thinking, as a child, that it was a lady in a huge, flouncy skirt, dancing on one leg.
But in reality, according to my mom, it was . . .
A DAGGER PIERCING A ROSE, Baby.
I mean, does a tattoo get any more “TATTOO, MOTHERFUCKERS” than that????
But now that the idea has popped into my head, it won’t unpop. So while it is entirely possible that I’ll change my mind and not get a tattoo at all (because both of my tattoos were acquired SO LONG AGO that neither cost more than $50, I am anticipating a bit of sticker shock when it comes to current tattoo prices), it’s not likely I’ll change my mind about the design if I DO go through with it. But again, since I don’t really have a clear picture of what my dad’s looked like when it was first installed, I’ve just been combing the internet for dagger/rose designs I like. So far, this one is the frontrunner:
I will certainly keep y’all posted.
But in the meantime, it appears I’m kinda . . . done. At least for now. I mean, there will be follow-ups with the oncologist and the plastic surgeon, and all that. But it seems I actually have a bell to ring now.
Let’s get ready to RUMBLLLLLLLLLLLE . . .
Instead, though, I’m more in the mood to clean a motherfucker’s clock (which COULD result in some clanging chimes of doom) because my elder son has officially become a teenager—and ALLLLLLLLLLLLL that that implies. I mean, technically, he’s been a teenager for a couple of years, because he’s 15 . . .
But my people, 15 has hit all of us HARD. If parenting is not for the weak, parenting an adolescent requires buns, abs, balls, tits, intestines, sphincter, heart, lungs, and SOUL of steel, and brain of pure titanium.
Don’t get me wrong; he’s still a good kid, and it hasn’t been 100% adolescent bullshit, 100% of the time, but this year, that boy has been a hot mess, and Love Tank and I have been fuggin’ EXHAUSTED dealing with all the things that have come along with his surging hormones.
Not gonna lie; it’s been rough.
One good thing, though, that has come out of the past few months of sturm und drang is that he has joined the wrestling team at his school. We had some doubts about it, because his schedule is already NUTBALLS, what with honors classes, chamber orchestra at school (which requires some early-morning rehearsals), city youth symphony, and private cello lessons (and if this sounds like a humblebrag, it’s NOT, because he was already NOT managing THAT stuff particularly well), so we had a VERY hard time imagining how he was going to integrate two-hour daily wrestling practices into all that mess.
In the end, though, we agreed to let him give it a try, because we felt like the physical activity would be a good outlet for him (and he needs ALLLLLL the outlets right now).
A few days before my surgery, then, Love Tank and I, along with our younger son AND my sister and niece (who were in town visiting), marched ourselves into a hot, horribly stinky gym for our boy’s very first wrestling meet, and spent roughly 5 hours watching adolescent boys in singlets do their best to keep one another on the floor.
And y’all . . . he is GOOD (THIS part is a NOT-so-humble brag). Still quite green, to be sure—at this point, he’s relying largely on size and brute strength—but once he gets a few more skills and strategies under his belt, he has the potential to kick some serious ass at this! As it was, he walked away from that first meet with two wins and one loss; the loss was against an amazingly good senior, and even then I was impressed by how well (and how long) my kid held his own before he ultimately got pinned. His second match was against a freshman, whom he bested easily. But the third match was a sight to behold! Neither of them managed a pin, and they were incredibly well-matched in terms of size, strength, and talent, so the match went on for what seemed like forever, before my kid eventually won 8-1 on points.
So, much to my surprise, I LOVED (almost) EVERY MINUTE of that first meet (we’ll discuss the “almost” part a little later).
In addition to seeing my kid compete at something he REALLY likes, I also enjoyed seeing the collegial nature of the interactions between opponents (my son spent a huge chunk of the evening chatting with and getting to know the kid he was up against in his last match, before they actually competed; “he’s really nice,” he told us), and I especially loved the support I saw my son’s team members give each other. After the match he lost, he was surrounded by teammates patting him on the back and chest, talking him up, and giving him advice for the next round. I watched the more seasoned team members working one-on-one with him over to the side in between his matches—and in that last match that went on forever, several of my kid’s teammates lay on their stomachs at the edge of the mat, cheering him on (one of them videotaping the match on his phone to share with my son later). The way the last few months have gone, I don’t want to jinx anything by saying this, but I think wrestling is going to be a good thing.
