Tuesday, October 30, 2012

That's Not Your Life Anymore

One year after Chemo

I'm down to seeing my oncologist once every six months, a welcome change from the almost weekly visits I'd become accustomed to. This changes our relationship. Meeting Dr. Allison now is like having lunch with a friend. I notice she's wearing new glasses and her hair color is slightly darker than back in April. She notices my shoes, a pair of Teva slip-ons easily dressed up with a skirt. I think it's cute she doesn't remember commenting on them several times before. It's clear Dr. Allison's taste has remained steady over the years. She's a woman who knows her what she likes. Picture this...We are sitting at a patio table. I'm toasting our successes with a fruity drink and dabbing the corner of my mouth with a linen napkin.

Reality check...We are in her gaily decorated office. Wizard of Oz memorabilia everywhere. I'm wearing a pink paper napkin and she's discussing how to tweak my pharmaceutical cocktail. It's okay though. Just like friends, we laugh and crack jokes about my ten pound weight gain. It's the holidays. They last from October to January. Ha, ha, ha.

Then it's straight into business mode.

I take five pills a day. That's five too many for me. I ask about eliminating Neurontin, a yellow capsule that helps stave off night sweats brought on by  the Tamoxifen I take and early onset menopause. Menopause at 44 years old, a gift (read with sarcasm) from four months of TAC Chemotherapy.

"I haven't had a problem in a long time. What do you think about dropping the Neurontin? I hate taking so many pills. Before I got cancer I hardly ever took a pill."

Dr. Allison rolls her eyes and waves her pen at me. "That's not your life anymore. Keep the Neurontin. Trust me. It's not that many pills. Just toss'em back in one mouthful."

She tells me to lie down and for the millionth time she examines my breasts, paying close attention to my left side--the side that had the audacity to grow a rather large finger-like tumor and forever change my life. This is the side I lost to a mastectomy and had reconstructed with a silicone implant. Two weeks ago my plastic surgeon attempted to sculpt a new nipple. Two headlights are better than one, so I've heard.

The process did not go so well. It's not Dr. Spann's fault. My plastic surgeon's skills are beyond compare. He's brought me this far with superior results. It's the fault of my radiated skin. See, after a round of radiation treatment the irradiated skin becomes taunt and less stretchy. Think back to my imaginary lunch date with Dr. Allison. I'm more of a linen napkin girl as opposed to a jersey knit sweater. My irradiated skin also has a difficult time healing, so any operation in that area carries the risk of failure.

Before my mastectomy, I scared myself sh**less with post-surgery pictures of breast cancer patients on the Internet. I came away with the solid belief that I'd never be even close to normal again. I've been lucky up to this point. I have a talented plastic surgeon and my skin recovered nicely from the deep burns of radiation. My reconstructed breast mound has a pleasing shape (alibeit, a little like a very firm grapefruit sitting high on my chest) and normal peachy skin tone.
Back to my exam where Dr. Allison is looking at my left breast, particularly the black, inky nub protected by a plastic shield.She sucks in her breath and says, " Yikes. So you're not going to try that again, I'm assuming."

Nipple failure. Constricted blood flow has caused half of my new nipple to die. For now, I am babying it with a slathering of triple antibiotic ointment, protection from accidental rubbing or bumping, and heartfelt prayers to God.

"Carol's sells stick on nipples. There a really nice option." She closes my shirt with a crinkle of paper and helps me sit up.

I tell her I'll think about it. On contemplation, a sticky, pliable, silicone nipple did seem the easiest way to solve my one headlight problem at the beach or on a cold, wintery date night with my husband. This might also be less traumatic than a skin graft from my intact, right side nipple or my labia (that one makes me cringe), as suggested by Dr. Spann. Another option is a very cool tattoo to disguise the nippleless area. Maybe a dragon lounging across my mastectomy scar.

I give Dr. Allison a hug and a smile as I leave the office but  her words play in my head. That's Not Your Life Anymore.

As if she'd poked me in the eye with her index finger, I was left with blurry, slightly off kilter vision. Honestly, it ruined my day.  After an evening of sulking, I have a better understanding of my reaction. I truly believed that one day soon I'd be the Lisa I was in the spring of 2010. I'd be that healthy, never say no, never take pills, vibrant, sexy-for-my-age woman again. She was coming back. I just had to keep moving forward to find her.

But that's not true. She is not me anymore. I am the post breast cancer me and I have to learn to love this me as much as I did the old me. I have to take my top off, look in the mirror at the mastopexy scar on my right breast and the mastectomy results on my left and say that I love me. Scars, black nub, everything. If I'm going to be me again I have to love what I see.

So I'm trying this affirmation:

This my life now and I am happy to have it.


  1. SO HAPPY you're blogging again!

    Um, why don't you just get a tattoo of a nipple? That should work! And you are still the vibrant, sexy-at-ANY-age chick I knew pre-BC. Love you!!!

    1. Linda,

      Dr. Spann suggested that. He said the tattoo artist he recommends makes the nipple look 3D. Can you imagine the shock of that?! Is it real or is it special effects?!

      So that's an option, too. I'm still praying for the one I have to hang on and get healthy. Dr. Spann thinks he can do something with the good tissue that survived.

