Saturday, October 06, 2007

Healing is hard work

For reasons of modesty, I will not publish photos of my new nipples online, but here is a picture of me post-surgery; my eyelids were the donor sites for my nipples. I'm told that I look better than expected, but still, I feel pretty beaten up. I can not bed over, raise my arm (the left side, where there was encapsulation, hurts the most; the right side feels really good), and I have the overall feeling of blecchhhh that comes from anesthesia, inactivity, pain meds, and four incisions (maybe more; I haven't seen my breasts because they're confined in some kind of straightjacket thing).
For the past few hours I've been lying in bed listening to podcasts of This American Life, with ice bags on my face and sweet Mozart snuggled up under the covers with me. Tessa has popped in and out bringing me things, and Ryan brought me dinner in bed (thank you Ian and Tami for providing a delicious lasagna). It could certainly be worse.
However, healing is hard work.
I am hopeful that I will feel well enough for church tomorrow; there is a newcomer's meeting that I'd like to attend, and the sermon is on "mindfulness" which is a topic that greatly interests me.
I have learned that right now, I need two of the "one or two every four to six hours as needed" Percocets.
And back to bed for me. Thank you to everyone for your kind thoughts and calls. I'm not really up to talking on the phone right now but hopefully tomorrow...

home from the hospital

I am home, and about to go hibernate for a while. I ended up spending the night for pain management reasons, but I'm glad to be home now.

I am very glad to start putting this behind me. I'll be down and out for a few days, minimum, but hopefully the results will be good.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Almost time

13 hours from now I'll be at the hospital, wearing a backless gown (which they will remove before operating, to expose my front) and hopefully taking some really nice anti-anxiety meds to make me feel calm and peaceful.

Because I do NOT feel calm and peaceful.

Part of me thinks that I should think that this surgery is no big deal because it's just cosmetic and I've done much, much worse; but the other part of me is completely freaked out because they'll be cutting my eyes and because this is the second round of corrections and they might not work and it's a lot to go through for an uncertain result.

Part of me wants to go under the covers and hide.

I had a good time at bookclub tonight; I joked with Katie that it was a bunch of "alpha types" and I love alpha women. They were bandying about book names back and forth, and I was impressed with their literary depth and knowledge. It was a great distraction.

Even though, in the closing pages of the book we read, two women died of "the cancer." Nice. And even though one of the book suggestions was about a book written from the perspective of a child who mourned her deceased mother. (NO, I'm not reading that one.)

Bad attitude again.

It will be okay. Tomorrow I will feel better. But I don't think I will ever get used to surgery, even if I have to do a million more. I just want to move past this, to live my beautiful life.

Bad attitude

I have a bad attitude.

I'm faking it relatively well, most of the time, but I'm at a loss for words. I don't want to deal with this. I'm tired of surgery, tired of being brave, tired of holding myself together, tired.

Tonight is my first book club meeting with a group of women I don't know (except Katie, who invited me to join, and Jenny, who is joining tonight as well). Hopefully this keeps my mind off things.

And WELCOME TO THE WORLD, Michele & Dave's baby boy, Elliott's brother! He was born this morning, and mom and baby are healthy and happy. I will meet him tomorrow before surgery, and I'm looking forward to it immensely.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

City girls

We just got back from our downtown adventures.

Katie & Jessie arrived at 9:10, and we walked to C&P for coffee, and then caught the bus downtown. We meandered through the aquarium for a while, then walked up through Pike Place Market and met "the dads" (Ryan & Mike) for lunch at Le Panier. We munched on yummy treats (European style sandwiches) at the cafe bar, and then walked up to SAM. We barely touched on the various aspects of the museum, but we had a wonderful time exploring some of the textiles, Native American art (particularly Pacific Northwest Coast Indian art), and the children's play area. Then, we caught a bus and came home.

Today was the type of day that I vow to have more often. Certainly, not every day can or should be like this, but it was a wonderful experience. Next year, Tessa will be in school five days a week, and these days won't happen. But today, there were no crowds, there was no hurry, and it was just about enjoying each others' company and our beautiful city. It didn't cost much (memberships at SAM & the aquarium), and we filled our eyes with the beauty of the art, we learned about nature, we chatted with friends, we shared some mid-day time with Ryan (very unsual for us)...and it was lovely. This is why I'm grateful to be a stay-at-home mom in Seattle.

This is also why I'm grateful to be healthy. I can walk all over, I can enjoy the cold breeze (and my warm jacket), I can feel energetic enough to do these things with Tessa. A day like today is a gift.

