This is the second and final portion of a story from Jen – a wife, mother, daughter, …, a breast cancer survivor, and a badass. Please click here to read Part 1 of Jen’s story and then come back here for the ending.
As I said in the first half of Jen’s story – this is quite possibly the most important post that has been published on MikedUp Blog. Thank you so much for reading…
Here’s Jen picking up where she left off:
August 4, 2017
I was so excited about this surgery! This was supposed to be the end of this journey for me, and because the exchange is a far less complicated procedure than a mastectomy, I was optimistic about the road ahead.
The surgeons simply open you up, remove the expanders, tweak the pockets that will hold the implants, put the implants in, and sew you back up.
Easy Peasy – and it was at first
I was back home within a few hours and I felt great. Prior to the surgery, the expanders were so hard and rigid, it felt like I had boulders in my chest. But these implants were so much softer!
I wasn’t allowed to take the bandages off for 48 hours, so it was a long 2 days. But when we finally took them off I was pretty happy with what I saw. I thought the implants were a little bigger than I expected and they felt kind of heavy, but I attributed a lot of that to the surgery and swelling.
The first week went fine, but after about 2 weeks things started to go south
A small hole was developing on my right side. It scabbed over pretty quickly, but I went to see Dr. A just to be sure. At that point, because the hole was trying to heal on its own, he didn’t want to touch it. He just told me, “Be careful and keep it dry.”
August 16, 2017
I was doing my best to nurse the wound, but I had to do something to be active… I had been going for morning walks, but it was all that I was allowed to do…
I remember this day like it was yesterday: that day “the walk” became unexpectedly emotional
It was the first day of school in my neighborhood… As I walked, parents were out taking pictures of their kids – it was late morning so these were all elementary kids. When I walked down one cul de sac it was quite the photo shoot for the first day of kindergarten. I paused for a second so I wouldn’t be in the background of the photo, and when I started walking again I found myself holding back tears as the thought of, “Will I be here in 4 years when Briana starts kindergarten??” crossed my mind.
This is yet another part of life after breast cancer
It’s the part people rarely talk about because everyone’s going to say, “You’ll be fine.” Obviously, that’s the hope, but there is a reality that exists that says – that may not be the case. I’m usually a pretty positive person, but there is always a fear that lies beneath.
And every once in a while that fear creeps up on me.
When I got home that day I decided to do some research
Turns out the National Safety Council actually has a chart on your chance of dying from various diseases and events… Who knew? Not surprisingly the top causes of death are cancer or heart disease.
Now, these statistics are based on averages of the entire US population, but it turned out that my chance of a breast cancer reoccurrence is exactly the same as my chance of dying from heart disease. The mind is a funny thing. I doubt I’ll ever dwell on dying of heart disease, but I do dwell at times on death from reoccurrence – and the numbers are exactly the same.
Strangely the difference is that having lived through the experience of battling cancer makes you fear of dying from it.
Like I said before – I let myself have these moments, but I try not to stay that space very long. I always come back to the quote that one of my favorite nurses, Laura told me at the beginning of this:
“Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.” – Michael J. Fox
August 25, 2017
While taking a shower the scab over the hole on the right foob decided to bust open. It wasn’t huge probably half the size of a dime, but it was big enough that you could see the implant. My heart sank when I saw it… “Oh no, what does this mean?”
There was a yellow straw like fluid leaking out of it, which I later found out was normal. I ended up going back to see Dr. A and spent about 30 minutes on the table while he removed the bad skin, rinsed out the implant and wound, and restitched the area. Strangely I’d never been so excited to get stitches in my life – the scab was giving me anxiety!
I was back to T-Rex arm restrictions on the right side, but I was ok with that. I just needed the stitches to heal.
Labor Day weekend 2017
We went away on our annual friends trip that weekend (where a group of 4 families and our kids all rent a beach house together). It was the first time I had been away since all of this had happened and it was supposed to be fun and relaxing… Which it was at the beginning, but on the second day, one of the stitches Dr. A had just redone popped open creating another little hole.
You know the saying, “Take one step forward only to take two steps back…”? Yeah – this.
We took pictures and sent them to him, and we chatted on the phone while he told us to go get some steri strips. He instructed Pete on how to use them to give the best support and to keep the skin together. With the patchwork solution in place, I made an appointment to go into his office on Tuesday after we returned home.
It put a slight damper on the weekend.
There was a point on vacation where I was lying in bed with tears streaming down my face… Just hoping that Dr. A could fix this.
September 6, 2017
Dr. A didn’t like the little hole… He wanted to put more stitches in to close it up. He even said that he has never had this happen before. I laid there and thought, “UGH, why do I always have to become a memorable patient? Stupid thin skin.”
