(16-09-29) Wound Care, Part II

I was hoping that not seeing Dr. Dhillon for a week would allow me to walk into his office today and listen to him tell me that he figured out the magical solution to close this wound hole.

Apparently, my expectations were a little unrealistic.

He sat me down and explained three options we currently have.  I’ve decided to present them in the order that we will try them (presuming we end up having to try all three).

OPTION #1 (a.k.a. what we plan to do first, on Monday morning)
I’m going to dose myself up with some pain medication (doctor-recommended), have someone *else* drive my loopy ass to the hospital (also doctor-recommended), and undergo a 30-minute, no anesthesia-provided procedure right there in the clinic.  This procedure involves Dr. Dhillon going inside the hole, scraping/hollowing it out, then applying some silver wound rope-like material inside half of the hole.  From there, i will wear a compression sports bra 24-7 – not even taking it off to shower.  I will also cover the hole with a wound dressing, and i will change that out every day.  The goal here is to coerce the tissue to collapse on itself, thereby closing the hole.  This is a 2-6 week process, but we would know in 2-3 weeks if it is, in fact, working.

 

OPTION #2 (a.k.a. what we will do in 2-3 weeks, if option #1 isn’t working)
kci-vac-machine-3
Dr. Dhillon will attach a KCI Vac Machine to my body.  A tube will run from the machine directly to my breast.  I would have to carry this machine around with me at all times; it will be connected 24-7.  The machine would evenly distribute negative pressure (I’m guessing it functions like a vacuum) to the wound, and this negative pressure would do three things: (1) suck out an infectious materials; (2) suck out an draining fluid; and (3) gradually draw the wound edges together.  Special gauze would also have to be inserted into the hole and changed out three times a week by a nurse (meaning I would have to drive to the hospital each time).  I am not sure how long this contraption would need to stay on.   When they first attach it to my body, i will feel a mild pulling sensation that supposedly goes away within the same day.  As the wound heals, it will start to get itchy and tender.

 

OPTION #3 (a.k.a. what we will do if the KCI Vac Machine doesn’t work)
Surgery will be required.  Dr. Dhillon bluntly stated he doesn’t even know all that the surgery would entail, but – in his words – “It will involve tissue flapping, and it won’t be pretty.”

Fun times.

(16-09-24) Weekend Reprieve (more pictures added)

~ a pictorial representation of a truly perfect weekend – away from ongoing cancer restrictions but still in the presence of so many people i love ~

 

 

new food experiences with a friend whom i don’t get to spend enough quality time with

 

a Saturday afternoon that included floppy hats at Venice beach, the best ice cream flavor ever invented (rosemary butterscotch!), and quality time with the lady who helped save my life

 

received_895250770605435

a Saturday night club event that involved Patron bottle service …

… watching my roommate and her girlfriend both take turns DJ’ing …

… hula hoop dancers (some professional, some – not so professional) …

received_10155282184939115

… a girl in a unicorn onesie who single-handedly collected $200 to be donated to a local cancer organization …

 

… TARAH DANCING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS …

… and lip-locking with the headliner DJ sporting a purple fro.

lily

All thanks to this womyn right here, who put the event together and reminded me that there is still a little party girl somewhere deep inside me.  😉

received_1612528908764389

a Sunday afternoon that included ordering the “hair of the dog,” apparently, as well as more beach time – this time with matching shirts that made it clear how awesome we were

received_1613544281996185

And finally, inevitable naptime when Exhaustion finally overpowered Euphoria.

(16-09-22) Wound Care

A FUNNY MOMENT IN A NOT-SO-FUNNY CONVERSATION

NURSE DANA: You need some nurse friends in your life.

ME: Actually, my one nurse friend is going to be in California with me this weekend for that event i was telling you about.

NURSE DANA: Oh, good!  You can tell her to push it in your hole.

ME (suppressing laughter…sort of): Okay, Nurse Dana, I will make sure to tell Nikita to ‘push it in [my] hole.’

