Bags of Blood

Before I start getting all serious n’ shit, I want to tell you a funny story.

This past Wednesday, I went in for my post-op check-in with my surgeon. I was all excited, thinking I might get to have one of my drains taken out. The right one (mind you, this was the breast that was totally healthy) had been coming in under 30 ml’s of fluid for about 24 hours, and I was dying for a bit of relief. My surgeon, a self-identified hobbit and all around amazing guy, let his PA take my right drain out. The removal process felt a bit like a hard, thin snake being slowly yanked from my chest. It was awesome. I was pleased with this progress and went about my day.

That evening, as I was moving around in my nest of blankets and pillows, I noticed a sloshing noise coming from my right side. That’s right. Sloshing. As in a bunch of fluid was rolling around in a big, empty cavity in my chest. “It must be left-over lymphatic fluid”, I thought to myself. That area of my chest grew bigger and bigger, as if my body was trying regenerate a tit like a lizard does when it loses its tail. I consulted the Interwebs to see what I should do before I lost my shit and called the doctor. I tried heat. I tried compression. I slept in a sports bra, and woke up with a huge bruise on my shoulder (MY SHOULDER).

So, I called the nurse. She told me to wait. I waited. It got bigger. I called her again. She told me to try heat and to roll the fluid out the hole that the drain had been in. Gods bless Justin- he tried. So I waited another night, but the fluid pocket/boob grew even more. I was fed the fuck up at this point, so I called her again. She told me to come in at 12:45 pm and they would squeeze me in.

Look, I know you’re all thinking ‘omg lady, just deal with it that shit will be absorbed back into your body through your lymph nodes lol that’s how bodies work you should be a seasoned pro at dealing with weird body shit by now’ but no. This was my line. Cut off my tits? SURE. Poke me with a ton of needles in all of my semi-working veins? GO FOR IT. Fill my gross skin flap with fluid? HELL NO I’VE HAD ENOUGH GET IT OUT.  And get it out they did, but not without some pomp and circumstance. What would this blog be without a little bit of that?

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Five of us are piled into this tiny office, the surgeon, the PA, the nurse, me, and Justin. I’ll skip a few details and get to the exciting part of the story when they try to aspirated my fake water boob with a giant needle and are unsuccessful. Why? Because my chest is filled with blood, which must have happened when they pulled my drain (a ruptured blood vessel or something), and my surgeon then decides to just squeeze me like a fucking lemon into a mound of gauze. Blood is everywhere, I get squeezed until I’m dry but am then promised that it will fill again and the juicing pleasure will be all theirs, as early as next week.

As I write this, with my chest and arm muscles moving viciously to bang the keyboard on my iPAD, I can hear the blood squelching above my ace wrap. Now that I know that my chest cavity is home to internal bleeding, I feel so much more at home. Calm, cool, and collected.

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AND NOW…THE SERIOUS.

It’s with that calm, cool, collected zen yoga peaceloveacceptance shit that I now take issue. I cannot even right now. I know that I seem strong and put-together for what is happening to me. People remind me of that constantly, and are so kind to do so. But I don’t feel strong all of the time. I still succumb to that split brain thing that has plagued me for so long.

I’m amazing no matter what my body looks like.

Sure, except your body looks like a fucking train hit it and is reversing just for good measure.

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I’m a strong, independent woman who is being honest and sharing what life with this disease is like.

You sound like you’re whining.

You could be a voice for young women going through this in the future, etc etc. You are telling people what a female body can look like and still be sexy.

Yeah, but my body doesn’t fucking feel like my own right now and everything feels terrible, so thank you, but no.

And isn’t that the shit of it? I want to be a strong role model for women who are faced with a decision such as mine, but right now, I don’t feel strong. I don’t feel like I have control over my body. I don’t feel like this even IS my body right now.

On Tuesday, my oncologist told me that I would be starting chemotherapy as early as mid-May. Due to the unexpected appearance of cancer in my lymph node, it was no longer just a precaution. As soon as my second drain is out, I will go in to have a port installed and then I can power all of Steve Jobs’ shitty electro…I mean absorb a bunch of poison much more easily than I could intravenously, for about five months. I almost linked the regimen I will be following, but that can come at a later date.

My point is that I am not in control of my body right now. Nothing about what is happening to me is within my control, and that is undoubtedly terrifying. I am a person who tries to maintain her body, who enjoys using her body, and is apparently quite bereft without it. I am grappling with learning this new breast-less body, a body without eight lymph nodes, and a body in which I can now see the tendon that connects my chest muscles to my arm. It’s sick. It does not feel normal. And as much as I love it and was ready for this change, it is still unsettling.

I will lose my hair. This hair, that I have worked so stupidly hard for, that has helped me define myself in a lot of ways; I will lose it, and I will lose a bit of that identity. I will lose eyelashes, eyebrows, and leg hair–and in that, I will lose my control. This will not be my body. It is not the one I have chosen. It is not the one that I want. All of this hurts, and it stings true when my chest fills with blood and I am uncomfortable and hate everything. I can’t even do aerial or acro right now; all I can do is use my hobbit lower body. That’s no fun.

But I am not alone, thank the gods. My mother did this before me, and my friends’ mothers have done it. I am connected with a multitude of women who experience that same pain as I am feeling on a daily basis. So I can feel it, yes. I can slip into my second brain for a bit. And it can be overpowering and intoxicating, but my Tami Taylor brain overrides it and reminds me that though I am but little, I am fierce.

