New Body, New Town

Corissa:

It’s been 6 weeks since I last shared a blog post. MUCH has happened since then. Whenever I thought it was time to post one, something else would come up, and I wanted to wait to see what would happen so that I could share the latest with you. Well, too much is going on … so here goes …

Warning: I’ll be talking about my breasts. Keep in mind: we all have them!! If you’re offended, please don’t read – and please do not send me negative comments. This is my story about something very traumatic and life changing and empowering in my life involving MY BREASTS.

On May 8, I had major surgery called DIEP: a type of breast reconstruction in which blood vessels called deep inferior epigastric perforators (DIEP) and the skin and fat connected to them are removed from the lower abdomen and transferred to the chest to reconstruct a breast after mastectomy, preserving all the abdominal muscles. In other words: it uses the patient’s own abdominal skin and fat to reconstruct a natural, warm, soft breast after removal of breast tissue. It is considered the most advanced form of breast reconstruction available today, and only highly trained vascular surgeons perform this type of surgery.

More info: http://prma-enhance.com/breast-reconstruction/diep-flap

Anonymous before/after photos [keep in mind that I had immediate reconstruction following my mastectomy; some of these women had their reconstruction months or years after removal of their breast(s)]: http://prma-enhance.com/before-after-photos/breast-reconstruction-surgery/diep-siea-flap

My surgeon’s website: http://drislur.ca/breast-reconstruction-winnipeg/

Breast Reconstruction Program at Health Sciences Centre, Winnipeg:
https://breastreconstructionprogram.com/feeling-whole-again-with-breast-reconstruction/reconstruction-using-your-own-tissue-autologous/

I underwent this surgery to dramatically reduce my lifetime breast cancer risk to 1-2% from approximately 75-80%. The normal population is about 11-12%. I felt that I was ready to take charge of my own health, and not let cancer dictate it. I could have waited and done extensive screening to catch the cancer when it was “new.” But once a cancerous spot would be found, no matter how small, new, or seemingly curable, I would no longer be in control: cancer would control my physical health and well-being, and most likely infiltrate my every waking thought.

This is the most important message of this posting: NO CANCER WAS FOUND in the breast tissue they removed. The pathology report came back clean and clear. That means that I beat cancer before it hit. The dragon was slayed before it even awoke from its slumber! What we have here, ladies and gents, is called EMPOWERMENT!

As for my nipples? The majority of cancer in women under the age of about 55 years is found either on the chest wall or near the nipple/areola area. As much as I pleaded for the surgeons to keep them, I knew they had to go too, along with all the rest of the breast tissue. (Jesse was REALLY sad about that! We’re both grieving the loss of them.) But I’ll get some new ones and am assured they’d be as pretty as can be.

As for my body? Before surgery, I was quite curvy – and I had grown to love those curves, even if I did have a belly from my pregnancies – a belly that remained no matter what I did to tighten it up or reduce the fat in that area. But also served as a reminder to what my body could do (create new life) and for whom (Wayne and each of my three amazing children).

Now?? I’m still curvy 🙂 But my tummy is FLAT, though still a bit puffy from the surgery. And because the surgeons tightened up my belly as tight as possible, thus removing as much tissue as they could, I still have good-sized breasts. I was concerned that I’d only have small little mounds (no offence to my smaller-breasted female friends/family! but I quite enjoyed the ones I had). The surgical team did a great job at giving me lovely full breasts.

Ready for the reveal? Fully-clothed, of course 😉

Here I am at my Manitoba BFF’s wedding 2 weeks ago at 4 weeks post-op – remember: my abdomen is still swollen and I’m wearing a surgical binder; both of which makes my middle section a bit bulky:

Corissa & Gloria

Corissa wedding profile

{These pics were taken by an amazing photo artist: Elliana Gilbert https://www.facebook.com/ellianaphotog }

Besides my wedding dress when I married Jesse, which had a built-in corset that not only held up “the girls” but tucked in the baby belly, too, this is the first time I’ve worn anything in public WITHOUT A BRA. It was soooooooo liberating! Felt WONDERFUL.

Here I am at 6 weeks post-op, taken today, with no binder (still a bit puffy in the middle):

IMG_3192

The recovery, though, has been tough. I did not fully realize just how much I use my abdominal muscles. Coughing? Sneezing? Laughing? Moving my body in any way, shape, or form – such walking, going from sitting to standing, moving myself in bed? Yawning? Deep breathing?? Torture. Even now at 6 weeks post-op, I am still struggling to be comfortable – in almost any position. And I still can’t stand as straight as I could before surgery – everything was cinched so tightly.

