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.


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.


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.

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.

BRCA Surgeries: Farewell Barbie Boobs

Since January 27th I have been without the single anatomical feature that seems to define the female breast more than anything else. Most people get candy for Halloween. I get nips.

Barbies in all their glory.

Of course my reconstructed breasts look nothing like Barbie’s perky, smooth perfection. When this next phase is complete, fewer of my Frankenstein scars will be visible, but the end result will never be gorgeous and that is perfectly okay with me. Why? I will look normal. That’s all I really want. Cancer-free and pity-free boobs.

I will be glad to rid myself of the sort of appearance that makes a professional bra fitter avert her eyes and offer platitudes. Yep. It happened last weekend in a swanky lingerie store. I’ve become accustomed to my under-construction self as has my spouse. Sometimes I forget the mangled Barbie look can be a big surprise to others.

Right now I’m focused on what has become a familiar pre-surgery routine. No booze, plenty of rest, exercise, no supplements of any kind, no pain medication (not that I need any) and having some fun. Compared to any of the previous 6 surgeries I’ve had this year, this one will be a cakewalk. It is still surgery though, and I hate the thought of going to the hospital.

The plastic surgeon drew lines with a purple Sharpie all over my chest and explained the nipple reconstruction technique she’d use, noting that afterward for about a week I would have “bolster dressings” to protect the new nips. I have this vision of spending a week looking precisely like the female robots from that old Austin Powers movie.

Move over Barbie, here comes my Fembot self.

Badass fembot in action.


Kate’s Hooter Blog and My Halloween Costume

Yesterday I had over 1,000 views on my blog. I suppose I should thank the Duchess of Cambridge, Her Royal did-you-think-they-would-leave-you-alone Highness, Kate Middleton. A few people stopped by to look at other stuff but who cares. From all over the planet they came, hoping to sneak a peek at the fair Kate, lounging in sunny France sans top. Today, the viewership is about half which is still ten times my normal traffic. Yesterday I enjoyed frequent checks on my ballooning stats. Today? Meh.

This blog began because I was informed by several experts that a blog is obligatory these days for the author of two books. Might help me sell a few more books, connect with readers, that sort of thing. Regular posts rarely occurred and usually involved my two favorite topics in this life: wine and food. Only in the last six months did I begin writing about my experiences as a BRCA-positive breast cancer survivor. Now I cannot seem to shut up. My primary reason for writing about this crap is entirely selfish. It’s good for my head. I enjoy talking with others who are on some version of this same insane carnival ride. Also, it keeps me writing. There have been many days this year when this blog seems to be the only thing I can write.

On to Halloween and my attire.

Hospital gown time again.

10/31/2012 will be my 7th surgical procedure this year. After much reflection I have decided that I do not want yet another breast revision with fat grafting procedure. What I have is good enough. This means I can proceed with nipple reconstruction. The final step will be tattooing to make the grafted skin appear more like normal nips, but that will come down the road. The plastic surgeon refers to the tattoo procedure as the icing on the cake. I  already have four tattoos. These consist of four tiny blue pinpricks that helped guide the technicians who administered radiation treatment to my left breast fourteen years ago. I don’t much like tats of any kind, especially not today’s popular eyesores that were once the domain of circus freaks, but I’m ready. Icing is yummy.