I have been reluctant to buy anything new to wear for this summer season. I feel threatened any clothes I liked would look “lopsided” as would most of my summer tops and dresses from previous years. My usual wardrobe would not accommodate for my drain to be inconspicuous. I had to fork out for clothing which were long-sleeved, front buttoned or front zipped, long and baggy enough to hide the tube and bauble of my drain. It has been a frustrating season to get excited about sunny-bright-warm-weather attire. I mentioned my fashion sense has been a little on the lax side, in the last posting. Truth be told, I started getting sloppy about my style of dress ever since I found out I had cancer in my breast.
The last time I looked good was at Liz and Gerrod’s wedding in April. No one really knew I had cancer yet and I wasn’t going to let on anything was wrong amongst my circle of friends until after their nuptials. I remember after I had come out of my doctor’s office where she read the report to me for the first time, “What’s carcinoma?” I asked. I knew I had heard that word before but I wasn’t remembering what it was. She answered, “It’s cancer.” Numbness. And I pretty much functioned like so, for the next few weeks.
I left the doctor’s office and went about my day. I was on the search for pantyhose to wear with my cocktail dress at Liz and Gerrod’s upcoming nuptials. I went into a hosiery store and was convinced into buying a pair of hose which was 3 sizes too big for me because they ran out of my size. I didn’t feel like running around the city to find the right size and I believed I could deal with large panty hose for one night. I met up with Beth, who was probably the first person I called coming out of my doctor’s office, she was upset when I told her about my “positive carcinoma” report and she was just as visibly frustrated when I showed her my wrong sized pantyhose. She shook her head, and said “No, no, this will not do.” She came with me and made me search the city for proper sized pantyhose.
My fashion sense went out the window having cancer. It got really bad. One evening, Marni came to pick me up in front of my building, as she drove up I saw her jaw drop . She began to yell at me while waving her hand, from inside her car, to go back up into my apartment to change into proper shoes and to not wear my Birkenstocks. She shook her head, just as Beth had with the pantyhose, and she started listing off the clothing pieces in my closet which I needed to wear for our excursion out on the town. I have not been told what to wear since I was eleven. “But I’m comfortable!” I cried, but she wouldn’t hear any of it.
It became harder to get excited about clothes when I wasn’t allowed to shower for two weeks after surgery. After concealing a drain under my hoodie I would do my best, not to overstretch my arm, when tying my greasy hair up in a ponytail. I have learned to wear patterned designed tops, plaid, vertical stripes, asymmetrical lines, graphics, all to hide the horizontal slope of my chest. Every 4 days I would go to the Portuguese hair salon across the street from my apartment building and ask to have my hair washed. I did my best to look normal while feeling less than me.
Natalie came out to the west end to visit with me a week after surgery. For two weeks, I refused to go anywhere too far from my apartment. I would get tired, still do occasionally, even without the painkillers and wanted to be close to home in case, I needed a nap or to empty my drain. We went into the shops along Ossington St., Jonathan + Olivia was having a sale. Even with their sales I am usually unable to afford their frocks. We scoured their sale racks, found damaged wears reduced to amounts costing more than half my monthly rent. However, at the back of their Top Shop section, I found a blue-grey and black patterned maxi-dress, turns out it was actually a kaftan, and it was only $50 bucks.This never happens, right? Natalie thought I should try it on. I told her I didn’t feel like it because I had my drain attached.
In the back of my mind, I still did not have anything proper to wear to Beth’s upcoming June wedding. Actually, I was still not sure if I would feel up to going yet. Still achy and feeling gross all over mentally and physically, the imminent pathology report was due the Monday after Beth’s weekend wedding. Why go to my friend’s wedding celebration and feel anxious and bummed out? I wasn’t sure I was in a celebration state of mind. A couple of days before, Beth reasoned the wedding might be fun enough to keep my mind off of the pathology report coming up. I could go up north hang with friends at their cottage by a beautiful lake, breathe in the quiet and cool air, and then party it up the next night! It was really tempting, and for a split second, I thought, she’s right! I was about to say ‘yes’ but I would feel the pang from the stitch holding the tube connected to me still collecting fluid. So, frustrating… let me see how I will feel next week, was the closest answer I could give Beth but she said she would keep the window opened until the last minute if I chose to come.
I hooked the dress, still on its hanger, over my head and let the dress dangle in front of me. Natalie told me to try it on again, I mumbled to her I didn’t even have a bra on. The salesgirl must have heard because she told me I could try it on over my clothes. I could? Well, it was an elastic empire waist and I could step into the dress and pull it up from the bottom up and not have to raise my arms to get it over my head. Okay, I slipped it on over my shorts and over my flowy asymmetrical blouse and I came out of the dressing room, “Aww, it looks, so pretty! Now you’ll have to go to the wedding. You have a dress to wear.” Natalie is the eternal cheerleading optimist. I am not.
I turned to look into the mirror. The dress camouflaged my slope-y chest. It was long crinkled cotton which would billow out in the wind but most importantly it would hide the drain completely. I began to get all choked up right there in the store. I never expected to be able to wear something, so pretty, so soon, after my mastectomy.
“I found a pretty dress to wear to your wedding,” I texted Beth.
