October 7th was International FLAT Day!
And before I get more into that, I suppose an update is called for, as it’s been a minute since I’ve made a post here.
Up until last summer everything had been Stable Mabel, and I was just chugging along.
Until May 20th 2022, when, in the midst of apartment hunting, I found another lump in my right breast.
I called my oncologist right away and he got me in on June 1st for a mammogram and ultrasound.
To say I was a wreck that day, would be an understatement.
I was back in the same waiting room and procedure rooms that I’d been in 4 years before. And the minute I got off that elevator it hit me like a tidal wave.
Not again. Please don’t let this be happening AGAIN.
I went in for the mammogram, barely holding it together. And then moved onto another room for the ultrasound, where I pretty much lost it.
And my worst fears were confirmed when the technician told me that the mass was dark and very likely cancer (again), and that they would need to do a core biopsy.
So, in went the freezing, and through a waterfall of tears, she took 5 samples.
CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
A sound that IF you know, you know.
From there I left to go home. Walking the same halls. Getting into the same elevator. Leaving out the same door. And walking down the same streets.
Oddly, I feel like this time was WAY worse than the first time. Worse even than finding out that I had stage IV cancer.
The first time around there was obviously a lot of shock – to say the least. BUT I didn’t know anything about the cancer universe. I was flying blind. Even with all of the research that I did, it was all new and unknown. And I went in with tunnel vision (and probably a lot of overwhelm), and simply didn’t have the capacity to deal with too many emotions. So it was all very clinical.
But going into it a second time with a much better understanding was almost more than I could handle.
It was like all of the fears and emotions that I was too shocked and numb to feel the first time around, bubbled up to the surface – and were compounded with the new feelings and emotions of yet another tumour.
But there was still a chance that they were wrong. That it wasn’t cancer.
Hope … until the next day when I sat down with my oncologist, who confirmed that yes, it was cancer.
It was a new tumour though, albeit with the same pathology, so it wasn’t considered progression, or even reoccurrence. And as long as the CT scan Dr A had scheduled for the following week showed no progression on the liver metastasis (which it didn’t), this would be considered a “local failure” – which essentially meant, in layman’s terms, shit fucking luck.
So I would have a mastectomy, BUT my maintenance protocol for the metastasis (Herceptin & Perjeta infusions every 3 weeks) would remain the same because it was still working.
At this point I went into overdrive.
I immediately put in an application for a cute little apartment I’d seen the week before. Even though it was a massive downsize, it was a new reno and a nice building, and I just didn’t have the mental fortitude or energy to keep apartment hunting.
Next up was finding out which surgeon my referral went to, so I could get my surgical consult booked ASAP.
The timing on all of this couldn’t have been worse. I had to be moved out of my current home (of 14 years) by July 20th. And I was scheduled to leave on August 9th for a bucket list trip that had already been rescheduled from 2020, due to the pandemic.
Plus, I really wanted to recover from surgery in my home. Not in a new apartment and new neighbourhood.
It took me a few days to finally track down the surgeon. And in that first call, her assistant informed me that the earliest they could schedule a consult would be in 3-4 weeks. Despite explaining my situation, she insisted there was nothing she could do.
And this is where self-advocating (and stubbornness) really comes into play.
I googled and found the surgeons email address, and sent an email with a full explanation. And the next day I sent the same email AND called again. And I did so the day after that, and the day after that.
And on June 13th her assistant called me to say that she had juggled her schedule, and could fit me in at 8am on June 15th.
I was a bit concerned that my “self-advocacy” might have been construed as being a troublesome patient. But to my huge relief, the surgeon was completely understanding, and very compassionate.
After discussing everything, we landed on a double mastectomy. My thoughts were why leave one behind for those pesky cancer cells to migrate over to? And I opted for no reconstruction. Partially because I was too stressed and exhausted to even think about adding another 3+ weeks to my recovery. But mostly because I just didn’t feel comfortable putting 2 potentially burdensome foreign objects in my body.
And, best of all (if there is a "best of all" in this kind of situation), she told me that she could schedule the surgery for June 30th.
So, this left me 2 weeks to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically for a life (and body) altering surgery. And it gave me 3 weeks to recover at home before I had to move, and 5 weeks before leaving on my vacation.
And on June 30th I woke up at the butt crack of dawn with breasts for the very last time!
Because we were still dealing with covid protocols, I went in alone – which I was ok with, thanks in part to the 3 Ativan I’d taken. But I know that must have been awful for my mother.
