Barbie Has Officially Left the Building

The second time I met Dr. Plastic, before my mastectomy, he  had a long red gash on his forehead. He laughed saying that he had forgotten to remove his glasses from the front of his shirt when he pulled it over his head and the glasses cut into his forehead.   This made Dr. Plastic a little more human to me.  Over the past two years under his care I have come to understand just how eccentric he is. My oncologist described him as a little crazy but a genius.  I am not sure I would go as far as to call him genius since he did pop my expander and also put in an implant one size too big–but one thing is certain, the man can sew human skin so as a scar is barely visible.

Yesterday, I lay in pre-op waiting for my final re-construction surgery, my husband, Mark, and best friend, Gina, were at my side. My IV was in place, I had met with 2 anesthesiologists –one great, the other looked like she’d been sampling a little too much of her own anesthesia, 3 nurses and an orderly. According to hospital protocol, every person that enters the patients curtained area must ask three questions 1) What is your name 2) What is your date of birth, and 3) What are you having done today.  I had no problem answering the first two, but as you all may now know about my aversion to certain words, I stumbled on number 3 every time.  “Frances Kolenik, 2.13.63, ummm….nipple reconstruction.” Nobody but me flinched at the word–I really need to grow up.

The last person I met with was Dr. Plastic himself. He stumbled into my area, his head covered in white spiky hair still moist from his recent shower.  I noted how much his hair had thinned in the two years I have been under his care. He had definitely aged through my cancer journey…I hoped that I hadn’t aged quite as rapidly as he.  The second thing I noticed was a red gash that ran down the length of his forehead.

“Are you kidding me?” I said.  Gina laughed out loud at this noticing it at the same time.

“Tell me you didn’t do it again.”

Dr. Plastic looked puzzled.

“Your forehead, the glasses? Again?”

“Oh now I am embarrased,” he said, touching the red line, “You remembered from last time? Well, what can I say, I was rushing?”

“This doesn’t bode too well, for me,” I said, thinking that stumbling and bumbling and rushing might cause my nipple to be placed somewhere around my bellybutton.

Dr. Plastic was insulted, “That’s ok, I am not doing the surgery, she is,” he pointed somewhere across the room to someone that was out of my sightline.

“NO!  Just kidding.  I want you to do it.”

“Ha, see?”  he said. “Don’t worry.”

I actually have no way of knowing if he actually did the surgery or handed it off like they do on Grey’s Anatomy to an intern in the OR.   Either way it’s fine.  Somehow I totally trust this bumbling, eccentric genius.  I trust him enough to sit there while he writes all over me in sharpie and draws the exact spot he will operate so I will be even with the other side.  When he steps back to look at me and measure the distance with his artists eye and then calls Gina over to get her opinion I realize that I have lost every semblance of modesty that might have been left over after childbirth.  My nipple has become public domain…as has my whole chest actually.

Gina noticed something else about Dr. Plastic. I don’t remember this because maybe they had already started the drugs, but according to Gina, Dr. Plastic tucked me back into bed and fixed my hair under the shower curtain they make you wear.  It must be this gentle, caring side of Dr. Plastic that makes him so good at what he does. I believe he really cares about his patients and wants them to be happy.  As a plastic surgeon, he is not dealing with life and death but instead deals with egos and peoples feelings of self-esteem which is so important after someone has lost a body part to cancer.  He understands the awkwardness and pain that accompanies plastic surgery, and that is why he is a genius — oh, and man can he sew up skin!

Compared to my other surgeries, this was a piece of cake. No drains or heavy pain medications, just a few stitches and feeling tired from the anesthesia. Dr. Plastic gave me the go-ahead to run by next Tuesday (which means I will run Monday). Thankfully I am coming to the end of this whole fiasco. My Barbie Boob is now history, leaving me only to meet with the tattoo lady, and  in then in  two weeks I will have my port removed.

Then, and only then, I will finally begin to put this all behind me. To those of you out there just beginning or in the middle of treatment and reconstruction please know that there will be a day that you can finally say –, “Ok–I am done!”.


9 Responses to Barbie Has Officially Left the Building

  1. lisasmith says:

    Can’t wait until the day i can say that!! Just starting now. =)

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I am one who is in the middle of the reconstruction process. After the first week of being pumped up, I had to go under the knife again to ‘fix’ my cancer side….it was and still is not healing properly. Then the next appointment they pumped me up…I actually started to not feel like I had a ‘guy’ chest anymore…well from that pump, my right side started draining like crazy and soaking the pads that I had covering my incisions. So last Thursday, he said if it does not heal, he is scrapping the whole thing. You can imagine my horror after all I have gone through to think it was for nothing! Today is my appointment with the PS and to me everything looks better, even though I am still bleeding a bit on my right side. I am 5 weeks post op. Did you have any similar things happen to you? I am concerned about the color of my skin on my left breast..kind of ashy and the right one is the one still bleeding a bit, but the skin color looks healthy like the rest of my body. Any info, you could share with me, would be amazing! I am so happy for you, that this is over for you! How do you like your new breasts? Does it still feel like there is something in there, like it does when the expanders are in there?