He’s always concerned about the scarring, I suppose that because he’s a plastic surgeon and aims for aesthetically pleasing results. At that point, though, I just wanted the damn thing to heal. I said to him, “I don’t give a crap what the scar looks like. I would just like my life back.”
He put a few more stitches in and covered them with steri strips which we left on for a week. At that point, he told me, “When we pull them off – if it’s not healing then we might have to do another surgery and change the implant.”Wounds that don’t heal can sometimes be a sign of infection.”
I didn’t have any other signs of infection and I really DID NOT want another surgery. I honestly felt like I was losing my mind, but I was trying as best as I could to stay positive.
September 13, 2017
That day the steri strips would be coming off and the suspense had been killing me. I took a picture of them the day prior and compared it to the original that I took on the Tuesday when we got home from vacation. They appeared to look exactly the same, but I didn’t know what lied beneath.
You cannot possibly imagine how many photos of my foobs that I had on my phone at that point.
Front views, close-ups, side views, super zoomed in views of the holes and the stitches – it was insane. In a way, it helped me keep what little sanity I had left by allowing me to compare the images. I would find myself asking, “Do things look the same? Are they getting better or worse?” I was so focused on them that even Briana was noticing and she was only 18 months old!
At that point, I felt like she had been looking at me and wondering. I even told Pete I felt like she knows something is missing, meaning the nipples. I mean they were her only source of nutrition for 6 months and I assume she remembers.
Pete thought I was nuts, but I stand by the thought that she knew something with the appearance was off.
Anyway, it was around this point in time that I became incredibly aware of how important the plastic surgeon’s role is in all of this
I can’t explain the level of anxiety that comes with knowing there is one person who you are trusting with putting you back together to feel like yourself again. I understand that in reality having survived is most important, having no evidence of disease is important, but there is also something to be said about looking at yourself in the mirror every day and not being upset about what you see or reminded of what you’ve lost.
I was lucky. Dr. A and his team had been amazing. I knew he was a perfectionist. I had seen that the week prior as I was lying there on the table as he was staring at the latest hole. He looked defeated in a way. Like I said, he had to deviate from his plan on scarring to sew it back up, but as he sat there staring at the wound, playing with the skin, drawing with his marker, I knew that in his head he was saying that he had to figure out a way to fix this.
It was in that moment that by saying nothing, he ended up saying a lot.
I knew, in the end, he would fix me. He would find a way to put everything back together. For my sake, I was hoping that fixing would take place sooner rather than later, but I didn’t have any control over that.
I kept going back to an Oscar Wilde quote “Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.”
The stitches were still intact at this point, but Dr. A issued 2 more weeks of restrictions… T-rex right arm, no lifting, blah blah blah – I knew the drill. He also said best case is to keep it as dry as possible so I continued to not shower. Between the two surgeries, I had gone about 5.5 weeks without showering and with this new update, I was adding 2 more weeks to that. I suppose I helped with water conservation that summer.
September 27, 2017
It appeared that I was not out of the woods yet. After removing the steri strips, Dr. A saw that two scabs remained. They were sealed which was good, but who knows if they would stay that way as I hadn’t had the best of luck so far. The good news was that he removed my restrictions for picking up Briana. Dr. A said that at that point I needed to get back my normal life and see what happens.
He left all of the stitches in and we scheduled an appointment for two weeks later, at that point he would decide if the implants would stay or go. In 3 days we were leaving for a week-long vacation in Myrtle Beach. Before this appointment, I was hoping to be back to normal by the time that trip came around, but given our update, that wasn’t in the cards.
No swimming from the waist up… But at least I could pick up Briana! Although she and I were pretty good at having her climb in and out of the crib, car, and whatever else by then (we had a ton of practice)!
October 5th, 2017
We were in sunny Myrtle Beach. The trip had been relaxing and I need it. It was the first full week since my diagnosis without an appointment (this had almost been a full year of appointments). The week had been great, however, while I sat there soaking up the rays what you couldn’t see was the gauze that lied beneath my bikini top.
This gauze was in place to absorb the fluid that was periodically leaking out of both the “good” and “bad” foob. Unfortunately, I had lost the, “Save the foob!” battle. On the previous Saturday after coming out of the shower the final scab on the left “good” foob fell off. Much to my surprise, there was not a completely sealed wound below.
Two tiny holes remained and they were leaking fluid
Pete steri striped them to help control the leaking. We were sadly getting very good at triaging wounds at that point. I sent a message to Dr. A and chatted with him yet again. He said that this made the decision easy. Both weren’t healing as they should have, and the skin had been stretched too thin.
