Wednesday, July 31, 2013

THE WINDUP GIRL by Paolo Bacigalupi - Book Review

[Note: This review was originally published on February 9th, 2011, on]

3.5/5 - Great if you’re in the mood for it, only okay if you’re not.

Title: The Windup Girl

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Format: trade paperback

Published: 2009

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Night Shade Books

Landed in my hands: freebie - won from a now obsolete book blog (Dreams and Speculation)

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Undercover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; she is an engineered being, crèche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slave, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for the corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.


The first thing that caught my eye about The Windup Girl — aside from the lovely package: Bacigalupi is blessed by the cover design — was the fact that it was written in present tense. Present tense in a narrative immediately sets off alarm bells in my brain... like, big giant neon signs glaring, shouting, shrieking, “we’re trying to be artsy and buck literary convention!”

In short: it annoys the crap out of me.

We are in grave danger of A Rant on present tense versus past tense in narrative.

To boil it down: past tense is much more common, and I believe it’s because innately we tell a story in the past tense; a “you wouldn’t believe what just happened to me!” kind of thing. There’re other reasons — there always are — but we’re attempting to NOT send this into Rant status. There are always reasons for choosing one tense over another, and I don’t believe a writer worth the fluff in his or her pockets wouldn’t weigh these reasons when sitting down to tap out a story. So I looked at The Windup Girl and made a quick assumption, (and take this for what it’s worth): characters can’t relate a story if they’re dead. Yep. I immediately assumed the opening character wasn’t going to survive. Being anti-spoiler girl, I’ll leave you all to discover whether he does on your own. In other words, it was with trepidation that I waded into futuristic, dystopian Thailand.

This was one of those books that I really got into about a hundred pages from the end, and then — poof! — it was done. That’s not to say it wasn't interesting earlier, more that I kept waiting for Something Big to happen, and it was a lot of black market maneuvering and corrupt politicking, along with some interesting scenery and insight into the human condition.

The concept of the windup girl, Emiko, is enthralling. An entire people genetically designed for servitude, deemed vulnerable in society, and so second-class they aren’t even considered to have souls. She moves like a windup doll, stuttery, jerky movements, and is designed for beauty and an odd grace. I kept waiting for her to return to the narrative, her presence fleeting amidst the other characters’ viewpoints. I wanted more, and I found myself reading another chapter hoping that the windup girl would feature in the next.

These frustrating multiple viewpoints were intriguing at the same time: Bacigalupi has created a cast of multidimensional characters, from varying sides of the conflict, so you’re not quite sure whom to root for as you read. I appreciate that.

The Windup Girl
is not for a lazy reader. You know who you are: those readers who want to escape but not overtax their minds. Those readers who enjoy a good story but don’t want to have to work to keep cultural or intricate world-building specific details in the forefront while they read? Yeah. This isn’t a book for you, sweet cheeks. An excellent story, yes, but not if you’re not willing to work to establish who’s doing what to whom, because of language crossover and the complex details Bacigalupi uses to create this desolate vision of Bangkok. Yeah, no. It’ll lose you. It’s just the truth.

The Windup Girl is also a prime example of why I hate hype. Sure, it’s intricate and well plotted. It’s complex and carries a message. It's a lovely dystopian fable. It’s a beautifully painted picture of a familiar yet dangerous world. It weaves a canvas of a bleak future that is all too easy for us to fall into, and people will love the thrill of The Ugly as a reminder to live their lives today. But all of these things mesh together to make it an intellectual read, and less of an entertaining one for me. It’s an opinion folks, and therefore inadequate for holding anything but a handful of words. Some of you will love The Windup Girl. Myself? I’m glad I’ve a lovely copy sitting on my shelf (truly, it’s a gorgeous book!), signed by Bacigalupi no less, but it’ll be a while before I crack it for a reread.

I can see why it won awards. I get it, the elaborate description, the immersion of the reader, but the complexity that carries this narrative to award status is the same complexity that has me cautioning readers. It’s not for everyone — but if it's for you, you'll love it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

God made calculators for a reason.

Ever feel unambitious?

Mr Lannis is using this book to reteach himself math.

In his spare time.

Yes, really.

He voluntarily takes a couple hours out of his Sunday morning to go over a unit, pencil scratching on scrap paper, mumbling to himself while his coffee gets cold.

Yes, really.

No, it's not for work or something career-oriented. It's my understanding he's doing it because he dicked around a lot during high school, then figured out in college that school is not that hard if you just try (gasp!), feels he wasted an easy opportunity in his teens and is now redeeming himself.

Yes, really.

And he wants to be more familiar with math for when the kidlets get to the point in their educational career that they could use a parent with a bit of mathematical know-how.

On a related note, I'm choosing to wait until the boys begin core French to reteach myself what I figure I've forgotten (nothing a few days in Paris wouldn't cure, heh).

But Mr Lannis' self-imposed mathematical ambition makes me feel he should be wearing a shirt that points to me and claims he's with stupid.

He also regularly chokes down food he despises the taste of, but knows is good for him.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Cancer Bombs: Musical Boobs

[Note: The first of this series can be found here. All previous (and subsequent) installments of this series can be found here.]

May 2013.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the fact that I was surgically deformed played on my mind, until I found myself a deflated puddle lacking in positive body image.

Though I’d originally resolved not to have an opinion on the new boobs until they’d settled into their new home around the six month mark, that same resolve crumbled under the knowledge that what I had taken as swelling was in actuality an implant complication that would require surgical revision to correct.

I was deformed.

And it wouldn’t get better with time. It would only get better with surgery.

Yes, I made do and wore my wonky boobs with a smile. But it grated over time, even on a girl who subscribes to terminal realism.

Sure there are more important things, and I could focus on the daily grind and get through it, but in the quiet moments the sadness crept in. I was clinically deformed, and nothing short of being cut open and dug into again would fix it.

By the time May rolled around my body image was through the floor—despite having had magazine-worthy dress and makeup as a bridesmaid, despite winning a costuming award at JordanCon, despite managing to fit back into the wedding dress I wore almost nine years previous.

I was weary of the image in the mirror, and ready to have Dr M perform a good old swap and replace.

And Mr Lannis—bless him and all he’s put up with—was weary of my snarly attitude. It’s possible he told the hospital staff to surgically remove it (the verdict is out on that one).

The procedure to correct the ugly girls was a simple one. In a “breast mound revision” (::snort::), Dr M would go through the original incisions, release the scar tissue glued to my ribcage, and swap and replace the implants for new ones—a slightly larger pair to help stretch out the Alloderm and scar tissue.

Then she’d sew me up, and send me home. Seriously. It was day surgery, and depending on whom I spoke with, would be anything between an hour and a half and two and a half hours long.

Believe it or not, I managed to make it to my surgery date (May 23rd), though it’s questionable whether the same could be said for my sanity. I was back to breakouts and stress napping, a perpetual depressed and exhausted daily state. It was time.

My surgery was scheduled for 10am, and I needed to check in for 8:30am. Once again I drove us to the city, was poked for blood work, and doodled on by Dr M. I was in good spirits, okay, giddy with nervousness and ready to be rid of my boobs-on-loan.

Climbing up on to the surgical table, the anesthesiologist jabbed me multiple times in search of a vein on my left hand. Dr M’s eyes were wide in silent alarm, quietly asking whether she should say something about the IV, when my nervous babbling took over and I began telling the surgical team that the entire left side of my body was a jerk.

The astigmatism in the left eye, the myringotomy hole that never healed in my left eardrum, the left ear that rejected a piercing, my twisted left tit—it wasn’t the anesthesiologist’s fault for being unable to find a suitable vein, it was the assholery that is my entire left side...

Then I blurted that I hoped they were ready to play musical boobs—because I certainly was—and “Go Team!”

Then I was under, which was good, since I’m pretty sure by that point they wanted me under just to shut me up. I’m fairly certain they found me less entertaining and more batshit crazy.

(An assessment I'm familiar with.)

I woke up in recovery and probably flashed dude in the gurney across the way because I didn’t realize I wore no dressings. Yes, the first thing I did was sneak a peek at my new girls, and in my drugged state moved my gown to discover I was wearing a tensor bandage around my chest—up under my armpits and above my breasts—and nothing else.

Unless you counted the steri-strips on my incisions below my breasts.

Seriously, dude got a show. Though considering that the Jackson-Pratt twins had returned (goddamn them!) it may have been a vomit-worthy show. The JP drains are less than sexy, trust.

After being catered to by some lovely nurses, Mr Lannis showed up to announce I’d been under about three hours, but the surgery took only two. Shortly thereafter Dr M came to visit. Everything was reported as perfect, and she was counting on my stellar healing history to kick in.

