New Year and Nipples
Happy New Year! Yeah, Happy New Year twenty-four days ago...I realize I haven't written a blog post since October. Though I have composed many entries in my mind I have not taken the time to sit down and write/type something to share. We have some catching up to do! I had my last (fingers crossed) breast reconstruction surgery in November. November was NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I was determined to finish my middle-grade fantasy novel The Servant Prince within that month. While I did get a significant chunk of writing done I did not complete the novel. Between having my surgery, my mom having her surgery, taking a fabulous trip to Portland, Oregon for a writer's retreat, kid's events, Thanksgiving and the like, I squeezed in writing time to the best of my ability. It was challenging and fun but perhaps in the end my goals did turn out to be unrealistic. I looked back at the wall calendar and found only one or two days in November that escaped the markings of the sharpie! Whew. It was a whirlwind of a month and from it I emerged with nipples!
For those new to my story, I was diagnosed with Stage 3C, Her2+ breast cancer in February of 2015. I underwent chemotherapy at The Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Skokie, Illinois. September of 2015 I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. There have been many reconstructive surgeries and options since that time. For more details on my diagnosis, decision-making process, treatment, surgery and etc. please be on the lookout for my book Finding Myself...Facing Cancer, to be published on Amazon next month!
This business of rebuilding my body has taken a lot longer than I thought it would and there was a point not too long ago when I had considered stopping the reconstruction process. After my DIEP flap surgery in April (where breasts are reconstructed from fat and tissue transplanted from other areas of the body) I felt so much like myself that I didn't see the need to add to the work. No implants=feelin' free in my book! Besides, I could get away with wearing a t-shirt without a bra and without the fear of embarrassing nipple-overexposure. (There would have been no nipple exposure at all because the nipples were nonexistent at the time!) However, I decided I'd come this far, I might as well participate in the finishing touches.
Before the surgery, and as usual, Dr. Fine came in to go over everything we had talked about regarding the reconstruction. He used his sharpie to mark me up (just like I do to my wall calendar!) and asked this final question:
"Do you want to be able to see them through a t-shirt?" "Psh. No!" I laughed. It seemed like a silly question. Doesn't everyone get embarrassed when their nipples are showing through their clothes? Apparently not. And while this is not surprising at all as I write it now, for some reason the thought hadn't crossed my mind that such exposure would be desirable. And now, in retrospect, I probably sounded pretty prudish and judgey in my response. Dr. Fine was very kind about it and explained everyone has their preference. Oh yeah, duh, Sarah! The surgery went off without a hitch. It was outpatient so by the afternoon was chilling at home with all the fellas (my husband and our four boys). My parents were there was well to lend a hand while I recovered. After all of the previous surgeries I've had in this life, this outpatient surgery almost felt like a hiccup in comparison. I was sleepy but didn't waste any time in resuming my routine around the house and getting back into the office to resume seeing my clients.
At the post-operative appointment, again I went in with the mindset that I was happy with the results and why continue on with further reconstruction. At this point there are no further surgeries to be had, thank God! The finishing step would be to get areola tattoos to make the breasts look, well, like breasts. Because only God can create an areola, there are no other options in this step of the process. To tattoo or not to tattoo, that is the question. I thought I didn't care and/or didn't need to have the finishing touches. Then Dr. Fine showed me photos of real life breasts, completely reconstructed and I was wowed into the decision to have the tattoos. The breasts in the photos looked absolutely real. Why not get the tattoos? I thought. I've thought about getting a tattoo before but could never decide what I would want. I change my mind as often as my clothes so I was always afraid I'd get something that I loved one day only to regret it the next. These tattoos would be both practical and timeless! It's a win-win!
So, next month I will go back to the plastic surgeon to have one of my scars revised and to schedule my areola tattoos. Also next month I will be publishing my book Finding Myself...Facing Cancer, which chronicles the complete journey through breast cancer as well as touching on my first experience with cancer at age seventeen when I was diagnosed and treated for osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer). February 2018 will be a big month for me! It marks the beginning of this journey (I was diagnosed February 11, 2015) as well as the end of the process with the last medical procedure and publishing of my story. I have come full circle.
It feels so good to be on this side of the story, though "this side" is not without its struggles. There is the constant elephant in the room: will it come back? As well as the survivor's guilt: why am I still here when so many who have been on the same path are not? But despite the nagging questions there is also a deep sense of gratitude. Each day, each moment has such a weight and depth to it. If I open my eyes and my heart to allow myself to see minutes and seconds for what they are (a gift!) and to feel the pain and the pleasure held within each, then I am truly living. I continue to learn the lesson of holding things loosely, valuing the moment because there are no guarantees I will be in the next moment. It's a raw sort of existence, raw and precious. I would not change a thing about my life, even the uncomfortable and painful bits hold purpose and meaning.
So I enter this new year with fresh eyes and a heart open to receive and give moment by moment. I enter this new year with a body and a life still in transition, still growing, still changing, still evolving into the more beautiful person I will be. Enter this new year with me, holding things loosely, allowing the challenges to change you, to grow you, to create within you something beautiful and brilliant.