I almost want to leave the blog entry on that note … but i understand the whole point of this blog is to keep all of you updated so that your feelings don’t get hurt when i refuse to answer the same questions you send my way via text, email, phone call, or face-to-face.  So…

I went to see Dr. Dhillon today.  He’s my wound care specialist doctor, the one i was checking in with when i had those 40 sessions of HBO therapy.  On Monday, when I saw Dr. Walsh, she advised me to schedule an appointment with him this week because, at this point, she is limited in what she, a reconstructive surgeon, can do about my wound.  It still won’t close.  Even with no implant in there and a – what, sixth? – attempt at closing it with stitches, it continues to break free from the sutures and expose itself.  Every time it opens, it
* leaves me susceptible to getting another infection there (staph, MRSA, etc.)
AND
* prolongs my 10-pound weight restriction
AND
* prevents me from being cleared to exercise again
AND
* delays the 6-month recovery period that Dr. Walsh insists on before we can attempt any new types of reconstruction on the right side
AND
* leaves me even more disgusted with my body – and, by extension, myself.

Dr. Dhillon took out the remaining sutures (“Why are these even here?  They’re not doing anything.  I’m taking them out.”).  He took pictures and measurements.  He shoved a long-handled cotton swab inside this now-gaping hole and moved it all around, discovering that there is a pocket in there beneath my skin that is about 8 cm all around.

“Here’s the thing,” he tells me, and he proceeds to explain to me how our skin has layers like an onion.  “When Dr. Walsh took out the entire implant, the top layer of tissue was supposed to collapse onto the next layer of tissue, kind of like how one layer of an onion folds directly on top of the next layer.  That’s not happening.  I’m going to need to talk to Dr. Walsh to see what we can do, at this point.”

“Well, Dr. Walsh told me to come see you because she doesn’t know what to do.”

“I don’t either.  I need to talk some ideas out loud with her and get some feedback before i can determine our next step.  Come back and see me in a week.”

In the moment, i was frustrated, but i suppose i should be grateful that a doctor is willing to be humble enough to admit when he doesn’t know something.  He could have just pulled some random idea out of his ass and presented it with confidence, and i wouldn’t have known any better.  This is one of those “The universe is testing your patience” moments; i know it is. 

Before i left, he plugged up the hole with this antimicrobial strip of material that folds over like an accordion and functions like a tampon.  Now that there is an actual hole in my body, there is so much fluid coming out that it soaks through my post-surgery sports bras, gauze, and padding – all the way through to my shirt if i don’t change out the gauze every couple hours.

“Change this out every time you take a shower.  Use the tip of the cotton swab to push in the strip a little bit at a time, and then make sure you leave some hanging outside the hole – so you can pull it out later.”

“Dr. Dhillon, i can’t even look at or touch that part of my body right now.  Even when i’m washing myself, i just squirt some antiseptic in that general area and hope it hits the right spot.”

“I’m going to need you to try.  If you absolutely can’t do it, just put the strip on top of the hole … but then every time you lean or move to the right, you’re going to have fluid coming out of there.”

“Leaking fluid doesn’t go with my dress for the fundraising event, Dr. Dhillon.”

“Then try.  I’ll see you in a week.”

(16-09-19) Shopping Trip

I wish i could tell you that i started off on this shopping trip with a positive attitude.  I didn’t.  I walked into that mall today with a chip on my shoulder, annoyed that i had to spend the day searching for clothes to help take attention away from my single-breasted state.  One of my roommates came with me and somehow managed to stay upbeat as i grimaced at her initial suggestions, scowled at the reflection of myself in the dressing room, and made completely insensitive comments like, “Damn… This is how ugly people must feel when they have to go shopping.”

… but i made it through.  Renee patiently waited as I pushed past my bitterness, and then together we explored cowl necklines, textured patterns, sweater drapes, and anything with ruffles.  There was even a moment, in the third store, when i felt stirrings of legitimate excitement creep up within me, as i tried on an off-the shoulder black dress that i knew would be perfect for the fundraising club event in West Hollywood this weekend.