He would have to redo the surgery and swap those implants for a smaller size while also reinforcing the incisions. When I got off the phone I started crying. I wasn’t surprised by what he said, but I pleaded for an answer to the obvious question of – “When would this end?” My anxiety was pretty high as my mind drifted to thoughts of, “Will it work this time and when will I get my ‘normal’ life back?”
I NEEDED it to be soon, but as with most things on this journey, that timing was out of my control. All I could do was hope and pray that this time it would work. I tried to not let it ruin the vacation and just make the best of it.
October 8, 2017
It was the night before my third surgery and the day had been dragging… On top of that, it was very different from the day before my last surgery. Sure, I was super excited about my first exchange surgery because I “thought” that it was the beginning of the end of the big stuff.
Turns out I was completely wrong about that.
Instead, I sat there with open wounds on each foob, with the right side having a rather significant opening. I mean, it was about a golf ball sized wound. How did we get there? Well, on the return trip home from Myrtle Beach, the wounds on both sides had opened up even more. They were both oozing and as a result, I filled my bra with gauze.
I also think they were slightly infected at that point because they smelled. Pete had redone the steri strips yet again after talking to Dr. A., and Pete’s patching had worked well enough to get me through to the next morning.
I remember lying there on our bed thinking to myself, “How the hell is Dr. A going to fix this?” I still have a tough time looking at those pictures – they make you truly understand the rawness of it all… And I want to really emphasize that the process is far from the “free boob job” that some naive folks claim it to be.
Honestly, at that point, I had almost become numb to it all. I laid there on the bed the previous night watching Pete patch me back together and I barely reacted… But at the same time, there was another part of me that thanked God that Pete was able to do it. Some others probably wouldn’t have been able to.
You could actually see the implant through the wounds on both sides and the stitches on the right had completely failed
As Dr. A had said… “It’s either going to hold or it isn’t.”
“Isn’t” was an understatement. At that point in time, I remember thinking that I needed that surgery to work more than words could explain. For the previous six weeks, I had lived in a state of high anxiety, just watching and waiting for the wounds to heal only to be completely let down in the end.
I didn’t think I could endure any more of that.
October 9, 2017
This was a very very dark day for me. Darker than diagnosis, which was a depth I couldn’t have imagined.
I’m pretty sure I scared the crap out of Pete…
I was screaming, I was bawling, I was throwing things, I broke a cup (it was a plastic one – water went everywhere). I slammed doors, I kicked things. I threw my collection of pain meds at Pete and told him to hide them.
There was a little voice inside me tempting me to just down a bottle of something to not have to think about or deal with this anymore…
But there was a stronger voice that said, “Give them to Pete and have him get rid of them.”
I completely lost control. In hindsight, I think my emotions were intensified by the drugs I was coming off of from surgery, but I am incredibly thankful to have a husband who was able to deal with me in those moments.
How did the surgery go?
Well, I wasn’t dead… That’s about as positive as my thoughts were at that point.
Dr. A was able to put in a smaller implant on the left, but on the right, the skin was in bad shape. He couldn’t risk putting in an implant so he had to put an expander back in with only 50cc of fluid. I pretty much looked completely flat on the right side. Oh – I also had another drain to deal with.
After the incision healed he would have to slowly expand it to re-stretch the skin in hopes of placing another implant in the future. We were talking about a potential several-month timeframe in the future. And in my mind, other than death – this was the worst possible outcome.
Again I know that sounds harsh, but this was my reality.
It wasn’t like he found more cancer, and I tried to rationalize that to myself – but I just wasn’t in a mental state to clearly understand that point at the time.
Expanders sucked, another surgery sucked, the drain sucked…etc etc.
Did I know that I would get through it, yes. I didn’t have a choice… But I didn’t like it and wasn’t happy about it, and the dust needed to settle for a bit.
October 12, 2017
The days that followed that surgery were tough. When the nurse called the first day after surgery, she said, “Well, at least you sound like you are in a better mood today.”
In post-op, I was swearing quite a bit and crying. It was a difficult time and many times in situations like that, people don’t know what to say… I understand that. But my favorite response was from my old nurse Laura who said, “I’m glad you didn’t die today…” While that sounds morbid – to me, it was perfect at the time.
Then there was Pete who had tried to be supportive in whatever way he could. When I was throwing things he said, “Please stop throwing things and kick me instead… You don’t want to pop the stitches.”
That’s love folks. (Mike: Amen Jen… Amen)
Really I didn’t know how to move past it until a few days later when I went for my post-op appointment. I met with Dr. A to remove the drain and just talk. We spent about a half hour going over the “what ifs”. I was honest with him and said that this surgery was harder than the diagnosis for me. He said he understood and told me that my case has kept him up at night.
