This morning when I woke up, I had a different body than I will go to sleep with tonight. Being ill prepared for that change, it wasn’t until this evening that I got up the courage to check out my alterations.
My day started with the plastics team (plastic/reconstructive surgeons). My right breast, being unaffected by disease had expanded nicely as the temporary spacers were filled with saline over time since surgery. So nicely, in fact, that it was now in the way of the radiation beams they are aiming at my left breast. So they deflated it. Like a football. And it looks unshockingly like what you would imagine a deflated football to look like.
Not that my breasts were cute and symmetrical to begin with. One spacer is riding high and somewhat smooth like a gentle slop, the other was decidedly more…outgoing? In comparing them during the expansion process, one physician told me I needed to focus on volume, not shape. It was like comparing an eggplant and a grapefruit. I felt like a clay sculpture of a woman who was nearly complete, but whose artist abandoned the project once he had started on the bosom. Like he didn’t really know what he was doing. Perhaps he had never seen real breasts and was on a quest for real world experience and would come back to me when he had the appropriate inspiration from which to draw. For now, they were just misshaped, uneven clay blobs. After they pulled the saline out today (with a giant needle, I might add) I left with one mound and one sad cache of skin.
In addition, I also met with radiation oncology today. I got to go in and out of the CT scanner like it was a Xerox machine collating double sided copies. They must have printed at least six of me as the table shifted forward and backward through the whirling circular machine. In order to get me in just the perfect position for the radiation to zap me, they had to create a mold. I had to lay in the table with my arms above my head and my wrists fixed together. The undeveloped form was underneath me and it warmed up and expanded like foam insulation around me to create the perfect impression of my body. They then attached some kind of crazy bionic looking railroad tags to me that will communicate with the machine when I undergo radiation. Finally, for the grand finale they tattooed me.
No one said anything about tattoos. At least, I don’t remember it if they did. I’m not upset, I understand (now) that this is what is necessary to make sure everything lines up perfectly and that the treatment is most effective. That’s fine. I just wasn’t prepared.
With that in mind, there are two things I would like you to know about tattoos: A) They are obviously permanent, B) They hurt. Why on God’s green earth anyone signs up for that pain is beyond me.
The biggest issue, really, is that not all my tattoos are in discrete places. Two of them are visible outside relatively modest clothing. I have very fair skin and these marks are black. It is one more sacrifice to the cancer gods, I guess.
Listen, I know it’s probably hard to relate. But imagine the body you know and enjoy right now: your intact skin free from deep scars and holes and marks and things attached to it. Body parts in the right place, nothing major missing. A few scratches and dents, to be sure, but mostly in order.
Now imagine several angry red scars, ranging from 1-6 inches in length all over your chest. Imagine biopsy holes that create deep divets in your skin. Imagine marks and tracks that stand out like alien bodies on your once smooth, pure surface. Imagine missing something major. I don’t like to talk about it because it’s embarrassing and sad, but imagine if you lost your nipples. No sensation there anymore, no texture, no color or relief in the skin. Just a deep scar and puckered, swollen, awkward skin pushing out around it.
The pictures below capture a bit of what my body has been through.
This is a process mixed up in sarcasm, sadness, setback, and resetting. It’s another turn of the page. Tomorrow, I’ll get up and wash the writing off my skin and let my fears and hesitations go down the drain with the ink.
Give ‘Em Hell