I know it’s going to take a long time before i feel comfortable inside this modified body of mine.  Luckily, i recognize when i am making progress, and today i definitely took a step forward.

blue-dress

 

 

 

(16-09-17) Staying Appreciative

After spending the last few weeks with someone who has one of the strongest cases of a personality disorder that i’ve ever seen, i feel even more gratitude and appreciation for the people in my life.  I feel like i say this too much, but on the other hand, i don’t think i can ever express it enough.  My friends have been amazing.  My family has been amazing.  My coworkers have been amazing.  The employees at Arizona Center for Cancer Care, The Cancer Support Community of Arizona, the HBO department at Banner University Medical Center, The Polish Room, Camelback Toyota, Tru Med Dispensary, Tina’s Treasures, Switchblade Salon, my local CVS Pharmacy, Victoria’s Secret, Bihn & McDaniel Law Firm, AZCOPS union, and Arizona Republic have been amazing.  The Facebook group, Booby Buddies, has been amazing.  COMPLETE STRANGERS have been amazing.

My world is filled with “amazing.”

… and i have grown increasingly cognizant of this throughout my cancer journey, but i am even more aware of it after closely observing someone whose world is NOT filled with “amazing.”  Not only does it make me appreciate all the people in my life even more, but it also reminds me to appreciate MYSELF more.  This world is not a free ride.  You pay for what you get.  If i am getting doses of “amazing” on a regular, ongoing basis, then i must be doing something right with myself.

I appreciate that i was able to reflect on that truth today.   Events leading up to this weekend could have led me down a very different emotional path, but i didn’t let them.  I stayed focused on keeping a positive mindset and remembering not to stray too far from the goals i have set for myself.

This is progress.

(16-09-12) The Wound That Won’t Quit

Seriously.

I went from a “D” cup to a “C” cup to a “B” cup to an “A” cup to a NO CUP, and this wound *still* wants to act a fool.

It opened.  Again.  There isn’t even any implant or expander or ANYTHING stretching the skin out in that area, but *still* the tissue won’t come together and stay closed.  Dr. Walsh had to stitch it up today during my office visit.

I hope the cancer cells in my body aren’t as stubborn as my goddamned tissue and skin cells.  If so, I’m screwed.

(16-09-10) Post-Mastectomy Clothing

There’s a statement that is quite familiar to those of us who identify as high-maintenance girly girls: “I have nothing to wear!”

We always say this with a frantic or whiny edge to our voice, and of course it is completely untrue.  The womyn who say this are the ones who have more clothes than they know what to do with.  The picture above is a prime example.  That’s HALF of my closet.  HALF – meaning, there are more clothes on the other side of the closet, outside the frame of this particular photo.  Regardless, i had at least one hissy fit a week about having “nothing to wear” for a particular occasion.

Now, “I have nothing to wear” has taken on a whole new meaning.

The drain is out.  The binder is off, and I’ve been cleared to wear post-surgery sports bras.  They are boring, and i haven’t had to buy a bra size that small since high school … but they close in the front, and the elastic band is long enough so that it doesn’t aggravate the incision that is still healing.  Yay!  I can finally dress myself again, without having to ask for help.

… except i have nothing to wear.

I am going to be living my life as a 1-breasted womyn for at least the next six months – possibly the rest of my life.  This requires a whole new approach to clothing choices.  Yes, i can still wear all the same clothes i already have and deal with the public stares without feeling any sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment – but i am not there yet.  Where i am right now is here:

“Fuck it.  I’m just not going to leave the house today.”

intermingled with

“C’mon, Tarah, you have an hour to get to this doctor’s appointment.  Find SOMETHING.  Get dressed, go to the appointment, and then you can come back and hide for as long as you want to.”

intermingled with

“I need a whole new wardrobe before i can resume leaving the house on a regular basis.”  

intermingled with

“Google and Pinterest, *please* help me.” 

 

Several hours of Internet searching has taught me that obtaining a post-mastectomy wardrobe for a 1-breasted womyn is going to be a daunting task.  Most of the clothing centers around modified sports bras, and shirts with pockets that can hold the post-surgery drains … and once one moves beyond that stage, the remaining clothing primarily focuses on womyn who have NO breasts – not womyn who have one.  Pinterest was helpful in giving me ideas for certain styles of shirts and dresses i can wear … but i was kind of hoping that the World Wide Web would hold my hand and guide me directly to the brands, companies, and stores that would have what i am looking for.  No such luck.

 

(16-09-09) Hair

Today marked the second time i had to get a post-chemo hair trim.  The first time was August 17.  One  of the HBO nurses had jokingly made a comment about how if i was going to rock a short hair cut, i needed to stay on top of it … and that led to me abruptly dropping by my friend’s salon, begging her or her employee to trim the edges in the back and around the ears.  It was then that i realized – for the first time – that i could actually have a bit of fun with my hair as i endure the arduously long process of growing it out.

