Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Construction Zone

A lot has happened since I last wrote.  I received my final chemotherapy infusion (Hooray!!!), I had a breast MRI to check on the size of my tumor, and I met with my surgeons to talk about our game plan.
First, the chemo session seemed to take for...ev...er.  Every drip drip drip from the chemo bag seemed to be spaced five minutes apart. For my final two chemo sessions I had graduated to the private chemo room, which made me feel quite VIP, but I was so antsy this last time that it hardly mattered.  This particular type of chemo is served up with a side of Benadryl, which puts most people to sleep.  Oh how I wish I was one of those people.  It turns out that Benadryl makes my heart race, which only amplifies the antsiness (sure, it's a word) and makes the hours of chemo seem to crawl by at a tortoise pace.  But no more! I am DONE with chemo, and not a minute too soon.  They say the effects of chemotherapy are cumulative, and boy did I feel it this time.  The pain in my legs was almost unbearable at times, and there were shooting pains in the rest of my body that would strike randomly.  Thank goodness for my attentive and sympathetic husband who would give me hugs, massages or draw me a hot bath when I needed him to.  And he listened to me whine.  A LOT.  Not just this time, but throughout the past 4 months of chemo he has been the best caregiver a gal could ask for.  I would have never made it through this without him, and the great part is that I get to keep him even though I'm done with this nasty part of treatment! Incidentally, today marks the 5th Anniversary of our first date.  In some ways it seems like only yesterday, and in some ways it seems like we've been together forever!

Disclaimer:  This next part talks about boobs and surgery.  Shocking, I know.
A week after my last chemo session I had a breast MRI.  I thought this would be as simple as laying back and dozing off while they run me through a machine for half an hour, much like the PET scan I had when I was first diagnosed.  Oh how naive of me.  If you haven't had one, allow me to describe an MRI for you.  Car horns blaring at you, stopping, starting, stopping, starting over and over again.  Every time the blaring would start, I would jump, and of course you are expected to be completely still the whole time.  Why are these machines so God awful loud?  Seriously, I'm asking.  If anyone knows the answer, please pass it along.  To make matters worse, I had to lay on my stomach and put my boobs into square holes while having cold fluid pumped into my veins.  I was laying there thinking "take me back to the PET scan!"  The one saving grace was the lab tech who was prepping me for the test.  She was spunky and hilarious:  "As you can see, this machine was designed by a man, one who thinks women have square breasts.  They told me how much they spent on this shiny new machine, and I told them to send it back."  So funny.  Thank God for her.
The good news is that the MRI shows the tumor has responded to chemo and is smaller than it was before we started treatment.  The bad news is that it is still big enough that I need to have radiation after it is removed.
This leads us to my meeting with my surgical oncologist and my plastic surgeon.  As I mentioned in my last post, I am having a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  Even though there is cancer in only one boob (I like saying "boob" instead of "breast."  "Breast" just sounds so clinical, doesn't it?), we're going to remove both because it lowers my risk of cancer coming back in the other one (from 20% to 4%).  The plastic surgeon will be able to reconstruct my right boob (no cancer) immediately following the mastectomy.  He literally walks in with his team as soon as the surgical oncologist leaves with her team (and my boobs).  Unfortunately, I have to wait a long while before I can get the side with cancer reconstructed.  This is because radiation does some nasty things to skin and tissue.  But radiation is also supposed to get rid of any remaining cancer cells, which is the whole point of treatment after all. 
So this spring/summer I am going to feel a bit like a construction zone.  A lop-sided construction zone.  The surgeons are able to do a skin-sparing technique where they are able to save a good deal of my own skin.  This, along with the back tissue used (latissimus dorsi flap procedure) will help make my new boobs feel more like my own.  An interesting thing to note is how reconstruction is different from your everyday boob job.  In a normal breast enhancement, an implant is place under the woman's breast muscle.  With reconstruction, there is no breast muscle to work with.  This is why I've opted for the "lat flap" procedure.  This way there will be at least some tissue of my own in there.  In addition to tissue from my back, the plastic surgeon will put a "spacer" in my chest before sewing me up.  This is basically a deflated implant that will be filled with saline as I heal.  Once a week I will head to the hospital where the plastic surgeon will pump a little bit of fluid into my spacer until one day I look down and say "Yes!  That's it!  That's my perfect dream boob!"  Then he will take out the spacer and replace it with a real implant.  I'll eventually do the same thing on the other side. 
Radiation lasts for 6 weeks and then I have to wait 6 months before the radiated side can be reconstructed.  This means I'll probably be sporting one of those space-age prosthetic boobs that I referenced in my post on Oct. 17 in an attempt to even myself out.  Because it's already getting warm here in the South (apologies to friends in the Midwest and Northeast), and because chemo has put me in early menopause which causes awful hot flashes, I can imagine that there will be a good deal of time when I am quite simply lop-sided.  I can see it now:  Aaron and I are snuggled on the couch, watching a movie when all of the sudden a hot flash comes.  Normally, this happens and I push him away and rip off my wig and fling it on the coffee table, causing the husband and the cat to give me strange looks.  Soon it will be the same thing, except it will be my prosthetic boob that I fling on the coffee table.  Hopefully this won't happen in public.  It is for this reason that I think I need a t-shirt that reads: "Construction Zone"