The Jackson-Pratt twins were to remain in for a week, and she’d remove them when she saw me for my first post-op appointment. The tensor bandages were the only thing she wanted me to wear. No bras, no other wraps, for at the very least the first week—perhaps longer.

So much for the fancy pants post-breast-surgery bra I’d purchased.

So off we went, me to sleep in the recliner for a week, and unable to drive for a week, but otherwise far more capable than the first go ‘round. This time I was immediately able to take care of my own sponge baths and measuring drain output, but until they came out I had to hit the salon for hair washes. Heavy lifting and arm raising was out, but the mastectomy got the lion’s share of the inconvenience. This time I found myself woozy from the Tylenol 3s with codeine, and dropped to Extra Strength Tylenol on day two post-op (the bonus being the lack of caffeine meant I slept better at night).

The crux this time around was my numbness.

Numbness that stretched from immediately above my nipples down to the incision scars and from sternum to armpit. Yes, my incision scars themselves were sore, but the majority of where Dr M’s handiwork lay had no sensation. There was the transference of pressure to tissues beneath, but no surface sensation to speak of. This meant I could sometimes tell if I was poked in a numb boob because the muscles behind the implant sensed pressure, but a light brush on my skin would go unnoticed.

So Dr M had opened me up, poked around in there to cut out and loosen scar tissue, and here I was three days later with barely a physical reminder that I’d just had surgery.

I suppose the inconvenient JP twins served a purpose—they were the anchor reminding me to be careful.

That seven day post-op appointment had its share of revelations, too. Dr M quickly rid me of the wretched Jackson-Pratt twins, and got down to business.

“So,” she began. “You’ll never believe it. I opened you up, and that left implant was in perfect position. It was never twisted.”

Pardon, cowgirl? Not twisted?

It would seem that mastectomies highlight oddities of boobage. To the extreme.

No two boobs are identical to begin with, and hollowing out all the innards simply reveals every miniscule difference between what might otherwise have been considered a matched pair. Turns out my natural breasts had some discrepancies between them when it came to size and shape, and once their innards had been gutted, my surgeons had been left with two different shaped pockets for the implants.

That was why the left boob appeared so odd.

Okay, I guess that makes sense.

But I'm not sure if that's better or worse as a cosmic euphemism. Sure, I didn't have a twisted tit, but what does it mean if your zombie tits were expressing themselves artistically?

So Dr M and I discussed the revision—everything looked great—and I was to continue wearing the tensor bandage (and only the tensor bandage) for at least the next week. After that I was free to do as I pleased, but if anything seemed weird or I had any concerns, I was to revert back to the tensor bandage across my chest (with the girls free underneath), because that was all Dr M would have me do to correct anything during this early healing phase.

And it turns out that removing those blasted drains is a recipe for instant human. Seven days post-op and I was sleeping in my own bed and reserving Extra Strength Tylenol for bedtime.

It. Was. Awesome.

Yes. That was it. I was sore, but only where the drains had sat, the rest was fine.

Though I ended up wearing the tensor for the entire five weeks until I saw Dr M again. Any time I went without it—even for a few hours—my left pec began to ache. I’d push on the sore muscle near my sternum and rewind the tensor around my chest once again, taping my nipples to hide the perpetual nip-ons.


[An aside: if you’re ever asked to wear tensor bandages constantly, I highly recommend the name brand Tensor bandage from 3M. A dollar more than the store brands, and they lasted much longer. I had three I cycled through, washing and wearing (dryer and line drying, both), and they lasted me five weeks of constant wear. After all was said and done I only pitched one of the three for shot elastic. The store brand tensors lasted me less than 24 hours before the elastic lost its stretch, but the Tensor brand? Weeks of continual wear. A godsend.]

July 3, 2013.

The six week post-op appointment came up quicker than I remembered, though that was probably because I was more capable (and therefore less frustrated) this time around.

After six weeks of healing, Dr M had a better idea of what was going on—before the implant swap, and after. You see, my girls were still... off. Not nearly as much—they looked fabulous naked to the naked eye (heh)—but through a camera lens you could better see that the right implant sat lower than the left (that damn left side again!).

From her perch on the rolling stool, Dr M could see that they were aligned well, but the left side remained higher. The bonus was that now, six weeks after surgery, she knew why.

“You have more breast tissue on this side,” she said, squeezing my left pec.

It wasn’t nearly the eyesore it used to be, but it refused to sink down the way my pec on my right side had. I told her of the ache when not wearing the tensor bandage, and how I thought it might stem from lack-of-use (which she agreed), but now that my body had settled post-surgery, the problem was more evident.

A mastectomy is a tricky thing. No two mastectomies are identical, just as no two breasts are identical. After seeing the drop of my right breast, and being able to squeeze the flesh above my left breast, Dr M was certain the differences stemmed from the mastectomies.

When Dr D hollowed out my breasts she left a thin layer of fatty tissue containing blood vessels to maintain the necessary blood flow to my skin and nipples. It’s something done by hand, and by feel, and by skill—and because of those factors, the results of each mastectomy varies. Dr M suspected that Dr D had left slightly more tissue on the left breast than on the right. The left breast had the slightest more natural insulation to its pocket—mere millimeters more thickness—creating less stretch to the skin. That allowed it to maintain its natural shape more, instead of molding to the shape of the implant, like my right breast was doing. Also, the right breast implant had dropped sooner (an action we wanted to happen) because the thinness of the skin allowed for it to drop easier.

The left breast would get with the program, it would just need more scar massage on the incision and drain area to release the tissues and hopefully let gravity do its job to even out the last little bit.

Overall though? I’m quite happy with the results. Sure, they don’t feel the same as real breasts, but I find they look natural, and they move.

Dr M was overjoyed with the revision results—apparently at the six week post-op mark my incisions had faded and the new girls had softened and shifted with gravity such that I resembled someone at the three month post-op mark. And Dr M said if it were my twelve month post-op appointment, she’d be pleased with the visual assessment.

Dr M remarked that at this point, if I were to take off my top in a locker room, unless someone noticed the small dots of scar that are from the drain sites near my arms, no one would assume I had had surgery. And if they did see those scars, they’d likely assume it was augmentation, not a complete overhaul of the goods.

Yes, they look that great.

Mr Lannis’ opinion? Well, let’s keep it clean and say he’s pleased. (Silly digression: I was wearing a padded bra when I met him. It’s taken thirteen years and a pair of surgeries, but I’ve finally lived up to the wares I was selling that night... heh.)

Are you ready? It’s comparison photo time!

Sorry to disappoint, but they’re not topless pics. (Yeah, because that’s what the Internet needs—more topless photos... ::snort::)

What are you looking at? Well, they’re the before and after shots of my revision surgery—no, not my natural breasts, Mr Lannis and I didn’t have forethought back then. The before photo was taken days before my revision surgery, the after photo at seven weeks post-op.

Disclaimer: I should have straightened my asymmetrical shirt before Mr Lannis took the after photo. Whoops. Hindsight 20/20 and all that.

Left: before corrective revision surgery. Right: after corrective revision surgery.

For whatever reason, the discrepancies between the implant that has dropped (my right side—visible on the left side of the shot) and the one that hasn’t (the left breast, so the right side of the shot) is far more evident in pictures. In person you have to really stare at my chest before you notice it (warning: if you do that, I’m likely to hit on you because I’ll take it as a come on.)

These two collages are identical, but on the second one I added numbers so I could walk you through what you’re seeing—some of the differences are subtle.

Left: before corrective revision surgery. Right: after corrective revision surgery.

Points 1 and 2: my nipples. They moved. Okay, maybe only the swell of implant beneath them changed, but in the before photo they’re pointing south and south-east, respectively. Yeah—pretty. In the after shot they’ve balanced out, and while Dr M would prefer to get in there for a nipple tuck (they’re about 1cm lower than the ideal position, and one naturally sits farther to the outside), there’s no medical need to muck about in there any more (so says I). Besides, their appearance has improved, and I never once had a brush with not-so-fixable complications (like necrosis). As far as complications go, despite needing revision surgery, I had an easy run of it.

Point 3: My bizarre left pec. In the before shot you can clearly see my left pec jutting towards my armpit, making my breast into a top-heavy triangle. Even after surgery it remains bulkier than the right pec, but the difference is negligible.

Point 4: The fit of my shirt. The stretch of the elastic strap on my sport top is a great comparison marker to show how my pecs had bulged outward thanks to the pair of errant implants sitting too high. (Yes, I’m aware I’m not standing identically in each shot, thank you Peanut Gallery. Sheesh.)

Other notes:

Thanks to the shine of the flash in the before shot you can see the swell of my breasts sits uneven and far too high on my chest.

