The Girls are Here!

Image0290It was a long, long moving day, but the girls are here!

This is me, looking like a soulful basset hound in the ICU.  Plastic surgery is so glamorous.

I’m now eleven days post-op.  I’m sore and bruised, have the energy of a tomato, four feet of suture line, and a brand-new sense of humbleness for those who take care of hospital patients day after day after day, with excellence and compassion and cheerfulness.

Last Monday I rolled into the OR and heard the anesthesiologist say, “I’ve given you some versed…now some fentanyl…” and that was it.  For me, it was lights out.  For my surgeons and operating team, it was remove the right breast, carve away the radiated, stuck-down tissue on the left, harvest skin and fat flaps along with their blood supply from the abdomen, create breasts out of them, connect them to their new blood supplies in my chest, sculpt me a new belly, and sew, sew, sew.

Twelve hours later, I’m in the recovery room, although I have no memory of it.  My first lucid recall was moving to a bed in the ICU and thinking, yowza this hurts.

So here’s the challenge of post-op care for patients with new breast flaps–the flap transplants’ blood supply must be protected, while the patient’s vital signs must be supported.  Easy?  Not so much.

The head of my bed was elevated to 45 degrees and I was warmed by a hot-air blower blanket for 24 hours. The position and warmth made it a struggle to keep my blood pressure up, oxygen saturation high, and temperature down.  Bless the ICU nurses.  I grizzled and sweated and made like an inert elephant seal, while they checked the flaps, encouraged me to breathe deeply, checked the flaps, wiped my face, and checked the flaps.  When I decided it was time to get my carcass out of bed, they willingly hauled the tubes, monitors, lines, blanket, and all, and exerted superwomen efforts to get the elephant seal up and in a chair.

Twenty-four hours later, I’m sprung from the ICU and moved to regular surgical floor.  The nurses are all beautiful, no kidding, and I even have some nursing students assigned to me.  What cracks me up here is that everyone has heard that I was a flight nurse for a long, long time, and everyone wants stories.  No problem.

And now I’m home, working hard on standing upright and gaining new strength every day.  The inpatient hospital experience is now a memory of people’s kindness and hard work.

Remember when you were pregnant or with someone who was, and they used the little wand with goop to search all over the baby bump, listening for the baby’s heartbeat?  And when they found it, the whoosh..whoosh…whoosh sound that was so beautiful and reassuring and made you think the baby was just happy and healthy in there?  Well, nurses used the same Doppler technology to listen to the flaps.  And every time, we heard the whoosh…whoosh, and we knew the new girls were alive.  Safe and happy.

Thanks, God.  Thanks, everyone.

“The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes”
10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman

The Girls are Coming!

The countdown has begun.

In four days I’ll settle happily onto the OR table and drift off to anesthesia-land, whereupon three surgeons will sculpt me into a Victoria’s Secret model.  Tight, flat tummy.  Lush, perky boobs.  Maybe I’ll wake up with real wings on the back, just like the models.

If only it were that blissful!  The reality is, I’m told, that the surgery to remove my remaining breast and shape flaps from my abdomen into two new ones takes 8-12 hours.  A night in the ICU for monitoring, to be sure the new girls “take.”  Then three more days in the hospital, watching for complications while walking bent over like an elderly Yoda, because the abdominal incision is so tight.

It’s odd, but gratifying, to think that throughout this whole breast cancer fandango, I haven’t spent one night in a hospital.  Even for the mastectomy, we were on our way home around lunchtime.  When we checked in, the nurse told Jerry, “just drive around the parking lot for a little while, then she’ll be ready to go.”  I’m kidding.

So yes, I’m a little nervous.  I’m determined to be a good patient this time–no gum or coffee pre-op, no fooling around to fix the IV, no climbing out of bed sans a big, matronly nurse to hold me up.  And I will be coming home with a new set of sisters.

Brand new girls.

I can’t wait…

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

Noobs

Twenty-three days to go.

They’re called “noobs.”  New boobs.  They won’t really be boobs, of course.  Just fat, skin, and a blood supply, harvested from my abdomen, shaped into boob-like pieces, and stitched into place where the real boobs used to live.