 

Anesthesia is a helluva drug.

Before I describe in great detail the best parts of my surgery (who begs for a catheter?) and subsequent recovery, I want to give everyone a massive thank you. I am absolutely floored by the outpouring of love, kindness, and support from people, some of whom I’ve never even met. If you know me, you know these last two years have not been super kind to me, but the amount of people that have turned out to back me makes it apparent that I am beyond #blessed, and that I am surrounded by an incredible community. You all have come together and have wasted little time in letting me know that I am loved. I am truly overwhelmed and beyond grateful- no one is better set to kick cancer’s ass than I am.

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After having made the decision to be flat and fabulous, I used my last Saturday with boobs to celebrate them. Even though they’ve only ever caused me trouble, they were still the center of attention at the Boob-Voyage. Yet again, I was humbled by the crazy support and love that my community is capable of. You guys have no idea how AWESOME you are! We drank, we ate, we gave kudos to the tatas in our lives, and it was a wonderful way to send these bags of rude fat off into the surgical beyond.

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Justin and I spent Sunday preparing for the hospital and the weeks to come. He was even sweet enough to include a cemetery detour in our last bike ride (#relationshipgoals). Neither of us could sleep, so we calmed our nerves with RuPaul’s Drag Race and three wedges of cheese. They told me I couldn’t eat for 24 hours, sooooooo….

At 5am on Monday, Justin, Lauren and I rolled out to the hospital to check in for my bilateral mastectomy. I don’t know how they were feeling, but I was glad that they were there with me and were both in good spirits! It made my walk back to the surgical wing seem less daunting somehow. I didn’t feel like I was walking to the gallows or anything, but it certainly wasn’t easy to go it alone. Undressing for the last time was surreal. I even said goodbye to my bra (as if we might never cross paths again) and slipped into my purple paper surgical gown. Très chic!

Because it’s me and because this journey wouldn’t be complete without one more person assuming that I would someday pursue fake tits, my surgeon described the procedure in terms that left me open to the option.

“When you get reconstruction…”

If you decide to reconstruct…”

BRUH, I AM NOT INTERESTED IN GIVING ANYONE THE ILLUSION THAT I MISS THINGS THAT ARE ACTIVELY TRYING TO KILL ME.

At this point, I think the nurse realized I needed whatever drug she kept talking up as “relaxation medication” and injected that into my IV. From here, I remember very little until I woke up in the dark (but in the light?) needing to pee badly. I couldn’t pee, so the nurses put a catheter in me. I have never felt so relieved. I believe I was then moved to my room where Justin was waiting.

I needed to pee again about ten minutes later. Again, I couldn’t figure out how those muscles worked, so I begged the nurse to put a catheter in me. She declined and stuffed a bed pan underneath me. Justin and I then had this conversation:

Elspeth: Did you talk to the surgeon?

Justin: Yes. The surgery went well. However, you were under for about 4 hours because they found cancer in your lymph nodes on your left side. 

E: **Single tear, unintelligible sad noises** Did you call my mom?

J: Yes, we talked. She knows.

E: Where am I?

And then, because anesthesia gives you the short term memory of a goldfish…

E: Did you talk to the surgeon?

J: Yes…

I made him break the terrible news to me over and over and over again until a nurse came in.

E: Did you call…

Nurse walks in.

E: I’m sitting in cold urine.

When I finally came to enough to understand where I was, I found out that I had been in surgery for over four hours. The surgeon had done a sentinel node biopsy and found cancer cells in my lymph nodes, causing him to have to remove about eight nodes on my left side. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t know the specifics until pathology came back. All I knew at the time was that I was in incredible pain, but that some lovable idiot had hooked me up to a morphine drip (score).

My surgery had gone well, thankfully, and I only had two Jackson-Pratt drains sewn into my chest. They absorb your bodily fluids to reduce swelling and pain, but they’re a right pain in the arse themselves. Justin and I enjoy seeing all the gross shit my body can produce, so there’s a bright side. I had many wonderful visitors come to bring me salty snacks and their love. I was up and moving long before I thought I would be.

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Thankfully, I was only in the hospital until Tuesday evening. My surgeon brought us the pathology report which stated that there was only cancer found in one lymph node (YAS) and then sent me home. I have to wait until I meet with my oncologist tomorrow to hear about actual treatment routes. Who knows what will happen? Chemo and radiation still remain on the table. Tamoxifen for 5-10 years will most likely be a definite.

My body is not used to being horizontal and sedentary. I am not used to letting people take care of me. All of this has been a learning experience, and I can only imagine it will become more difficult (I’m not allowed to lift a fucking coffee mug right now). When I left the hospital, my chest, back, and arms were pretty numb. I am currently regrowing nerve pathways to those places and, let me tell you, it does not feel nice.

But the one thing I can say about this surgery is that I feel GOOD. I looked at my body three days after the operation and I felt positive. I didn’t see what I expected to see- I saw a strong woman who looked even better than she had before. A woman who wasn’t mangled, ruined, or socially-unacceptable. I was simply me. Feeling that was more empowering than anything I’ve ever felt. I love me, my partner loves me, my family loves me, and this incredible community loves me. It’s more than I could ever ask for. And thanks to all of you, I look fly as hell:

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More updates to come, I promise. And please disregard my writing. Hydrocodone was made for taking naps and not feeling feelings. It isn’t the greatest catalyst for wordsmithing.