Mastectomy, Simple, Complete

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Yesterday I met with my surgeon to discuss my upcoming bilateral mastectomy and lymph node removal/biopsy. I now have a surgery date, and it’s very soon.

When I got home last night, a notice from my insurance company awaited me,¬†informing me¬†my surgery had been approved. In the section with the coding for the procedures, it said: “Mastectomy, simple, complete.”

While it will be complete, nothing about this is simple.

When I received my diagnosis back in July, I immediately feared I’d need a mastectomy. I’d run through all the scenarios in my mind by the time my doctors told me a much less invasive lumpectomy would be just as effective. Cue the relief.

Of course, that was before I found out my BRCA2-positive status. That changed everything.

Now I’m facing a bilateral (double) mastectomy, along with the removal of some of the lymph nodes in my left armpit (the side where my cancer occurred). Those nodes will be checked for cancer cells.

I’ve opted for a nipple-sparing procedure with reconstruction. This basically means that all the tissue inside (which reaches up nearly to my collar bone and around the sides of my chest) will be removed. Then, the plastic surgeon will insert expanders, which are essentially deflated implants that will be injected with fluid over a period of weeks to allow my skin to heal and prepare for the insertion of the permanent implants.

My surgeon said the recovery process will last 3-4 weeks. And several of those weeks I’ll have drains on either side of my chest to remove fluid that builds up in the space between my healing skin and the expanders. I’ll have to empty these daily. Blech.

Obviously, my mobility will be seriously affected during recovery, and I won’t be able to drive for at least two weeks after. I guess I’ll finally have a chance to catch up on all those Netflix shows I’ve been meaning to watch.

The pain, lack of mobility and even the disgusting drains (have I mentioned how gross they are to me?) aren’t what I’m most worried about, though. Per usual, my son is my biggest concern.

I won’t be able to lift much of anything during recovery, which means picking him up is a no-no. This is problematic because my son is very attached to me. I pick him up multiple times a day. And on top of that, he’s constantly in my lap, falls asleep on my chest and ends up in bed with me most nights. All of that will have to change. Like the end of breastfeeding, I know this is going to be a fairly difficult adjustment for him. He won’t understand. He will cry. And I probably will, too.

So, yes, this mastectomy will be complete. But it is far from simple.

The End of Breastfeeding

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I was one of those lucky moms who was able to breastfeed their child. We hear all this stuff about “breast is best” and women feel an incredible amount of pressure to breastfeed their children. The reality is that, yes, breastfeeding is great for babies. But it’s also incredibly hard. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Babies won’t (or can’t) latch correctly, moms don’t produce enough milk, etc., etc.

The first couple of months were really hard for my son and me. There were plenty of tears from both of us as we found our way, but eventually we did, and established a pretty good groove. So good, in fact, that I breastfed much longer than I ever intended to–21 months.

I always said I’d be thrilled to be able to do it for six months. I never thought I’d be an extended breastfeeding mom. But my son never lost interest, and honestly, I’d backed myself into a corner using the boob as a crutch to soothe him and get him to go to sleep at night. I was actually ready to stop, but afraid I’d never get him to sleep again.

Then cancer intervened. Once I found out about it, I stopped letting him nurse on that side. And this week, the other side had some weird spots on an MRI. My doctor asked if I’d been breastfeeding on that side, and when I said yes, he let me know that was the culprit. I knew I’d have to quit altogether soon anyway because I’m about to start chemo, so I decided that day to pull the plug.

My son was not pleased. He’s too little to understand, so he cried a good bit when I told him no. And then I cried because I never expected our breastfeeding journey to end this way. Even though it was certainly time, we were forced to stop, unable to end it on our own terms. I know it’s the best thing for us both, but it still hurts.

Cancer takes so many things away from a person. I’ve just begun my journey, so I haven’t lost the biggies yet, like my hair or even my breasts, but these little losses are still pretty tough. They serve as constant reminders that my life is no longer in my control, and that things will never be the same again.