Our personalities are very similar – achievers and perfectionists who struggle with situations that go wrong despite all our best efforts and intentions. For me, talking through things with him made me feel better and I remembered why we made certain decisions. Hindsight is always 20/20…
He admitted that he had changed a few things for women of my body type because of my case.
Although he has done the exact same thing to hundreds of other women in the past and it worked just fine, my body was the exception to the rule.
No one ever wants to be the person it went wrong with, but I was okay with being the reason that it changed for the better.
In the end, we made a plan on how to move forward. The loss of the implant was strangely traumatic for me, and Dr. A said that was because I had made it to the end and saw the final result only to have it taken away in the last moment. There is a lot of truth in that, getting to what you think is the end of a marathon and finding out that you have several miles left… That is a tough pill to swallow – but the dust had settled, I had picked myself up and brushed myself off, and it was time to carry on.
The first two weeks that followed that surgery went by faster than I expected
It was funny when Pete was unpacking my hospital bag he found the packaging for the surgical bra. It had a sticker on it that said ‘I ❤️ trouble free recovery’ (who writes this stuff!?!).
Pete said, “Well you’ve got a sticker this time so clearly this is going to go well.” He then took it and hung it up on the bathroom mirror – very appropriately with a steri strip. Maybe it was the sticker or perhaps it was that we were headed into the holiday season, which is always busy, but those weeks didn’t drag as much as I thought they would.
The side with the implant was healing and I was stuffing the other side with a ‘knitted knocker’ so it looked normal in clothes until it was healed enough to start to expand.
October 23, 2017 – CLEARED, again!
The incisions were healing well so that I had gotten clearance to do a few things. This surgery didn’t do anything internally so I had fewer restrictions – Woo Hoo!!! Finally, I could pick Briana up again!! With the lone exception of the one week in Myrtle Beach, I hadn’t been able to pick up or carry my little girl around for almost three months.
I was also allowed to use the elliptical (no arms) and do other cardio and light weights. I had never been so excited to get on the elliptical (which I usually dread)! I finally broke out in a good sweat! My last good workout had been August 3rd – no wonder I was losing my sanity.
I would return to work two days after this which added more normalcy to my life.
October 26, 2017
My first Cancerversary – the day that changed my life forever. It was also the day that I became a SURVIVOR and so one year later that is what I tried to focus on.
Finally, Dr. A agreed to start the expansion process on the left again and I was reminded of how uncomfortable the process was. In the beginning, he took it slow and was making me wait two weeks in between each expansion. As a result, I felt like the process was going to take forever.
But there was some great news lurking just ahead… Later that month just before Thanksgiving I would finally have full clearance on activities again! And while I knew that this would be short-lived, at that point in time, I didn’t care.
December 15, 2017
It was 10 weeks post surgery and I had a small hiccup that required one stitch on the implant side.
Overall the healing had been slow, but steady. It turned out that internal stitches hated me – they liked to come to the surface and poke through my thin skin. What’s worse is that this would continue throughout the expansion process as the stitches would poke through and have to be cut in the hopes that they wouldn’t create a hole.
One thing I did notice was that my skin seemed to be a lot more relaxed this time around and not super stretched out, which seemed to help the healing process. At that point, the expander side sat at 350 cc, and the plan was to get to at least 450 cc before surgery (which was an overfill). Dr. A wanted to make sure that there would be plenty of room to fit the implant and it seems with me that you could never have enough skin…
There was still a small scab that remained on the expander side so I took a break from fills in an effort to give that time to heal
It was at about this time that my constant appointments had slowed a bit, which had brought about a new phase of the journey – and it was a mental one. During the madness of chemo, surgeries, and the countless appointments that went with them, I was in fight mode. But when those things calmed down, a new mental challenge appeared.
The less hectic times were challenging… And honestly, they still are
I sometimes feel that I am not doing anything about the cancer anymore, which isn’t entirely true as I do get a monthly shot and take a daily pill to suppress estrogen. I’ve been told that it is a struggle that everyone seems to have as the end of treatment nears and you come upon your “new normal”.
I had found that some things triggered these fears of reoccurrence and the emotions that come with them more than others. The holiday season also seemed to amplify these sorts of things. Don’t get me wrong, there was a part of me that was relieved and welcomed the calm – it was just complicated.
There is a quote that says survivorship tends to intensify life’s colors…I can say that is 100% true
December 18, 2017 – The final beep
For those of you who don’t know, IV pumps beep when the infusion is complete. I had been receiving a targeted therapy drug via IV every three weeks for a year. Finally, I was at the last treatment.
