Creating new cleavage

Today was my first tissue expansion! It was actually kind of a “yay” moment amidst all my anxiety about starting chemo (Thursday… eek). For those of you who don’t know, during my mastectomy, the plastic surgeon implanted expanders under my chest muscles. Throughout the next couple of months, these will be gradually expanded so that my skin and muscle stretch enough to make room for the real silicone implant, which I’ll have inserted after all my chemo is finished. That’s called the exchange operation – when the temporary tissue expanders are swapped for the real implants.

Because of the revision I had to have a couple weeks ago, my surgeon had to take down the left expander to almost nothing, and I was quite lopsided. But today, she filled the left side with 120 ccs, almost 2/3 of the way to matching the right side!

Yay for being a little less lopsided and a little more womanly. Yay for being so healed from surgery that my surgeon is okay with expanding me. Yay for not even feeling the small pinprick of the saline tube needle, which was inserted into a port on the expander so the saline could be injected in. Yay for not feeling much tightness or soreness at all, at least not yet. Yay for preemptive Tylenol.

And yay for this article, which totally excites the singer in me: Cancer charity gets funding for choirs after proving the pyschosocial benefits

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The Art of Healing

Almost two weeks post-mastectomy! Still feeling wonderful; honestly, I think one of the hardest aspects of this whole experience has been finding a comfortable way to sleep. If that’s my biggest annoyance, I’ll take it. I’m also becoming a bit of a hypochondriac, freaking out with every small pain or stretch or movement I feel, thinking my sutures have torn or my expander has burst. Luckily, my stepmom is a nurse and my dad is a doctor, and at every step they reassure me that I am fine.

What I really want to talk about today is my job. I work as an office manager for the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, a wonderful organization that promotes the arts as integral to healthcare by providing resources, professional development and educational opportunities, and a forum for networking, learning, and furthering the field with colleagues. This past week, we held our annual international conference in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I was not able to go due to the timing of my surgery, but I was so proud to hear a feature about our conference and our organization’s work on San Fran’s local NPR affiliate, which featured our board president, some past board members, and callers who shared stories of how the arts have positively impacted their healthcare experiences. It was a wonderful broadcast and I encourage you all to listen: KQED feature “Healing with Art”.

One of the things I have been down about lately has also been the skin on my left breast, which is not looking so great and taking longer to heal than I expected. I so much want to heal perfectly, without any necrosis (dead skin) or need for further surgeries to correct things, which would give me a less natural cosmetic result. Today, after stepping out of the shower and still feeling disappointed in the state of my skin, I thought about the broadcast and my organization and decided to write a poem to improve my feelings about my skin.

While I don’t usually like to share my creative writing, I like this poem and think sharing it will enhance my positive feelings because I know all of my readers are behind me every step of the way, and I want to add my testimony to that of others who find the arts a powerful healer. Here goes:

“Healthy Skin”

The color of healthy
skin is pink. Peach if
you’re a Caucasian coloring
with crayons.
In shadows black skin
emerges, but the best
we can hope for is pink
underneath. Blood,
oozing, is a good sign,
scary as it is.

Cream is slathered
on the skin, like icing
on a cake, the surgeon said.
Covering up the black
and ushering in the pink,
the blood, the blisters
that pop and reveal soft
pink, underneath.

I hope for pink, because
it is the color of healthy
skin.