More days like it will follow this winter. We can bus to the Seattle Center and go ice skating; we can ride the carousel at Westlake Center; we can go to the market to buy fish for dinner; we can revisit the museum or aquarium; we can enjoy the public library....there are many, many adventures to be had.

A day like today, experiencing all of that, made me momentarily forget my surgery troubles.... hallelujah. My spirits were lifted, and I'm reminded why moping is counter-intuitive, even when it's what I most want to do.

And again, I'm grateful to have a wonderful daughter to share these things with - interested in nature, not at all shy about exploring the touch and feel tanks, and willing and eager to see beautiful art, to learn how it's made, to behave in a cafe, to hold my hand and walk through downtown. I'm grateful to have a husband who works downtown, not miles away on the east side, and who is interested in joining his girls for lunch. I'm grateful for friends - adult and child - to share these adventures.

Gratitude feels good.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hunkering down

I have noticed the same pattern with each of my successive surgeries. For a week before surgery, I feel absolutely out of sorts, and (dare I use the word) depressed. It's hard to get out of bed in the morning, hard to face my usual chores, hard to be attentive to Tessa, hard to focus, hard to maintain healthy eating habits (I want to stuff my face with scones).

I know, from experience, that when surgery is done this feeling will lift very quickly. It's replaced in the short term with the pain and exhaustion of new wounds and new healing, but in the intermediate term - say, a week after surgery - I hope to be up and about, running around, making decisions with a smile on my face. I hope to be chomping at the bit to return to the gym, inviting friends over for dinner, organizing playdates, watching my friends' children for them so that Tessa can play and I can repay.

But this week, I'm wallowing in it. I just feel absolutely wiped out by it all. Eight surgeries is enough, certainly. I'm fearful, just like with the first surgery, of anesthesia, pain, side effects, results...but now I've learned to choke down my fear, to face it head on. The fear is still there, just now I can look it square in the face without blinking, even though I'm trembling from head to foot.

I alternate between feeling like I am a conquerer and feeling as timid as a mouse.

It's hard to talk to people this week, because I know that people are worn out by my cancer. It's gone on ENOUGH. I've received so much support through the past couple of years, and I'm wearing out my support network. I understand, but it's still kind of hard.

I just feel the burden of surgery weighing me down. Once I'm done with this surgery, I can set down my burden and return to my usual sunny self (!), but right now I feel overcast and gray and lethargic.


Today I was determined to be a good mom, and to give Tessa lots of attention. After preschool, I took her to the aquarium, and we had a wonderful time, and then I took her out for sushi (we shared edemame and sushi - mango/tuna rolls and mango/salmon rolls....I'm so proud of her for eating "real" sushi with raw ingredients, and I know how lucky I am that she has such a diverse palate) at Azuma in the junction. We had fun together.

Tomorrow I've scheduled us for another busy day, because if I didn't, frankly, I wouldn't get out of my bathrobe until noon.

Tomorrow morning we're going back to the aquarium to see some things we didn't get to today, and then we're having lunch with Ryan, and then we're going to the Seattle Art Museum. We have memberships to the aquarium and SAM so it's worth it even if we don't stay for long, and I'm excited to do it. Katie & Jessie might join us, and Mike might meet for lunch, too, so I'm totally excited for that. It'll be nice to be out and about, forgetting my troubles instead of dwelling on them.

And now, off to bed for me. I wish I could shake this feeling, but I know I just need to give it time.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Pinking up October

Welcome to Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

October is officially breast cancer awareness month. This month, every woman's magazine will have an article or two about survivors, treatment, breast self exams, and the like. Every talk show will have a breast cancer segment. Every store will be stocked with pink items. Breast cancer is in the air - it's on people's minds, everywhere.

Don't believe me? Just look for all of the pink merchandise. Ribbons abound.

There is a small, very vocal group of people opposed to pink merchandising. They believe that a ribbon is not a very good symbol for a horrific disease, and that it is offensive that companies are making money from their pink marketing efforts. I disagree - strenuously - with this position.

First of all, I'm not sure what a better symbol for breast cancer would be: a cancerous cell? a picture of a mastectomy? an image of a family grieving their deceased mother? I don't think that anyone would wear one of those images on their coat, or use it as a conversation starter. A pink ribbon isn't perfect, but somebody came up with the idea of ribbon marketing, and since pink has long been the color for women and girls (pink for girls, blue for boys) there you have it. A woman's disease, marked by a pink ribbon.