Another form of “torture” was the inability to do things. Before surgery, I was actively involved in getting the house ready to sell. After surgery? The more I tried to do – even if I felt good – the more sore I would get or the more I would weep from the incisions. It is very hard for me to just sit still. Yet that was what the doctor ordered!

Since surgery, fluid still accumulated in my belly – which is normal and to be expected. It started draining from a section of my abdominal incision instead of dissipating through my body tissues. No matter what I did (following medical protocol perfectly), this area did not want to heal properly. I saw Dr. Islur today at 6 weeks post-op and he prescribed VAC treatment – special foam is inserted into the wound, a tiny vacuum is then applied, which sucks out all the nasty stuff and shrinks the wound back into place. Should be all healed up in less then 2 week’s time – fingers crossed.

Yet life went on during my recovery. Something that was good for Jesse, but not so good for me, was that Jesse got a job at Costco in the meat department a few days after my surgery. He always said that if he had to work somewhere “quickly” he would want to work there rather than a fast-food place or big-box store, as examples, or elsewhere. He ended up loving his position, the work itself, but not working more than full time, especially while making just a bit above minimum wage. Then when he’d come home, he’d spend the rest of the daytime hours working on the house, getting it ready to sell. In exchange for rent, my oldest daughter helped out too, especially with painting, planting, and prettying it up. I did a decent job at “supervising” 🙂

Here are a couple of pics of the front of the house…

Before:

IMG_3088

After:

house after

We called the realtor who had sold the house to me when I bought it in 2012 – he was also the owner of it at the time, and had been for 18 years prior to my purchase of it. He was so impressed with what we had done! We listed it, had 10 showings and an open house, and sold it for above asking price, all within 6 days.

house sold sign2

Possession date is August 28, which would keep us in Winnipeg for the summer – seemed perfect for many reasons, one being my medical recovery. However, new employment prospects for Jesse may send him out of Winnipeg about 6 weeks before possession date.

When we thought about where we wanted to live, it was either Kingston, where we had lived together for the start of our relationship, Jesse went to university, and I still have a job there on the mental health crisis team – or Petawawa area, where Jesse grew up and has many family/friends, and possibly could have a job back with the Department of National Defence where he worked before returning to university in Kingston.

We weighed the pros and cons of each area, and could not come up with a solution either way. Our criteria were employment, social support, and post-secondary education for myself. (The cost of living is about the same in both areas, so that really didn’t play a factor.)

While the social support benchmark is stronger in the Petawawa area, education is stronger in Kingston…and social support is higher on our must-have list than education. The next and most important deciding factor, then, is employment.

For his own emotional and mental stability, Jesse NEEDS to work. This became clearly evident during our time in Costa Rica. Working at Costco has helped to fulfill his sense of purpose, but it’s also not a long-term career – it was a stopgap measure for our short time in Winnipeg, to provide an income (as meager as it was), and a purposeful reason to get up in the morning.

Even though I have a casual position to go back to in Kingston, Jesse did not have anything at either location. We started putting out “feelers” regarding his employment and within minutes, we heard from Jesse’s former supervisor regarding possible positions back on Base in Petawawa – and he was pretty much offered his pick! Besides his “over-the-moon” jubilation over me 😉 I don’t think I’ve seen him this excited – EVER! Pacing, smiling, laughing…dreaming.

This answered our question of location: PETAWAWA. When? Possibly as early as mid-July – at least for Jesse.

No question: our heads are spinning! Who knows what’s in store for us in this one (un)expected life?!

The next steps:

Relocation means packing, figuring out the logistics of the move, and finding a place to rent in Petawawa, especially if Jesse will be there ahead of me. Good thing we downsized as much as we did when we moved back to Winnipeg from Kingston. However, we do have quite a few things stored here like tools and other handy but not-often-used items that we’ll take with us. I can’t do much in the way of lifting and such, but I’m pretty good at organizing and supervising 😉

I will remain in Winnipeg for the summer, not only to finish the sale and close up the house, but to continue healing and have more reconstruction. Hopefully my breasts will retain their size and shape so that I won’t have to undergo any additional surgery for fullness and/or contouring. However, we’d like to add nipples. (Yes, I hear your chuckles! But “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone!” {Joni Mitchell song})

The rest? Once we put the big stuff into place, the small stuff most often naturally falls where it’s supposed to fall, as we’ve been discovering.

Some of you may be wondering about my determination and motivation to live a simple life – away from Canada. Sometimes plans and foci change. I will share more about this in the next blog post.

Thanks for reading about our one (un)expected life adventures. Any questions, comments, concerns, encouragement? Click the “send us a message” link above, send us private messages via FaceBook, or email me at cdlevair @ hotmail.com .