20160817_171151

Having short hair also taught me something i didn’t know about myself.

“Dos remolinos!  Now it all makes sense!”

A friend was looking at the back of my head and noticed something that decades of long hair had kept hidden: two whorls (a.k.a. “swirls,” “cowlicks,” or [as some Spanish-speaking people refer to them] “remolinos”).

20160904_173852

Apparently, some cultures believe that babies born with two whorls are going to be troublesome and problematic.

Hm.  No surprise there, i guess … but i wasn’t aware there was physical evidence on my body proving this!

Fast forward to today, and i am sitting down in Melinda’s chair, about to get my second post-chemo haircut.  Her usual question of “So, what are you thinking we should do today?” now takes on a whole new level of uncertainty.  I have spent my entire adult life swearing i would never succumb to the lesbian stereotype of short haircuts … and now here i was, being asked what kind of style i wanted for hair that’s only about an inch long.  I didn’t have a clue how to answer her.

Thank you, Pinterest.

 

 

(16-08-29) … Or Not

9:05am

As she prepares for me to go into the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, RN Jane, in her ever-present chipper voice, makes a too-casual comment while she’s changing my wound dressing: “Well!  This spot looks a lot more open than the last time i saw it a week ago.”

I casually reply, “It’s probably because Dr. Walsh took the stitches out on Friday.”

“Do you feel any pain in that area?”

“No.”

11:35am

Changing out of my  hospital gown back into my street clothes, i hear my cell phone ringing.  It’s Dr. Walsh’s office. Already.

“Hi, this is Tarah.”

“Hi, Tarah, this is Melissa at Dr. Walsh’s office.  Dr. Walsh saw the pictures that Jane emailed her this morning, and she would like you to come in this afternoon.”

My heart sinks.  I know exactly what this means.

2:05pm

Dr. Walsh and her assistant, Angie, enter the examination room.  I stare at Dr. Walsh with puppy dog eyes, fervently hoping that will make any difference whatsoever.

“You already know what I’m going to tell you.”

“No, Dr. Walsh ….”

But I’ve lost, and i know it.  She gives me the speeches: “You had to do the radiation; it’s what helped save your life” … yada, yada … “You did everything you could” … blah, blah, blah … “Sometimes, this just happens with radiated patients who are as fit as you are” … click-click-click of the tongue, in a futile attempt to distract myself … “We could go down one more size with the implant, but honestly, we’ve done this three times already, and it’s just not working” … empty stare, blank stare; it’s too soon to start crying … “I can’t force you to remove the implant, but i can tell you that wound is not going to close, and it’s going to get infected again”  … the tears don’t care that it’s too soon to be appearing … “Even though we won’t ever be able to put an implant back in there later, you do have other options down the road, and I will help you find the best doctor possible for another type of reconstruction” …  Angie sees my face crumpling in defeat, and she reaches for the box of tissues … “I’m so sorry, Tarah” … and the look on her face shows that she really is so sorry, which causes me to cry harderDr. Walsh hands me the whole box of tissues this time. 

“When?”

“Tomorrow.  Wednesday.  Thursday.  As soon as you can.”

“Tomorrow, then.”

2:30pm

I’m sitting in my car, in the parking lot.  I can’t drive yet; the tears are still too pervasive, and they cloud my vision.  I picture myself spending the next year – perhaps the rest of my lifetime – with just one breast, and the tears turn into all-out sobbing.  In that moment, I hate myself for becoming so vain, and i realize that these moments of self-loathing haven’t been this present since adolescence.  They are starting to consume me.  I know they are.

2:40pm

I text Amy about the happy hour we have scheduled for 4:00pm .  “FYI – I’m going to get there half an hour early.”

“How come?”

“I’m coming from a doctor’s appointment.”

“Oh, okay.  Cool.  I will try and hurry!”

In that moment, I want nothing more than to cancel on her, go home, lock myself in my room, and cry/drink myself to sleep.  Instead, i force myself to head over there.

