In Voices - Inspirational (and sometimes funny) Stories from Breast Cancer Survivors

Dismantling and Reassembling…

Do you ever feel like your entire life is a freak show…and you have front row seats? Pull up a chair (or toilet seat) and enjoy the latest installment in the series I call: “My Breast Case Scenario”.

Having a double mastectomy can be a one-time deal, that is, opting not to go forward with an implant and further reconstruction. And that’s fine. In fact, that’s pretty much the road I was traveling until I realized a few things: 

  1. Even my undershirts were billowing around my chest area, 
  2. Nothing GAP offers fits me anymore, unless I moved into the boys toddler section, and I have and 
  3. There was nothing “there” to catch my invariable spilling and drooling during happy hour. 

And, who knew breasts were such great crumb-catchers? Well when they’re gone, you know.

Thus began the slow process of building back up what was dismantled. I did get implants, and I thought, that was that. Not too big, not too small…quite the right size for this Goldilock. I was content and my undershirts fit. Then there came the episode when all hell literally broke loose and the donor tissue which acted as a nesting hammock for my implant came apart from my chest wall and leaked, creating a larger puddle at my feet than an unfortunate episode at PSU involving a Jack and Tab, and my inability to drink it efficiently. 

That little snafu earned me a surgical do-over and several days drug-induced siesta in the hospital. It wasn’t a hoot and all I remember is vomiting the length of the dirty, naughty Susquehanna. Apparently, along with my Mr. Daniels in a red Solo, I have trouble holding my anesthesia. But heal I did and went on with my life.

Shortly thereafter, I was having some discomfort surrounding the left implant. I visited my friendly neighborhood plastic surgeon and as he examined the culprit of my neurosis, he wondered aloud why I never completed my reconstruction. 

Well, in my mind I did! What the hell was he talking about? 

Oh…nipples. 

Aren’t they just, I don’t know, sort of extraneous, store-front displays…like the inflatable cows at Blue Ribbon Dairy. You know they don’t produce milk, but they’re almost an expected accouterment.  I don’t know…was I up for more surgery?  After discussing it with my friend, Denise, she offered this nugget: ”Every picture deserves a frame. That’s your frame.” Wow. Heavy. She also said: ”Ramona on Real Housewives of NYC has to go…”but I was just hearing “nipples and frames”.

Okay. I was game. But first, I talked it over with the offspring.

From the very first moment of diagnosis, I talked to them about every step of the process. Against their wishes, I lifted my shirt and gave them a tutorial about what will take place and what has taken place. For us, it’s about the frankness of the cancer discussion; demystifying the unknowns. In my mind, this eases the fright our kids feel. And they all do.  An open dialogue encourages them to think of breast cancer as an inconvenience rather than a death sentence. They’re better informed about this disease and subsequent surgeries, and can better educate their peers. 

There’s too much misinformation out there because we women are loathe to discuss it.  Why, I will never understand. Perhaps it’s our upbringing. I suppose because my father is a pharmacist, there was never a body part and its matching function not verbally dissected around the dinner table in the girl-heavy Jiunta house, very little else was actually discussed. My brother was the most educated male in the Valley on all female operating instructions. He knew my monthly cycle better than me. 

My message is this: share the expedition and flight plan with your kids. I swear to you, it will eradicate their defenses and anxieties. If they know what to expect, then when they walk into the bathroom and you’re in the tub, they’ll be less likely to run screaming in fear and disgust. (Oh, wait, that was my husband, not my kids. My mistake). 

Share it, don’t hide it.

Yet again, I completed another reconstructive surgery. I can’t go into further detail because I’ve probably already pushed the envelope too far with the mention of “ni&*#es”, but suffice it to say they are the size of a Tic Tac and not a Good n’Plenty, and therefore, perfect. Sure, they’re non-operational…but so is an ornament hanging from your Christmas tree, and we still need them to complete the whole enchilada, correct? 

Last stop on the Breast Cancer Express? Tattooing! Stay tuned for that little adventure because I’m certain I won’t let it go by without forcing you to read every excruciating detail. Buy your ticket early to get a good seat for what I hope will be the final installment in the BC Parade.

About the Author:

Maria Jiunta Heck, President of Green Gables Enterprises, designer and owner of the Breast & Chest Buddy™, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and underwent a bilateral mastectomy.

As every mastectomy patient knows, our bodies become difficult to maneuver immediately following surgery, and simple tasks, such as driving a car and fastening a seatbelt prove daunting and difficult.

Because a mastectomy patient may go through multiple procedures over the next 8 to 12 months, it is imperative to cushion the delicate area where a seatbelt rests daily. A pillow is not the answer.

Since no one had ever designed a product like this at the time, she would. Thus, the Breast & Chest Buddy™ was born. Nine years and ten procedures later and Maria still wears her Breast & Chest Buddy™ every, single day.

No one understands what a mastectomy patient needs like another mastectomy patient.

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