This is my reality. I am the Titty Whisperer. Why, you ask? Let’s discuss…
I had breast cancer a couple of years ago. That sounds so casual, as if it was no big deal. It was a big deal and it affected me very, very deeply on many levels. As a female Plastic Surgeon, I have spent my career meeting with patients that have either recently received a breast cancer diagnosis or have lived with that reality for many years and have not quite settled their reconstruction to their satisfaction. Throughout those years, patients have asked me what I would do if I was faced with the same diagnosis. I always knew what I would do but never imagined I would be forced to verbalize my plan.
In late May 2016, I heard those words that I was dreading from the time the abnormal mammogram crossed my desk. Cancer. A very dear from of mine who endured the reality of cancer and all its horror including chemotherapy and multiple reconstructions said it best: do not ever dignify cancer with either a capital C or proper spelling. We therefore refer to the terrible, awful as ‘cancir’. It does take the edge off the littlest bit.
My approach to cancer was what I often refer to as the surgical apocalypse: double mastectomies and implant reconstruction for non-invasive cancer on one side. The scorched earth approach worked for me as I came through it stage 0 and did not require the horror of chemotherapy or radiation. I had junior varsity cancer or the equivalent of sitting at the children’s table at Thanksgiving or Christmas…but it was cancer nevertheless.
I processed my journey in the most public forum: social media. It helped me to share, vent, cuss, scream and sometimes even laugh when appropriate. I am a firm believer that laughter is the best medicine. What I quickly discovered through the process of sharing was that others responded. Others that had endured a similar diagnosis and journey but were not inclined to share in such an outward fashion. I received private messages of gratitude for voicing what I felt like when I looked in the mirror post mastectomy…. the idea of someone thanking me for saying out loud what perhaps they wanted to say all along or maybe to acknowledge that others were indeed feeling that way struck me as absurd. But since it seemed like it was indeed helping someone, somewhere, I continued to share. I shared pictures of scars, drains. I posted about the frustration of not being able to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I posted about additional surgical procedures for different situations that I was not happy with. I pretty much lived on Facebook for over a year, daily…sometimes even every hour on the hour. I recall my dear husband questioning this at some point. “Why do you want to share this?’, he asked. Because I felt a responsibility to do so, I told him many times. I am a Plastic Surgeon. People come to me to rebuild them and help them through this journey. When I felt myself taking the exact same journey, I felt I was a hypocrite if I was able to help others and was not willing to do whatever it takes for me and for them. Arrogant? Perhaps. Effective? Apparently.
About 4 months after my double mastectomy, my brain was in hyperdrive to do more for those searching for answers and assistance through their cancer journey. I voiced my interest and concerns to a group of precious friends that had rallied around me from the beginning. Some of these friends are very successful entrepreneurs in the Fort Worth community: the Heims and the Rahrs. Barbeque and beer friends are good to have around for many reasons but when an idea is born, they are the very best friends to have around.
My surgeon and friend, Danielle LeBlanc, had mentioned at some point an idea she had heard and tried to launch locally-BoobieQue. The parties she had approached were not able to move forward with the idea so I effectively took the ball and ran. My breast cancer story, Heim barbecue and Rahr beer: the trifecta for a perfect afternoon. BoobieQue was born.
If I thought I had an audience for my incessant need to overshare my breast cancer experiences, BoobieQue blew that up completely. More people were aware of the story, more people continued to reach out privately about their own experiences. I treasure this…the opportunity to help someone process their new reality, discuss options for reconstruction, give them talking points for their surgeons is a privilege I never could have imagined and I take very, very seriously.
Almost a year after my first surgery, I remained dissatisfied with a phenomenon related to breast reconstruction: animation deformity. One the mainstays of breast reconstruction is tissue expanders that are ultimately replaced with breast implants. Because the breast tissue is removed during the mastectomies, the remaining breast skin and underlying tissue is generally too thin to adequately cover an implant over the muscle. As a surgeon, subpectoral reconstruction is the same technique I had performed hundreds of times before my own surgery. I never questioned the approach when I was the patient. The first time my chest flexed and my reconstructed implants were effectively displaced to my armpits, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Quite the party trick, animation deformity. Think about John Cena in that Hefty® bag commercial…his pecs are jumping all over the place and it’s funny. Not so funny when you’re pushing up to get out of the bathtub and your bionic boobies flatten out.