    • Heidi, Like you I had a lot of issues along the way with my mastectomy. At the first follow up appointment after the mastectomy my ps actually sat me in the chair and reopened the stitches to remove some necrotic (dead) tissue. I guess that is common in this procedure and they keep a pretty close watch to make sure the tissue stays healthy. I am curious about the ashy color, but if your doc thought it looked good then it must be ok. Five weeks out is still so early. Unfortunately after the second pump up of my expander, it had folded in on itself and when he put the needle in to add saline it actually punctured the expander. So for about 8 months I walked around with that hard plastic thing in my chest all crumpled up until they could do the actual silicone transplant. The implant feels much better than the expander so when you get that out it will feel better. Each phase is a little better than the previous one. I wish you great healing with all this. Like I said before , it’s a long process but one day soon you will have new breasts…hopefully a little higher and tighter than before:).

      Lisa, I have mentioned in other posts the same feeling of cancer forever being the backdrop of my life, how it’s now the first thing I think when I have an ache or pain–so I do get what you’re saying. I have permanent heart damage due to the chemo so it will always remain with me. And yes I take meds everyday, but I have decided recently that I do not want cancer to define me anymore so when my port comes out next week signifying the end of a year and a half of chemo and 2 years of surgeries I am going to put a period at the end of my cancer sentence. I am calling that my end point. If the cancer comes back then I will deal with that as a new phase of my life, but for now, for me, it is very therapeutic to be able to say, “Now I am done.”

  3. Lisa Adams says:

    It’s interesting that you say that. The one phrase that sums of life after cancer to me is “It’s never over.” You may set dates that are “endpoints”… end of chemo, tattoo day, etc. In reality, though, I have found that cancer stays with you. It’s part of your history, affects all medical decisions from here on out.

    Whether it’s medicines you take after that give you side effects, decisions about other preventative surgeries (like oophorectomies), or the need to follow up all aches and pains to be sure it’s not a metastasis… as soon as I accepted that there WAS no endpoint, it was a life changing event… then I no longer held the resentment every time it intruded into my life.

    When tests come back in the normal range, or tumor marker tests are fine, it’s good news with an expiration date. It only means you are “clear” until the next test. It’s never over. Time just marches forward in small increments.

    I don’t think I am being pessimistic. It’s just another way of looking at it. My friends who’ve recently gone through it agree. You think you can “put it behind you” but that’s rarely the case that it’s so clear-cut.

    (I has a double mastectomy at 37, reconstruction with silicone implants, chemo, and a salpingo-oophorectomy).

  4. Lisa- what is a salpingo oophorectomy?

  5. Lisa Adams says:

    Heidi, after chemo my period resumed (I was 37). I had estrogen receptor positive cancer and did not want the hormonal fluctuations that accompany menstruation every month. For one year I took Zoladex injections to suppress my ovaries. Zoladex is a LHRH agonist in technical terms. After a year I realized I was never going to be able to mentally live with having a period and wondering if the estrogen and progesterone were fueling any cancerous cells that might have still been in my body.

    So, in an effort to rid myself of as much estrogen as I could, I opted for the salpingo-oophorectomy which is surgery that removes your ovaries and fallopian tubes. This both minimizes ovarian cancer, of course (a hard cancer to detect. I do not carry BRCA 1 or 2) and also removes the source of most of the estrogen in your body (some still made in the adrenals and by fat cells).

    It plunges you into menopause suddenly, harshly. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly if you are pre-menopausal. I found it very difficult, but felt I needed to do it to minimize my chance of getting cancer again.

  6. Sloan says:

    Nice post! I really like your posting.
    i will come back to read more of your posts.


  7. Run? You’re going to run? This must mean I had the worlds worst reconstruction. I kinda sag lopsided. Pretty darned amusing, and this is without any running involved.

    …Oh wait… maybe I could have gotten
    cancer way before I turned 60..

    This isn’t all about me? OK, fine. SO here’s what I’ll bet: You’ll look way better than Barbie in short order – probably today. And when I think about it, the world is way better off with you running in all your new perkiness than with Doctor Plastic just attempting to walk.

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