Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Blue ribbons

It's gotten to the point where I dread when people ask me how I am. I'm really not sure how to answer that. On one hand I am doing well, all things considered -- I'm in no significant pain, a little achey still from the surgery but not even worth speaking of. Cancer-wise nothing has changed yet...still healing from the wretched wound, still waiting to do chemo.

I'm in a holding pattern, pretty much.

Meanwhile I am extremely fatigued. Not sure if it's due to the slight anemia I have from blood loss or just the pace I've been running at...traveling for hyperbaric treatments and doctor appointments, keeping up with the kids -- I have moments where I feel bone tired...like so tired I can't move. I wish I could crawl into bed and sleep for a week.

I have to admit that some of my exhaustion might be depression oriented. I realized the other day it's now been six months since finding the lumps. Six months of living, eating, sleeping and breathing cancer. It's hard to think of anything else, and believe me I try. Distraction for any length of time is nearly an impossible feat. My own body won't let me forget, it feels foreign to me now every time I move...and then there are little things like TV commercials for bras, or PSA's for the impending breast cancer awareness month...a pink ribbon magnet on the car in front of me while I'm running errands -- heck, just making plans for the week and trying to keep schedules straight comes back to something having to do with my breast cancer. There's pretty much no escape.

Even little Daniel turning three soon has its reminders. I think about my pregnancy and his birth every time I go for hyperbaric treatments because they are at the hospital where he was born.

The team of doctors we used for my pregnancy were across the street and each time we would go for a prenatal visit I would look at the hospital and happily think, that's where I'll finally get to meet him, my miracle baby number two, my son. The place was obviously under some sort of construction then and I wondered if it would have an effect on my stay. But it was a seperate building, a new center in fact. It was a breast cancer center.

Now I think about his birth and realize the cancer was there growing inside me while he was, like some evil parasite laying in wait to pounce on my health and try and destroy my family. As I nursed my baby son with love and hope for the future, cancer was lurking in the same breast that flowed with mother's milk.

They finished construction of the breast cancer center near the end of my pregnancy. Multiple pink ribbons were tied 'round all the trees in front of the hospital in celebration of the grand opening. I remember Meggie saying once it was too bad they weren't blue since I was having a boy.

Too bad indeed.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Of towers & tumors

Yesterday was my 46th birthday. It was the first birthday since being diagnosed with cancer. I spent my day at the hospital, first seeing the plastic surgeon for a regular visit and then the oncologist's office for bloodwork. These places have become routine, part of the eb & flow of my life now. I barely gave it a second thought. But in reflection, that's kind of sad, isn't it?

I imagine that every birthday from here on in will take on new meaning. I will be celebrating not just the day I was born, but my survivorship, another notch on my belt as the years (hopefully) roll by. Now all my birthdays will have an extra reason to celebrate tacked on to them. Perhaps it sounds ungrateful of me, but I found myself thinking that I really liked my birthdays the way they were...just a day to mark the usual passage of time… still believing I had plenty of it.

I never minded getting older, I proudly tell people my age and have no hang-ups about it. But now whenever I think of my age I can't help but calculate in my head...if I survive X amount of years, how old will I be then? It feels different. So I tried to treat yesterday like it was just any other day. The plan was to do a little celebration today when I had more time and Michael was home. Mostly for the kids' sake, as to be truthful my heart wasn’t really in it.

Today started with a wound review session from my favorite visiting nurse…and then after that I had to run to hyperbaric therapy. That whole process took six hours. Six hours devoted to cancer today. Probably about the same amount as yesterday, actually.

I was feeling pretty down about it all until I sat in the waiting room at hyperbaric medicine and looked up at the TV. They were reading the names of the World Trade Center victims. Of course, I know that 9/11 follows my birthday, living in the NYC area it has especially not escaped my notice. But I guess this year I got all caught up in cancer and sort of let the memory pass without acknowledging it.

On that fateful day 8 years ago I was home alone, still very sick from my emergency c-section and all the complications. In fact it was the first time I had been alone since Megan was born about 5 weeks earlier. My mother was planning to come later in the morning so it was only supposed to be for a few hours…just a few hours between when Michael left for work in Manhattan and my mother would come.

Ironically, September 11th had been Megan’s original due date. I remember joking with the doctor and asking if we could change it to my birthday the day before. What a wonderful gift -- a baby on my birthday after so many long years of trying.

