May 5th: When Life Gives You Lemons

Breast cancer gave me license to do what every woman attentive to her appearance has secretly or perhaps unconsciously wanted to do her entire adult life:  visit a plastic surgeon.

If I was going to have a mastectomy, my next decision would be whether I’d want reconstruction, and if so, whether I would want the reconstruction right away or at a later date.  “Immediate reconstruction” meant that, while I would be in surgery an additional 6-8 hours past the 2 hours needed for the mastectomy itself and would have to stay in the hospital for a few extra days, it would hopefully obviate the need for further major surgery and give me a better cosmetic result.  As I hinted at earlier, yes, I am vain (as well as impatient), so guess which option I chose?

Serendipitously, an appointment with a plastic surgeon opened up the very next morning.  I went to the appointment alone, believing the plastic surgery would be a positive experience: a constructive process, something to look forward to, a way to salvage my formerly unsullied body, and a step towards moving beyond cancer.

To my slight disappointment, there were no flashy face-lift or breast enhancement brochures in Dr. Orman’s examination room, no before and after portfolios of the rich and famous to leaf through as I waited.  He asked several brief questions:  my favorite activities, whether I exercise, smoke, what I don’t want to give up doing after surgery.  Next came a short physical examination including a fairly humiliating interlude when he grabbed my abdominal area with both his hands serving as giant calipers.

Oddly, the good news was that I have enough fat in my lower abdomen (Normally this wouldn’t be good news, but it’s funny how life can change on a dime, right?)  to actually create a pseudo breast. Yes, you read that correctly.  After the tissue from my real breast has been removed by my surgical oncologist, Dr. Orman and another plastic surgeon will swoop in and relocate fat, blood vessels, and a small bit of abdominal muscle to the area recently vacated by my breast, then reconnect blood vessels, etc., and voilà, a new breast.  If you haven’t yet figured out how I’m making lemonade from the recent batch of lemons I’ve been given, it’s that as a (Sorry, I can’t help myself here.) booby prize for having to go through the misery of a mastectomy and who knows what else after surgery, I’m actually getting a tummy tuck!

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