Since my double mastectomy, I often have phantom boob pain in spite of the fact that there is no tittie tissue connecting to any nerves. I’m caught by surprise when I touch where my nipples once were to find numbness. There’s nothing other than fading scars, even though I could swear I still have overly sensitive nips, perked up and asking for attention. But, little did I know that the next step in reconstruction for me would involve less boo-hoo-hoo in my phantom boob pain, and more of a surprising “BOO” from a “who.” I’ll get little ghosties in my mosties!
I am one of those people whose medical folder likely has a warning emblazoned on the front aimed at time-pressed doctors. “Patient asks ALL the questions. Make excuse to leave BEFORE entering. ‘My cat is on life-support. I’m on call in the Ebola ward. I ate Chipotle last night.’ Make up a reason now and remember to use it! Doctor! You have been warned…”
Fortunately, through breast cancer treatment, I have talked the ears off of several doctors who hear, listen to and answer ALL of the questions without condescension. This includes grilling my plastic surgeon whole hog about the details of my implant-based breast reconstruction. Smooth? Textured? Flap? Sub Pectoral? Pre Pec? Round? Tear Drop? High Profile? Silicone? Saline?
Note that I have learned that these questions are best fired at a doctor, not into cyberspace. Having breast cancer and going through treatment that brings you to your knees does not always make mean people nice. Trolls abound who rail on other women for being “stupid” to opt for implants as a part of reconstruction. There are women out there who take others’ treatment and reconstruction decisions as a personal assault if it doesn’t align with their worldview.
It is true that breast reconstruction for some patients can be achieved “naturally” by using their own tissue and fat taken from elsewhere (glutes, abdomen, back fat). But, even if the internet and some very vocal activists claim this is an option for everyone, it is not. Some women simply have no excess tissue for flap reconstruction or have lifestyles that would make mining fat and messing with muscles ill-advised. In addition, women have personal reasons that lead them to reconstruction. While some go flat and might even be amped about it, other women want contour. Unfortunately, when it comes to these choices some women are incredibly judgmental about what other women decide to do, especially when it comes to implant-based reconstruction.
Listen up, Ladies! Life goes by as swift as a nip slip. Be kind to each other. Don’t be shitty to people who trust their doctors instead of trusting troll rants on internet comment chains.
After chemo, targeted therapy, and more surgeries, I eventually had an initial pair of itty bitty titty prosthetics placed directly under my skin a year after my mastectomy. This primary set of implants would allow my skin to stretch so that a final surgery could be done later to touch things up. And, let’s just say that having waited patiently this past year, the silicone squishies have settled- awkwardly- like my husband sinking into our teen’s beanbag gaming chair. One gel orb has me tapping my ribs while humming… ”Do your boobies hang low, do they wobble to and fro?” The other resembles a softball that looks like it’s stressed out and trying to flee its laid back, cheesy song invoking neighbor by parking itself a bit too high on my chest. It’s time for the final revision surgery.
Enter the “Acellular Dermal Matrix” per my plastic surgeon who whipped out his trusty black marker to sketch out the plan for my next surgery on the exam table sheet. The Acellular Dermal Matrix is flexible sheathing that can reinforce my overly thin skin. It can encase my new implants in a little extra cushion to snuggle and shape the fake boobies aka. foobies.
The Super Acellular Dermal Matrix will take me from o 0 to (_) (_)!
!!! (_) (_) !!!!!
Cool! I’m in.
Surgery is tomorrow.
But, at this 11th hour, I have just one more question (because, of course I do).
“Is the cellular dermal matrix man-made or porcine?” I don’t get an immediate answer. I do what I always do when I’m uncomfortable. I joke. “Cadaver?”
Yes, Ma’am. Cadaver.
Whoah. And Wow.
Cadaver boob sacs?!
So, of course, on this night before surgery, I am plunging down a rabbit hole with some follow-up questions about cadaver boob bags:
• If my perked up bosom is subsequently pumped-up and possessed by a naughty cadaver boob bag spirit who is itching for the wild life, where can I get a “My Titties Made Me Do It” tee?
• Will my phantom boob pain actually be phantom phantom boob pain?
• When my doctor makes the foobies “eyeball ready,” is it acceptable to get eyeballs tattooed on them instead of nipples? That way I can say things like “Eyes down here,” instead of the typical “Eyes up here!” And in that case, will a little part of the phantom tit sac peer back? Can I teach it to wink? Then if haters refer to my bespectacled self as “Four Eyes,” can confidently flash them and let it be known that “we” prefer to be called “Six Eyes?” Will the boob bag ghosts silently giggle or roll their eyes?
• Would the DMV get more people to sign-up as organ/tissue donors if they knew their inner hides could live a second life swaddling soft ta-tas all cuddled up next to a nice warm heart?
• Will “my Matrix” be “The Matrix?” Will Morpheus pay me visits?
Enough with the fantastical thinking. This is serious shit. So, I ask you one last question. If I hear anyone- ANYONE- ever again refer to a multi-step, multi-surgery breast reconstruction as an easy “Free Boob Job,” do I have your permission to slap them with my new cadaver sac cold-as-ice, but oh-so-nice pieced together titties?
Because this breast reconstruction is so much more than that…
On a serious note, organ donors save 10’s of thousands of lives each year and tissue donors help to enrich the quality of life of many others. One donor can save eight lives according to organdonor.gov. And, about 2.5 million people in the U.S. receive tissue transplants each year (corneas, heart valves, skin, joints, and more), according to Donate Life America. One human body donated to science can potentially physically help more than 75 people and educate, and therefore aid, even more. People in many disciplines make discoveries that improve our quality of life by way of body donations- from disease treatment and research to helping law enforcement solve crimes by watching remains decay on a body farm. Just like breast reconstruction in tandem with breast cancer treatment is not for all, organ/body donation is not everyone’s cup of zombie tea. However, if the idea puts a gleam in your totally donate-able cornea, investigate it. It is a beautiful way to give. I, for one, am grateful for the loving souls, who help many of us thrive.