The line underneath my breasts indicate where the fullness—or bottom—of my breasts sit. Here you can see how Dr M released the band of scar tissue effectively lowering where the implants sat on my chest by almost 2”. Her incision lines never budged, and are basically where the line is sitting in the after shot—a 5" long pair of scars that hide in the crease under my breast, virtually invisible.

Overall, I’m thinking not too shabby. Especially since my opinion-making has been forbidden until six months post-op (so says Dr M). That’s late November 2013, if you’re keeping tabs.

So. What’s left of this story? Well, there were a few things I missed in The Nitty Gritty post that I deliberately set aside because, well, they had less to do with the specifics of living post-op mastectomy, and more to do with, well... whining.

Yes, it’s time for downsides.

I’m an avid non-complainer. Ranter, yes. Complainer? I try not to. But this series wouldn’t be complete—the image of how life-changing this journey is—would not be complete if I didn’t highlight a few downsides...

The Complaint Department

- Implants aren’t real breasts. They don’t move like real breasts, or handle like real breasts, and they don’t weigh the same as real breasts. Gravity is an asshole while your body adjusts, trust. Implants are like breasts, but it’s as if the makers of Dr Scholls gel-heels designed them. Yeah... Dr Scholls... the gel-boob edition.

- Numbness. From nipple to incision, stretching from sternum to armpit. And the problem with numbness is that it’s so forgettable. If I bend over the recliner’s ginormous arm to reach something on the floor I get frustrated with my short reach—but unbeknownst to me I’ve hit the arm of the chair with my numb breast. (Oops.) It’s like I’m wearing a super-padded bra—even when I’m not wearing any bra at all. It’s implant.

- Many complications are possible. I was lucky, mine was surgically repairable. Some aren’t as easily fixed (see: necrosis. Aside: never ever ever run a Google image search on tissue necrosis. You've been warned).

- No reaching or raising arms. No angling your arm upward at the shoulder at all. Seriously—this is a complete and utter pain the ass. No ponytails for six weeks. Sounds easier than it is, trust.

- No heavy lifting. And the definition of “heavy” kept changing. Immediately post-mastectomy that meant a can of pop—I could barely carry my purse because my arms would drop it (as in: this is not a conscious choice, it’s a physical impossibility). Immediately post-revision surgery I could carry no more than 5lbs, but it was far better than after the first surgery. It’s a sad day when you’re ecstatic you can pick up your cat—especially when your cat weighs less than most newborn babies.

- Sleeping on the recliner post-surgery. After the mastectomy I slept there for six weeks, after the revision surgery it was only necessary until the drains came out. Envisioning rolling mid-slumber, tangling myself in tubing and popping biohazard fluid-filled bulbs gave me nightmares. Now you can share them. You’re welcome.

- No driving. Another pain in the ass for anyone use to using a driver’s license for independence. I was curbed for four weeks post-mastectomy, and seven days post-revision surgery. Every second sucked my soul.

- Drains. The Jackson-Pratt twins are a necessary evil, and the worst fashion accessory ever.

- Deformity. It goes under complications, yes, but the psychological effects ran deep, in part due to having made the conscious choice to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy (second-guessing a life-altering surgery takes a toll on your psyche).

- Waiting for swelling to go down. It can be a long road, and much like when you begin painting a room and wonder “what the hell was I thinking?!” the swelling, bruises, incisions and scabby nipples all look far worse than you can imagine before they begin to take on their new appearance. Patience is a virtue, and also a rare find. Just breathe.

- Permanent nip-ons. Yes. They’re permanent. As in: always there to some extent. Yes, my nipples react to cold/touch/whatever-odd-element-that-makes-nipples-decide-to-cut-glass-out-of-nowhere, but they never go as flat as they used to pre-mastectomy. That’s okay: nipple stickers exist for a reason.

- No hugs. Possibly the worst downside ever. I was unable to hug my children post-mastectomy. Post revision surgery it was tentative hugs only. But post-mastectomy it was at least three weeks before it was okay. And you feel like the shittiest mother ever when you can’t hug your boys on Christmas day. Offering them a thigh to squeeze isn’t the same thing, though it lightens the mood...

- It hurts to laugh (obviously this disappears slowly post-mastectomy). On Christmas Day, while watching Swiss Family Robinson with the family, Mr Lannis and I enjoyed acting as the Peanut Gallery, picking apart the less-than-gender-equal Disney classic (what?! They discover she’s a girl and suddenly she can’t walk down a hill and needs help? Are her legs are broken?!). I would not recommend this activity. Your pecs will not appreciate it.

- Forever feeling like they’re not mine. Nope. They’re no longer my boobs—my boobs are gone—and they took whatever ownership I once had with them. It’s a freaking miracle I’m wearing a sports shirt in those pics. Thank Mr Lannis for that. These boobs are government-funded, and arguably owned by anyone who pays taxes in Ontario... heh.

- Sub-muscular implants do tricks. Truth. When my pecs clench the implants are pulled up, lifted in a way that resembles when guys clench their pectorals. This also means that whenever I do any activity that clenches my pec muscle, the implant lifts—so raking the lawn? yeah... an observant bystander might wonder what is up with my freaky tits—haha!

- Sneezing sucks immediately post-op. If you’re lucky enough to get a heads up, cross your arms and hold on to the girls tight. Even with that your sternum will probably be sore for a few days afterwards. This gets better the longer you’ve healed after surgery. At six-weeks post op it’s gone.

- Strangers. Get used to a number of people manhandling your goods. The people who touched my breasts (who weren’t Mr Lannis) from May 2011 to May 2013 are as follows:
  • Dr H, our family doctor (1)
  • mammography technician (2)
  • ultrasound technician (3)
  • Dr A, general practicioner through the genetics department (4)
  • two MRI technicians (5, 6)
  • Dr D, the general surgeon (7),
  • Dr M, the plastic surgeon (8),
  • two hospital nurses (9, 10),
  • at least three home care nurses (11, 12, 13),
  • a handful of surgical attendants for two separate surgeries. 
 Conservative estimate puts the tally into the late teens now, but who knows...?

Once again—and never to be forgotten—regardless of the downsides listed, regardless of the length of the list, regardless of the fact that I got to second base with a remarkable number of people (heh), considering the upside is dropping my genetically predisposed as high risk of breast cancer to less than any woman walking this Earth’s natural risk of breast cancer... well...

I tally this a win.

[Note: The next installment of this series can be found here.]

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Tooth Pocket (or: Setting Precedents)

We have a tooth pocket. I found the idea on Pinterest (thank everything holy and magical in childhood).

It's not fancy, but it serves an important purpose.

Yes, it's where the boys (or boy, as we've only had one lose teeth so far) put their teeth for safekeeping next to their bed so the Tooth Fairy can swap it for a toonie (translation $2), but I'm speaking about its indirect purpose...

Specifically that this teeny pocket I scrambled to zip together on the sewing machine out of felt (applique included) serves a far greater purpose than simply holding teeth.

It saves my sanity.

Yes, it keeps me from digging underneath boys' pillows while they're sleeping, searching for a chunk of nasty white pebble beneath their light-sleeper heads.

By using this tooth pocket the first time one kid lost a tooth, we set a precedent—one that thrills me—teeth go in the pocket, not under the pillow(!).

What were my parents thinking?! Hunting under pillows in dark rooms... pfft... there's no way my silhouette can be mistaken for a fairy's... ::snort::

Thursday, July 25, 2013

RWAR! Monster Jeans!

[Note: This post was originally published on The Mrs on November 5th 2011. And pinned over 2k times on Pinterest... I can't even... wow... and imagine all those dead links when The Mrs finally fades...

Also? I have a pair of MY jeans with a monster patch... yes, my children will one day realize what I'm wearing to pick them up at school and be suitably mortified. Heh.]

Yep. You guessed it. Another tutorial. I got crafty this week, and I’m sharing.

As a mom, one of my big pet peeves is holes in kids’ pants. And as a mom of boys, you can see I’m fighting a losing battle.

Being frugal, I can’t get rid of them — they’re banished to the play clothes pile, where knobby knees poking out still plague me on a daily basis, but at least I know they’re dressed decently when we actually get out of the house... oy.

And don’t get me started on the many reasons why jorts are just wrong (for starters, this isn’t the 1970s...).

So imagine my glee when I heard about this:

No, I didn’t come up with this idea myself. I found it here (I can hear you rolling your eyes — yes, it’s another Pinterest link). The reason I wrote this tutorial? I followed that little Pinterest link to the source website to discover it’s in Dutch. Or German. Or some other language my ignorant-self can’t recognize.

And the first three pairs turned out pretty cool, so I thought I’d take some photos as I finished the last.

And it only took scraps! Red flannel for the patch itself, and a little black and white felt for the eyes and teeth. And a sewing machine, of course (though it looks like the original poster did theirs by hand — I’m dubious as to the durability without machine stitching).

