I really need to grow up and be a big girl and not find it so awkward to constantly and repeatedly be talking about my ‘breasts.’ I had more than sufficient anatomy education from my mother and schooling but, despite every opportunity to mature into adult vocabulary, I still cringe. And, I still prefer to say ‘boobs.’ This week, while sitting in the plastic surgeons office with Scott, I realized I should take my cue from the other adults in the room and use the big-girl vocabulary but, no, I’m still cringing and referring to them as ‘boobs.’ It’s a low. And I need to grow up. Because there’s a lot of talk about them. And now, in order to update you on this week’s doctor’s appointments and requests for prayer, I’ll continue …
This week’s talkswere with the surgeon who will remove the remaining mass and also a plastic surgeon. Our heads are beginning to spin. Up to this point, we haven’t really had to make any decisions – the course has been clear and the doctors have been able to make straightforward recommendations. But, when it comes down to surgery and the anatomical impact, there are lots of variables. After meeting with the surgeon, it looks like a good candidate for a lumpectomy based on the tumor size (and though we haven’t had another mammogram or MRI which are more detailed, it looks like it’s shrinking on the sonogram!) and location (on the outside of my breast). But, they never really know how much of the tissue they’ll have to take until surgery because they need ‘negative margins’ so will take as much surrounding tissue as they need to make sure they have all the tumor. And, apparently, I have invasive and noninvasive cells so they’re not sure what those noninvasive cells have done during the last couple of months (apparently, the chemo doesn’t target them but they can morph into invasive cancer in the meantime). And then there’s the lymph nodes. We don’t know exactly how many because when this journey started it didn’t matter how many it was sufficient that they knew it had already spread and so they just began the course of action. The notes from scans refer to them as ‘bulky’ and all of that has to come out. The surgeon we met with, Dr. Lamont (who put in my port), thinks it’s possible to get the tumor and lymph nodes from one incision. That’s good. And we are thankful that he thinks his part will be pretty straightforward.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the reconstruction. Scott and I were under the impression that a lumpectomy would leave minimal change to appearance but that’s not the case. On top of removing the mass and the implications of that, there’s also the radiation factor – and radiation affects the physical appearance as well. If you have a mastectomy, you don’t have to have radiation. But, in my case, it’s likely that I’ll have to have radiation anyways because of the lymph nodes. And, at that point, we’d have some lopsidedness that would need to be addressed with plastic surgery. And, then, there’s the debate, if you’re going to have one reconstructed, is symmetry more possible/likely if both are reconstructed instead of trying to ‘match’ one to the other? I’m impressed with the technology now around plastic surgery. He can reconstruct using my own tissue (big score that it could come from my belly!) rather than implants and they look more natural. OK, I think that’s enough of big girl breast talk for now. But, needless to say, it’s a little overwhelming. And since there are a lot of options and these surgeries for the reconstruction are pretty complicated, we’ve been encouraged by the surgeon and oncologist to at least 2 opinions. We’ve only had one. And even the thought of scheduling the others gives me tired-head so that should tell you how unexcited we are about having to sort through it and actually make a decision. The first of these surgeries (and the reconstruction takes several because they can’t begin reconstruction until after radiation and they’re sure I’m cancer free) would be early August we hope. I’ll finish chemo on July 18th and we need a couple of weeks to make sure my white blood cells are back up but not too much time that the cancer can remain in my body untreated.
I’d love your prayers as we process all this information. We are thankful for good doctors and information. But we are overwhelmed with the decision. I continue to struggle with questions of vanity and not wanting that to overly impact my choices. I keep going back to verses about how ‘charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised’ or ‘man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart’ and even Paul’s words that ‘all things are permissible but not all things are beneficial.’ I know it’s certainly permissible for me to have reconstruction and I know God values femininity evidenced by this is His design for the female body but I just want my motives to be acceptable in His sight as we evaluate the reconstruction options. And, without a doubt, I’m open to the possibility of the side bonus of reconstruction post-cancer but not wanting that ‘perk’ (no pun intended) to be disproportionate (again, no pun intended) to the other considerations. Scott continues to be a good truth-teller toward that end so I know my motives and thoughts will be kept in check by him but just pray that I’ll accept the changes to my body as well as the medical advances in proper perspective.
Body image, which is something that’s haunted me most of my adult life, has been hard with chemotherapy because, admittedly, I was sure it would be an easy way to drop an extra 5-10 lbs I’ve still carried since Lincoln was born but, instead, my weight is a few pounds higher than when we started. The doctor isn’t surprised but I am. I’ve eaten pretty well and continued exercising so while I’m not saying I should have lost weight (though that would have been a nice benefit), I wouldn’t have expected to gain. But between messing with my digestive system and also my hormones, my body is just not functioning like I’m used to. I’ve resorted to prune juice. That’s a new low. Am I 40 or 80?! Actually, I’m 40 but I’m bald, gaining weight, and looking at the possibility of lopsided boobs – or is that asymmetrical breasts? In any event, it’s definitely a chance for me to grow and mature through old (and new) body image insecurities. I’m thankful Jesus doesn’t care. And sad that I do. Please pray that I won’t. Intellectually, I know these are small prices to pay for my health. But, they are more visible daily reminders than a tumor that I can’t see.
One last thing, I’ve shared how sweet folks have been about the now-obvious-I-have-cancer-bald-head. And it continues. As we left the doctor’s office on Monday, Scott and I heard someone behind us say ‘hey’ and we turned around to find an older lady standing there with her thumb up and all she said was, “you look great.” Is that not so cute?!
However, as adults, we have grown into that maturity (unlike me and my anatomical vocabulary) but most kiddos aren’t there yet. Last Friday, I took Linc to my friend Kim’s house to swim. And her daughter, almost 3, met me at the door. She was all smiles – and then …
The poor little thing noticed things weren’t the same under my hat as her Mama had warned her. And she was scared. And started to cry. And it was PRECIOUS to see this little girl, whom I’ve known since day 2 of her life when she was adopted in Tyler and I went to the hospital to see her, cry because “I want Lulu [my nickname which was adopted pre-Clouse and taken from Lewis] to have hair.” I asked her if she was scared and big crocodile tears formed in her eyes as her she nodded yes. I asked her if she wanted me to take my hat off so she could see my head or touch it and she began shaking her head no – and she meant it:) And she cried. And before I knew it, all 3 of us were on the floor crying. And then I sat with Lily Ruth and we walked through all the pictures of the head shaving and, in the end, she said it wasn’t so scary after all. But she still wanted me to leave my hat on. In the pictures below, Kim captured me sharing all the pictures from our shave day at the salon with Lily Ruth. And, also, swimming with Lincoln … with my hat on – as requested:)
Again, we thank you for journeying with us by praying, reading, and caring about our family. We’d specifically appreciate prayer for surgery decisions, accepting changes to my insides and outsides, and our family to stay connected as we walk this road together. We are headed to Tyler for Memorial Day weekend with Scott’s family and I’m praying for some needed restful, playful, relaxing time with Linc and the hounds.
And though we covet those prayers, we still find ourselves with much to be thankful for. And ask that you thank the Lord with us for great doctors; minimal side effects (the worst ones now are hot flashes, insomnia, tummy issues, and a sore on my lip that won’t heal and makes me crazy waking up to blood on my pillow but, all things considered, those are quite manageable!); continued care and support in the form of meals, babysitting, notes; and a little boy that is too little to notice that his Mama doesn’t have hair! I’m so thankful that much of this change in our lives is lost on Linc who is only showered with that much more love by friends and family who are also his caretakers these days…
Much love and many thanks!