Red Apple Day Gifts

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What a day.

It began at 6:30 AM with an early Christmas gift from my charming spouse, James. The eggs were almost in the pan. He held out two boxes and asked me to pick one. I chose the smaller of the two. He opened his first. It held a shiny red apple.

Him: “Do you know what day this is?”

Me: “Uhhh, Friday? November 30th?”

Turns out the correct answer is that today is Red Apple Day and in celebration he bought me a shiny, new white iPad. And a red apple. What a fabulous way to start this tumultuous day.

About eighteen months ago Jim’s employer did a major re-org and he was one of only a handful of people who survived the carnage. We called that day Black Friday. Colleagues who he’d worked with, some for as long as thirty years, were tossed on the scrap heap. For those who left and for those who were left behind, it has been very difficult.

Today, Jim went through another Black Friday re-org. From a sales staff of seventy-five people less than two years ago, only two remain. Jim is one of them.

In the whirlwind that has been the last eighteen months, today has been yet another bittersweet, brain on overload, don’t know whether to laugh or cry, batshit crazy kind of day. What I do know is that Jim Asbell is without any doubt, the best thing that has ever or will ever happen to me. And the iPad is pretty slick too!

Critters, Wine and Strange Ramblings.

Yesterday our old cat got a new diagnosis: feline hypertension. Count Catula, AKA The Old Man Howler Monkey Cat has been driving us nuts crying at night, barfing, and generally looking like a scrawny, weak geezer. It took me all week to decide he needed a vet visit, afraid it might be time to say goodbye and not really wanting to spend my Thanksgiving holiday weekend that way. But, turns out his blood pressure is through the roof and a little BP medication plus some Pepcid AC for the puking might turn things around. Today, Catula’s former owner would have celebrated his 90th birthday. He’d be very glad his beloved kitty has dodged the bullet again, at least for a while.

Catula and Chuck in better days.

As for other stuff going on in the wet, grey Pacific Northwest world where I live, it’s just the usual hodge-podge. Last weekend we spent wine tasting in Oregon’s Willamette Valley with old friends. We sipped and noshed at old stalwarts like Ken Wright Cellars and Beaux Freres, inspected new digs at ROCO and made a new find: Big Table Farm. In a dilapidated farm house on a gravel road near the tiny burg of Gaston, Oregon, two passionate young people are making delightful wine and wicked good pork belly. I enjoyed tasting world-class vino in their kitchen, hound dogs milling about, chickens scratching in the dirt and buckets of rain pouring from the sky.

On the health front, my sister is recovering very well from her DIEP flap surgery on November 9th and for that I am truly grateful. We agreed we both had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. As this hellatious year draws to a close, all that remains for me is removal of a few remaining stitches on Tuesday, then a few months for things to settle before the newly reconstructed nipples will get tattooed.

As the holiday frenzy moves into high gear I’m feeling a bit lost. My new novel is in stuck mode. I have no freelance work. I need something new to tackle and can’t decide what that should be. Recently, Jim told me one of his friends who is nearing retirement told him that he can’t wait to retire so he can learn how to play…THE ACCORDION. I laughed at the thought of him cranking out some tinny polka music, but then I heard a brilliant jazz musician interpreting Edith Piaf tunes on the accordion. It was terrific. Maybe it is not too late for me to take up classical guitar. Better yet, classical ukulele. A nice dose of aloha with a twist.

BRCA Surgeries: Stuffing or Dressing. What is a Girl to Do?

At Thanksgiving throughout the U.S.A. when families gather for that traditional gut-busting meal they fall into one of two camps: Stuffing or Dressing. Being a good Yankee, I call it stuffing and it does not involve cornbread. Having lived a big chunk of my youth in Florida, I do appreciate the dressing faction and have enjoyed many a fine Turkey Day indulging in Southern favorites. This year the real issue for me is not what goes on the table, but what goes in my bra.

Yes, I have a boob-related stuffing or dressing dilemma.

Yesterday, at twelve days out from nipple reconstruction and a bit of a breast revision, the plastic surgeon removed some, but not all of my stitches. Overall things are healing well and I no longer have to use multiple layers of 4X4’s cut with a small window so the nipple is even with the dressing. No goopy anti-biotic ointment either. Permission granted to wear something other than the uncomfortable surgical bra. So, what’s the problem?

Either I have to stuff my bra so the remaining stitches do not catch on the fabric or I have to tape dressings into place. Even the gentlest tape pulls at tender skin and I’d rather avoid it. I’m in that stage where my nice old bras are long gone, new bras can’t be purchased and the interim bras I’ve had for the last several months are a bit too large now. The rest of the stitches will come out in two weeks. One way or another, I have to fill that space.

