Saturday 16th Feb, Valentines weekend for many, operation number four for me. This time as part of the breast cancer reconstruction they were going to tackle as much of the symmetry issues as possible and hopefully give me a new nipple – finally I get the cherry on top. It was a pretty big day, who doesn’t want a nipple for Valentines?!
The operation itself went as well as could be expected. It’s rarely a barrel of laughs, more like a horrible roller-coaster of nausea inducing head spins, shakes, shivers and painful twists and turns. But as usual Mum was a complete rock, holding my hand, wiping away the tears, holding my hair back when I was sick and using every soothing word in her motherly vocabulary to make everything better. Mums, what would we do without them!
For all the awfulness of the operation I really did feel like this was it, this was the last big one. The one that would get me back to me, pre BC, nipple and all. So despite the general exhaustion from the three previous operations and knowing the pain that was ahead of me, I was actually pretty happy to be going back in.
That excitement was justified when days later I got to see my new nipple for the first time. Wow. Talk about sight for sore eyes. I have missed that little guy so much! It’s been just over 7months now since the mastectomy last summer, since Lefty was removed along with my nipple, so to finally see it, to finally see a whole beautiful boob complete with the cherry on top was amazing. Truly amazing. I felt like a proud new mum.
It really is very clever how they do it. Essentially they do a little butterfly cut on your boob and use the skin on your breast to shape into a nipple. Same skin, same colour, same you. So it’s very much a part of you, like a nipple should be.
I guess I’d had a few horror flashes imagining them growing it in a dish somewhere and sticking it on…you know, like that mouse with the ear on it’s back. Imagine that. A little mouse with a nipple on it’s back – seriously, that is just disgusting. Horrific. Dam you stupid brain. Thankfully, this one is all mine – no mice boob bits for me.
Despite the dressings, stitches, swelling and overall bruising (aka rainbow boobs) I can see that the symmetry has been corrected and they both now sit exactly where they should. Which is such a relief. Leftie has been shuffled over a bit and some clever internal stitches will now ensure it doesn’t make a break for freedom under my armpit again (back boob crisis averted). The fluid under my arm has been removed and Righty is now perkier than the boobs I had as a spritely 21 year old! All in all, they look pretty good.
I got my first look at them properly a few days after surgery. Since coming out of hospital my dressings had gotten rather, well, gross. That word doesn’t really do it justice but I’ve decided for once to spare the gory details (hooray! I hear you cry!) – manly because when I described this event to a male friend of mine he ended up in a curled heap, rolling around on the rug claiming his balls had retreated to such an extend he couldn’t breath….I also don’t want people to think of them as horrible frankenboobs as they definitely aren’t! So no, I’ll skip some of the gory details. Suffice to say the dressings needed to be changed.
As I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, I took in the reflection before me. The birds nest hair (complete with small animals and twigs) stood pilled on top of my head, bruises covered my right arm from numerous drips, making me look like a competitor from the Chinese Burn World Championships (pretty sure I’d lost). My pale face was puffed up from the anesthetic and peppered with small scratches from the post morphine face flailing that I seem to love to do so much during recovery. Big dark bags hung below my blurry eyes completing the look. What a vision I was. The bags had gotten so big I could have packed my whole flat in them and relocated to the other side of the world. Which didn’t seem like too bad an idea given what I was about to do.
The lovely nurses had sent me home with all the stuff I needed in case this situation arose. So there I was, stood in front of the mirror, in a white stretchy crop top, covered in bruises, cuts and scars, feeling every inch the female equivalent of Bruce Willis about to tend to my wounds so I could continue to kick the bad guys ass. In this case C-Monkey. He’d taken on a Russian look for this moment in time, complete with dreadful accent and fur hat. Ever the drama queen, he never misses an opportunity to dress up.
The process of removing my dressings was again, gross. Blurgh, in every sense of the word. But with my inner skyscraper saving hero shinning through I persevered, using scissors to help ease off any particularly stubborn bits. (oh yeah I did….balls…..are they still with you? I know mine have disappeared just reliving it!)
Anyway when the deed was done, I was all cleaned up and feeling very brave. Take that C-Monkey, yipee-ki-yay right in your smug face. There was just one problem. I’d run out of dressings for Leftie. Righty was all clean and sorted but Leftie had nothing. There were no dressings left. Bugger.
There was no way I could leave my new nipple just out there, all tiny, fragile and ….exposed?! What if it fell off?! How would I explain that to my surgeon! “Um yes, sorry about that, I seem to have let my lovely new nipple…drop off….have you got another one I can have?”
No, it needed something to cover it up until I could get to the hospital and get it dressed properly. So I improvised and used the only thing I had available to me. It wasn’t my proudest moment but I’m sure Bruce would have done the same, given the circumstance.
Needless to say I felt the need to warn my surgeon when I next saw him. I needed to prepare him for what he was about to see….
So while striping off the layers I hastily explained, in a manner akin to verbal diarrhea, what I’d done; I’d had to change the dressings myself due to the whole gross thing….. but that despite said grossness I’d been very brave, Bruce Willis-esq even (nervous laughter), taken all the dressings off without fainting, used my scissors for the tricky bits, again without fainting and put the clean dressings back on…..so all in all I’d done very well. Except… I ran out of dressings. So when it came to Leftie and covering my amazing new nipple, I had to improvise, use the only thing I could find at the time, the only thing that might work…..
At this point my surgeon and the nurse were staring at me blankly. There was a brief pause while I removed my bra crop top thing. There, covering my newly made nipple and protecting it from any harm was a very, very small plaster.
Not just any plaster, oh no. That would be too easy. This particular plaster was a child’s plaster, which meant not only did it just, very much only just, cover the nipple but it was also decorated with small…cartoon…monkeys. Yes. I had covered my new, extremely fragile nipple in a child’s plaster, a plaster covered in small dancing smiley cartoon monkeys….
I’m not sure I can do his reaction justice but I’m going to go with bemused laughter. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m bonkers.
And the irony of having a plaster covered in monkeys on my new nipple hasn’t been lost on me. I don’t know where they came from, or why I had them in my flat but I’m pretty a certain C-Monkey had something to do with it. He really does work in crafty ways you know; it’s the Russian in him. The plaster incident has his name all over it. I mean, quite literally his name and face all over it, on my new nipple! How very dare he!
I’ll say it again, my new nipple is a thing of wonder. Although it’s still tucked up under the dressings I’ve seen it and know its there. A real nipple. Back where it should be, sitting proudly on top of my now very symmetrical perky boobs. I know I’m essentially gushing about a weird bit of skin that sticks off your boob and repeatedly using the word nipple in the process, which is getting a bit weird, but seriously; you have no idea what it’s like to not have one.
If when the dressings come off and the swellings go down everything is as good as I’m hoping the only thing left to do will be the tattoo, which I’m very intrigued by. I’ve never had a tattoo before and weirdly feel quite excited about having one. It’ll definitely confuse people when I admit that “yes, I do have a tattoo actually, two of them. You will never (!) guess where they are….” (smug face)
So all in all things seem to have gone well. Physically I’m good..I’m happy, if a little sore, bruised and tired, but I know that will pass soon enough.
Emotionally…..well we’ll save that battle for another day…
Yipee Ki Yay C-Monkey!