Processed Katy-breast.  But hey…the last time I needed these babies to truly function was around thirty years ago, when the boys were hungry and liked mamma-milk.  Now they’re just decorative.  But after living almost a year with one side flat, one swinging, I’m ready for a change.

This whole concept is amazing.  It’s called a DIEP flap–deep inferior epigastric perforator flap.  The plastic surgeon will make an incision from hip to hip on my abdomen and harvest two thick pancakes of fat and skin, along with their itty-bitty blood supplies, and relocate them to my chest, where the arteries and veins are connected with microsurgery.  Yes, I get a tummy-tuck in the process, along with a new belly-button and abdominal skin pulled so tight I’m hoping my lady bits won’t show above my granny panties.

And speaking of thirty years ago, let us recall that I carried a twin pregnancy to term.  Do you know what that does to a girl’s midsection?  Not to be too graphic, but mine you could roll up and secure with a clothespin.  Stretch marks like a topo map. Oh, well.  My days of earning my living as an exotic dancer are over anyway.

So for the next twenty-three days, I will squeeze my abdominal skin and fat into boob-shaped blobs and imagine their change of address.  April 15th, baby.

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  Isaiah 55:12

Aubrey Rose

Dinosaur with fishHere is the first photo of our first grandbaby.

At the time this photo was taken, the baby had grown only about 13 weeks inside momma Julie. Thus, the details are in short supply here.  No happy cousins lining up with ice cream for someone’s birthday.  No naked baby on the bear rug.  In fact (sorry, guys) I thought it looked a lot like a T-rex running toward the left side of the screen, with the remains of a dead fish in his mouth. If you squint just a little, you can see it.  This was going to be quite the grandchild.  A hungry T-rex.

Fast forward a few weeks and we have the official    bums in the window sighting of the grandbaby’s business end.  Here is it:

Aubrey Rose

This baby is a GIRL.  Not that I can see it any clearer on this particular shot.  Here it looks to me like twins…a fox kissing a koala bear. Fraternal, I guess. My son and his lovely wife, however, assure me there is one human female infant gestating within Julie’s lady parts.

Now I love girls, I really do.  I was one, once.  I had short brown hair, I wore dresses that were frequently torn, dirty and sporting shorts underneath so I could swing unconcerned on the monkey bars.  I loved to shoot and fish with my dad.  And when I was a grown woman, with a family of boys to raise, I thought there was probably a reason God had given us those boys.  Around little girls, I’m useful like a snow shovel in Palm Springs.  I can’t ring their little ringlets.  I can’t fluff their little bows.  Long ago, I put little Abby Vining’s hair in pigtails for church one morning when we were babysitting for the weekend, and she looked like she could pick up ham radio transmissions.

And our grandbaby is…(gulp)…a little girl.

So Jerry and I have come up with a new entrepreneurial idea.  We’ll call it “Coaching for the Other Team.”  It will match grandparents who have a lifetime of experience raising one sex, with soon-to-be grandparents who are about to find themselves feeling like headhunters in Vienna or ballroom dance teachers in a rugby game.  The mentoring opportunities are vast, not to mention practical applications.

“There are how many creases from which poop must be wiped from her bottom?”

“What exactly makes him do that yellow fountain thing when I take his diaper off?”

When I first mentioned this idea to Jerry, it cemented my awareness that such a niche exists.  “Oh,” he said, “You mean like “Hello Miss Kitty”?

“Hello Kitty,” even I know, is the genre.  Miss Kitty was Marshall Dillon’s secret squeeze, ran a saloon, and was probably a bad girl.

Oh, well, even a good girl can enjoy a cold beer once in a while.

Welcome to the world, Aubrey Rose.  We will absolutely do our best by little you.  Pink bicycles, pink baseball gloves, pink kites, whatever you want.  It doesn’t matter if you’re riding a pink pumpkin pulled by magic mice or a rumbling pink motorcycle, you are enormously, hugely, wildly, unreservedly, loved.

Forever.

“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

 

New Year, Less Stuff

Happy New Year!

