Monday, February 22, 2010

Ce n'est pas normal...

I've had this friend for a very long time in France - going on 30 years now. She's a bit difficult, very Parisian, very particular and quite bitchy. But we've been through a lot together. I remember when I first moved there years ago, I stayed with her while I looked for an apartment. We would fold the linens in the morning, she at one end and me, holding the opposite corners of the sheets. If you've ever tried to fold sheets with someone, it's inevitable that one person will fold in the opposite direction. When this would occur, Marianne would stop and say, "Gail, ce n'est pas normal." - It's not normal to do it that way...When cooking, she would ask me to prepare the salade. As I broke the lettuce and prepared to wash it, again she would say, "Ce n'est pas normal." Any time I would do something that wasn't in tune with the way she was taught or accustomed to living: to her, it wasn't normal. We had explosive discussions about this. And to this day, the semantics have never been resolved.

So, the other day, I had my first appointment with a plastic surgeon. I must interject that throughout these past several years of fertility treatments, premature births, retinal and neurosurgeries and cancer, I/we - the family have had the most wonderful health care professionals. From the ER doctors down to the nurses and PCA's. So, whenever I go to see a new doctor, I come well equipped with my questions and also an attitude of "this ain't my first rodeo". But as I entered this surgeon's office, I felt vulnerable about my discussion of breast reconstruction as an option after my upcoming bilateral mastectomy.

First of all, I have had 4 surgeries in the past 14 months, plus dose dense chemo and weeks of radiation. Now, with this positive BART result to my genetic testing, I am due to have my breasts cut off. Thus reigns the question: to reconstruct or not to reconstruct? I am a AA at best. Perfectly small, Marie Antoinette, non-sagging breasts for which I have never had to invest in any sort of brassiere. I don't want anything bigger and I quite like myself the way I am. That, obviously is not an option. I have grappled with this decision for a while now - do I need breasts? I haven't really had them my entire life and these little ones that I've had have served me well. They nourished my preemies for the first 13 months of life and now, they're done. So, why not just have them taken off and not replaced?

Well, I had hoped to have had an open, frank discussion about this dilemma but unfortunately I have learned that women walk into a plastic surgeons office and are confronted with one thing: the options for the type of reconstruction, NOT whether or not to have it done at all. When I tried to approach the subject, I heard the dreaded words "Women do it to feel normal, to look normal again". Marianne's voice was ringing in my ears. "Ce n'est pas normal."

What the f**k is normal? But moreover, why would anyone want to be...? I will choose abnormal anyday. We will fly the abnormal flag: my daughter who can't see, my twins' who live with tubes in their brains, my husband who went to an Ivy League school and became a cowboy boot collector and artist instead of an attorney, and me...without breasts.

Sigh...I STILL don't know what I am going to do but I do know one thing: I won't be going back to that plastic surgeon.


Anonymous said...

ah gail, so glad to see your post. i have been checking almost everyday. whatever you decide it will be the best for you, i have no idea what normal is, but i am pretty sure it's not me either.
caitie & georgia - both of whom did not enjoy the pink hair I gave them (temporary) sigh, it was definitely a 'family ties' moment. if you remember that show.

Capitol Sew and Sew said...

Bravo bravo bravo!!!! Hooray for the teeny tiny breasted women! Hooray for the no breasted women. Hooray for the mega-breasted women. HOORAY FOR THE WOMEN what ever they have (or have not) hanging under their chins!!!!!

Sounds like the only boob here is the plastic surgeon!

Rubypearl said...

Gail- Your writing is REALLY good. I love it-I had no idea you were writing a blog. I had to stop reading to write this note but I'm excited that there's more. Maybe you should write a book about everything that you've been through-not just because its crazy but because you're a great writer,
much love,
PS-you never sent me the address to send Zelda's little dress to-would still love to send it to her.

hotpinksox said...

I have a girl friend who used PRMA of San Antonio for her reconstruction surgery. She is very happy with her small size and the way she was treated by the doctors there. Good Luck.

Hua said...

Hey Gail,

I think you hit the nail on the head. Normal is what you make of it!

I found your blog while searching for unique and helpful content on breast cancer. I think you could benefit from sharing your personal story to an audience of people seeking information on breast cancer. Wellsphere's HealthBlogger Network (HBN) is comprised of over 3,000 of the web's best health writers, including doctors, patient experts and people pursuing healthy living. 

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Director of Blogger Networks

Sharon Kay Spiehler said...

Sweet lady, you don't know me, but we have a mutual friend (of sorts). I came to read your blog, and felt I had to write.

When my father was diagnosed with brain tumors, his doctors railroaded him into a torturous process of being fitted for a mask for radiation treatments. No one asked him what he wanted, or bothered to tell him that he might get another 6-9 months of life with radiation. So I called and demanded a face-to-face with his doctors, and had a very frank discussion with them, and then had to relay that information back to my dad.

My dad was floored. 3 years post-heart transplant, while the heart was fantastic, his other organs were being overloaded after declining slowly for 3 years pre-transplant. He was tired, and tired of being tired and sick, and not happy about the prospect of radiation making him even more tired. More time did not mean more quality; in fact, it meant even less.

Daddy thought about it for some long moments, and I told him whatever he decided, I would support him and help him as much as I could. (I was also helping him care for my post-stroke mother.) He decided against radiation, and thanked me for not sugar-coating it all. He came home, I moved in, and cared for him for three more weeks until he left us quietly one Sunday evening. But before he passed into a coma, he thanked me again for being brave. (I hid the terror very well.) And in those final weeks, he was the kindest, smallest, most afraid, most grateful father I'd NEVER known in my life. I'd like to think he had quality and dignity in his passing. I certainly did my best to ensure it.

This is YOUR life and YOUR choice, dear. Do not let yourself be influenced by someone who has absolutely NO idea what your life is all about. Quality supercedes quantity, and for peace of mind -REGARDLESS of whether you choose reconstruction or not- you want a doctor who is more concerned with making sure you are healthy for many more years to come.

God Bless!