And pink ribbons ARE effective. In the 1970s, the word "breast" could not be published in a newspaper, even in reference to breast cancer. Women didn't know about breast cancer like we do now, and as a result, they often waited too long for mammograms or exams, and they died from their lack of knowledge. I recently saw the 1970s breast cancer statistics for my stage of breast cancer, and found that if I'd been diagnosed then, I would have been 20% more likely to die of the disease within five years. Pink ribbons have raised awareness - I did a breast self exam because I had been educated on the subject of BSE, and because, in part, pink ribbons reminded me of what I should be doing. And pink ribbon marketing has, in great part, funded the research that has improved my odds so significantly.

The argument that companies are immoral or misdirected by making money from pink merchandising is also misplaced in my mind. Companies are not, at their essence, philanthropic in nature: they are created to create profit for their owners (shareholders), and in doing so, they employ others and create livelihoods. When a company decides to ally itself with a cause, and donate money to that cause, the cause benefits. Certainly, companies do not usually donate 100% of their proceeds to a cause, but to do so would drive them out of business, and I don't expect or desire that.

Take M&Ms. I am told that a bag of M&Ms (large size) is $5 or something like that, and that only $.50 goes to Komen. On the surface, that doesn't sound like much - $.50 doesn't buy much of a mammogram, and doesn't pay for even a minute of research - but it's not about the $.50, it's about the total donation. In the past 4 years, M&Ms have donated $2.8 million to Komen from their pink M&Ms campaign. I believe that the success of this program is BECAUSE they are making a profit from the pink M&Ms: people choose to buy the M&Ms because they like M&Ms and because they would like to support the breast cancer cause, and therefore M&Ms sells more of their product. The $.50's add up, and suddenly they've amounted to $2.8 million dollars.

I would rather support a company who chooses to do cause based marketing than one who chooses simply to market their product. Certainly, M&Ms is going to do a lot of marketing of their product, and is going to spend oodles of money on marketing programs; they can do it to benefit breast cancer (or some other cause), or they can do it only for their own profit. I choose to support companies who have recognized that supporting a cause helps people, even as it helps their bottom line. Everyone benefits. Could M&Ms donate $1 per package? Maybe, but I am not going to knock them for donate $2.8 million and declare their $2.8 million a paltry sum. Sure, I'm happy to ask for more, but I will not insult the $2.8 million.

There is another argument that says that it would be better for everyone to fund breast cancer research directly, rather than to just buy M&Ms, thus eliminating the middle man. Sure, this is a great idea, except that it doesn't play out in real life. Ideally, people would recognize the needs of society and step up to pay for those needs: healthcare, health research, etc. But people don't. They are bogged down in their own need to pay for food and shelter, and their desire for cute shoes. SOME people give generously to charity, and others do not (either because they can't or because they won't, but the end result is the same). I say it would be great if companies AND individuals practiced philanthropy without prompting or marketing, but I think it's very unrealistic. So, there are individuals out there who are unwilling or unable to write a check to Komen, but are eating M&Ms anyway and decide to buy the pink package....and every little bit helps.

Also, companies have much deeper pockets than individuals. A team of 35 people - Team Kristina and Warrior Women - did grass roots fundraising over two years to raise about $120,000. I'm very proud of this work and my part in it, but I recognise that it was a LOT of effort, and though it's a lot of money from my perspective, it's nowhere near what a corporation can give. Breast cancer research needs work from people like me, but it also needs the deep pockets of the corporations. I can work tirelessly, around the clock, to raise money for breast cancer to donate directly to the cause, but I will never come close to the amount that a large corporation is going to give. This doesn't make me give up on my own efforts, but certainly, I appreciate the money that the corporations are giving, too.

There are some companies, though I think they are few, who give pink marketing a bad name by putting pink ribbons on products without benefiting the cause. I don't know who these companies are, though.

Komen has a list of million dollar partners on their website, as well as "5 Questions to Ask" for cause based marketing. If you wonder who to support, and how to determine who is legit, you might wish to take a look at their website information:

So, as you proceed into the month of October, consider buying pink. Make sure that you read the fine print: who is getting the proceeds of the product? Is it Komen, Breast, The Young Survival Coalition, The Breast Cancer Research Fund, or some other reputable organization? GREAT. What is the minimum donation that the company is giving? If a company is only giving $0.03 per item, that seems small, unless you read that they are committing a minimum of $500,000 to the cause. You, ultimately, decide where to spend your dollars, of course. But I hope that as you proceed into the pink month, you will consider supporting those companies who have decided to take action against the disease that has threatened my life, and the lives of over two million survivors in the US, as well as uncounted women who have not survived.

All of our pennies are adding up, and we ARE going to find a cure.