But life had other plans and instead I almost died delivering her 5 weeks prematurely. Life often has other plans.

And on that day…that horrible, tragic day 8 years ago, I awoke from an early morning nap on the sofa to the sound of the phone ringing. I looked at the TV, left on while Meggie and I dozed, and sleepily answered the phone to hear my mother’s panicked voice. She was saying something about being able to talk to Michael for a few moments right after “it” happened…that at least he was okay as of that conversation…to try not to worry. All the while I am trying to make sense out of what my mother is saying, I am also looking at news coverage of a towering inferno on the television. And then the caption underneath finally became clear…what I am looking at is the World Trade Center. But there was only one tower. One. One where there was supposed to be two…where there had always been two towers for all these years now there was only one. How could that be? I asked my mother why there was only one tower. She didn’t answer. I said it louder…finally I shouted, “Where is the other tower???” She said quietly, “It collapsed…it’s gone.”

Just then the second tower fell. I clutched Megan and felt dread run through my body. It all made sense. Somehow, inexplicably, I had lived through her birth because the Universe or God or Whatever, was going to take Michael instead. Manhattan was under attack in some bizarro world and today I would become a sickly widow with a new baby that her Daddy wouldn’t get to see grow up.

All that day I sat with the phone in my hand. All that day I watched the TV with a sick heart like every other person with a loved one in NYC…like every other person in our country…in the world. But as we all know my husband came home. As we all know so many, many did not. Too many mothers & fathers & sisters & brothers & children…people loved and adored, needed and wanted by their friends and families…too many didn’t come home.

Thankfully Michael was in no great danger that day, tho I didn’t know that until midnight, until he managed little by little all day to make his way thru the chaos of NYC and walk across the George Washington Bridge…finally able to meet my mother who drove him all the way from Fort Lee to our front porch where I hugged him so hard I think I hurt him. We spent the next few days shell shocked and realizing how fragile life is…how lucky we were.

And again today as I listened to the all too familiar names of the dead being read aloud and I saw the towns they were from…the town where I grew up, the town I married in, the towns my babies were born in, the town I now live…again today I realized that I am still lucky. Today I am here. I now have two children, both healthy and happy. My husband came home from work again. I lived another year and a day.

Today I will make that be more than enough in their honor.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

First post-op photo!

Thought it was time to show my face...and the rest of me too ;)

It's been around 40 days since my surgery. Other than my necrotic wound issue I am feeling quite good physically...I can move around fairly well now. My abdominal area is no longer what I'd describe as painful, simply a sort of stretched, bloated ache at worst. Trust me, I'm a total wimp when it comes to pain so I'm not being blase' about it in the least. The new breast is pretty much comfortably numb, tho there's surface feeling here and there. Thankfully it doesnt hurt either, tho certain arm movements can cause a bit of tenderness where they removed my two lymph nodes.

Since my midsection is quite swollen yet I went out and bought new jeans in a larger size -- plus size 14 to be exact. Pre-surgery I was typically a regular size 12-14 but even my loosest jeans still feel too snug on my middle. The fuller cut of a plus size is better on my tummy, but they tend to droop a bit and require discreet antics to yank them back up into place, lol. Small price to pay in order to FINALLY wear real pants, tho. And I actually like the coloring & leg cut too...they are from The Avenue and are their Easy Going Boyfriend Jean. It's been a while since I shopped at The Avenue but I noticed alot more clothes I liked than the last time I was there.

The plain brown camisole is from Target as is the cardigan worn before here. The polka dots sort of detract from all the bandaging and a print camouflages the ever-so-lovely position of my "girls" sans bra. I can't wait till I can wear a bra again! So many of my tops look absolutely atrocious without one. Last year I went for a professional bra fitting and I swear a proper bra can take 10 years & 10 pounds off any woman -- and I can totally tell the difference without my favorite Wacoals keeping things in their proper place.

Oh, and the necklace is from The Avenue too (couldn't resist as I was checking out).

Gee, wow, how normal is THIS??? Another post about clothes complete with pictures even. Huh, guess it's like riding a bicycle :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Musings on my present style

So, let's talk clothes & stuff...remember when I used to do that?

