Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stage II - Done!

Nipples and revisions for symmetry and shape usually happen during Stage II reconstruction, but we decided in the operating room that no revisions were really necessary. Dr. Levine did the nipples in about an hour under twighlight anesthesia (somewhere between being fully-awake/numb and completely asleep), gauzed me up and sent me on my way. There wasn't much pain at all (only two extra-strength Tylenol in four days) and my mobility was fine. Trouble was the bandages - big and kinda bulky, which made it tough to get into a bra.

I couldn't shower or take off the gauze for two days, which was torture because I REALLY wanted to peek. And finally, when everything came off, I couldn't get over how LARGE the new nips were. FREAKISHLY large was how I described them. I know they are made so large because they will shrink, but my goodness! The breast looked to be about 60% nipple! Part of it might have been that it had been so long since I'd had nipples (three years), too. Sigh...

So, so far, so good. Aereola tattoos are what Stage III is all about. Maybe I'll get new aereolas for my birthday in January...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Surgery - DONE!

Ended up moving my surgery back until after karate promotions on May 3 [I got my BROWN belt, btw :-)]. The closest available date after that was June 4, so last Monday I had my surgery. Once the anesthesia wore off on Tuesday, I was really thinking I made a huge mistake; I felt like I had been leveled by a very large truck.

By Wednesday, I was up and walking - very slowly - down the halls of the hospital. On Thursday, I was able to shower and feel a little more human again. Friday they let me go home - actually to a hotel near the hospital as I needed to be within a 30 minute drive in case something went wrong with the flaps and I had to head back to the OR. Two days ago, I came home.

How do I feel now? It's hard to sit comfortably because of he incisions under my butt, but I am virtually pain-free. I still have a drain in each hip, so I'm unable to sleep on my sides as I normally do, which is most uncomfortable. I also can't bend at the waist because the incisions near my butt are tight and I still have some swelling above my hamstings that makes getting comfortable when I'm not on my feet hard to do. I also can't really lift either leg any more than a few inches off the ground, which makes climbing stairs and getting dressed tough, but each day gets a little bit easier, as I'd been told it would. The drains and stitches in my hiney should come out Tuesday, so I'm hopeful comfort will soon follow. I'm missing karate something terrible, but I'm almost two weeks into my one-month minimum of no activity. Time is my friend as far as recovering from an IGAP, I'm finding...

And my new girls look great :-)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I-GAP Approved - Whoo-Hoo!

I got the word from the insurance company a few days ago that the surgery has been approved. I'm thankful, but I also really feel for women who have to suit up and battle their own insurance companies just after being diagnosed with breast cancer. The amount of tenacity it takes is incredible. Who has the strength for that while reeling from an "It's cancer" diagnosis?

And after all it took to get the approval, I'm now thinking of sliding the surgery back until May - after karate promotions are over and done with. Can't help bur hear Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" in my mind...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Insurance Company Won't Approve Surgery

Just when I thought this whole trip couldn't get any weirder, I am now in the middle of a battle with the insurance company over whether or not they will cover the I-GAP procedure.

The suits over at "HMO Central" are saying that since thy have doctors in network that do other free-flap procedures, they will not authorize surgery by the doctors I've chosen. Trouble is I'm not a candidate for any other free-flap, and if they knew anything about the procedures - or even read the medical reports my plastic surgeon sent - they'd know that.

I'm about half-way through the 15-day wait they impose before they'll make a decision on the first appeal level. Since surgery is set for March 8 - and they know it - I won't be surprised if they wait until the last possible minute to say yea or nea. If "no" is the word, I have to file another appeal and eventually appear before an ombudsman pannel to say in person everything I and both my plastic surgeon and primary care doctor have already said via letter.

Sigh. It's just amazing that after all that's happened to me over the last two years, the last leg of the journey is at a standstill because of an insurance customer service rep who can't - or won't - read a medical report.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Surgery Date Moved Up

It's only two weeks earlier - to March 8 - but it is sooner than originally thought. Part of me is excited to get going already. Part of me is terrified.

