Climbing back into the mouth of the beast

24 May

attack of the crab monstersFor those of you who haven’t noticed (as far as I can tell, there are about three who have),  I am the world’s worst blogger.  Or maybe I should say, the world’s most sporadic blogger.

When I was going through treatment, I blogged about the breast cancer beast a lot. Probably because treatment is pretty frigging surreal and you have to write about it and talk to other people who’ve gone through it, otherwise, you start to feel like maybe you’ve gone slightly insane. Nurses purposefully injecting you with poison? Technicians tying you up and easing you into a machine, then fleeing the room while they blast you with radiation? WTF? Who would do such a thing?

But that’s cancer and what the docs like to call cancer “treatment.” You come out of that crap and your hair starts to grow back and your strength returns and you just want to keep walking — or in my case, running — as fast and far away from Cancerworld as humanly possible. You want to forget it all and just live your life, worrying about the trivial crap you used to worry about BC (before cancer). I can’t meet any decent single men. Hrmph. I’ve got fun plans this weekend and now it’s going to rain. Waaaaaah!

You don’t want to think back to how hideous it was dealing with those drains after the double mastectomy or how your bones felt like they were being ground into powder by a giant during chemo or how horrifically ugly and dehumanized you felt every time you looked in the mirror when the doctors were finally through with you. Bald, board flat, chest burned to a crisp, I looked like a stand-in for Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Not something you want to keep on speed dial when it comes to calling up memories. I wanted to forget.  And part of forgetting for me, has been ignoring the fact that I’m supposed to be writing a breast cancer blog.

If you’ve been there, I’m sure you get it.

Also, if you’ve been there, I’m sure you understand how difficult it is to suck it up and climb back into the mouth of the beast yet again.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not experiencing a recurrence or anything like that (knock wood). Instead, I’m currently going through the joys of breast reconstruction which for me has been every bit as difficult and painful and worrisome as the original surgery and treatment. And I’m just getting started.

I’ve had one surgery so far and am still very much in recovery from that. At this point, things are a little iffy and I’m hoping to write more about my recon and what’s happening with that in days to come. And that just might happen since my doctor has advised me to forget exercise and activities and basically just lie around my apartment like a three-toed sloth doing this incredibly boring thing called healing.

What the hell, might as well fire up the blog again, right?

For the moment, I can tell you that I went with a new type of recon known as Brava / fat transfer. Here’s a link to a story I wrote about it for last year. This type of recon is supposed to be less invasive than traditional recon, particularly those flaps, where the plastic surgeon cuts a slab of tissue, muscle and blood vessels from your stomach or your back or your inner thigh, sews it to your chest and magically turns it into a boob. 

I knew reconstruction was serious business going in, which is why I put it off for a year and a half after treatment. I wanted to make sure my body – and particularly my left radiated breast – had healed. I boxed three times a week to stay fit – and to keep those pectoral muscles full of healthy blood flow. I ran to keep my weight down (more accurately, to keep those tamoxifen pounds from glomming on) and to keep my heart rate good and strong.

I exercised to keep the beast from catching up with me again. And to get into shape for recon surgery. But it still kicked my ass.

I had my first fat transfer procedure two weeks and two days ago (May 8) and if this is the less invasive kind of reconstruction, I don’t even want to think about what my BC sisters who’ve had flaps and tissue expanders and implants have gone through. Seriously, the next time some moron refers to breast reconstruction as a “boob job,” I’m just going to coldcock ‘em – literally, metaphorically, whatever. As soon as I get my left hook and my right cross back, that is.

Anyway, I know this post is somewhat scattered. A little weak in some places, a little angry in others. A bit purple here and quite dark there. In fact, worrisomely dark there. But it’s also a pretty accurate reflection of what’s going on with my body right now. At present, I’m on antibiotics and don’t appear to have an infection. Yet. But things are starting to go sideways which, as anyone who’s dealt with cancer can tell you, is par for the course.

I’m trying to hang in there; I’m trying to be patient. And though it’s difficult, I’m trying to remember back to what I went through two years ago – the surgery that took my girls, the chemo that took my hair and my strength, the radiation that turned me into a crispy critter – taking comfort in the fact that I made it through all of that. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the strength – or maybe just the sheer orneriness – to get through this, too.

Hope you’re all doing well. Thanks, as always, for the read. And for those who might be interested in what I’ve been working on lately, here are a couple of links to recent stories I did for nbcnews/ on breast cancer-related topics.

Mom’s virtual cancer family helps daughter cope with loss
Like an idiot, I wrote this story one day after surgery. I do not recommend this.

Breast cancer bras a no-go for Victoria’s Secret
The latest on the push (no pun intended) for a Victoria’s Secret “survivor bra.”

17 Responses to “Climbing back into the mouth of the beast”

  1. Tom May 24, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Keep on blogging! I keep on reading your posts with interest and with hope that you are feeling better overall, as now I am beginning to understand what my mother went through with her cancer and reconstruction, yet discuss with her much less than when she was going through the process herself. I just don’t want to lose my understanding of the entire process with its required investment of pain, time, and emotion for the whole family. Thanks.

    • singleshot1 May 31, 2013 at 11:07 am #

      Thanks so much for the note, Tom, and I’m sorry to hear your mom was diagnosed with this lousy disease. Cancer treatment and breast recon is definitely a process (a looooong process) and very much an “investment of pain, time and emotion,” as you say. So looking forward to putting it all behind me (as much as that’s possible). I think getting my girls back will help that along.

  2. Nancy Yonker May 24, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    Welcome back Diane! As I said before, we’ve missed you. Keep on telling your story, we need you (but no pressure there.)

    Nancy Yonker

    • singleshot1 May 31, 2013 at 11:08 am #

      Thanks darling. Your support and good humor have helped SO much throughout this lousy process.