Wow, the road had been a long one – this was my 29th infusion… The final Herceptin.
Over the past 13 months I had received 5 different drugs to help kill the beast and hopefully keep it away for good. I can still remember in the beginning sitting on the bed with the cold cap on my head, thinking to myself, “How the hell did I get here?!?!?”
A part of me was in badass fight mode and the other part was completely terrified.
Strangely, a year later, I couldn’t imagine not going to the infusion center – it had become a second home. I still miss seeing all of the nurses and office staff there because I had built quite a relationship with them. Those nurses are amazing people and I love them all.
You’d think that overall I would hate that place but I don’t, I actually never did. When I go there or when I drive by, I don’t think about it being the place where I was diagnosed with cancer.
Instead, I look at it as the place that saved my life – and for that, I will forever be grateful
January 1, 2018
2017 had been by far the most difficult year of my entire life. There were moments when I thought some things would never end and the light at the end of the tunnel seemed a million miles away. I still had wounds that were healing, but only had a partial fill left to be fully expanded on the right side. Honestly, in October I wasn’t sure that I’d make it to this point in the story.
I didn’t know if re-expanding the right side was actually going to work because I wasn’t sure my skin could handle it. But by some miracle I had made it – our bodies are capable of amazing things. I almost felt like I could breathe a sigh of relief.
2017 had made me more resilient, more thankful, and more patient. However, I was happy to say good riddance to those 365 days. Now it was a new year. A year to finish reconstructing not only my foobs but my post-cancer life. A year to focus on LIVING and LOVING life again, not fighting to keep it.
January 10, 2018
Finally, the last fill…a huge sigh of relief. 6 weeks until the exchange to implant.
January 26, 2018
So close, yet so far. As I said, my exchange to implant surgery WAS scheduled for 6 weeks (which would have been mid-February), however, that had changed. It was going to be in 3 days.
Yet another curveball in my journey.
Thankfully the implant side had been healing great, but the expander side had been a different story. I have learned things about my body in this process that I would have otherwise not known. It appears that my body doesn’t like to dissolve the typical suture that is used in these surgeries which resembles a fishing line.
Like I said earlier, the stitches were coming to the surface and poking through the skin creating complications like open wounds. This happens every now and again according to Dr. A, but it was happening far too often to me. It may have been because the expander is extremely rigid and under a lot of tension.
The previous day a scab that was created from a surfacing internal stitch cracked open the skin and the area wouldn’t heal. It couldn’t because there was a “dissolvable” knot within the scab that wasn’t dissolving. I went to see Dr. A and he said, “We have to go in on Monday. We can’t risk this really opening up and have it leading to an infection.”
Normally I wouldn’t have cared, I was used to these curve balls… But we had another trip planned – Pete and Briana were supposed to tag along with me on a work trip in Boston, and then we were going to surprise his mom with a visit (Pete’s parents live in the area).
But, as it worked out, this was the second trip to Boston that the whole cancer ordeal has caused us to miss
It was getting frustrating… I also wasn’t quite mentally ready to give up my workout routine and the brief taste of normalcy that I had. That being said, there were some positives – I was happy to rid myself of the constant throbbing in my shoulder that was caused by the tension of the expander on my muscles.
I did catch Dr. A a little off guard that day as I started crying in his office. For as many appointments as I had, I hadn’t really cried at any of them. In the past, I had been really good at putting my game face on and saving the tears for elsewhere. But at that moment in time, things just become too much for my brain to process.
He asked what he could do and I said, “Nothing – I’ll be fine.” Pete later said I could have asked for free facial or another aesthetic service…damn why hadn’t I thought of that! Anyway, I eventually looked at this new development as a good thing. It was sooner than expected and “should” lead to the end.
This time, Dr. A would be using a different type of suture. It would be braided and more like thread than fishing line, and damnit – I was hoping the third time was the charm as far as exchange surgeries go.
January 29, 2018
I was officially hangry and was starting to get a little lightheaded when I arrived at the surgery center. My surgery was at 1:00 pm which was also the same time that my mastectomy had been. In my head, I thought perhaps that was a sign of good things since the mastectomy and recovery had gone well – also, 29 is my favorite number…
Really I was just trying to stay positive, and I hoped this was my last date with Dr. A in the OR.
The surgery went well, he was able to get in the other implant and remove a knot from the left side that was poking through. I was still nervous because although I never had issues with the actual surgeries, the recoveries always seemed to become a cluster.
February 5, 2018
It had been one week since surgery. By this time after the first exchange things had already gone poorly, but as for this one – so far so good. This incision was in the best shape that I had seen… Perhaps those different sutures were the way to go.
