Dismantling and reassembling the Maria (Maria Heck, Pt 5.)

Do you ever feel like your entire life is a freak show…and you have front row seats?  Pull up a chair and enjoy the latest installment in the series I call: “Maria’s 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.  It is fine if that is what you decide.  In fact, that’s pretty much the road I was travelling until a few important realizations hit me….

First, even my undershirts were billowing around my chest area.

Second, nothing GAP offers fit me anymore, unless I moved into the boy’s toddler section, which I have.

Third, there was nothing “there” to catch my invariable spilling and drooling during happy hour.  Who knew breasts were such great crumb-catchers? Well, when they’re gone, you soon find out!

Thus began the slow process of building back up what was dismantled.  I got implants and thought that was that.  Not too big, not too small.  Quite the right size for this Goldilocks.  I was content and my undershirts fit.

Then there came the episode when all hell broke loose.  The donor tissue which acted as a nesting hammock for my implant came apart from my chest wall and leaked. That little snafu earned me a surgical do-over and several days of a drug-induced siesta in the hospital.  It wasn’t a hoot!  Apparently, along with my Mr. Daniels in a red Solo, I have trouble holding my anesthesia.

Although I did heal, I soon started to have discomfort around the left implant.  So, I visited my friendly neighborhood plastic surgeon, who examined the culprit of my neurosis.  He wondered aloud why I never completed my reconstruction.  This was news to me. In my mind I had.  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 was not sure if more surgery was for me.  My friend Denise 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.”

By now I was game.  But first, I wanted to talk it over with the offspring.  From the very first moment of diagnosis, I had talked to them at every step.  Now was not the time to stop!

Against their wishes, I lifted my shirt and gave them a tutorial about what had been done so far and would take place.  It had always been about the frankness of the cancer discussion; demystifying the unknowns.  In my mind, this eases the fright that 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 the disease and what needs to be done to fix it, and can better educate their peers.

Let’s be frank.  There’s too much misinformation about cancer out there, especially when it comes to breasts.   In part, this is 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.  Coming from a girl-heavy house, 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 quite simple.  Share the cancer expedition and flight plan with your kids.  I swear to you, it will eradicate their 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).

Basically….share it, don’t hide it!

Well, 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”.  Suffice it to say they are the size of a Tic Tac and not a Good n’ Plenty. They are 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, right?

Last stop on the Breast Cancer Express?  Tattooing!  Stay tuned for that little adventure.  I won’t let you go without going into 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.


*Reprinted from The Sunday Dispatch*

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