Rapunzel…Let Down Your Hair!

27 02 2010

Me, sporting one of my wigs and a crown of flowers, with Theo at the 2006 Gaylord, Mich. Alpenfest

It took me nearly four years, but I finally did it. Yesterday. I donated all of the wigs, bandanas and a knit cap I wore when I was going through chemo. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

I came across them a couple of months ago, when I was cleaning out my closet. There was the wig with the long, thick blonde hair that I’d sometimes pull up into a ponytail or through the back of a baseball cap, the shoulder-length one with soft waves that had fooled everyone at my high school reunion, the sexy Marilyn Monroe platinum blonde one that I wore when I was feeling well enough for a night on the town.

As I searched a little farther back on the shelf, I saw all of the bandanas my cousin Christine had made for me — the wedgewood blue one covered in tiny silver stars, the bright yellow one with jewels sewn in the shape of flowers, the breast-cancer-ribbon pink one, and my favorite — the tie-dye one. At the very back, I came across the sable knit cap my friend Maureen had knitted for me over the course of the cold winter weekend when I’d first received my diagnosis. I took everything off of the shelf, packed it carefully and set it aside. I’d bring it with me to my next appointment at the Beaumont Breast Care Center.

Yesterday morning, I grabbed the bag and threw it in the car. I was off for my quarterly blood draw.

After my appointment, I stopped by the Resource Center. That’s where I met Ruth, the soft-spoken woman with the silver hair who oversees the Center.

“I thought maybe someone else could use these,” I said. As I opened the bag and began unpacking its contents, I found myself sharing moments from 2006. “I wore this tie-dyed bandana to a Tigers game in June, and here’s the wig I wore to my high school reunion. It did the trick — no one even realized I was going through chemo.

“This one — well, it made me feel sexy when my husband and I were out celebrating our 7th wedding annivesary,” I continued. “And surely someone could use this knit cap in weather like this,” I said, thinking of an older, bald-headed woman being pushed in a wheelchair I’d seen in the Cancer Center just a few minutes earlier.

Ruth listened intently and patiently as I made my way down to the bottom of the bag. There was a brief silence and then I looked into her eyes and, by way of explanation, said, “I’ve had this stuff for four years now, and I meant to donate it sooner. But I guess I was afraid to — afraid, somehow, that I’d be tempting fate.”

Ruth put her hand over mine, nodded gently and said, “Lots of women feel that way.”

I told her that I’d be celebrating my fourth anniversary cancer-free on March 3, 2010, and that I was finally beginning to feel a little more secure, a little more sure that I was going to be OK.

“I won’t be needing these anymore,” I said, perhaps more to myself than to her. I turned then, leaving everything sprawled on the table in her office,

The bandanas, the wigs, the knit cap have a job to do for other women who are going through what I once did, not so long ago. It was time for me — and for them — to move on.

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Guest Post: Pumas in the Crevasse

24 05 2009

Guest Blogger and Survivor Gene Rooks tells why she decided against reconstruction.

Guest Blogger and Survivor Gene Rooks tells why she decided against reconstruction.

by Gene Rooks

Knowing Amy through our IClub connections, and sharing the breast cancer experience, I had to laugh at her stories about being naked in Iceland (see Naked at the Blue Lagoon post), and the decision to go with “innies” or “outies.” I also applaud her decision to go for reconstruction the whole way — including the outies. But I am a whole lot older than Amy, and I chose a different route.

Unlike some of you, I don’t carry a breast cancer gene. But at the age of 73, during a routine mammo, a suspicious shadow showed up. I went for the return screening on Dec. 5, and as the technician, and then the radiologist, came in and went over and over me with the sonar, I just knew something was there. At the same time, I had a feeling of complete peace come over me, as I also knew it was in God’s hands, and I would be all right, no matter what the progress of the disease might be.

Things happened so fast, I really didn’t have time to stress out over it. An immediate biopsy was ordered, and I reported to the doctor on Dec. 20 for the results. My dear husband was with me, very apprehensive. My two daughters, ages 45 and 50, were on tenterhooks about the possible diagnosis.

My surgeon was very capable, but not especially sensitive. He walked into the room and announced, “Well, it is cancer, and we will be doing a modified radical mastectomy.”

I wasn’t surprised, but I was speechless. I had expected he would slide into the diagnosis and discuss options. But my sweet husband, in utter shock, sputtered, “But, what will they put in its place?”

Now I found my voice. Quite firmly I said, “Nothing!” It’s funny that the initial discussion was about reconstruction rather than than the procedure itself.

The doctor assured him reconstruction could be done at the same time as the surgery, and they surely had enough fatty tissue to work with. But they also would need to reduce the size of my other breast, so they would match. My surgeon said, “You wouldn’t want an 18-year-old reconstructed breast next to a 73-year-old one!”

I again reiterated that there would be no reconstruction, as I wanted nothing to do with moving around any more tissue than necessary, and certainly not a surgical attack on the other breast.

All this of course was right before Christmas, with its usual full slate of activities and long to-do list. Again, I didn’t have time to stress, and didn’t. There was not a tear shed by me, or even any feeling of anxiety.

Surgery was scheduled for Dec. 30, and I was home the next day. A lovely way to start the New Year, but we had some remodeling scheduled for the kitchen and dining room, and we went right ahead with it, so I had plenty to keep on my mind beside my healing process.

The healing process actually wasn’t as smooth as the surgery itself. Fluid under the skin kept building up, even with the “ticks” in place to drain it. I had to have more installed, and when the skin eventually adhered, it developed a deep fold.

I was really upset by that. I complained to my surgeon that there very well could be pumas in that crevasse. He looked at me like I was nuts; he was too young to remember the Smothers Brothers. (For readers also too young to remember, they had a hilarious routine, the punch line was, “There are pumas in the crevasses.”)

He offered to do a correction, but I thought not. I did some research and found a plastic surgeon willing to do surgery to modify the scar area. It is strange that Medicare and insurance companies are more willing to pay the higher price for reconstruction than a much simpler scar modification, but I found one, and he did a wonderful job.

So, Amy, it is probably just as well I didn’t get to accompany the group to Iceland. I would really have gotten some stares with my original, now 76-year-old breast, and a nice, smooth, flat surface on the other side.

But I am happy with it, my wonderful husband doesn’t have any problems, and my clothes work just fine with my store bought silicone gel boob. And, most importantly, I am into the fourth year, all clear.








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