I had been a little tired and a little sore, but nothing unexpected. Anesthesia always seemed to mess with me a bit and going under 4 times in 9 months was not ideal, I was familiar with the process. I had decided that I wasn’t going to pick up Briana for the first week even though Dr. A said I could. I figured why take any chances?
This round had been a little easier because she was more self-sufficient at that point… But she still didn’t understand that mommy had a “boo-boo” – and that was tough. I remember one morning about 6 days into recovery she kept saying, “Up please…up please…”
So I eventually decided to squat down and use my left side to pick her up… She looked at me and said, “Happy.”
I said, “You’re happy?”
It melted my heart and killed me at the same time. I hoped this was the last time I’d be doing this.
February 12, 2018
I had sat there the past two weeks trying to close a chapter in my life; it should be my last recovery.
Previous surgeries and recoveries had been stressful, with wounds not healing and constantly changing or canceling plans…
That third exchange had been none of those things. It actually had been a recovery and turned out positively in more ways than one. Cancer can become consuming (as I’ve said), and I really think that you don’t notice this fact in its entirety until you are looking back.
I had taken some time in those two weeks to go through the desk in our kitchen. It’s the spot where ongoing projects or things we need on a frequent basis get stored and it had been a long while since anyone had gone through it.
In the drawer, I came upon the stuff from the classes we took before having Briana and our heading home packet from the hospital… Right behind those documents was the cancer welcome binder from Ohio Health (one of our local hospital systems).
A little beyond that, Brie’s baby book which stopped at 6 months – the exact time that I was diagnosed.
She would be turning two in just under two months.
I had beaten myself up on a few occasions because I hadn’t been the best mom at times as cancer had gotten in the way. I beat myself up again at that moment with the baby book… And then I decided that I was busy saving my own life so I could be here for hers for years to come.
Then I took the time to bring her baby book up to date. I took a lot of time going back through pictures and videos that were on my phone and the computer, trying to pinpoint the time of each milestone that the book talks about -first tooth, first steps, etc.
In going through that stuff I actually started to feel better. I may not have had the time to stop and write it down, but I documented more than I thought.
As I went back in time to before cancer, even before Briana, I found myself looking at the old me
My old boobs and the innocent girl whose world was yet to be rocked. I thought about being that girl again… I was so carefree – or was I?
I was carefree in that I didn’t have a potential reoccurrence in the back of my mind, but I had 1,000 other things that I thought were “SO important” and at that time, those stressed me out. I now know that most of that stuff isn’t important… So, while I have lost an innocence of sorts I had gained a better perspective on how to appreciate those moments that I may have otherwise taken for granted.
I had also learned to let myself off the hook a little quicker than I would have before, because in the end we are all doing the best we can with the situations that we are in, and even if we are ‘subpar’ on some days – we will find a way to make up for them.
I finished Briana’s baby book that day, better late than never!
February 20, 2018
I went to another post op appointment with Dr. A, where he said everything looked great and released me with: “I’ll see you in a year.”
He continued, “I’m pretty sure after all this you know how to recover and ease back into things, call me if you need anything.”
I just sat there, and this is going to sound dumb, but I wasn’t prepared for that to be the last appointment.
I had more I wanted to say to him, to thank him, but I thought that would be further down the road – more at the six-week mark when I knew everything was completely healed.
Turns out I needed a new plan. I was off the problem patient roster
March 4, 2018 – The six-week mark
I had been walking on the treadmill and doing the elliptical for the first few weeks and finally, I was able to ease back into all of my favorite things: Body Combat, HIIT, etc. I sure hoped this would be my last return. I actually couldn’t wait to finally be able to do push-ups again, and really I’m not a fan of push-ups.
May 2018 – It had been a year since my surgical journey began.
The new sutures that Dr. A used were the key to the right side healing perfectly. Strangely enough, the left side that had been done six months earlier would still have a random piece of stitch come to the surface. But at that point, I had learned to massage them to help them dissolve and not poke through.
Somewhere along the line, I was finally able to stop worrying about my skin busting open and actually able to access the final result. I will be honest at first I hated them. The first set of implants looked so much better to me and I had a ton of pictures so I was able to compare them.
This set was slightly uneven and the cleavage was farther apart than I would have liked… I remember at one point sitting on my bathroom floor crying about it, texting pictures to my friend Ronni, a fellow survivor – someone who would understand. Looking back I think it was about more than just the cleavage.
Eventually, it all catches up with you and you have to process everything that you have gone through
I kept telling myself that I could always have another surgery to fix it. “Let’s just get back to normal life for a while and worry about it later.”
Now I want to put a disclaimer in here: as far a reconstruction goes, they are top notch. Dr. A did a phenomenal job. The problem is that reconstructed foobs and real boobs are like comparing apples and oranges and I had spent 36 years looking at something completely different.