First thing’s first. Cut a patch more than wide enough to cover the ripped knee. It’s difficult to see, because I used red thread, but I zig-zag stitched the edges of the patch to keep it from unravelling (how I wish I owned a serger!).

Then cut some teeth out of felt and sew them to the red patch — remember to make the teeth long enough that the stitches are hidden once the patch is in place.

Put the patch inside the jeans and make sure the fabric is laying nice and flat. Looks cool already, doesn’t it?

Pin the edges of the patch in place — this is important because it’s tricky to get inside the pant leg with the sewing machine, so you’re basically sewing blind. If you’ve got the edges nicely pinned, you can sew inside your pinned border and know it’s catching properly.

Now zig zag that patch in place! My sewing machine had an entire section that came off to make getting into that pant leg mercifully easier! Though I did some swearing anyway...

I added an extra line of stitching to keep the jean edge from rolling up over the teeth.

Then I added eyes — just black felt and red stitching. The nice part about felt is that it doesn’t need to be edged, and the nice part about this project is that it’s supposed to look imperfect and homemade, so go for goofy and uneven — it’ll look great!

Like I said, I did a bunch, and it took me about an hour and a half to two hours to get them done. What’d I learn? The black and red eyes look snazzier than the orange, and I’d stick with mismatched circular eyes.

(Artsy secret: the more you make it obvious you’re deliberately not going for symmetry, the cooler it is.)

And now those play clothes are extra fun! I won’t cringe when they’re outgrown and put into the hand-me-down bag for the next kid in line! They’re not perfect, but they’re much better than passing on jeans with a hole in the knee!

And of course the boys love them — had to show everyone their monsters!

Hm. I should probably tell them not to go around telling people there’s a monster in their pants, shouldn’t I?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Mango Sprout: Update

Okay, so, a story...

Once upon a time I sprouted a mango seed. Then I planted it.

It's been busy.

The boys have named her Mya.

Since the beginning of May, it's been growing.

 Not too shabby, eh?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cancer Bombs: The Best of the Worst Case Scenarios

[Note: The first of this series can be found here. All previous (and subsequent) installments of this series can be found here.]

January 28th, 2013.

The first six weeks post-op were excruciating, and over time it became less due to actual discomfort and more because it was agonizing waiting for the all clear to resume normal life.

My ability to fend for myself grew slowly day by day. My drains came out, my incisions healed, my bruises faded, and my swelling went down...

Erm... kind of...

Dr M had given me strict orders: no opinions until the six month post-op mark. And we were only at six weeks.

Six months was a long time for things to change. I was determined to be patient. Thankful for the ability to drive myself to see her, I loaded up and went into the city for my appointment.

A familiar gown. A familiar setting. And familiar nerves.

Dr M came in, washed her hands, and plopped herself down on the rolling stool in front of my seat on the exam table, obviously eager to see her handiwork.

“Now remember,” I said before I began disrobing. “You said I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion until the six month mark. It’s not great, but I’ve been good. I haven’t made an opinion yet...”

Dr M’s eyes widened. “You’re apologizing. Why are you apologizing?”

I pulled off my gown. She stared.

High on my chest, slightly higher than level with my armpit (mid-shoulder or so), my pecs bulged. My left pec bulged closer to my sternum than the other, and my left breast was shaped differently than the right: more of a jutting triangle point than a full teardrop.

And that wasn’t all.

An inch and a half band of scar tissue solid as rock stretched tight around my ribs from armpit to armpit, the incisions underlining the bottom of it. It was hard as bone, gluing my skin to my ribcage, and though I could breathe deeply with no problem, when I gingerly reached or stretched it was as if I wore a belt tight around my chest.

That still wasn’t all.

The skin of my breasts was dimpled and pocked, resembling cellulite. My nipples hung at the bottom of my breasts and pointed to the ground—and not even uniformly!—the left was tiny and round, the right was stretched and droopy.

Poor girls.

I spoke fast. “I figure the swelling hasn’t completely gone down. You said at the last post-op appointment that my pecs were really angry. I figure they still are. And you said the implants will drop with time—that clearly needs to happen still.” I frowned. “Once all that does, the nipples will lift, right?”

“Oh no,” Dr M grabbed the girls. Grabbed. She squeezed and mauled and squished them into nothing in her fists, her mouth twisted with displeasure.

It was my turn to stare.

Not because she was mauling my breasts—which admittedly I had not yet done as I had only just been released from the gauntlet that was painful discomfort and was reluctant to dive back in immediately.

No, I as staring because she was mauling my breasts and it didn’t hurt.

Not only did it not hurt, I could barely feel it!

I’d been avoiding touching my breasts in case they hurt AND I HAD NO SENSATION?!

I mean, I could tell that she was touching them, but I’d been paralyzed to do the same for fear of pain. My chest had hurt so much after the mastectomy that I’d avoided touching my breasts as much as possible during the six weeks post-op.

“Close your eyes,” she ordered. I did. “Do you have nipple sensation?”

“Well, I think I—”

“Nope.” She sighed. “If you can’t feel that, then the answer is no.”

Glancing down I was doubly in shock: Dr M had my nipples in what would be a shudder-inducing twist if I’d seen it happen to someone else...

And. I. Felt. Nothing.

Rolling away a bit on the stool, she sighed. “Well, the good news is you heal like a champ. The bad news is we have a problem.”

“We do?”

“Yes, we do. That bulge up there—that’s not swelling. That's implant. The Alloderm has contracted.”

The Alloderm.

That super-cool zombie tissue? The yeah-I’m-sporting-cadaver-and-am-immune-in-case-of-an-undead-rising fancy pants tissue had (for lack of a better term) shrunk.

In a biochemical reaction that Dr M had never seen before(!) the Alloderm tissue matrix had contracted, shrinking into me, tightening as my body healed, and in its tautening state it had pushed the implants up underneath my pectoral muscles.

You can’t make this up.

The band of rock-hard scar tissue underneath my breasts was a trail of where the implants had begun, and how my body had glued itself flat as they had slowly travelled upwards.

Oh, and there was another thing:

“And see the funny shape of your left breast?” Dr M outlined what I’d dubbed my ugly girl, tracing the top-heavy triangle with a finger. “Your implant has twisted.”

I snorted. I shuddered. I pressed my lips together, closed my eyes, and couldn’t help myself: I laughed.

And laughed.

And laughed, and snorted, and hiccoughed, and laughed.

I gasped for breath, wiping my eyes, wishing that Mr Lannis had come down for this appointment with me. It would have been worth booking another day off work for the entertainment value alone.

Dr M clearly didn’t quite know what to do with me. “This is funny?”

Sighing, pulling myself together, I said, “You're telling me I have a twisted tit.” I had to press my lips together to keep from tumbling down the slippery slope back into the puddle of giggles.

“Yes. And that’s funny?” No one could blame her for being confused.

I knew well the surgical options originally offered to me—the routes I hadn’t taken all involved multiple surgeries. Dr M had insisted that even if she and Dr D had botched my mastectomy somehow, by the end of my surgical procedures I’d be ecstatic with the results, more pleased with the falsies than my original breasts. It had been a touchstone memory through the questionable moments, staring at my rainbow bruises and mangled girls in the mirror.

“Well," I said. "You can fix this, right?”

“Oh, yes!” she replied adamantly.

“Then this is fucking hysterical.”

And it was. Dr M smiled, then began to chuckle, too.

It was the most bizarre cosmic euphemism I’ve ever been dealt. The universe has forced me to eat some shit sandwiches over the years, but this one had to be the funniest. Through no fault of my own, my body had healed so my once-deflated, saggy-post-nursing tits were sitting too high on my chest, exactly the opposite of where we'd begun.

It was definitely a cosmic euphemism, and regardless of whether I understood the message, it was certainly a lesson in remembering that everything is a choice: including finding humour where others might not.

And come on, it was hilarious... my very cell structure, in an effort to heal efficiently and absorb the Alloderm had literally absorbed the Alloderm.

The cadaver tissue I had joked would be my saving grace come zombie uprising had moved.

The zombie tits were sentient and had chosen to travel upward in search of brains! ::snort::

Dr M was frowning, attempting to pull and stretch skin glued to my ribs. “I can fix it, but you’ll probably have to go bigger...”


Uh... back up...

Another surgery?

Mr Lannis had been my backbone through this recovery, and the thought of forcing him through that gauntlet of drudgery again hurt my heart. But regardless of it being incredibly early in my recovery (six weeks is nothing in surgical post-op time), Dr M was certain that she’d have to get in there for a revision in order to give me some semblance of natural appearance.

We began discussing the details. One more surgery. A simple outpatient procedure, a piece of cake compared to the mastectomy—only a couple hours long and sent home the same day.

