“Um, one question. Where’s your nipple? Oh, look it’s over there!
Staring at a fresh surgical site is a lot like combing the area after a natural disaster. There’s a lot of chaos, confusion, tears and pain and for some reason there’s always a stray dog running around sniffing the rubble. It’s almost impossible to get your bearings because things are often not exactly where you left them. You know, after a flood your couch may be found floating down the street, after a tornado your roof may be in the next county, and after my third modified radical neck dissection with a rotational flap…. My right nipple was at first… missing in action.
The day after my ICU urination debacle – I was moved to the “Step Down Unit” which yes, sounds like one of those weird dance movies. “Step Down Unit to the Streets in 3-D”
Anyway, it was time to get up. Get out of bed, move around, hell, I was even willing to brush my teeth. As my wife and my son helped me over to the sink I took my first good long look in the mirror. Suffice it to say, I was not prepared. There was a lot of harsh language. This went on for so long, I eventually ran out of all known profanity and started creating my own words. Which quite frankly, was embarrassing. “Farvenlocken” is just not something a grown man should scream at the top of his lungs unless he’s in his mother’s basement playing “Dungeons and Dragons” while wearing a beach towel as a cape.
You see, this particular cancer demon of mine likes to hang on the surface, close to the skin. You cut him out, you think you’ve got all of him and a few weeks later he’s back again. So this time my surgeon cut deep and wide. He took muscle, he took bone, he took everything that wasn’t nailed down and then took some more. All of this cutting left me with a gigantic hole where my neck should be.
Hmm, how to fill that hole? Spackle? Bondo? Paper Mache? He ignored my suggestions and cut a two or three-inch wide strip starting under my right arm, across my chest and then shifted right down my torso. He cut down to the lung and then pulled it away from my body, took this flap, tunneled under my skin, over my collarbone and shot it back up and used it to cover my neck where the hole used to be. This left me with an eight inch long hole in my torso that he closed with 54 staples and then stitched the new chest skin into the gaping hole where my neck used to be.
Suffice it to say… an Abercrombie model I am not. But I still walk this earth. I can eat. I can swallow. I can talk. Immensely grateful for all three. But there was still the question of the nipple. Where was it?
After peeling back the dressing and wiping away the dried blood and staples and glue… my wife found it – three inches higher and four inches to the left from where it was a few days ago, but kicking ass and taking names as always. You know, in softball where they give you an extra outfielder? A rover? That’s what I have. My right nipple is now a short-fielder.
I have never considered myself a vain person, but damn. When I look in the mirror it still throws me. Is this me now? After a few minutes of staring, the answer always comes back that – yes… It is. I am happily going about the business of becoming fine with that. I remain convinced that I am still me, I have just been altered.
It is what this disease does. Cancer forever alters.