  3. Caren Helene rudman May 24, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    I don’t know how I got your blog but glad I did… I can relate even though I didn’t have bc I am brac 1 positive and spent 2012-13 under the cloud of mastectomy/ reconstruction. 4 surgeries, 2 infections, 2 pic lines, and months so pain and discomfort. Finally I received the new gummy bear implant (can you believe they are actually called that!) but they
    Look and feel so natural and comfortable. I am an artist and have been making art reflecting living with the threat and reality of cancer on our bodies and psyches. To see more, go to Good luck and keep writing!!!! Creative energy is healing!!,

    • singleshot1 May 31, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Thanks for the lovely note, Caren. Sounds like you’ve been through the mill. I’m hoping to do some more writing about breast reconstruction since so many people (cough … ignorant yokels … cough) seem to think it’s no big deal. Just another “boob job.” I haven’t talked to a BC survivor (or “previvor” like you) yet who hasn’t experienced some kind of complication. Recon is a hard and sometimes heartbreaking ordeal (I’m going through my own complications/losses now). Yet we have to go through it if we want to get our own back. Really happy you got a good result with your gummy bear implants (totally hear you about the ridiculous name). Also, thanks for the link. Looking forward to checking out your art.

  4. Sharon L. Johnson May 24, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    First time reading your blog…hooking humor with the truth is NOT an easy task…but you are adept at it, especially if the subject is self. Four years and counting here…metastatic breast cancer. Nothing is easy about this monster–but talking, writing, sharing the misery seems to help. I hope it brings you some comfort to know that your words are sips of water (or wine) to us who battle singularly sometimes to shield the family from 100% of the beast. Keep writing…I’m going to catch up now on your past categories. I posted your blog on my FB. Thank you. slj

    • singleshot1 May 31, 2013 at 11:18 am #

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Sharon. I often feel like I’m tossing wadded up pages of writing down a well; hard to gauge whether anybody’s reading this stuff or not. It’s mainly therapy for me (along with boxing, inappropriate jokes, and yes a few sips of wine here and there — I heart my coping mechanisms), but it’s nice to hear that others get something out of my rants, as well. Take care and keep battling that beast, my friend. Also, thanks for the FB post. I’m honored.

  5. mmatassa May 24, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

    Diane, you are amazing. Thank you, and I miss you. — Mark

    • singleshot1 May 31, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      Miss you, too, buddy. I don’t feel too amazing — more like a monstrous mess, to be honest — but every day, the pain/bruises/gross bits and pieces seem to get a little better. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. XOXOXOX.

  6. Joan May 25, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Article not worrisome in the least–just real!!! Hang in there!

    • singleshot1 May 31, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      Thanks Joan. You’ve been a godsend through this mess!

  7. Scorchy May 28, 2013 at 3:27 am #

    Hey, this is PRECISELY when you need to blog. Blogging helps you get your head around whatever experience you are forced to endure at the moment.

    Write on, sister! Write on!

    • singleshot1 May 31, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      Thanks so much, Scorchy. Wish I had your energy/output but I’ve found it hard to write for a living and then write on the side, too. Sometimes, though, things just get so frigging weird, you have no choice. Take care and all the best, my friend. Also #FUcancer.

  8. tim hatcher June 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    I just read the article in Columns. My wife was a UW grad. She died of brain cancer in 2006. Wishing you nothing but the best and good luck with your fight. Tim Hatcher, Spokane.

  9. melanieparrish2001 June 10, 2014 at 3:55 am #

    Hi there, I just found your blog and LOVE IT!! So to the point, I needed that!!! I’m doing Chemo now. The TC treatment 3 weeks ago kicked my butt and the Oncologist changed Chemo to AC+T, soooo I do need a dang port. I had the Bilateral Mastectomy w/ Recon on April 18, 2014, over 7 weeks ago, it is the worst crap I’ve ever been through, (including my Lower Back surgery, a Lumbar Fusion, that was a total fail and made my life even more miserable!) I’m in pain 24/7, its driving me nuts, I can’t wait for this to be over!!!
    Boxing?? That sounds like a good was to let some steam out and get back and stay in shape. You go girl!!! I hope you’re feeling better by now and you have your life back!!!

  10. Karen Wyman August 25, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Hi, I just discovered your blog today (a friend had posted your Game of Thrones article, which led me to here). I am one-year post breast cancer (chemo, single mastectomy, radiation).

    Wish I had “met” you sooner!

    Reading about your reconstruction underscores my reasons to not take that route. Elective surgery is not for me! The mastectomy was horrible enough, but it saved my life. I could not choose to have additional pain and possible (likely!) complications. No more doctor’s offices, no more convalescing. Even though naturally I wish I looked like the “before” me…I know I never will. The choice is so personal, no one’s choice is wrong, if it’s right for them. So I am wishing you the most trouble-free process, and the most lovely results.

    Having one boob at times feels worse than having no boobs. It just sits there, looking lonely, beautiful, and…pointless. What good is one boob???

    Are my lovely chemo curls really going to leave me? I had hair like yours (or like what you describe – limp, thin, blonde), and now it’s curly and fun and easy to care for. The single benefit (besides being alive, of course!) from my treatments. And the curls are going to leave me? Wah!

    I laughed at your description of showing your chest to one and all medical professionals. By the time I had my interview with the surgeon who was going to remove my breast, I had spent the past couple of weeks disrobing over and over, and when he said he wanted to look, I just whipped my shirt off over my head. His nurse said, “Um, oh, well, I guess we’ll just skip the formality of a gown then?”

    Anyway, keep posting. We fellow-travelers benefit from sharing and from hearing other’s stories and experiences. I wrote on CaringBridge during my treatments.

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