Fashion, I have always maintained, should evolve with a person's journey -- simply put: it should fit the lifestyle and flatter the figure. Frankly that's a tall order of late.

My lifestyle today, beyond being home with the kids, consists mostly of going to hyperbaric therapy several days a week. Along with no jewelery I am not allowed to wear make-up, hair products, nail polish, or any lotions whatsoever in the chamber. It might sound vain, but this face has not gone beyond my own property line without at least some version of tinted moisturizer & mascara on it since I was about 14. Not to mention my hair needs. But I dutifully follow orders lest I catch on fire or something.

I will say, it saves a great deal of time getting ready.

Since I'm still convalescing the only other place I go is to see doctors -- ah yes, more of those. I have a standing appointment with my plastic surgeon and am scouting out oncologists, but of course. While most of my socializing is now done in paper gowns, I do try to look presentable coming and going.

As far as flattering my figure goes, that's an even greater challenge. For one thing, my body is still unfamiliar to me. My entire midsection, while partially reduced, contnues to be very swollen and I have an incision from hip to hip. In fact I'm quite puffy all over still. So I am pretty much limited to sweat pants of some sort. I managed to find some yoga pants that are cut loose & sort of flattering.

My other issue is I can't wear a bra -- not even a sports bra. While my new boob is pretty ravaged wound-wise it nearly matches the original in size & sag, which is to say I really NEED to wear a bra in public. I am also quite lopsided, tho not anatomically speaking, thankfully. It is due to the amount of bandaging and antibiotic cream I have to wear on the reconstructed breast to protect the wound as it heals. It's a sight to behold, let me tell you -- like making half a bra every dressing change, the entire breast is slathered in Silvadene and meticulously swathed in sterile gauze. This makes it look alot plumper than it really is. I also need a bit of help keeping the bandage in place beyond just the tape...something soft and form fitting yet not constricted in the least.

Camisoles to the rescue! I live in them....something I wouldn't have done before the tummy tuck portion of the surgery I have to admit. When I realized how essential they were going to be I bought a ton from...yes, where else, Target ;) Dark colors work best as I have, shall we say, seepage issues (TMI, I know). For going out I have been wearing either printed blouses or dark colored but lightweight cardigans over my new assortment of camis. The dark shades & prints hide my asymmetry & sag while additionally camouflaging pesky seepage probs (sorry TMI again).

What about shoes and a bag, you may be wondering? Well, flats are the order of the day as I'm still a bit off center due to not being able to fully stand up straight yet...almost there but not quite. Since I'm not allowed to lift anything more than 5 lbs yet a small handbag with only the essentials is my best accessory.

Okay, okay, I know....after what I've been thru who cares what I wear. And I suppose I look pretty decent, all things considered. Style is clearly not the most pressing issue in my life right now. Still, I want to look like my old self...if not naked, then at least in clothes. I want to feel normal again. I long for the day I can just put together an outfit and go without thinking about swelling or wounds. Without thinking about cancer.

Truly small potatoes, of course, but I am reminded of yet another thing, great and small, that cancer has touched. Cancer changes parts of your life that you don't foresee when you are diagnosed. You expect certain things....really BIG things, like major surgery, chemo...marring the body, loss of hair...weight changes -- oh, but did you know that more women gain weight during chemo for breast cancer? Okay, really? Seriously? I mean, how unfair is that???

But I digress as I kvetch.

While I deal with the big things the small things leave an impact too. Looking in the mirror now a month or so out from surgery I still barely recognize myself. I am slightly stooped, wearing baggy clothes fit more for an invalid than a woman in the prime of life. I can catch a glimpse of what I thought was my distant future coming at me a little quicker than I'd imagined, albeit (hopefully) mostly temporary. On the other hand, I look better without make-up on than I thought...maybe even a bit younger, so I suppose that's the proverbial silver lining.

In light of the physical changes guaranteed to be on the horizon due to chemo and forced menopause this is all a mere drop in the bucket. And I'm sure I'll adjust, heck, I'll probably be doing a post before you know it about how to style a wig or wear a headscarf while having a hot flash, lol! But with this wound issue, aside from the disturbing cosmetic ramifications, my recovery has been much delayed and waylaid. It's getting to me a little that I'm a bit behind schedule, you could say.

But then again, let's not forget -- this is Fashionably Later...and I suppose it's better late than never :D