And recovery would be easier.

There was only a one-week restriction on driving, and while I wouldn’t be able to lift anything heavy or raise my arms for the full six weeks again, I wouldn’t have the same physical restrictions for movement. The mastectomy had included cauterizing my pecs, and one of the reasons to remain unmoving had been to ensure I didn’t shift healing tissues and begin bleeding. This time around that was already healed—I needed to be careful and only move within reason, but feeding myself, dressing myself, tending my own drains(!) wouldn’t be a problem.

I wouldn’t be nearly the burden I had been before: Mr Lannis wouldn’t be inundated with performing every teensy task necessary for me to survive the day.

Thanks to that, I was sold.

My chore now? Destroy Dr M's hard work through scar massage... break it all up, break up as much scar tissue as humanly possible, before she and her scalpel got in there again.

Challenge accepted.

Surgery was scheduled for May. I would return to Dr M in March to sign paperwork and go over more details, but the big picture was set.

That was good. April was busy, and I couldn't afford to be recovering from surgery then.

We had two weddings to attend—I was in one wedding party and Mr Lannis was in the other, and on the weekend between these two weddings, I was flying to Atlanta to the geeky-free-for-all that is JordanCon.

And well before all that—exactly two days after this six week post-op appointment was something even bigger: we had a family trip to Cancun.

If you’re keeping score, that’s a week in a bathing suit, two formal dresses, plus one cosplay dress including competing in a costume contest in an underbust corset... oh, and then I squeezed into my wedding dress for play time with some classy ladies...

All with wonky boobs.

Erm. Yay?

Cancun, bridesmaid, Elmindreda cosplay, wedding, and my wedding dress. Nobody'd guess the tits weren't um, the tits. Heh.

Yes, I did it all anyway.

After all, it was the best of the worst case scenarios.

Originally the worst of the worst case scenarios was a complication in the initial surgery that meant I’d wake up flat—a lack of blood flow to skin tissue and I would be left without enough for even an expander pocket, so flat-chested and bare, likely without even nipples to remind me what a boob is let alone resemble anything possibly related to the female anatomy.

Try rocking a strapless bridesmaid dress with nothing. Not my first choice, that's for sure.

The secondary worst case scenario was having my Surgical Super Team deem it necessary to install tissue expanders (as place holders) instead of implants in my initial scoop and replace surgery, and then swap them in a later surgery for implants.

Nope, everything in December's surgery went fine, so I woke up in the recovery room to find we'd gone with the original plan: mastectomy and instant implants.

Now during the healing process there was this best of the worst case scenarios occurring. Yes, there was a complication (two, if you count the twisted tit—heh), and it was necessary to undergo a revision surgery.

But you see, I had all these needs and reasons to dress up and be in public and on display (weddings, vacation, cosplay), and of course wonky tits were far from the ideal situation, but flat-chested these events would have seemed impossible at worst and uncomfortable at best.

And if I had woken from that initial surgery with tissue expanders and had to sport them for this busy calendar stretch, well, tissue expanders are notorious for two things...

Defying gravity and not resembling boobs.

They generally don’t behave the same as implants or breast tissue in that tissue expanders enjoy expanding in odd directions. Uneven lumpiness abounds. (Not always, but generally.)

So here I was left with something that—unless I opened my big mouth and told people, or went topless—meant no one was the wiser to my less-than-ideal breasts.

And I’m serious: my incision and drain scars were covered by a string bikini top (sorry, no photos of that, heh, but let me appease you with this blurry selfie in my halter bikini top...).

The gap created by my bulging left implant is clearly visible, beginning mid-shoulder range, and you can see there are no visible incision scars. (No guarantees you won't go blind thanks to blurriness or ghostly Canadian skin.)

So off I went, grateful that I needn’t be more self-conscious, and giggling at the absurdity of the situation whenever possible (or suitably drunk—we stayed at an all inclusive resort, after all).

And I wore regular bras. And tankini bathing suits. And bikini tops. And sports tops. And strapless dresses. And dresses with straps (braless—gasp!).

And guess what?

I was right. No one was the wiser to my less-than-ideal breasts.

(Actually, by some of the admiring looks I received as Elmindreda, I’m pretty sure onlookers would be shocked to know the state of my boobage under that satin shirt. Or maybe they were just mesmerized by the hours of beading... heh.)

Point being: it could have been worse.

And what did I learn?

Apparently the universe can reward you in bizarre ways.

You see, the main reason I opted for the single scoop and replace surgery was practicality. I couldn’t envision myself derailing my family’s life twice because I wanted to go the two-surgery route and include tissue expansion and larger implants as part of my procedures. Providing I was a good candidate for the single surgery route, the only reason to opt for dual surgeries (expansion included) was yes, (slightly) less risk for complications, but mostly the bonus of selecting my size.

Genetically I am a small chested girl. Sure, having larger breasts would be great, but the arrogance of choosing dual surgeries for such a shallow reason was beyond me. I couldn’t do that to my family by choice.

The whole reason for the rigmarole in the first place was to rid myself of the cancer bombs. Done.

Technically, I could live with the twisted oddities that were now my boobs. It would involve reconciling myself to new found self-consciousness, but I could do it.

(Mr Lannis overruled this decision immediately, for my mental sake and for his, too. Not only that, Dr M confided she was worried I wouldn't let her back in to fix the issue. As a perfectionist, she couldn't walk away from my case the way it stood, and she admitted to being haunted by my voice singing, "the cancer bombs are gone, it's all good!" ha!)

To correct the Alloderm tissue contraction and my twisted tit (::snort::) it was not only necessary for another surgery, but necessary to upgrade the girls in order to properly stretch out the scar tissue and create a situation where the implant was heavier, sat lower, and was more difficult for my body to shove upward into the pocket created beneath my pecs by the previous (smaller) implants.

It took a bit for me to absorb it. It took a lot of inane giggling and outright mocking of my own situation. It took much processing and organizing and self-deprecating laughter.

But I got it.

It was a backwards reward. I couldn’t be faulted for choosing the practical route the first go 'round, but I couldn’t deny it, either...

Apparently the universe wanted me to be vain.

And you can’t argue with the universe...

[Note: The next installment of this series can be found here.]

Friday, July 19, 2013

When all else fails...

We're having a heatwave here in Ontario. Usually the stupid-hot-melt-your-eyeballs temps don't show up until August. And then only for three weeks, and then they're gone.

That's 93F, feeling like 109F, Imperialist friends. Today (9:30am) it's 29c/85F feeling like 38c/101F. And we live in igloos... housing crisis, ahoy.
Personally, I'm good with hot. Heat alerts and pudding-thick air give me an auto-out for my walks—can't fault me for sitting in a chair and melting when that's all anyone can physically do, right?

What kills me are the kids and the pets. I'm not sure who's worse: the kids whose defaults seem to be set to bicker and are underfoot inside the house (in the heavenly AC) or the pets (Moghedien specifically) who expects to continue her usual eat-range-hunt routine in mind-numbing heat outside.

The kids and I have a tentative agreement: a small amount of time outside in the morning (usually spent colouring in the shade), and something water-related whenever possible... local activities (pool, splash pad, or beach—depending on how much time we have in our day), or backyard activities (sprinkler, slip and slide, sponge ball water fight).

The cat however, I have taken to bribing to remain indoors until evenings.

With catnip.

If she wasn't a junkie before, well...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blackmail: The Archives

[Note: This post was originally published on The Mrs on October 15th, 2011.]

I am raising jerks.

Sorry, let me rephrase that. I am raising saucy boys.


Don’t get me wrong, they are very polite and (for the most part) they obey and listen to what they’re told — they are children, after all.

They have manners, and they generally aren’t (I hesitate to say ‘never’) ill-behaved. If they leave this house with adults who aren’t their parents, I never worry that they will run wild and disrespect their temporary guardians — they’re very good boys.

But they’re saucy. They don’t backtalk, not intentionally, anyway, but occasionally snarky things slip out.

Let’s be truthful, now — we all know they come by it honestly. They were born with the sarcasm gene and I’ve (inadvertently) done my best to see it fostered properly.

Anybody who has friended me on Facebook has borne witness to the crazy things my kids are wont to say. I like to share — the quotes make for great status updates.

I also have a file titled ‘blackmail’ on my laptop, because Momma likes to keep tabs. Ha HA!

So today I’m sharing some of the silly and saucy things they’ve said.

Recently I cracked out the camera in an effort to make up for my sorry lack of photo-documentation lately update our snapshots. This involved me bashing my head bribing boys to sit nicely by offering a trip to the park (which I sneakily used to get more shots in). It also involved a handful of verbal gems from the peanut gallery.