Today I tried out stuffing instead of dressing. The idea of stuffing my bra for the first time at age 51 is quite amusing to me. What’s next? Maybe an outbreak of adolescent zits. I guess I should just be pleased the plastic surgeon was not worried about the small pocket of fluid build-up on my left breast and will leave it alone for now. Whether I spend Thanksgiving with stuffing, dressing or both, I have much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

New Body Parts, a Big-Ass Truck and Cat Helpers

Yesterday was the big reveal of my newly reconstructed nipples. I did not expect anything other than an “ewww yuck” sort of feeling. I knew they would be too big, riddled with stitches and scabs. Still, after 9 days with bolster dressings it was a relief to be free and I was curious as to what lurked under the tegaderm. I was happiest when they were cleaned up and under new dressings. Not for the first time I had the distinct impression that these new additions were not really mine. It is a very strange thing to get new body parts.

The good news is the new nips are healing normally, the bad news is I do have a small seroma, confirmed by ultrasound. For now it is wait and watch. Monday I will see the plastic surgeon and hope to have the stitches removed. If the seroma has grown it will be drained with a needle. Ugh.

Also in the good news column, my sister’s mastectomy/DIEP flap reconstruction went very well yesterday. I spoke to her this afternoon. Her description of this surgery is spot on:

“I got hit by a truck,” she said.

We agreed something really should be done about that stupid truck that hit us both.

My brother-in-law Gino bought himself a truck a few years back that was so humongous his wife dubbed it “The BAT.” That stands for Big-Ass Truck. Even his license plate reads “BAT.” I think both Anne and I know what it feels like to be run over by the BAT. Compared to that, some new nipple weirdness is just a minor blip.

This morning I took a proper shower for the first time in ten days. It felt great. As I carefully folded and cut 4X4 bandages to make new dressings, my sweet boy cat, Lord Cotswold the Handsome, decided to assist me by jumping into the bathroom sink. He is a water freak. End result? A gigantic hole in the 4X4’s big enough for twenty nipples. So nice to have cat friends to help me with these new girl parts.

Cotty never met a sink he didn’t like.

 

BRCA Genes, Boob Dreams, Previvors and Survivors.

Seven nights out from the last phase of breast reconstruction surgery, propped up on two pillows to protect my new nips, I had an odd dream. My sister Anne and I were shopping for clothes in a tiny boutique where we had to share a dressing room. As I reached for a beautiful blouse to try on it hit me. I had my old boobs. Yes, the big, unruly triple D’s were back. To make matters worse I had on NO BRA. It used to be I did not even walk around my bedroom without a bra, let alone go out in public without a mile of underwire, hooks and heavy-duty strappage.

2008. Left to right – my niece Emily, me, Anne, Mom. Seated, my other niece Katherine holding her new baby.

Like most dreams, the embarrassing scene floated away without any resolution or meaningful conclusion. While I’m still working on adjusting to the new version of me, I don’t miss those old cancerish troublemaking honkers. Spaghetti straps, camisoles and other skimpy things I could never wear will be in my future.

I am certain my sister floated into that dream because tomorrow it will be her turn for bilateral mastectomy with DIEP flap reconstruction. While I am at the doctor’s office getting the bolster dressings removed, she will be on the table. I ask that you send good karma her way and hope she is spared the complications I experienced. Send some good karma for my Mom too. Two daughters going through this ordeal this year has been difficult for her as well.

My Dad fathered three girls and a boy. His daughter from his first marriage has recurrent ovarian cancer. I had breast cancer at age 36. My sister Anne is the only girl in our generation who can claim the word previvor as her own. What does it mean to be a previvor?  To me it means managing the choices of being at insanely high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. These choices include increased monitoring, chemoprevention or prophylactic surgeries. Make no mistake, all of these choices are difficult and none provide a true fix for the genetic defect.

I’m truly happy my sister Anne has chosen the route of prophylactic surgeries. Right now it is the most effective strategy we BRCA mutants have.

When we were kids it seemed like I went from being flat-chested to very well endowed overnight. My dear sister nick-named me “Saggy Maggy.” Not very nice. Over the years I endured lots of teasing, suggestive comments, leering and worse, all due to my stupid big boobs. Now I’m just looking forward to a future shopping trip with Anne, both of us free from cancer. Of course, she will still have that bubble butt and I will still have no butt at all, so there will still be other things to pick on. Some stuff never changes.

1964. Me and Anne on Halloween.

 

 

 

 

Post Op Ups and Downs

It has been 5 days since my latest trip to surgery land. At the end of the week the doctor will remove the bolster dressings. Right now I can’t see what the new nips look like. Fine with me. It takes a while before things calm down and start to look normal. I can wait.

I reminded myself that healing takes time just this morning as I was getting cleaned up. Since the bolster dressings need to remain dry, I’ve been extra-careful in the shower. But those lovely markings made by the surgeon’s purple Sharpie did not want to come off. I worked on them very gently today  with baby wipes and that is when I noticed an unpleasant squishy feeling in the left breast. There is no mistaking the feel and sound, yes sound, of excess fluid trapped under the skin.

Blech. Probably a seroma forming. It’s the most common complication from any type of breast surgery. Most seromas resolve on their own as the body slowly reabsorbs the trapped fluid. This can take up to a year. Sometimes this excess fluid can become infected or begins to get so large that it has to be drained surgically. Double blech.

I wonder if chocolate is good for a seroma?

Valrhona – a classic chocolate and one of my all time favorites.