They look totally normal in clothes and there are even some perks like not having to wear a bra with cute tank tops so that’s a plus! Either way, it was a year later and I was in a much better place than the previous year so I tried not to focus on the body image issue.
Summer 2018 – I had re-engaged in all of the things that I had been missing out on
I was still going to check-ups with the breast surgeon and my oncologist, and those were all uneventful…thankfully. I still get monthly shots and take a daily pill. Those have put me into early menopause which has its own issues, but they are manageable.
Since re-engaging, we finally got to go to Boston, our friend getaway weekend was uneventful, and we went back to Myrtle Beach where I got to swim in the ocean again.
I had returned to “normal” life.
October 2018 – The mental challenges are still there
The possibly of reoccurrence lingers in the back of my head and sneaks up on me every now and then. I’ll give you some insight into crazy things that I do…
Some are hard to admit and slightly shameful but it’s my reality. When I see that someone has a reoccurrence or stage 4 diagnosis in one of my groups, I freeze for a minute and then go look at how close their original diagnosis and treatment was to mine, like it matters. I know that it actually doesn’t, but I do it anyway.
I also know the statistic that 1 in 3 cases will reoccur
Yes, you read that correctly… 1 IN 3 – NOT a great statistic. I have met wonderful, amazing women on this journey. A lot of them. And you know what I think sometimes? I think to myself, “Who is it going to be? Which one of my friends will become the statistic…or will it be me?”
The more things that I do and the more normal life becomes, I sometimes find myself saying, “Things are going too well, when will the other shoe drop?”
The mental part is hard – you have to find a way to not go down the rabbit hole
For each person, trying to control those feelings and having an outlet can be something completely different for everyone. For me, it’s being active and working out – so that is what I do. I try to get my 10,000 plus steps a day and at least 3 days a week get in a good workout, 2 of which are Body Combat where I kick and punch the crap out of whatever it is that’s bothering me.
It helps curb the ugly little thoughts in my head and it also helps me lead a healthy lifestyle. Now I’ll be honest, I was pretty healthy before, but just as anything in life, there is always room for improvement. A healthy lifestyle can help fight reoccurrence so I am willing to do whatever it takes.
As for the foobs, well I just passed the anniversary of that ugly day last year
I mentioned that I try to not focus on them and go on with normal life, but the truth is that I have been staring at them daily. I tended to lift the lower one up and push it in a touch, as that is where it should be to match the other. A few months ago I had decided that come winter 2019 I am getting it fixed. I wasn’t 100%, but probably around 85%.
EVERY single day it bothered me and EVERY single day I spent some part of it staring in the mirror. It’s taken me a while to really understand why. Why is there the drive for perfection with these? Especially after what I went through to get here. There are so many other parts of me that aren’t anywhere close to perfect and that includes my original boobs.
Recently I have started to understand that, it’s because the other parts that aren’t perfect – are me…
Those are my OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture) parts – I was born that way. The foobs are different – I didn’t want them, they are fake. In my head, they should be near perfect. After all, that’s what plastic surgeons do. They fix things and make them look better, not worse. So in my mind lies this preconceived notion that because they are fake they should be perfect. Real is allowed to be imperfect… fake shouldn’t be.
It probably sounds silly, but that is how I view it and because of that, the daily conversations about ‘fixing vs not’ took place inside my head. Until we went on vacation, back to Myrtle Beach where a year prior things literally fell apart. For those 7 days not once did I think about it, not once did I look in the mirror and “fix” them.
I didn’t realize it until we got home and I was back in my own bathroom. It struck me as odd because the thing that amplifies the difference the most is a bathing suit, and I wore one every one of those 7 days. I found myself in a different place when we returned, I was staring at myself in the mirror and thought that they didn’t look as ‘off’ as they did before.
Why was that? I thought it must be the tan lines, they were playing tricks with my head
The day after we got back from vacation my phone died and it wasn’t salvageable so I had to get a new one. Because it died unexpectedly every photo on it was wiped out, they are backed up on the computer, but I rarely look at them there. So my new phone has nothing – no history, just future.
I tended to go through my photos frequently and I had kept every single foob picture from the surgeries on there. At least once a week I would go through them, look at the original set that to me looked SO much better than these. But yes, I know those tore my skin open. I’d eventually get to the pictures of the holes and be reminded of the stitches that popped, the smell of the fluid that came out, the anxiety that I had waiting for things to heal, and the bad mental state I was in.
It was then I would usually put the phone down and move on to something else
Interestingly enough after 7 days without a thought about the foobs, all of the memories that I revisited every day were wiped out too… Not sure if that was a coincidence or not?
