Moving On

Blogging about the world of BRCA decisions, surgeries and recovery has been good for me. Now it is time for a new chapter in life, in more ways than one.

Recently my spouse and I made a huge decision. We are going to relocate to Green Valley, Arizona. Jim will continue to work for a few more years, but all he needs is to be close to an airport now that his accounts are spread out all over the country. We are going to build a new home in a community that should suit us nicely today and in retirement. After fourteen years in our present home and decades in the Pacific Northwest it is time for a change.

Change is hard even when it is good.

The house I live has been my home for longer than anywhere I have ever lived. I will miss this beautiful place. Last week our handyman discovered the crawl space under the house had been invaded by raccoons who destroyed virtually all of the insulation. Just to keep the party lively, a couple of squirrels and some mice joined in to add to the mess. Guys in hazmat suits will invade my crawl space for three days to repair the damage, remove the carcasses and piles of poop. Oy!

Today we bid farewell to the oldest of our three cats. We have known for some time this was coming. Not that it makes things any easier. Just less of a shock. Another big change. I am crying as I write this.

Time to move on.

I will see the medical tattoo artist on the 24th and that will be the very last step in the lengthy process of breast reconstruction. No doctors or other medical types for a while. That is a very welcome change indeed.

Count Catula loved to cook himself in front of the fire.

Nipple Tats and Old Cats

The icing on the cake is how my plastic surgeon described it. Nipple/areola tattooing, that is. As I drove to the medical tattoo artist’s office, it did not feel at all like a moment of celebration or even an opportunity to mark the end of a tumultuous chapter. It has been 14 months since my initial bilateral mastectomy/reconstruction. Today was just another dang medical procedure that I have not been looking forward to one bit. The tattoo artist, one more stranger who wanted to mess with my mangled personal anatomy.

What a pissy attitude, I told myself. Be glad you have decent health insurance and are alive and cancer free. Put a sock in it and go finish what you started, I thought as I waited.

So, I did just that.

No offense to those who love their ink, but I really do not like tattoos. Garish tats and piercings other than normal pierced ears (not those barbaric plugs) make me want to look away. I find them disfiguring. As someone who has been carved up from stem to stern, I have a strong appreciation for Mother Nature’s work and think people should not mess with it too much. Merely my humble opinion.

What I was really thinking about while the tattoo artist’s needle buzzed in my ear was my old geezer cat, Count Catula. We had yet another vet trip this morning. For the last day or so he’s been clawing at his mouth. Sunday night he scarfed down his dinner but puked it right back up a minute later. Not at all the typical kind of barfing he does on a regular basis. His weight continues to decline and his once silky champagne colored fur is drab and clumpy. He will no longer tolerate me combing his scrawny body. So be it.

I let the tattoo artist work her magic, feeling oddly disinterested in making important decisions like size, shape and color. In passing, I asked her if she could fix something that has bugged me for nearly fifteen years. A reminder that I had extensive radiation treatment for breast cancer even though I no longer have those breasts. Four permanent marks that radiation therapists made on my skin to line up the machine that zapped the cancer. Only in my case, three of those marks disappeared in my surgical adventures and all I was left with was the biggest, ugliest most prominent blob of bluish ink that anyone could see if they looked.

When she was done I had to admit that despite the skin being all raw and angry, I could see a more normal looking appearance. That is what medical tattooing is all about. The removal of that annoying radiation tattoo was a bonus.

It will be a week or so before the top layer of skin sloughs off and I can really see what these new nips look like. I’m in no hurry.

Count Catula is sleeping soundly in my chair in the family room where he’s been for nearly six hours. I am in no hurry for the vet to call with test results.


Saguaro Cacti and Valentine’s Day Gifts

Random thoughts in no particular order:

A few days in Tucson has Mr. A. and me ready to pack our stuff and move there. The Sonoran desert is calling my name.

On Valentine’s Day with my sweetheart on the road, the highlight of the day will be showing my Frankenboobs to yet another stranger. A medical tattoo artist.


Green Valley, AZ on a fine winter’s day.


Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain. Only the hamburgers and the view were affordable!

Life in the Cardiac ICU Waiting Room

New friends have entered my life and I do not know their names. Instead, I know all about the cardiac surgeries their relatives had in the last day or two. We wait together for our turn to enter the cardiac ICU unit for brief visits to loved ones. Volunteers ply us with free coffee, juice, information, conversation and reading material. They also keep some semblance of order when upset family members lose it.

The waiting room is reasonably large, but there is also a smaller private waiting room where medical professionals deliver news that is usually bad. I had my turn in the small room yesterday when they had to explain why my Mom had to return to surgery.

After her initial surgery a blood clot developed inside her heart. Her cardiac function declined. They advised me there might be a need to add a balloon pump to help take the load off her heart. I left the small room and did what I usually do when I feel stressed. I ate. My burger might as well been wood chips. By mistake I’d bought a flavored water and it tasted like medicine.

It occurred to me this is how it must have felt for my Mom and my husband when I had to go back to surgery five times in seven days to try and save my reconstructed breasts. It must have been god awful.

When I returned to the cardiac ICU the news was better. The second surgery went well. As soon as the blood clot was removed Mom’s ticker worked like a champ and nothing else was needed. My companions for the day, a stoic older gentlemen with two beefy adult sons in tow were not as lucky. His wife had been returned to surgery for a much more complex problem and had nearly died. The older gentleman carried his wife’s purse all day. Dressed in a camo baseball cap, flannel shirt and jeans, he made jokes about his man purse, but he held that purse close and did not let it go.

Today, the news was much better for both of us. Mom was wide awake, was able to sit in a chair and eat a bit of food. She was crabby. I wanted to laugh. There is still a long way to go before Mom is out of the woods, but things are moving forward nicely. My friend’s wife had improved. He was hoping the purse that held her dentures would be allowed to stay with her.

Today I found good espresso, finally. After two days of wimpy waiting room coffee and insipid hotel coffee, there was a double shot of black goodness in my hand. Everything is going to be just fine.


Red Apple Day Gifts


Blogger hard at work.

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!

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!




BRCA Surgeries: Lucky Number 7

When I was a little kid Atlantic City, New Jersey had no casinos. There was only the boardwalk, the beach and small hotels. Salt water taffy, Yoo-Hoo and hot dogs were my Jersey Shore staples.

This morning from my hospital bed while I waited for the final phase of breast reconstruction surgery I watched the destruction hurricane Sandy left behind. It is hard to fathom how much Mother Nature has reshaped not just the Jersey Shore, but many parts of the Northeast.

I am grateful. My friends and relations in that battered part of the world are safe. Grateful that my surgery went well. Grateful to be at home under Jim’s watchful eye with all three cats snoozing close by.

I was born in upstate New York and lived in New Jersey until age 10. When I say it takes more than a monster storm or a mess of surgeries to keep us down for long you better believe it.