Yep, you read that title right. It is NOT a misprint. I am about to get my “jelly boobs” and, honestly, I am excited to be at this part of my journey. I guess that, first, it would be best if I let you know a couple of things about me and this journey.
My name is Angie Houtz; I am 45 years old; and I am battling breast cancer the only way I know how—with humor and a great attitude. I had a double mastectomy in August 2013 with reconstruction, which means I had cancerous as well as healthy breast tissue removed to make room for the most uncomfortable plastic-like apparatus I have ever experienced—an expander. Trust me, these things expand, and your body takes on shapes that honestly look implausible, and at times (depending on the angle and the light), computer generated! They are also hard as rocks. I can only describe it in this manner: I have a bra that feels tight all over, all the time, and I cannot take it off. I promise, if I had a stronger spine and core (like those artists in Cirque du Soleil), I could honestly balance my entire body on my boobs. They do not give, move, fold, or smoosh—ever.
Before my diagnosis, I was having an awesome summer: I am a rower on Lady Bird Lake; I took up this sport when I moved to Austin after my divorce in 1998. I have taken my abilities all the way to international competitions and, along with my rowing partners, have won gold medals at these events. I was training to do that again, and this time, I was actually going to take it up a notch and travel all the way to Italy. This would be my first time ever to “cross the pond” and have an adventure in Europe. I had places to stay (I love AirBNB), flight reservations, and even decided I could handle the excitement of renting a car to get around in northern Italy. I was going to go to Venice before it sinks, had tickets to the final opera of the season in Verona, and was going to fly into Paris in the evening in time to see the lights of the city and have a pastry for dinner.
And then I had a mammogram.
The call came on July 15—my day of infamy but not of doom. “It’s cancer,” my doctor choked over the phone, and I lost all senses as the words echoed hollowly through me. I was scheduled with a surgeon for an appointment the next day and was assured he was very nice. “Yes, because right now, I need ‘very nice’ and not so-so,” I said to the nurse. Then, I made my calls: I cried with my sister but resolved that I would be okay. I promised her, and, in that moment, I promised myself. I called Nancy—an amazing friend who was going to take this journey to Italy with me and row in races. She volunteered to go with me to the surgeon, and I was instantly comforted. Later that night, I tackled the largest, worst “Hey, I need to talk to you” conversation—with my one and only child who was home from college. The intent of this blog is not to bring on tears, so I will just let you know that, yes, it was the worst moment I have had with him in his 20 years. But, in some ways, it was also our best. The power of his hug continues to wrap me in comfort months later.
Thus began my ‘new’ life: doctors and then more doctors, along with appointment after appointment. My big day was August 13, and I waved good-bye to my parents as they wheeled me down the hall: “See you when I am boob-less!” I was not scared, frightened, or agonizing over a single thing. I had reached this place of being so happy—they were going in to remove my almost certain death sentence. How could I not be excited about this? Who cares that I was about to lose two to three pounds (yes, I was very small chested)? I was about to be CANCER FREE. Bring on the scalpel!
I am very fortunate that my cancer was in the early stages and, yes, because I had a “very nice” surgeon, he took great care to remove everything he could. Because of my rowing and physical fitness, my muscle structure allowed my plastic surgeon (he is now on speed dial) to create a great pocket for each of my expanders. These were then filled with sterile saline, and the stretching of my skin began and has been in progress now for a few months. I can only tell you that there is nothing “right” about being able to watch (as you are being injected with saline to stretch the skin) a rather large needle be poked into your skin without any feeling or sensation. At each appointment, I recalled scenes from “Young Frankenstein” and expected the nurse to walk hunched over or have a wandering, rolling eye as she set my next appointment. These were weekly for about 6 weeks, and then came the best day: “No more fills—you are full!” I then began the process of resting my skin so that I could have surgery number 2. Jelly boobs, here I come!!
I call them this because I have every hope these will at least shift once in a while, or maybe even give me back the comfort of once again sleeping on my side without being pushed back up from the pillow and mattress. A great friend of mine actually took video while she bounced a quarter off my new “girls” and into a wine glass! When I jokingly mentioned to my son that this could be a neat trick at his next frat party, he forbade me to repeat the process ever again. Secretly, though, I think he was pretty proud of my ability to laugh at all of this.
I know my adventures are far from over, but I also realize that humor really is the best medicine—especially for me. I am excited to have this avenue to share my experience and look forward to bringing you more smiles—but next time, without the rocks!