A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Monday, March 30, 2009

1 Year Later

It's been a year since my double mastectomy, oophorectomy & reconstruction (phase 1), so time for a progress report.

My reconstruction surgeon said my right breast needed some "tweaking" since it's smaller than my left. The reason for the size discrepency is I had radiation in my right breast during cancer treatment years ago. Tissue in a "radiated breast" responds differently to surgery than a non-nuked breast. Translation: I need a larger implant.

Tip: If you must undergo radiation, ask your doctor how it will affect your breasts long-term. It's good to know for a variety of reasons.
Surgery to exchange an implant is an outpatient procedure (yaay!), but nevertheless involves anesthesia, tests, needles, blood, drains (%&#*!), nausea, and no exercise except walking for 6 weeks.

Right now, I'm not up for all the pain (from needle jabs) and suffering (from lack of food) this surgery calls for. So, like Scarlett, I'm going to think about it another day.

A small breast is no big deal. What is a big deal is that my stomach is still expanded like Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair. (And that's the only similarity between my body and her pregnant one.)

I ask--what happened to "your stomach will be flat as this wall," as my surgeon swore?
Instead, after a year of surgery, when I was sliced in half, my abdomen has a small "pooch" like I'm in my first trimester.

What they don't tell you is that all the cutting and stitching of your abdominal muscles causes them to expand whenever you place any pressure on that area. Exercise, lifting & moving objects, gardening, housework...and myriad other daily activities can cause your stomach to swell. Swell, isn't it?

And, an expanded abdomen = no clothes with a fitted waist=forget summer fashions and swimsuits.

No one forwarned me that I needed to invest in maternity clothes after this procedure. From the way my surgeon talked, I was going to be a runway model at 50. (Tip: surgeons lie.)
Therefore, I enlisted the help of my French water aerobics instructor, who is also a kickboxing intructor and personal trainer.

My surgeon endorsed my decision, saying that building my core muscles were key to getting a flat stomach. NOW he tells me.

So, last Saturday at 7:30 AM, I am in Helene's basement (aka, the torture chamber) punching boxing bags, throwing weighted balls, jumping rope, doing pushups...and then going outside in the freezing rain and sprinting up the hill in her front yard. Alas, what we do for vanity.

It was then that I discovered a critical insight -- I have no muscle strength. ZERO.

After a year of surgery in which most of the time I wasn't allowed to do any exercises except walk, my body weakened overall.

This means a long, hard road before me with lots of Saturday morning sprints up Helene's hill.
But I'm up for the challenge. After all--for all the pain and suffering that Helene inflicts, it doesn't involve needles and anesthesia and lack of food.

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