      Love you too!

  2. Lisa, I'd vote for a cool tattoo anyday over another painful attempt at a nipple. I would imagine Todd would find that super-sexy too! :) I'm going to forward your blog onto a great friend of mine that just celebrated 3 years cancer-free! Love you and hang in there! I'm super proud to be your friend, girlfriend!! LYNN LEES

    1. Hi Lynn!

      Please do forward this on. It will be a better read as I get the blog on it's feet and have more than one post.

      Actually, Todd loves the tattoo idea. He's a tattoo kind of guy. He'd be happy if I had several..:)

      Congrats to your friend! I can't wait for my three year cancer free anniversary.

      Love you!

  3. I want to thank you for your honesty and for having the courage to take such an intimate experience public. My grandmother had breast cancer twice. So did one of her sisters. This was back in the late 80s and early 90s. The treatments--especially radiation--were in many ways more brutal than the disease. Well, fast-forward twenty something years and she's now an ornery 85 year old with her share of health issues...none of them to do with cancer. But the fear is there for all the women in our family. Every year my mom gets her mammogram and tells me, "I have this crazy idea that if I'm okay, it means you and your sister will be, too." I don't know if it really works that way. Cancer seems so random. Like this hurricane battering the northeast. From god-knows-where, it brings its mayhem then moves on. What's really ironic is that all this time I have been preparing myself for breast cancer, and it's my 45 year-old husband who gets slammed. On September 18th he was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer. He's in the middle of the radiation and chemotherapy that will hopefully shrink the tumor enough for the surgeon to get all of it. Just today he's started to get sick from the chemo pills. The treatment that is supposed to save him is making him wish he was dead. I can't get my head around that. I want to rewind the clock back to September 17th. Anyway, be healthy and stay brave. You are not alone.

    1. Wow...I wish you'd left your name. So C...You're very honest, too. I think when you are in our situations that is all you can be. Cancer is not pretty. You can tie it up in colorful ribbons and it's still not pretty. It's devastating and I think it's okay to acknowledge that fact.

      There was no history of breast cancer in my family when I was diagnosed but shortly after my aunt got the news that she had a cancerous lump. Now I am like you. I think often about the women in my family and pray that my aunt and I are the only ones who get this news.

      I wish the best for your husband. Chemo is very difficult. All I can say is it gets better when the treatment is over. I can remember thinking there is something wrong with making me feel like I am going to die in order to cure me. Mark each treatment off on the calendar and celebrate that only a few more are left. It's like running a marathon, at least, that's the way I thought of it. Tell him to keep his eye on the finish line.

      You guys are not alone either. We are a strong community. Thank you for sharing your story with me.

      Love and hugs,

    2. My name is Carrie Ann Lahain. We've met a few times through HWG and the Las Vegas Valley Writer's Conference. Again, thanks for being so open about your struggle. It really helps the rest of us. Cancer, whatever the version, can be very isolating. HOW? WHY? WHAT NEXT? Fear can just take over. Mike and I both notice that though it may take a conscious effort to get out and reach out, we always feel better when we do. That's why I am so thrilled you started your blog. By reaching out, you are providing an outlet for so many others. People who may be too exhausted or just too overwhelmed to call or visit a supportive friend. Good luck with the project, and I hope to run into you soon!

    3. Carrie Ann,

      I hope to see you soon, too. I thought your last name looked familiar. Thank you for telling me who are you and how we are connected. The members of the HWG are like my extended family.


  4. Lisa, you are a brutally honest, brave, and wonderful writer (not to mention human being). I'm going to forward this to a survivor friend as well. I am also going to assign it as required reading for my genetic counseling students, as breast cancer is one of the things that can have a genetic component (we test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene here, among other things). Love you! Nadia

    1. Nadia,

      You're the best! I am so proud to have you in my life. I can thank Todd for that. Just one of the many things I can thank him for.

      Love you!

  5. Lisa,

    It takes courage to write a blog like this, baring yourself to everyone who reads it---and helping those who need that little boost, someone to tell them it's scary and not very pleasant now but you're not alone.

    I didn't go real public with my recent breast cancer. Mainly told people I know personally. And yes, the chemo absolutely knocks the hell out of you and it's a happy day when you can say it's the last treatment. My last one was October 15.

    The sheer amount of women with breast cancer is such a validation for the importance of early screening. Mine was discovered through a routine yearly screening. There were no outward signs whatsover, and it was small (under 1 cm) but it had already migrated microscopic bits to one lymph node. There's no telling how much it would have spread if not detected until there were outward signs.

    Yes, I've already voted and I'm sure you know the direction. We need a President who respects and supports women's rights. Not one who flaps his lips whichever way the wind blows.

    Hugs to you.

  6. Morgan,

    I understand why you'd want to keep what's going on with you within a safe circle of family and friends. This is a time when you need positive people that you trust.When you open yourself up to everyone around you the results can be jarring at times.

    I'm glad that you are finished with Chemo. If you ever need to talk about it or anything you know how to reach me.

    Thanks for the birthday gift of a vote! And yes, I know how you voted..same as me. lol

    Love you,


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