Since then, for some reason, my mind has switched. I don’t think I can do another surgery and I don’t think it’s worth the risk. I think I have to figure out how to accept the imperfect. And I’m not exactly sure how to go about doing that just yet.
I’ve asked a ton of people about their opinions on this and some will say, “If it bothers you that much, fix it.” Others will ask, “Are you out of your mind? Why risk that?!?!”
However, just like anything in life people can offer all sorts of advice, but in the end, the decision is mine.
Now that we are in October, the anniversary of so many things for me on this journey and breast cancer awareness month, I am pretty sure the decision is close to final. This is one risk that I don’t think is worth taking. That day last year was one of the worst days of my life…
This year it was a much better day, imperfections and all. Time to embrace ALL of my flaws. The foobs are very similar to my scars, a representation of a battle fought and won
Overall, it has been an incredibly eye-opening two years. I appreciate and thank you for reading my story.
What I want all of you to know is that you need to be your own advocate in life
It is not easy sometimes but if your gut, your intuition or whatever you want to call “it” is telling you something…. LISTEN! I often wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t kept pushing for the biopsy. I’m also glad that I found a way to modify things throughout the journey to keep fitness (aka – my sanity) in my life.
Always consult with a doctor before doing anything, but also realize that no one knows you better than you. Make sure that you are forward and upfront about how you’d like your journey to go. Doctors should be there to help guide us in reaching our goals, not to crush them. Personally, I think in the beginning my oncologist was treating the disease and not the person.
I completely understand that treating the disease is their job, but I truly believe that in order to treat the disease you have to look at it from ALL angles, not just the medical one.
As for the second half of the Journey – know that we all have a breaking point and it’s ok if you reach yours (even more than once)
Just make sure that you get the help you need to get yourself out of that situation. It could be your family, friends, or other support systems. Your help could be a medical professional/counselor or a combination of both. Pay attention to not just your physical well being, but also your mental state as well – they go hand in hand.
At the end of the day, remember that you are stronger than you think and – this too shall pass.
Most importantly and above all – enjoy life… every single little moment, even the crappy ones. When my toddler is throwing a fit and I want to just scream, I try to take a moment and remind myself that I am lucky to be here watching her meltdown. Somewhere there is someone wishing that they could have just one last moment.
Also, celebrate little things in life. Don’t wait for something big. Take risks because the chances are that you’ll regret the ones you didn’t take more than the ones you did. Try not to sweat the small stuff, I know easier said than done, but trust me, in the end, it won’t matter. Live a little more in the moment. I’m not saying ‘don’t plan for the future’, but don’t get so caught up in it that you are missing the present. Life is far too short it’s such a cliché saying, but there is so much truth in it that. I don’t think I truly appreciated that saying until death stared me in the face.
I also want to leave you with this
October is Pinktober – Breast Cancer Awareness month.
While it’s a great sentiment to be supportive and wear pink, I feel at times that people lose sight of the not so pretty in pink statics that accompany MBC (Metastatic Breast Cancer) – the cancer that people die from. Like I mentioned above, 1 in 3 people will metastasize. So please if you want to support Breast Cancer research and finding a cure, put your efforts towards supporting MBC research. (The link attached to the previous sentence is a phenomenal site and organization if you would like to support a cure)
If we can find a cure for MBC, THEN we will have cured ALL breast cancer
One more thing from Jen ????:
On a Journey like this, it really does take a village. I am beyond grateful for my amazing tribe of family, friends, co-workers, the staff at Briana’s Daycare, my medical team and even some strangers that helped me along the way. Above all, I am thankful to Pete, my husband, my partner in crime, my cold cap guy, my at home nurse, my voice of reason, my steri strip applicator, my comic relief, and my biggest cheerleader. The one who helped me keep my sanity or let me lose it for a bit. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else along for the ride. I will love you always.
Alright, Team. I think that it’s beyond obvious that we all have a metric ton to learn from Jen’s experience, as well as her determination and ability to fight with everything in her being. This story is not full of roses and sugar plums. Rather, it is as honest a look into one woman’s journey from diagnosis to the present day that I’ve ever seen. Jen simply puts it all out there.
As I said in Part 1, Jen will be monitoring the comments, so if you have any questions or comments – please don’t hesitate to let us know. Or, if you’re looking for something less ‘out in the open’ – please send me an email and I can forward that to Jen.
And finally – if you missed it the first time, please consider donating to help fund additional research that will work to combat Metastatic Breast Cancer… As Jen said:
“If we can find a cure for MBC, THEN we will have cured ALL breast cancer”
Thanks for reading!