Boys [to me, while sniffing our potted mum]: Is this YOUR mum?
Me: Yes.
Four-and-a-half-year-old [doubtful]: Yeah, but, it doesn’t look like you at all...

Me [to almost-six-year-old, hanging upside down at playground]: Look at you, you monkey!
Almost-six-year-old: I’m not a monkey!
Me: Then what are you, then?
Almost-six-year-old: I’m a poodle!

Four-and-a-half-year-old [holding a maple leaf aloft]: I found one!
Me: Just one?
Four-and-a-half-year-old: Well, I know where the rest of them are.

And hands down, the best quote of the day? —

Almost-six-year-old [shouting at another playground kid]: I don’t HAVE to do what you say! If I do that I’ll break my BRAIN!

Note: I have no idea what prompted this outburst, but it. was. awesome.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

FIRE by Kristin Cashore - Book Review

[Note: This review was originally published on February 2nd, 2012.]

Rating: 4/5 -  A satisfying read that’s worth every word.

Title: Fire

Author: Kristin Cashore

Format: trade paperback

Published: 2009

Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy

Publisher: Firebird

Landed in my hands: purchased myself

Summary (from the cover blurb):

She has been hidden away. Now she is choosing to use her power.

It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. Young King Nash clings to the thorn, while rebel lords, in the north and south, build armies to unseat him. War is coming. The mountain and forests are filled with spies and thieves.

This is where Fire lives, a girl whose startling appearance is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her.

Everyone... except Prince Brigan.



What impression does the word carry? Does it make you think of an incredibly beautiful girl who has the capability of ensnaring the minds of people around her with her very presence, and the ability to compel those minds with her thoughts? A girl who is intimidated by her own power and inherent capacity for evil?


That’s why I like that Cashore has chosen simple language. She hasn’t created a new term for her creatures — which is fortunate, since they take the form of every living thing in her universe — and she's spun the known sense of the word on its head. Fire is the last of the human-shaped monsters, and the world is populated with other monsters, born of every species, dangerous oddities within the realm of nature. Coveted for their rarity and power, and drawn to consume each other for their own monster nature.

It’s damn interesting.

Yes, I’ve read Cashore’s first book, Graceling, set in this same universe, and Fire is in effect a prequel, so I had no compunctions about reviewing it without having reviewed Graceling (excellent, by the way).

Cashore’s prose is elegant, a joy to read. It’s very relaxing. Comforting, even. And it has an impossibly sweet and poetic little romance within its narrative.

[He] had been unshaven, in black clothing, his boots spattered with mud. His light eyes standing out in a weary face. 
She’d very much come to like his face.

So simple, and so powerful.

The simplicity of this growing romance is so graceful, so heart-warmingly sweet and natural in its progression that I can’t help but fall in love with the two characters as they discover their mutual care for each other. It’s comfort food for the eyes.

Fire has that strong female lead I’m so fond of, as well as an interesting take on the nature of monsters and cruelty, and a relaxed approach to sexuality that I found refreshing. Cashore is character- and world-focused when writing, and her teens are not really teens in their actions, due to the medieval setting. Which is good — in the middle ages there was no teenage stage, you were simply a child or an adult (once you hit puberty), and Cashore's characters behave like adults, not modern day teens displaced from the local mall.

Though truthfully, the Young Adult label of this title makes it a little shocking when the sexuality of the characters is broached: they are teens by age and our own society's standards, so the blasé attitude about lovers is a touch surprising. (Oh, I hear that damned spoiler alert — no worries, no names attached.) This is especially true when one character manages to impregnate two ladies — at the same time. And aside from some social awkwardness, it's all taken in stride.

Despite this event, I think the message is less a promotion of promiscuity and more about being cautious of your actions and remembering that everything has a consequence. It's not preachy, it's realistic to setting, and because of that, I like it.

Aside from a particular set up that felt more plot device than anything else (won't go into it, that spoiler alert is making my head hurt), this book would have top marks. As it stands, both of Cashore’s novels will be on my keeper shelf.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Schoolwork Roundup

The school year is over. Do you know what that means?

Okay, yes, it means that my kidlets are underfoot for the summer...

But it also means I've a stack of their schoolwork, because they've brought it home.

Sure, some, much, a lot of it is going to get recycled. But before that happens, I do a couple of things.

First, I go through it. We've framed some of the nicer pieces of their artwork on their bedroom walls, and they're overjoy that their creations look like "real" art.

Nothing special, simply repurposed some old frames we had kicking around. I spray painted them flat black so they were uniform in finish if not in size and style, and in when the paintings/artwork and up onto the walls they all went. Everything looks better in a proper frame, and I think it's good for the boys' confidence—they feel important when their creations are treated with importance.

Anyhow. The next thing I do is I photograph (or scan, if I'm feeling particularly productive and am willing to lug the scanner out of the closet) the favourite stuff.

Here's a classic example of why I photograph it (aside from simply being a digital packrat). This lovely alpaca was made by my kindergartener... with real alpaca wool (erm, or whatever you call it), thanks to one of the kindergarten teachers with, uh, alpaca connections.

Wonderful, right? But I'm not actually going to keep this forever and ever. It lived on the bulletin board in the toy room for almost a year, and now has permission to leave.

Goodbye, Alpaca!

Note: I never get tired of listening to a 5 year old pronounce alpaca... sounds like aw-pall-ka. Excellent...

And last on the list of "what I do with their work", well, I mock, erm, I mean enjoy it.

Which is why I'm sharing a select bit of the crop. Some from last year, and a classic to reshare. All fun.

The classic. Does it really say asshole? Because an asshole would certainly keep picking his nose, yes. Either way, he earned a checkmark. Heh.

No kidding! Clearly dicking around. Not cool. But at least he's honest?
Yes. The first thing I think of are my shiny new eye sockets, too.

How teachers manage to keep a straight face, I'll never know...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cancer Bombs: The Nitty Gritty

[Note: The first of this series can be found here. All previous (and subsequent) installments of this series can be found here.]

Here’s the thing, when I first knew I was going for surgery I googled prophylactic mastectomy—a lot—and saw more than my fair share of images of cancer reconstruction, and learned a lot of terminology.

I stumbled upon plenty of amazing stories online, of cancer survivors and proactive ladies like myself who chose to attack cancer before it could do the same to us (one of my favourite blogs I’m currently following is Mogatos’ journey here—hiya, Mogatos!).

In all my research though, I struggled. No one was answering what my prepwork-obsessed psyche deemed were the important questions... questions that continued to plague my micromanaging mind as I thought and rethought strategy right up until the day of surgery...

What was life immediately post-op?

Aside from constantly hearing, “wow—you have such a positive attitude!” this is my number one reason for sharing my journey with the big wide interwebs.

Someone out there is searching for the same answers I was...

Yes, immediately home was a struggle. Mr Lannis did almost everything—and I mean everything for me. Granted, this post will blatantly travel into the TMI zone, but I’ll put this part as delicately as possible: Mr Lannis was lucky to be relieved of bathroom duty—it was borderline, but I opted for salvaging the last dregs of dignity between us by taking my time and not caring if I was (literally—not figuratively) in the bathroom for seven to ten minutes for a quick pee.

(The key was realizing I had to go far enough in advance that I had time to manage the excruciatingly slow shimmy out of my yoga pants. Also? Panties with the elastic shot have their purpose—they're easier to inch up and down your legs when you do everything with your fingertips, just sayin'.)

And that is all I’m going to say about that... though this post will delve into the realm of the ugly, trust.

This post, unlike the others, will be more of a list of how I lived and coped post-mastectomy.

Number one thing to remember: I could barely use my arms.

I was truly T-Rexing it: elbows in, short reach, snarly mood. Lovely.

Lifting a can of pop was questionable the first couple of days (it gradually got better), and if I wasn’t careful and concentrated on making my finger do all the work of opening said pop can’s tab, I’d engage my pecs and hurt. Drinking said pop involved leaning over to the side table where it sat and sipping from a straw, because shifting to reach and lift it was tricky and the stationary pop/drink from straw method was far easier to manage.

The necessity that is my morning tea I lived without until the one week post-op stage, and then was only doable thanks to a wonderfully thoughtful friend (hi, Tina!) who sent me a self-stirring stainless steel mug, and a stainless steel straw to drink my tea through! 


(Tina has an amazing heart, and I’m fairly certain that she earned her angel wings just from this act.)

To give you an idea of exactly how much help I needed immediately post-op, here’s a simple situation. We have an over-sized recliner with sturdy square arms we rest a board across as a makeshift laptop desk. Recovering from surgery, I could sit in the chair and slowly shuffle my butt to the back of the seat.