I HOPE it’s going to be a good thing, because there is one significant way this shit could go downhill, fast.
You see, there was ONE other bad thing (much worse than the smell of that gym) that came out of that first meet: TWO kids in my son’s weight class broke their arms!
The first time, HOLY MOTHER OF GOD: I was sitting there watching the heavyweight match (the gym was set up like a three-ring circus, with matches occurring simultaneously, one for each weight class), when suddenly I heard screaming. The kid who’d been on top in that match rolled off and backed away, and—
***WARNING: THE NEXT FOUR PARAGRAPHS ARE NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH***
—the other child lay ON THE MAT, wailing in abject pain, with
***DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU***
HIS BONE STICKING OUT OF HIS SKIN.
Just as my brain registered what I was seeing, he was immediately surrounded by coaches and officials, and I couldn’t see much. But the screaming went on.
I guess what happened (according first to a kid who’d come up to the bleachers to brief his dad, who was sitting in front of us, AND then to our son, who came to sit with us for a bit shortly thereafter) was that the kid landed square on his hand with his arm completely straight, and HIS. ARM. BENT. BACKWARDS.
Yeah. I’ll give you a minute to start breathing normally again. Take your time.
***HERE’S WHERE YOU CAN START READING AGAIN IF YOU SKIPPED THE TRAUMA***
Long story short, that poor baby was held to the mat until paramedics arrived, got his arm stabilized, and pumped him full of pain meds—and at last, after what my sister said was a full hour (it didn’t feel quite that long to me, but I think I dissociated a little bit), he was finally wheeled away on a gurney, stoned out of his mind and giving us all a thumbs-up with his other hand while we cheered for him. His parents/guardians did not appear to be in attendance, so he was wheeled away alone, and OMG, can you imagine getting THAT call as a parent?
Once he left, the mat was cleaned up and, because the other weight classes had continued with their matches throughout the heavyweight injury delay, they finished their matches earlier, and the heavyweight kids ended up using TWO of the three “rings” to catch up on their matches. We were told, therefore, that our kid’s last match had been moved to the mat at the opposite end of the gym. We picked up and moved all our stuff down to that end so we’d be ready when it was his turn, and settled in to watch the matches leading up to his final bout . . .
. . . and during the second one of THOSE, a second kid broke an arm!
This time, there was no screaming, and no protruding bone (*shudder*), but that poor kid’s bone was sticking out (not THROUGH the skin, but underneath it) in a weird way just above his elbow.
By the time our son’s last match came around, I’d set up a few rows of of prayer candles in the bleachers, and was invoking all the higher powers from all the myths and cultures while chanting a single mantra: “He also plays the cello . . . he also plays the cello . . .”
He came away from that meet with all of his limbs intact. I think I may owe someone a bucket of lamb’s blood or an eagle foot or something.
His next meet took place in the evening on the day I had my surgery, and I was particularly happy that my sister was in town to look after me (while I basically slept off the anesthesia) so that Love Tank could go to the meet (and be available to accompany our boy on any potential ambulance rides). That meet resulted in two wins and a loss as well, so his current record is 4-2. And again, his limbs stayed intact (although his shoes did not; his last match was against a kid who had a nosebleed, and his wrestling shoes are WHITE).
His next meet isn’t until January, which has given us a little break from potential wrestling-related injuries.
So here we are, about to—as a friend I texted the other day put it—celebrate the fuck out of this Christmas (because after this year, it’s kind of a miracle we’re all still standing), and (perhaps more importantly) celebrate the end of this craptastic year.
But even as I complain, I look back at my blog post from Christmas Eve of last year, and can find bits of gratitude for all the things I’ve made it through over the last year, and all I have now that I didn’t have then.
I have a lot more free time between doctor visits now.
I have hair and eyebrows now.
I have a small, tiny scar where my port used to be now.
And I have brand new boobs.
And MOST importantly, I STILL have Y’ALL here, reading this madness.
God bless us, everyone!