Danielle and I made the decision to return to the operating room in March 2017 to convert my reconstruction to prepectoral, or above the muscle. To make a long story short, home run and I’m thrilled. I was so thrilled that within about 9 days of the surgery-still with drains in clipped to my belt for all the world to see because I’m an over sharer, remember-I stood up at a meeting of the Fort Worth Plastic Surgery Society after a guest surgeon presented his work on prepectoral reconstruction and simply applauded. The applause was in the style of T Rex that has come to be my spirit animal because I have learned that keeping your arms by your side with drains in place helps reduce drainage. If you have breast drains: be T Rex. You’re welcome.
Back to Titty Whisperer. The company that was sponsoring that talk was interested in the idea that a female Plastic Surgeon who had conventional breast reconstruction and was not satisfied with the results and the animation deformity pursued conversion to this progressive new technique. I have since given many talks from Newark and Seattle to New Orleans and Chicago about my experiences. I remain amused and confused that people seem to want to hear my story but they do. In November, I am flying to Costa Rica to give another talk. I can now put International Titty Talker on my CV…I am sure that will open many doors. The exposure in giving these talks is just more opportunity for me to reach people and offer whatever they might need from me to help them in their journey. This has become my passion.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I am conflicted about this. Before I had breast cancer, I always paid heed to the cause, wore pink, made donations. As a survivor, or as many on my side of this diagnosis prefer a THRIVER, I increasingly realize that pink fatigue is real. Who is NOT aware of breast cancer? Really? Who in the world does not know someone or many ‘someones’ with breast cancer? The statistics used to be 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In my world, the number is far higher than that. Literally not a week goes by that I don’t hear from someone that I know who knows someone that was just diagnosed. A couple of weeks ago, within a matter of days, two personal friends of mine reached out with their new breast cancer diagnoses. We are aware of you, breast cancir…you suck and need to be done with.
While I’m on my soap box about Breast Cancer Awareness month, I must mention the darkest side of this disease-metastatic breast cancer. This is the cancer that kills. This is the cancer that needs an awareness month and unwavering support for research. I have several personal friends that are living with metastatic breast cancer and I have very real survivor’s guilt when I talk about my experience with this disease. During the month of October when you are faced with promotions about breast cancer and pink this and that, pay attention to the causes you are supporting. If METAvivor is a recipient of the fun tickets you’re spending while you’re being ‘aware’, good for you and shop on. This is not to say that so many other organizations are not worthy but supporting research that could one day make breast cancer a distant memory for everyone sounds like about the best thing in the world to me.
Back to Titty Whispering. BoobieQue is now in its third year. We have raised over $200,000 since the inaugural event. We are now officially organized as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Fighting Right. BoobieQue is our primary event but we have several other programs under development to expand our reach in the coming years. We have been proud to partner with an extraordinary organization in Fort Worth for over 70 years, Cancer Care Services. They provide support across a broad scope of categories to patients facing all types of cancers and their families. As a young nonprofit, we are so proud to have a much more established organization to donate our proceeds to effect a change.
I move through the world going Mach 2 with my hair on fire, to paraphrase a line from Charlie to Maverick in Top Gun. Between my practice, my nonprofit world and my little speaking gigs, there is little time to think about much else but when the call comes that someone needs to talk about a new diagnosis or someone knows someone with a bad mammogram and they don’t know their next move or perhaps someone needs more information on the reconstruction options available to them, I will always make time. This is my purpose and my joy…the Titty Whisperer. Wish I had the equivalent of the Bat signal that went up when someone was in need: a Bralet in the sky. I hope you never need me but if you do, just reach out.
Here’s up to it…