I had my final reconstructive surgery on December 12, 2012. The significance of the date is not lost on me. I marked my mastectomy surgery date, June 8, 2011, when a piece of me died two years ago. 12/12/12 is significantly marks a surgery date where I came out of overjoyed. I’ve been in remission for over a year and everything to do with my boobs is finally over. Fingers crossed!
It was the first time I went off to surgery at WCH alone. It would only be a 2 hour procedure, at the most, I was told. I gave the admitting nurse my friend, Jeff’s phone number. Jeff not only offered to drive me home from the hospital but promised there would be no talking in the car as it may have led to laughing which may have led me to pop a stitch. The nurse asked if I was aware what the Nipple-share procedure was. I told her I did but I was still squeamish about it. She asked me if I knew that there were other options. I told her I did know about the other options (using a piece of skin from my labia to create the nipple!!! or building a nipple some skin from my reconstructed breast mound) but truly nipple-sharing WAS THE BEST CHOICE, of the lot. She chuckled knowing it was true but also added that the results are excellent.
As usual, Dr. Beber and his surgical prodigy of the day took me to the little room to dot up my chest with his Magic Marker. He carefully measured distances between my collarbone to the remaining nipple and then placed an EKG sticker, which he cut up to match the size of my nipple, on my mound where the new nipple would be. I looked in the full length mirror to decide if it was in the right spot. It didn’t look right even though I knew he measured equidistant to where my other nipple was from the center of my chest, visually it was off, from what I was used to seeing on my breast. I asked him to move it a little to the right. He marked the mound with his position of the sticker and then moved it to where I wanted the nipple. It looked better… or did it? Dr. Beber told me to take my time until I was sure. His surgical assistant remained quiet beside me. I almost asked her what she thought but thought better of it, as this wasn’t a whole new outfit I was asking an opinion for. This was something I have to be happy with for… well, forever. Hmm, I thought about it for a little more but only imagined myself spending hours moving this sticker at slight millimetres, left and right, over and over again. Pretending to sound sure to Dr. B, I said, “That’s it.” He marked my spot and I was led to the operating room by his assistant.
It was smiles all around the operating room . The nurse asked me to state my name and the procedure I was having done to everyone in the room,”Nipple-share, from the right breast to the left.” I said.
“No, that’s not right. Are you sure about that?” the nurse prodded.
“Whoops! I meant the other way around, left to right,” I was sure they would have figured once they saw my chest, “It’s pretty obvious which nipple and where it would go.”
We all had a good laugh before the anesthesiologist proceeded to find one of my veins on my left arm, the only arm he was allowed to infuse with an IV, as they had done so in chemo (my right arm had sentinel nodes taken out therefore nothing should ever be infused in my right arm). The anesthesiologist told me he sometimes placed the IV in after the patient is unconscious.”Why don’t we do that?!” I pleaded. As long as my veins remain as thin, as they are, I will never get over my fear of being poked by needles. The anesthesiologist wanted to try. He missed. I yelped. The anesthesiologist took another look at my arm and finally conceded with me. As he readied my mask I noticed the nurse securing my legs together with a belt.
“Why are you strapping me in? You know I’m not going anywhere, right?”
“Yes, we do this to make things easier when we sit you up during the operation.” she explained, and with that I scooched down the operating table a little more and splayed my arms out, onto the boards jutting perpendicular beside of the operating table like Jesus-on-the-cross style.
The mask went over my face and within seconds I was out.
I woke up feeling all happy. Automatically, I looked under my hospital gown to see my nipples bandaged up with cotton balls. Dr. B came to see me and told me everything went smoothly and I was to make an appointment to see him after the weekend. I remember saying something incoherent to him and realized I was still drugged up. Dr. B left and I closed my eyes for a bit longer.
Waking up again the nurse asked me how I was feeling. I told her I was a little achy on my breasts but other than that I was fine.
“Do you want something to take the edge off?” she asked.
