In January of 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, I dealt with this as someone who had been told by their dentist that they needed to have their wisdom teeth removed. I accepted the diagnosis, scheduled surgery, and put it not the calendar as if it was nothing more than a tooth extraction. Well, that’s not exactly true, I contemplated removing both breasts just to put my mind at rest but in the end, I had only one removed.
Life resumed and I convinced myself that working hard each morning to disguise my missing breast was no big deal. It was only a breast for God’s sake, not my leg or an eye! With the cancer gone, I could return to life as usual. The problem was that, life wasn’t “usual” and each time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror I was reminded once again that cancer had stolen a part of me. No matter what words I spouted, having only one breast DID matter. It took me 7 months to accept and verbalize this to my family.
After much research and one horrible consultation with a much respected surgeon in Seattle, I chose to go out of state for breast reconstruction. A lot of folks, some of my family included, thought this was a bit of an overkill but, for the first time, I was completely sure of my decision. I had spent weeks conversing with other women from all over the United States who had decided on the Center for Reconstructive Breast Surgery in New Orleans, and I had had several phone conversations with the staff at the Center and I knew without a doubt I was making the right choice.
Right before Thanksgiving 2010, Mr. D accompanied me to New Orleans. I met Dr. S for the first time at my pre-op appointment and I immediately felt at ease. I really can’t say anything more than these doctors are AMAZING.
Dr. DellaCroce FACS, Dr. Sullivan, FACS and Dr. Trahan have been named “Best Doctors in America.”
As part of a nationwide survey by “Best Doctors Inc.”, over 30,000 doctors in more than 40 medical specialties were asked: “If you or a loved one needed a doctor in your specialty, and you could not treat them yourself, to whom would you refer them.”
No “god-complex” like the Seattle doctor I consulted with, just down-to-earth, compassionate doctors who, within minutes, can make you feel as if you have known them forever. I also decided to have my remaining breast removed to assure I would never be dealing with a repeat of BC again. Five hours in surgery the next day, followed by a 4 day hospital stay where I was pampered, well-cared for, and enjoyed meals fit for a queen.
I was well aware that I would need at least two surgeries due to the type of reconstruction I had chosen, so in February 2011, I returned with my daughter, Brianna as my caretaker. This time it only required a one night stay. The next three days were spent in the French Quarter enjoying the beginning of Mardi Gras. How cool was it that I could have had so much fun with my daughter on a medical trip designed to put “Mother Humpty” back together again!
I have to say that I may be leaving out a few pieces, probably the biggest is the recuperating from major surgery. Emotional moodiness and exhaustion can linger for weeks if not months. I know Mr D was worried at one point when I explained that I really couldn’t see a need to get out of bed every again! At the time, I remember I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand his concern. Well, if his concern wasn’t enough, tickets having already been purchased to Costa Rica surely did the trick! Very smart move on my part to have made these plans.
What a difference this vacation to Costa Rica was in comparison to the summer before! Whereas it’s one thing to dress with one breast here in Washington where we most often dress in layers, it’s a whole other experience in Costa Rica where everyday is 80 and humid! If I didn’t think I made the right decision to go with breast reconstruction before, my time in Costa Rica solidified it!
I never really anticipated a third visit to NOLA but one day, I just decided to ask Dr. S what he thought. I’m very glad I did, because that man can do the most amazing things. The way he sees it is that since he has to have fat to sculpt the new breasts, he might as well make sure he’s removing it from areas that will enhance our overall look. I went down believing I would be having some simple tweaking but came home feeling like a princess. It’s hard not to think of these doctors as artists!
I had one last decision to make — previously I had chosen “barbie boobs” meaning I had breasts with no nipples. Gotta say, I loved ‘em! As a tried and true hippie at heart, bras have always felt like a torture device and as we all know, Barbie does not need bras! I had heard many nipple reconstruction failures and I knew I wouldn’t be going that road but there was another option — tats! And, not just any tats but 3D nipple tattoos!! So, as Vinnie (my tattoo artist) would say, I now have “cherries on them cupcakes!” Yes, indeedie!
So, I am ending 2011 with all breast reconstruction behind me. I am thankful for all the wonderful brave souls who went before me and returned to answer a million questions, encourage and support me. It goes without saying that I am extremely thankful for Dr S and the other docs who have devoted their lives to putting women back together after breast cancer. I’m also thankful for my family and friends who understood. Goodbye 2011.