3:12pm

I park slightly away from the restaurant.  My face is a mess, and I’m not ready to tell Amy about this upcoming surgery.  I’m not ready to tell anyone.  I retrieve the “emergency” kit from my glove compartment and go about the process of hiding my pain: antihistamine eye drops; calming facial cleansing wipe; and fresh applications of mascara, concealer, eyeliner, blush, and lip gloss.  I keep having to pause and redo some steps because i’m still crying.  One boob.  Six weeks of fighting, but i lost anyway… and now,  I might never get to move past the looks that people give me because they know i’m a cancer fighter/survivor/whatever.  That’s all that keeps running through my head.

3:18pm

A man stands outside my car door.  He’s reading my bumper stickers, and I think he’s trying to establish eye contact with me.  I ignore him, and he eventually goes away.

3:22pm

The man returns and stares at me until my stubbornness dissolves.  I roll down my window.

“I like your bumper stickers.”

I smile and thank him, then smile for real when he hands me a pear.

“It’s organic.  My buddy owns a farm in Colorado.  Yesterday, I drove there to pick up 100 boxes of Palisade Peaches, to deliver to this organic marketplace right here.”  He gestures to a store I’ve never noticed before, despite being in that strip mall well over a dozen times.

“Peaches are my favorite.”

“Have you ever had a Palisade peach?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Then no … because if you had, you would know it.  No peach compares to a  Palisade.”

He leaves and returns with a peach.  It’s hard and seems like it’s not ripe enough to be eaten, but i take a bite anyway, and it turns out that he’s right: This is the best-tasting peach I’ve ever had.

“Okay, sold.  May I buy a box right now?”

I spend $50 on a 20-pound box of Palisade peaches.  He puts a box in my car since i’m on a weight restriction and can’t lift more than five pounds right now.  In the meantime, i explore this organic marketplace and find that they sell “backyard chicken eggs” and “organic cotton candy” and other products that conscious-but-privileged folk are willing to spend extra dollars on.  I also learn that they have a farmer’s market.  This stuff is not available much on the west side of Phoenix, and in that moment i feel like i just won something.

20160901_002241

3:55pm

Amy arrives for happy hour, and i meet her in the parking lot because i need to ask her to bring in the box of peaches so that they don’t sit in a 120-degree car for the next two hours.  After hugging, she leans into her trunk and pulls out a large wrapped present.  “I’m so excited to finally get this to you.”

“Damn … All i have for you are some peaches, and that’s only because i need you to carry the box into the restaurant for me.”

“Don’t be silly.”

She carries the present into the restaurant, and i tear into it before we even order drinks.  Underneath the wrapping paper is a shadow box that contains mementos from the H.E.A.L.event.  It’s clear she put a lot of time into it, and it’s fantastic.

shadow box

6:35pm

On my way home from happy hour, i stop at CVS to pick up the refill for my antibiotic.  At this point, i know all the pharmacy techs by first name. “Hi, Ismael.”

“Hi, Ms. Ausburn.  You doing okay?”

“Ugh.  I just found out that i have to have  another surgery tomorrow, so i’m not in the greatest mood.”

“I’m sorry to hear that … but i have something that might cheer you up.”  He walks away and returns with a blue T-shirt.  “Malachi told me to give this to you, in case you came by when he wasn’t on shift.”  It was a shirt that Malachi had previously mentioned wanting to make for me, after he saw my interviews on the news … and i was all enthusiastic at the time, but i had no expectation that he would actually follow through with making this … nothing against Malachi … but my only interactions with this man are when he fills my butt load of cancer- and non-cancer-related medications from week to week, so why would he go out of his way to make a customized T-shirt for the lady who drives that crazy car with all the bumper stickers?

Except he did.

20160831_212804

6:41pm

I am on my way home, and my brain is on overdrive trying to process all that happened in just this one day.  It started out like any other weekday morning, took a sharp turn south when i heard the second most devastating piece of news about my life during this past year, and then gradually but persistently propelled itself upwards as people – strangers, coworkers-turned-friends, and retail acquaintances alike – reminded me that there is and will continue to be beauty and hope and love and light emanating from this whole tragedy … just as long as i keep myself open to them, as well as myself.

10:25pm

I fell asleep sober, without a tear-streaked face.  And, in spite of the tragic news i received 11 hours prior, i realized something pretty wonderful: I fell asleep feeling GRATEFUL.