“Yes, I’d like to try some Oxycontin.” I said assuredly but maybe too quickly.
“Look. At. You.” quipped the nurse. She didn’t give me any. I got my usual Percocets which she told me had some oxycodone in it but I told her I didn’t like how it made me sleepy. So, of course, I stayed wide awake for the rest of my time in the recovery room. I thought about how I wanted to die after my mastectomy, but now the mere thought of dying during surgery would be a huge shaft because I would have missed out on all the fine painkillers offered during recovery from surgery.
Finally, I am seeing things more optimistically. It’s a good feeling.
Alter my follow-up appointment with Dr. Beber, I headed back to Montreal for the Christmas holidays. It was good to see my parents and the rest of the family. Unfortunately, there was a lot of snow, record snowfall temperatures, in fact. So much so, that I ended up shovelling the front walkway to my family’s home twice on the second day I was home. It was a bit of a mistake on my part because my newly stitched nipples started to leak profusely afterwards and I ended up heading to the pharmacy every day to buy non-adherent pads to place inside my bra.
It was a bit disconcerting when I was doubling up on the pads so it wouldn’t soak through my bra onto my shirt. I didn’t want to tell my parents either knowing they would have probably brought me to the emergency room but I just knew it would be a headache to deal with Quebec medicare to Ontario’s OHIP, in our socialized system. My cousin Susan, looked at it the day before I left Montreal and made me call WCH. They told me to go to the emergency room to have it checked out. I still waited until I got back to Toronto but not after I shovelled another three times, in one morning, to get the car out to drive to the train station… Montreal received a lot of snow this season.
Back in Toronto, my GP cringed a little when I told him about my nipple-share procedure. I told him I cringed for a whole year to psyche myself up to actually go through with it. Anyhow, he took a look at my leaking nipples and assessed it was probably not due to popping a stitch. As the surrounding area was also itchy I needed to stop using the Polysporin, and to air dry my nipples, as it looked like a fungal infection developed from perspiring while shovelling all that snow! My purpose for detailing this stuff is to remind anyone who has this procedure done, that the pain subsided fast, for me. It had not been two weeks after surgery before I started shovelling snow. Let this be a lesson, to follow the doctor’s and nurses orders to stay inactive for up to four weeks to heal and to not pop a stitch or SWEAT.
A week later I saw Dr. Beber and told him about the snow shovelling so soon after surgery and my leaky nipples but everything seemed to be healing fine now. He braced himself a little before I showed him my breasts. Relief swept across his face and he became more animated telling me he was extremely happy with the results.
Now for those of you who are about to go through with your reconstruction and are dying to know exactly what I think about my new breast. Dr. Beber has done a spectacular job recreating a breast and if my mastectomy scar (which looks like it is fading) did not hover over my nipple, no one would be the wiser that I ever had a mastectomy. The nipple protrudes but not as much as my real nipple however no one can tell when they look at them straight on. Dr. C, my breast surgeon, who I just saw recently, told me that nipple-shares usually have the most projection from all the nipple procedures she has ever seen.
Every woman I have shown my new breast to has been amazed at the tattooed areola, the colour matched my own nipple hue. They are equally impressed, as I am, that there was even a piece taken from my existing nipple to make the other one. We are all in agreement my nipple must have been ginormous to be able to provide nipples for two breasts. Also note I still have all feeling in my real breast as it was an issue I worried about before opting for the nipple-share procedure.
I am extremely happy with my breast reconstruction results. The reconstruction will never be as perfect as my old breast but it comes pretty damn close. Close enough to make me feel my body is intact again.
I thought this entry would be the last but I felt rushed to put this out to let you all know how things turned out with my final surgery. I’m in the middle of getting on with life after cancer but will try to write my good-bye entry soon. I know a few of you want me to continue with this blog but I hope you understand I feel the need to move on and not focus on my boobs anymore. As always, thank-you for all your support throughout this ordeal. I could never have come out of this smiling without you all cheering me on when I needed or crying on your shoulder when I needed.