Even those of us who have abandoned making official resolutions still enjoy the freshness that the new year brings. For me, I’m thrilled to be looking at active cancer treatment in my rear-view mirror, and praying it stays there forever.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been staring a serious disease in the face for the last year, but lately, I’ve been struck by the ridiculous excesses in my life. I’ve always been this way to a certain extent. If possessing one is nice, then buying twenty-five more of them is great. The accumulation of years, however, has resulted in an amazing pile of…stuff.

To illustrate this, I will share with you the panoply of lipstick, lip gloss, lip liner, lip stain, and lip balm that I currently own.

My Beautiful Lips

I figured it out. Even if I kept my lips sticked, glossed, lined, stained, or balmed for 24 hrs a day, it would probably take more years to use up all this stuff than God plans to leave me on this earth–and this is assuming my cause of death will be “she was really, really old.”

I have no plans to take any lipstick with me. The perfect shade, so elusive here on earth, awaits me in heaven.

Let’s not even talk about the shoes, okay?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6: 19-21

The Christmas Gift

For Christmas, Jerry and I have convinced the boys to not give us more stuff we do not need, do not want to dust, insure, store, or worry about.  Last year they gave us an absolutely great cooking class.  Jerry and I drank red wine and learned to make moussaka, tsatziki, spanakopita, and other Greek comestibles.

The year before that, they gave us a weekend at a Bed & Breakfast in the midst of mountain bike country, but before we could book it, some fool shot the owner and the place closed down.  Lousy luck all around.

Anyway, here’s this year’s gift.  Six minutes of free-fall in a wind tunnel.

Katy Flying

My kids get it.  I’m an adrenaline junkie.  I love love love it when those little glands on the top floor of my kidneys pour out the stuff like tiny organic fuel injectors.  Take a deep breath and grab a reference point, because baby, we’re going in.

Or up, in this case.

This has nothing to do with breast cancer.  As with most things in life, apparently, you can fly with just one.

“Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  Isaiah 40:31

Rainbows and Imperfect, Beautiful Things

I have always loved rainbows.

There’s just something about the symmetry and flow of the colors.  The mysterious, fleeting beauty.  The fact that all the colors are there…I don’t have to choose just one.

As a gift even before this whole breast cancer season jumbled up our lives, Jerry gave me a beautiful pendant of multi-colored sapphires, arranged into a rainbow.  I loved it.  When chemo robbed me of my hair, he bought earrings to match, just to decorate my newly nekkid head.  “Ear candy,” he called them.  What love.

Last year, just before the first surgery during which a tiny lump was removed from my breast along with every lymph node my surgeon could dig out of my armpit, I was driving home one day from work.  It had been raining and there was a beautiful rainbow in the sky.  The colors were so intense, glowing in a golden, rain-washed sky, that I claimed the rainbow as a promise that all would be well with my new diagnosis of breast cancer.  I knew we were driving into a storm.  I knew there were no guarantees.  But…what I thought was a tic-tac of malignancy, that could be removed with a zit picker and radiated into eternal submission within a week’s time, turned out to be something quite a bit more momentous.

Lumpectomy, axillary node dissection, port placement, open biopsy, 4 months of chemo, mastectomy, radiation, more chemo.  Doctors, drugs, scans, labs, needles, anesthesia, drains, procedures, and worst of all…wait, wait, wait.  Wait for the labs.  Wait for the radiologist.  Wait for the pathology report.  It has been quite a year, and I’ve pretty much had it with breast cancer.

And here we are, a year later.  I put on my rainbow pendant a couple of days ago, and I was horrified to discover two of the stones were missing.

If I were superstitious, I would be nervous.  My rainbow pendant, which symbolizes hope and health, was now imperfect.  Falling apart, even.  But just think about the imperfect beauty of our world!  The ridiculous antique chair I inherited from my parents, the quarter-sawn oak painted orange.  It makes me laugh just to think of what my Dad was muttering when my Mom made him paint it that color.  The tangled threads of my baby son’s bunny toy, once his constant lovey, now a cherished ragged shred.  Our fading wedding photo.  My dear husband’s bald spot.

My own body.  Cut, reassembled, stitched, burned, scarred.  Imperfect but beautifully alive.

Jesus, his hands and feet and side wounded forever.  For me.

“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us”

From the song, “Beautiful Things,” by Gungor