I’d then need the boys to help:

  • Put the pillow behind my shoulders so I could sit up with better posture (I’d hurt otherwise, and I couldn’t stretch to crack my back thanks to my tight chest).
  • Lift my quilt off the floor to cover me (the blanket as a whole was far too heavy, and I had no ability to stretch to reach and cover my toes—the boys would do that for me if I couldn’t kick it into place with my feet).
  • Pull the trigger for the chair to kick into recline (angled poorly for my reach, and too stiff for my abilities).
  • Lift the wooden board/makeshift desk and put it on the arms of the chair for me (too heavy).
  • Reach the laptop (too far) and place it on the board for me (too far for my reach on the stool next to the recliner, and too heavy).
  • Open the laptop (too stiff for my weak arms).

Heaven forbid I get settled and realize I needed the washroom (gasp!).

First thing's first, though. Prescriptions.

Mr Lannis settled me at home (I sat on the couch and chatted with my father) and then hit up the local pharmacy for my meds. An prophylactic antibiotic to take three times a day, and Tylenol 3s with codeine. I had a sticky note on the side of the bookshelf next to the recliner that told me when to take my meds—I was staggering the T3s and Advil, taking a painkiller every 2 hours on nurses’ orders to keep myself comfortable.

And those damned Jackson-Pratt drains came home with me. For ten days.

We're about to enter the truly ew-gross-TMI realm—if you're squeamish, skip down to the photo of clothes, and I promise the remainder of this post will be less than gag-worthy.

Still with me?

Drains. Twice a day I was to empty them into a measure (a specimen cup with measurements marked on the side was provided), and mark how much was accumulating. Once my drainage dropped to less than 30 ml in 24 hours for three consecutive days, they would come out—providing I had a visit with a medical professional on that day, otherwise I’d have to wait.

My home care nurses came to visit me every two to three days until the drains were out. They were, all of them, lovely ladies who peeled back my dressings and peered at my mangled rainbow bruise boobs and rained praise about how wonderfully I was healing (like I had anything to do with what my body was choosing to do—okay, that’s a lie: I did. I was eating well and sleeping lots and listening to instructions).

Back to the drains. The nurses really came to check on them (as in: not me), since they were vital... the Alloderm tissue matrix, being technically a transplant needs to have adequate drainage, and those asshole drains had to stay in longer than they would have for other situations (gah!).

Anyone who’s had Jackson-Pratt drains probably knows you have to milk the lines. It’s disgusting as it sounds, so I’m not going any farther into that one (you’re welcome. Trust.)

Mr Lannis was in charge of measuring the drainage—I couldn’t use my hands enough to squeeze drain’s bulb to create vacuum at the same time as capping it, so the chore fell to him. Gag-worthy, yes, and he performed the duty with the stoic all-business attitude I myself reserve for cleaning kidlet pukage.

The drains themselves I’d pin to the inside of my hoodie and zip it up over them so they sat on my stomach.

Most annoying accessory ever. Trust.

Anyhow, on to the rest of the nitty gritty...

What I wore:

Mostly zip up hoodies. As luck would have it, I’d kept a zip up long sleeved t-shirt from years ago, and I layered that under a micro-fleece hoodie. If cold I’d wear another hoodie over top of that. Once my drains came out I was better able to sneak into a large t-shirt, as I could stretch the sleeve down to my navel and slide my arm into it. Otherwise it was yoga pants, panties and a front-closing bra (not pictured), and occasionally (with Mr Lannis’ help) the white leggings from surgery (I was cold, a lot, so I wore them if we were leaving the house). A pair of men’s socks were easier (and cozier) to wear, and if my feet got too hot I could drag them off with the opposite foot (better than asking for help).

Note: I don’t mention PJs. I’d wear the same clothes day and night, and change when Mr Lannis gave me a sponge bath (sounds kinkier than it was, trust) or when I was able to shower on my own—something that didn’t happen until TEN DAYS POST OP! ::headdesk::

How I drank: through straws, and with light mugs. Someone had to get me water and juice—I was unable to press the fridge’s filtered water button with enough force to pour my own glass, let alone lift a full glass of water. Same for the jug of juice—too heavy (yes, clearly a running theme here).

How I ate: like a child, with everything cut for me. It was difficult to saw a knife with enough force to cut through anything. Humiliating.

For breakfast Mr Lannis left muffins and fruit on the kitchen counter because I couldn’t open the fridge to get myself food if I was hungry, and I was hungry all the time. It wasn’t odd for me to snack in the middle of the night, my body craving energy. Thankfully there was a plastic clam shell on the muffins, because I wouldn’t’ve been able to fight off the cat. As it was she would steal my muffin papers every morning (no, seriously).

Little shit.

How I slept: often. And on the recliner in the living room. For six weeks.

At first it was because I didn’t want to roll on the drains, and the recliner forced me to sleep unmoving on my back, while also being easier to sit up and get into a stand (it was slow going, but easier than rolling on a bed). Then when the drains were removed I tried the bed, but laying flat on my back put too much tension on my chest—all the pulling drew tight and uncomfortable, not something that could be ignored and slept through. So until I had the go ahead from Dr M, I played it safe and stayed in the recliner.

And so there I slept, with a fitted sheet on the chair, two quilts, and occasionally trapped beneath a cat. If Moggie decided she was going to sleep on me, I couldn’t use my arms to move her. She’s stubborn, so she’ll remain despite me forcefully kicking my legs, effectively trapping me and not allowing me to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (ugh). Moghedien was also known for stealing my spot and holding it hostage. Unfortunately I was neither able to give her the pets she wanted (her position was too far for me to lean and reach), nor was I able to pick her up off the chair (too heavy/too far to reach). It was lose-lose all around. I think...


And I think it was three weeks before I managed to make it through a day without a catnap. They started after every meal—forty-five minutes of knocked out bliss thanks to the warm buzz of food and meds—then slowly dwindled to a twenty minute catnap once a day. And yes, this would be in the living room, with the hurricane raucous that is two boys playing happening on the same floor. I slept through it because my body needed to sleep through it.

How I kept track of meds: I’ve already mentioned my sticky note on the shelf next to the recliner, so I could keep track of what time/what meds (antibiotic, Tylenol, or Advil—painkillers staggered every two hours).

How I turned on the light for meds in the middle of the night: I didn’t. Floor lamps were too high when seated, and the twisting motion of the switch in my fingers would travel up my arm and clench my pec muscle painfully, and immediately after surgery wall switches were too high, too—I’d have the kids flip them for me. At night, I’d keep my cell phone on the table next to me... touching it would illuminate the screen, telling me the time (and thus whether it was time for medication), and giving me enough light to see the pills prepared in a small dish within easy reach.

Eventually I had enough strength that I could grab the floor lamp next to the recliner and tilt it so the switch was within my reach. Yes, everything was a process.

How I bathed: Until my drains came out and I was allowed to get wet, Mr Lannis was on sponge bath duty. This is not as glamorous as it sounds. Trust.

How I washed my hair: it didn’t happen at home until the drains were out and I was allowed to get wet. Arguably, I could have leaned over the kitchen sink and had Mr Lannis do it, but he was scared of hurting me by accident, and let's face it, that scared me, too.

My local salon was great, though the first time it took three people helping to lean me back in the wash station’s chair—it’s surprising what makes your muscles clench on you. That first visit I almost fell asleep, lulled by the rhythmic scrubbing of my wonderful hairdresser’s fingers—oh so soothing! and my scalp had been itching like crazy (probably because I couldn’t lift a hand to scratch and had been using a fork to find relief. No, really).

How I brushed my hair: I didn’t. Mr Lannis did. Thankfully we don’t have girls, because Mr Lannis tragically failed a crash course in ponytail making. He failed to the point that the home care nurses assumed I’d slept in my weirdo-schizophrenic-topnot for days between their visits. (No, it just looked that way. It was only an hour old. But thank you for graciously offering and redoing my ponytail, Joanne.)

He gets points for effort, though.

How I felt physically: Post-surgery I was sore. Tight, strained, and uncomfortable, but not in pain, per se... If I kept from moving I was still sore, but it was far from unbearable (says the woman who had no pain meds during childbirth—I’m not asking for a medal, I’m just saying I’ve felt worse. Mind you, for sheer duration, childbirth was more comfortable (intense pain, then it was over), the first three days I had only my doctor’s say so that the agony of my pecs was to end within the first 72 hours, and as each hour crept into the next without relief, saying I’d begun to have my doubts is an understatement (I thought she’d been blatantly lied to me). It felt as if I’d pulled my chest muscles to a horrendous degree one day, and then went out and did the exact same thing the next.

Not cool.

How I felt mentally: At first I didn’t think much at all—drugged stupors are good for something, heh. Then I felt frustrated. Helpless.