This is a big surgery. Not only will my chest be cut, but my butt, too. How will I possibly get comfortable enough to sit - much less sleep - until everything heals? I will also be unable to run/lift/train in karate for a month or longer, which is not cool. It will be really hard to go from working out six days a week to doing, well, nothing. At least with my other reconstruction surgeries, I could walk or bike/use my lower body after two weeks or so. This time, I don't think I'll have that option.

In the grand scheme of things, not being able to work out or a while probably shouldn't be a big deal, but to me it is. Training - including doing very physical things in karate that I'd never even attempted before - was the one constant during treatment and reconstruction. Whether I had expanders, no boobs, one boob or whatever, I was always able to work out. I'm already mourning the inability to do that and I'm still six weeks away from that becoming a reality.

But onward, ho...

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Plastic Surgeon Consult #3

Yesterday, I met Dr. Levine. Another trip to NYC, but no anxiety this time. I figured things couldn’t have gone any worse than last week. But, just to be safe, I pulled into the first parking lot I could find.

I was greeted by Tasha when I walked in. She was pleasant and friendly and asked if I’d mind if her sister, who is a pre-med student at Penn State, sat in on the consult with the doctor. She told me it would only be a few more minutes until the doctor would see me and she even offered to hang up my coat for me.

Dr. Levine greeted me in his office, which means I didn’t meet him for the first time in a front-open medical gown. We talked about my surgical history and about my breast cancer saga. He took his time explaining the different techniques available – including ones he doesn’t even perform. I felt comfortable; I liked this guy!

After the exam, it seemed like an I-GAP (Inferior Gluteal Artery Perforator) Flap – where skin, fat and blood vessels are taken from my butt, shaped into a breast and microscopically implanted onto my chest - was about my best option. I’m skinny, so there isn’t a WHOLE lot of fat to work with, but there is enough for a boob although it would be smaller than the other side (which still has a C-sized implant). I’ve had enough of being uneven (been that way since the right implant was removed in August), so I decided to have the left side done, too. The bad news is the new girls be smaller than before. The good news is I’ll get to shop for all new bras soon :o)

The surgery is tentatively set for March 20. Dr. Levine said I wouldn't be able to workout for a solid month, so I might miss karate promotions in May, but we’ll see…

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Plastic Surgery Consult From Hell

December 26, 2006

Continuing the "Reconstructing Felicia's Chest" saga, I had an appointment today with yet another plastic surgeon - the third since my breast reconstruction adventure began two years ago. I was feeling a lot of anxiety about the visit - especially about having to again recount the story of the breast cancer diagnosis, mastectomies, expanders and the radiation that caused the expanders to fail. Of course I’d have to flash my mangled chest and pretend like having photos taken of me with no top on aren't a big thing; thinking about all that almost made me turn the car around and go home. But, being that today was the second day of Kwanzaa – Kujichaagulia – which means “self determination,” I decided to drive to NYC to keep my appointment and see what could be done about the mess that was once my right breast.

As soon as I stepped into the office, I wished I’d stayed home. The place was super busy and the receptionist didn’t even look up when I told her my name and the doctor I was there to see. The forms she gave me to fill out me barely had a sixteenth of an inch between questions for answers so I ended up having to go to the desk and tell her what I'd written (so much for patient privacy). Manhattan isn’t the easiest place to find street parking, so I arrived a half-hour late trying to find some place to leave my vehicle. I still had to wait over an hour to see the doctor.

The nurse who took me to the exam room didn’t say a word to me. The doctor is the only person in the place who even made eye contact. Still, after explaining my story and telling him what I DON’T want (absolutely NO muscle compromised, so TRAM and Latissimus Dorsi flaps are OUT), the only option he offered is something I’ve never even heard of – and believe me, I’ve done my research.

I took his card before I left so I could email or call with questions, but I already knew I wasn’t coming back. And, to add insult to injury, I had a $115 parking ticket when I finally got back to my car. Sigh…