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Cancer Chronicles Part 2


The hurry up and wait game continues. Who knew that when you get diagnosed with breast cancer they don’t just whisk you away to fix it immediately? There are many moving parts and players and lots of pieces to coordinate. I find myself feeling as though we are moving through sludge to get somewhere.


But we are getting somewhere.


Last week Bryan and I met with the plastic surgeon. (True confession time. I have been to the office before for what I jokingly refer to as “getting my forehead ironed out.” No, I am not ashamed to admit it. Vanity runs deep in my family.) It does however, feel much different when you are there to discuss how to repair your body after cancer has its way with you.


We weren’t sure what to expect. I was picturing the type of doctor that has his own reality show sculpting the faces and bodies of women shopping on Rodeo Drive. I liked Dr. O’Brien as he put me at ease immediately with his warm demeanor. He took a great deal of time to explain all of our options. Because I apparently keep drawing the short straw, the reconstruction process for me may be a bit more complicated due to my unique anatomy. I believe the correct medical term is Weird Bones. Well at least that’s what I call them. My sternum is somewhat sunken which causes the right side of my chest to also be somewhat sunken. It is a condition that apparently runs in my family, and for the most part is unnoticeable unless you are looking at reconstructive surgery in which case it causes the doctor to look at you with a furrowed brow.


From what we’ve learned, the process of reconstruction is often started at the time of the mastectomy. Expanders are placed under the skin (or in my weird bone case, under the muscle). Eventually these get replaced with implants. Dr. O’Brien is not comfortable starting this process with me until he knows whether or not I will need radiation. Radiation may cause changes to the skin making it leathery and less pliable. This is often not determined until after surgery when lymph nodes are removed. It has been recommended that I have my suspicious lymph node removed and biopsied first to help both surgeons know how to proceed.


I went back and forth about going this route. After all it is an added step before the actual mastectomy and frankly, I am ready to get moving on getting this cancer out of me. After much thought and discussion with my family, I decided to go ahead with it because not only will it help the surgeons plan, but I will know ahead of time a bit more of what I can expect after surgery.


I have learned to anticipate feeling overwhelmed after I leave doctor’s appointments. There is so much information being thrown at you that it leaves your head spinning. The appointment with the plastic surgeon was no exception. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was crazy for even considering reconstruction. At a minimum, I will be facing 3 surgeries and that does not even take into account any additional treatment I may need. But I have spent endless amounts of energy working to feel comfortable in my own skin; the better part of 30 years to be exact. And while there are few things I know for sure right now, one of them is that I can not imagine a version of myself who would feel okay without breasts.


So I am moving forward. I can’t know if it is the right or wrong decision. I just have to trust my gut and go with it. Am I scared? Yes. And sometimes downright melancholy because well, cancer. But I am learning to adjust to this new normal, to the idea that how I imagined the details of my life playing out are evolving. Cancer is the ultimate reminder that we move about the world with such a false sense of control. Maybe part of my evolution will involve learning to surrender just a bit more.


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