And sometime around 7pm that night, after spending the day in recovery, my beautiful friend Lauren picked me up to bring me home – missing out on the first 3 days of her vacation to look after me, and milk those dreaded drains.
Yup, you read that right! I went home the same frikkin’ day! Crazy right?!?
Needless to say June and July were a blur. BUT recovery went as smooth as I imagine it could go. I shockingly didn’t have a lot of pain, and I regained my range of motion quite quickly thanks to there being no lymph node involvement. The nerves regenerating throughout the first couple of weeks wasn’t super pleasant, and the drains were brutal. But all-in-all, it really wasn’t as bad as I had assumed it would be.
And here I am, 15 months later. NOT regretting my decision to go flat for one single minute. And loving the fact that I will never have to wear a bra again or deal with underboob sweat! :)
And now you know why I’m showing love to International FLAT Day!
A day that was created to “celebrate going flat – to promote breast reconstruction awareness, to promote flat closure (breastless, chest wall reconstruction after #mastectomy ), to promote #aestheticflatclosure as a valid choice, and to bring together the flat community in sisterhood and solidarity!”
I wasn’t aware prior to my surgery last summer that there are surgeons who don’t perform proper aesthetic flat closure on mastectomy patients who have opted out of reconstruction. That they take matters into their own hands and assume the patient will change their mind and want reconstruction at some point … and in turn leave extra skin behind.
It’s called #flatdenial
Without knowing this, all I said to my surgeon was that I did not want reconstruction.
And I am so very thankful every time I look at myself in the mirror that she understood and respected my wishes to stay flat by performing a proper aesthetic flat closure.
Should it have been a conversation that we had during our consultation?
And that’s partially on me for not doing my due diligence when it came to researching and learning about the surgery (which I usually do to no end). Had I done so I would’ve known to have that convo with her.
BUT this really should be on the medical professionals to broach.
We, as patients, are already dealing with more than we can handle. I mean we’re having our breast(s) removed because there is a deadly tumour growing inside of one or both of them. Or, for those with genetic predispositions (aka genetic susceptibility), they’re opting to having their breasts removed to (hopefully) avoid the deadly tumour in the first place.
Bottom line, the different options should ALWAYS be discussed, and both the patient and the surgeon should go into surgery with full clarity on what the end result should be.
And it’s mind blowing that this doesn’t always happen. That there are women who wake up from an already traumatic surgery, to an even more disfigured image than what they had imagined it would be.
(NOTE: I am not saying that a mastectomy of any kind is a disfiguration. I am simply saying, from experience, that it is quite often how many patients feel prior to and/or post surgery.)
I got very lucky with Dr E. She did an incredible job, even without my knowing to ask specifically for an AFC.
The mastectomy photos that I’ve shared here were taken approx. 5 weeks post surgery – on my bucket list trip near Mootcha Bay on Vancouver Island (thank you so much to Melanie's Way). And the person who took them was shocked at how healed the scars were already!
So thank you Dr E! Thank you for hearing me and going out of your way to ensure that my surgery was booked ahead of schedule so that I could recover at home and not miss my trip. And for the incredible job you did on my surgery. Not only did you give me an aesthetic closure, but you also go us clear margins!
For anyone preparing for a mastectomy without reconstruction, revision surgery, explant surgery, or dealing with the (post-surgery) result of flat denial, please head over to Not Putting On A Shirt. Their website has a wealth of knowledge and resources. As does their Instagram page @notputtingonashirt.
All infographics are from @notputtingonashirt
I'M FUNDRAISING FOR MBC
Lastly ..... as I'm sure many of you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness / Action Month, and on October 29th I will be taking part (for the 4th year in a row) in an ALL DAY READ-A-THON, hosted by Turning The Page On Cancer, to raise funds for Rethink Breast Cancer's Metastatic Breast Cancer Fund ... and to honour their beautiful founder Samantha, who sadly passed away on July 4, 2021.
While we all know that Breast Cancer receives a significant amount of funds for research, what many don't know is that only 2-7% of those funds actually go to the study of Metastasis, or that Breast Cancer almost only kills if you have Metastatic (aka Stage IV, Advanced, Secondary) Breast Cancer. And as someone living with MBC these are statistics that I'd like to see change, so that someday this diagnosis doesn't have to mean a lifetime of treatments.
I know that times are tough right now, so any support is appreciated. Whether it's a donation (large or small) and/or simply sharing my fundraising page.
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