Yes, I made it. I walked from Batavia (actually gates of Fermilab) to Edward Hospital (in Naperville) to my last procedure. It was a personal time of genuine reflection of the journey I’ve been on since July 2010. Sure, the 15-mile walk was part of my training for the upcoming Avon 2-Day Walk for Breast Cancer. Yes it is also a mode of transportation, but most importantly, it was a four-and-one half hour trek looking back to see how far I’ve come on my journey with DCIS. And I’m one of the “lucky” ones. I didn’t have radiation or chemotherapy. For many others, the road to overcoming cancer is certainly bumpier, full of different types of doctors and physical challenges. For me, this walk was a personal victory and literal finish line – the last reconstruction procedure to get my breast tattoo. More accurately, my nipple and areola tattoo.
As I began my walk, I purposefully paced my journey with DCIS with each mile walked. Mile one brought me back to my July 2010 bleeding episode that triggered this medical odyssey. Bleeding, no bleeding, then bleeding again (from my left nipple) the following October. Mile two I thought about my trips to the OB/GYN and two different surgical consultations. Mile three revisited the uncomfortable ductogram needle procedure (ouch) followed by surgical lumpectomy/biopsy (mile four). One of the hardest miles to reminisce was mile five, when I recalled the long two week wait for biopsy results – first from my hospital, then the Mayo Clinic. Finally, an additional sample to Mayo for retesting ended with the phone call December 30th from Dr. Taft telling me I had DCIS. Pause. What is ductal carcinoma in situ?
Mile six I thought about the whirlwind surrounding making a decision – lumpectomy with six weeks radiation or mastectomy? Should I get a plastic surgeon’s opinion? We need to hurry up and make the decision so I can finish my MPA on time. Mile seven was all about the mastectomy, pain of losing a breast and recovery. Am I am amputee? How do I deal with this? I felt stronger every step I took, recalling how I could barely ambulate to the bathroom the day after surgery. Mile eight had me remembering my first meeting with plastic surgeon, Dr. Ferlmann and feeling an immediate connection to his philosophy as a doctor and just as importantly, as my coach through reconstruction.
Remembrances of the first reconstruction surgery consumed mile nine. A summer of frequent visits to my PS for “fills” to expand my chest skin to create my new “breast” was the focus of mile ten. Pushing on to mile eleven, thoughts of my second reconstruction surgery just before Thanksgiving put a smile on my face. Dr. Ferlmann switched out the expander for a saline implant and evened out my right breast with an implant, happily ending my “catywompus” stage. Mile twelve brought me peace…it was a time of healing, both physically from four surgeries in one year to emotional healing. Mile thirteen was dedicated to Living Well Cancer Resource Center. My Mastectomy Support Group was there when I needed to share personal frustrations, challenges, victories and get my questions answered. This support group was dedicated time for me to realize I was not only being helped, but also helping others with my story. Mile fourteen…time for nipple construction in February 2012 as the end goal is in sight. And then I arrived at the hospital, mile fifteen. Something was different; it was oddly quiet. It was Saturday, so the normal bustle of weekday traffic was absent. As I stepped through the sliding door of the hospital entrance, my arms reached up with clinched fists in Rocky-type victory move. The world seemed to pause as I teared up with joy upon reaching my personal finish line. It was time for my final procedure – the tattoo.
I endured the tattoo, one last brush with pain, and once patched up, realized my journey was coming to conclusion. Today, ten days later, I returned for my last follow-up appointment. Healed, inside and out, I’ve been released. Relegated to an annual check up at the anniversary of my implant surgery, I’ll visit my PS at Thanksgiving. As I drove away from the hospital, an odd feeling of being alone enveloped me. Weird, I’ve just crossed the finish line and instead of feeling like I reached the mountain’s summit, a realization of the end of a journey washed over me. Bi-polar emotions poured out – sadness over my loss and happiness over finally being ‘done.’ But these are feelings to explore more deeply in a future blog. Tonight, as I write and reflect, I’m toasting the future with my wonderful husband, Steve, and realizing just how incredibly blessed I am right at this very moment.
The photo to the left is of Dr. James Ferlmann signing my Avon Walk shirt after finishing my tattoo. He is the second to sign it – Joe King from Physical Therapy Advantage, my valued PT, has already inked the cotton. There is still plenty of room for Team DCISMyStory signatures. My strength is derived in part by the support of my faith, family and friends who will carry me through the walk ahead. Wherever it takes me.