The worst was once I was off the pain meds, feeling energized and ready to get back to normal, but still under physical restrictions (no raising arms, no heavy lifting/pulling/clenching of pecs). I’d have no built-in reminder, and get carried away doing something (like, erm, pulling open a heavy commercial glass door for instance—eff you, McDonalds, you've given me plenty of reasons to hate you) and be left with a sore chest for a day and a half...

The most I could do was spin things positively in my own mind, and remind myself it wasn't forever:

Christmas Day, four days post-op, chicken winging it.

A fork was my best friend or worst enemy. I ate at the recliner with a board across the arms of the chair to create a makeshift desk/table. I had a designate fork set aside as the Scratching Fork... I used it to reach itchy spots on my head, shoulders, and back, and it also doubled as a great-hair-tucker-behind-ears-thingy, since I wasn’t allowed to stretch my arms up or out (that fork was bliss, let me tell you.)

But if I accidentally dropped a fork, I’d have to ask someone to move my plate, move the board, then struggle to get out of the chair without using my abs, chest, or arms, then pick up the fork (watch out blood pressure!), and grab a new one from the drawer (if I’d been eating with it)... or ask (and wait) for someone to do it all for me, and feel like a spoiled brat because I needed to bother someone with something so trivial.

The weight of the entire day could revolve around whether I’d dropped a fork... (sigh).

Each day that passed had me more and more excited for the tiny triumphs.

Four days post-op. IIRC, I was reprimanded strongly for opening the heavy fridge door.

My ability to fend for myself grew slowly day by day. The first week Mr Lannis had to do pretty much everything for me—I couldn’t pull my zip up hoodie on without his help.

By the end of the second week I was less helpless. I could move the laptop and board myself, but mostly I used my cell phone for accessing the Internet (it was easier overall). Mr Lannis went back to work and the kidlets and I ate microwavable dinners and pancakes. They loved it, I didn’t. We survived.

By the end of the third week I had more ability. I still couldn’t raise my arms, but I could more easily feed us, and carefully fold laundry. The kidlets were back to school and the drop off and pick up routine was being shared by Mr Lannis and a friend of mine. But I napped, a lot.

At the four week mark I was allowed to drive, but it was less about the ease of me using my arms and far more about my ability to withstand an impact. I had difficulty steering hand over hand and since I couldn’t lift the bag of cat food anyway, well, I got out of the groceries and store runs despite the newly-reinstated wheels.

It wasn’t until week five that I started breaking Dr M’s rules—I (slowly) swept the kitchen while the kids were at school. If I didn’t my eyes would bleed from staring at it. I had fewer and fewer physical reminders of my own recovery (the naps evaporated, I was no longer on painkillers), and was becoming frustrated with my restrictions. Of course, then I’d do something dumb and be sore for a day and remember why I wasn’t supposed to do that, my pecs an aching reminder of my stupidity.

And this nitty gritty post about life immediately post-op would not be complete without my favourite anecdote of that first week, so we're backtracking a touch (because I can).

One day—day seven post-op, to be precise—our oldest son became ill and we had to sneak him in to see our doctor. (Turns out he had strep throat—caught early and he was fine. Barely a blip on his radar, but I knew something was up by his pink pink cheeks, and knowing I was vulnerable, erred on the side of early consult.)

Anyhow. Poor Mr Lannis was torn—leave his helpless invalid wife home alone? Or take us (youngest and I) with him? I was still napping lots at that point—and who knew how long he’d be sitting in a germy doctor’s office waiting to be squeezed in. Not a great idea.

I insisted he go, and that I’d eat an easily-reached muffin and have a nap. No worries—our youngest was used to making his own sandwich bread-and-jam thingy (it's an insult to the word "sandwich"), and he'd be fine. We'd be fine.

Mr Lannis waffled until the five-year-old spoke up. “It’s okay, Dad. I’ll look after Mom.”

Oh great, a volunteer!

So. Off Mr Lannis takes the sick boy (or rather: the boy who didn’t realize he was sick yet, heh), and leaves me home with the five-year-old.

And a headache.

A nagging, throbbing, what-the-hell-I’m-on-two-different-painkillers-and-drinking-a-lake’s-worth-of-fluid-daily mystery headache.

Mystery, that is, until it’s med time and I assess what’s allotted: I’d run out of Tylenol 3s (with codeine) the day before, and was now on to Extra Strength Tylenol. There seemed to be no difference in pain management, but there was certainly a difference in one thing: Tylenol 3s have caffeine in them.

Extra Strength Tylenol, however, does not. And I hadn’t had tea since the day before surgery (amazing feat, yes).

Caffeine headache, ahoy!

Well, that’s easy enough, right? Get a pot of tea brewing! Problem solved!


My five-year-old was in the room. “Mom, you look funny.”

“Mom just needs some tea.” The boys were used to watching me consume copious amounts of tea. He nodded.

Um. Except... I couldn’t lift the electric kettle out of the cupboard (too heavy empty, let alone full), and even if I could, I didn’t have the reach necessary to plug it into the wall on the counter.

So move it somewhere else, right? Maybe get my kid to do it?

Yeah, but... the tea canister sat too far back on the counter to reach. So did the canister of sweetener (for once the tea is brewed)... hm. Even the teapot, once the water was boiled, would be too heavy to lift.

Hell... the mug with tea in it was too heavy to lift off the counter (eventually I was good with Tina’s stainless self-stirring-mug, but for the first few days of that second week it was Mr Lannis prepping my tea and I made do with leaving the mug on the side table and sipping from the stainless steel straw).

So, there I was, standing in the kitchen, attempting to assess the situation as my brain was gradually pounding harder and harder, and the process of two thoughts together was becoming, well, a process...

Panic set in: Who knew when Mr Lannis would be back from the doctor’s office?! What if he was gone for hours?! By then I'd die (okay, maybe not) my brain would explode! (more likely.)

This was an emergency!



Completely by chance Mr Lannis and I had had a conversation a few days earlier about an errant can of regular Pepsi that had taken up residence in the back of the fridge for the last six months... neither of us drinks regular Pepsi. It was a remnant from having company over.

Ding, ding! I CAN OPEN A CAN OF POP!

But wait... I couldn’t heave open the fridge to save my life (at this point the pounding in my brain meant this was not hyperbole).

The kid! I could get him to open the fridge!

“Hey hon, can I have some help, please?”

Dutifully, my son dragged a chair over to the fridge, stood on it, and opened the fridge. In the back I could see the gleaming treasure can of Pepsi on its side...

But I couldn’t reach it. No, my kid had to reach into the fridge for me because apparently he’d been left in charge for a reason. (She said, sulking.)

He handed it to me, and I cracked that bad boy open and drank a quarter of it in one go. The incessant pounding in my head began to dissipate within minutes, and I was able to think clearly again. (Or as clearly as usual, heh.)

After he dragged the chair back to the table, I found my son watching me with wary eyes. “Mom, you’re really hard to look after. I hope there’s no true emergencies.”

The truth was, if it had been a true emergency, the five-year-old was the only one who would have been able to reach the phone, as Mr Lannis had left the cell phone on the charger and out of my reach... ha!

It was simultaneously the most hilarious and enlightening moment of my recovery.

You see, this is what I couldn’t find on the Internet.

Yes, the surgeons and websites and whatnot say “you won’t be able to use your arms,” or “you will have physical restrictions,” but there was nothing that highlighted the extent of support necessary.

If you go for a prophylactic double mastectomy you will barely be able to lift a can of pop the first day or two. You will hurt, and you cannot function without someone to help you.

Sure, a lot of it will be hanging out and chatting (when you're not napping), and you're going to feel like you've asked this person to be your babysitter and it's completely foolish to have them hang out with you in case you drop a fork, but guess what?  

You'll need a babysitter, sweet cheeks.

This isn’t like when you call in sick from work with the flu and can lay comatose on the couch until you feel better. You will not be able to push the microwave’s door latch with enough force to open it to nuke your own food.

I’m not talking about big meals, here. A microwave defeated me. A fridge door defeated me.

You cannot drive, you cannot prep your own food, you cannot bathe, or lift groceries, or push a shopping cart, or open a jar, or do laundry, or sweep, or vacuum (for six weeks!)... the list is almost endless.

You must have a support system.

Gradually the list will shorten. Some items must remain on there longer than others (eventually I was able to get myself my own food from the fridge, and aside from a little help with sleeves I was able to gingerly dress myself from the start, but I couldn’t vacuum or lift a bag of groceries for the entire six weeks).

You’ll feel guilty, and beholden, and helpless, and irritated, and grateful, and appreciative, and bitchy, and petty, and angry, and spoiled, and like the entire world is taking their physical abilities for granted.

It sucks. But it’s finite.

You know what’s not? Death by breast cancer.

That’s forever.

[Note: The next installment in this series can be found here.]