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Healing the body and soul
by Nancy Kman,posted Jan 24 2011 1:56PM
I’m back after my latest foray into all things surgical. When I was a kid, I started out my journey to the operating room when I broke my elbow playing on the backyard swing. It was a bad break and my nurse mom fashioned a splint out of a saran wrap box and carted me off to the hospital. I can still remember looking up at the big bright light in the OR and the approaching anesthesia mask as I drifted off into lala land.
My parents brought me a teddy bear and made a big fuss over me for a few days. I still have the scar and would show it off for all to see in my elementary school days.
I had many other accidents, one time I broke both wrists at once. My gym teacher called us girls ‘marshmallows’ because we weren’t quick enough on the obstacle course. Trying to cut time I jumped from a ladder rather than climbing down and voila, another visit to the ER. 4 arms were broken in my youth. My mother told me to knock it off or Children and Youth might take me away.
Then, as quickly as the hospitalizations began, they ended. I was going along swimmingly until I was pregnant with our daughter Rachael in 2003. I’d have horrible back pain and nausea attacks that turned out to be a gallbladder problem. Back to the flimsy gown, the living will questions, the awful hanging out in the waiting area with other patients. All of us with nothing to do but try not to stare at each other while waiting to be wheeled in.
After that, the breast cancer diagnosis, the ensuing mastectomies and reconstructions. Much of it is a blur. I think my brain just went into autopilot because there was a lot to digest in a short period of time. Once the chemo and radiation ended I began the process of reconstruction. It is amazing what surgeons can do with breast cancer patients. I opted to go with an expansion at first. This is where the doctor places expandable saline implants under your chest muscle along with two ports. They slowly inject saline and inflate, stretching your skin along the way.
Mine failed. The left side had so much radiation damage that the skin was not pliable. I literally looked down one day and saw a hole in the stitches and the implant was visible. It was shocking, to say the least. At that point, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Months and months of injections, pain that was excruciating at times, all for naught. My initial reaction was to close that side up and wear a prosthesis. Which I did, for a little while.
A few months later I decided to call Dr. Eric Blomain. I’ve heard so many remarkable stories from breast cancer survivors who raved about the work he’d done. I really can’t put into words just how discouraged I was about my prospects, but I made an appointment for a consultation. I thought for sure he would take one look at me and tell me that there wasn’t much he could do. I was so wrong.
To make a long story short, he suggested a dorsal flap procedure. A muscle from my back, along with skin, is redirected to the chest area. It’s new skin, new muscle and another chance at some sense of physical normalcy. It was a very complicated procedure. The operation took 10 hours, I needed a transfusion and was in the ICU for some time. I spent a week in the hospital and needed two weeks off from work. Once the skin and nerves and blood supply were stable, the expansion process began. That was one year ago. Things went much better this time around.
So, a few weeks ago, I was back in the waiting area for surgery. This is where the artist in Dr. Blomain shines. I woke up 5 hours later and was told everything went well. It would take days for me to see what was done. At the unveiling, two nurses had to remove the tape from the skin. Even though there were stitches, scars, bright red skin and bruising, I was speechless at how right everything looked. Dr. Blomain looked as happy as I was. There have been many times along the way that friends and family members questioned why I’ve put myself through this. I’m not a vain person, I value who I am much more than what I look like, but I wanted to feel “normal” again. Every time I looked at my chest I was reminded of a terrible thing that happened to me. I didn’t want to dread the mirror anymore. That’s why I put myself through it. Yes it was a choice, but I’m so glad I didn’t give up.