Show & Tell

After my surgery was reset for the 30th, I received an email from Kaiser notifying me of a new appointment for yesterday morning at the Surgery Clinic (clever of them to schedule it yesterday and not today, of course, since the nurses are all striking today). I already had a preop evaluation by anesthesiology, but I figured there must be a good reason for another look-see, so I headed in.

I’m sure it’s no accident that the nurse practitioner I saw yesterday was the very same one who has been examining me over the past couple of years, referring me for the ultrasound and follow up mammograms, and administering to me both before and after the mastectomy. She was equally mystified regarding the reason for her seeing me yesterday, but made the most of our time by carefully going through a print-out of possible complications, precautions, side effects, etc.

She has provided years of care guiding women through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and yesterday morning I found out that she herself is an 18 year breast cancer survivor. Although I should have asked, I don’t know which came first — the breast cancer or the breast cancer health care specialty.  Thanks to her personal experience, she was able to elighten me with invaluable first hand information about how I can expect to feel and look.

She was diagnosed with cancer in the right breast, underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy, and then had delayed TRAM reconstruction.  The TRAM procedure commonly used back then transferred the entire left rectus abdominus (“six-pack”) muscle, so she was left with a pronounced decrease in muscle control after the surgery.  Over time, after weight loss and concerted exercise, she has regained abdominal strength and can finally sit up without use of her arms.

She advised me that recovery will be far more difficult and lengthy than after the mastectomy, not only because of the prolonged use of anesthesia, but also because both the chest and abdominal areas will be impacted.  She said I will experience lingering weakness and discomfort mainly in the abdomen, but that should start to wear off after several weeks.  While we discussed the cosmetic outcomes from previous patients, she stunned me by generously offering to show me her own reconstruction.

Let me just say that her fake breast looked fantastic.  To my now educated eye, the jagged, silvery scar running over the top of the breast (which she assured me should be much neater in my case with Dr. Orman performing the operation) demarcating the original skin from the transferred skin (with a faintly different skin tone) clearly signaled that something had been done to the breast.  However, because the breast’s shape looked absolutely normal (soft and smooth — not at all lumpy), and the fake nipple added afterwards via skin grafting and tattooing appeared realistic as well, one would not guess that it is an entirely new creation.

I’ve visited plenty of breast reconstruction sites online to view before and after photos, and there’s nothing like seeing one in person to really appreciate how genuine those analog breasts can appear.  Needless to say, yesterday’s visit to Kaiser was just as enlightening and inspiring as any kindergarten show and tell.  I should also add that, like any five year old coveting a classmate’s shiny toy or pet rabbit, now I want my very own.

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