Before my day, with Natalie, ended I needed her to look at the reconstruction started on my breast. I chose Nat to look at my post surgery breast, for several reasons. One, her lineage predetermines her as a high risk breast cancer recipient. There was no history of breast cancer in my family. Two, I became friends with her about a year after her mom died young of cancer and, Natalie was the first girlfriend who I told I had a lump. She consoled me by reminding me about the countless times she found lumps and went for ultra sounds and how radiologists would tell her she was too young to be lying on their tables getting her breasts checked. She was convinced “Meh, it’s probably nothing. Remember when I had that cyst that was so huge I couldn’t fit into my bra?” Uh-no, I don’t remember, because you have huge knockers, Nat. And you’re going to kill me for saying so, but they always look like they are going to pop out of your bra… BUT IN A GOOD WAY!
Three, Natalie is a consummate advocate for women performing self-breast examinations monthly, whether you have a history of cancer in your family or not. If anyone could understand, a little of, what I was going through it would surely be Nat. She would tell me the truth or at least be more optimistic than I or she would know I would never let her live it down if she lied to me. I asked Nat if she was ready and exposed my chest to her.
“Oh! Wow! Except for not having a nipple it almost looks like nothing happened!” I asked her to honestly tell me if it was bad, “It’s not!” she insisted, “I have to say, I’m really impressed. I think it looks really good! It’s going to be a good breast. Turn to your side, lift up your arm. Uhmm, yeah, don’t look there. That’s a bit gross. You won’t like it.” Okay, my turn.
I turned to my mirror. I saw what Natalie was talking about but I didn’t like it. It wasn’t what my body once was. A huge steri-strip ran across my breast where a nipple should be. I cried for the second time in the afternoon. I felt hideous but at least I knew I could hide it. Maybe it was just a matter of getting used to it. Maybe it gets better. I don’t know. No one else will be seeing my boobs until this reconstruction is all finished.
Maggie came with me to meet with Dr. B for my first “expansion”. I was so hoping he would remove my drain, even though the fluid coming out under my arm was 5ml shy of the 20ml he insisted upon before removing it permanently. I was greeted by Nurse Angela who actually talked me through the whole expanding process. She asked who had changed my last dressings. I told her no one. The homecare nurses, who came by my house to check on my well-being, only added bandages to the dressings. Nurse Angela did not seem happy with their handiwork. I told her it was partly my fault because I told them, Dr. B didn’t want anyone to touch the dressing. She pointed out if steri-strips are peeling off, on their own, they are to be taken off not bandaged over. I mentioned I preferred them on. Angela would change my bandages after the “expansion”.
Maggie took notes of everything behind a curtain when Dr. B came in to check on his work. 50ml of saline would be injected into the expander today and I was to come back two weeks later for another “expansion”. I mention a part of my breast just below the bone seemed flat and harder than the rest. He assured me it would change, this was just an expander to stretch the skin out, this was NOT the implant. What about removing the drain? I ask him. He checks how much fluid is coming out and tells me it is still a little more than what he would like. He tells Angela she could remove the drain after injecting the saline this way perhaps the expander will squeeze more fluid out before removing the tube. Could I finally take a shower? Tomorrow, I could take a shower, according to Dr. B, and please do not have the breast immersed right under the water pressure from the shower head.
Fine, whatever! I’m allowed to take a shower and the drain is coming out!
Angela warned me about the 2 foot long needle filled with saline. It looked scarier than it really was. She took out what looked like a small grey pencil sharpener, which her male patients called “the stud finder”. Works the same way you think it does, moving it over the skin on the side of my new breast, Angela found the small metal inlet beneath my skin. Angela marked the spot and brought the needle over. 50ml of the saline was administered inside my breast. I could hardly feel anything, as parts of, my breast can’t feel. Angela said, most women find it just feels different, I will eventually learn how to feel it in a different way.
The drain removal, on the other hand, I definitely felt.
“On the count of three you will take a deep breath and I will pull the drain out. Are you ready? Let me remove the stitch first. Okay, ready? Here we go, let’s count. One, two, three, DEEP BREATH!”
“OOOWWWWwww!! Ohohh-ooohh-ooohhh!!” and like a knife coming out from its stab, the drain was out. The drain, I was later told is usually in deeper than anyone ever expects.
Angela pressed gauze against my side while I continued to stay focused on deep breaths. I could only think over and over, I have never been punctured so many times in such a short period of time. I was sent on my way with the advice to take a couple of regular Tylenols for any pain and a waterproof bandage over more gauze to protect my wound.
I would be able to shower, wash my hair, move about with a little less pain.
I was drain free!
Marni came over and I showed her the dress I would be wearing to Beth and Todd’s wedding. Now I have to mention, Marni and I, we bonded as friends because we both liked what each other was wearing. We have never disapproved of each other’s clothing choices and we are both constantly reminding our amateur photographer friends to snap our pictures to include our shoes, because sometimes the shoes make your outfit. I totally trust her judgement with clothes because her sense of style is the same as mine.
I modeled the dress, I would be wearing and I knew instantly she loved it, “What shoes will you be wearing?” I showed her my strappy gladiator heels and I told her I would be bringing a second pair of flats, she nods in agreement, it would be wise to bring something comfortable, “What do you have, cute little black flats or black flip flops?” No, I tell her and I shlep out the beige suede Birkenstocks onto my feet, to show her how they will be covered under the long dress. I look up and she is mortified once again, shaking her head again, “No, no, this will not do!”
My judgement may still be a little skewed for a while longer.