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I really thought I would want to kick the door shut on 2013, a year that came roaring in with a cancer battle, months of chemotherapy treatments followed by a bilateral mastectomy and failed reconstruction.
I blogged about my diagnosis and treatment last May, just 2 days before I learned the reconstruction had gone wrong. Instead of winding down the breast cancer experience, I was now starting anew.
There’s not much public discussion of failed reconstruction. Surgeons often like to trash each other: “Oh, I always have to fix his/her mess.” The truth is: breast cancer is a messy business. Reconstruction failures are not uncommon. Mine seemed very random.
In my case, my body rejected the internal “slings” that hold the new construction in place after everything else is removed in a 5 1/2 hour surgery.
The “slings” are made of repurposed sterilized cadaver tissue, an inert substance brought back to life by soaking in water. Once placed in the body, a network of newly grown blood vessels integrate the tissue. Occasionally there is a failure to “integrate” with one of the slings.
I failed to integrate both slings, something my two surgeons said “we’ve never seen before.”
Because the slings were literally disintegrating internally they had to be removed, along with everything else that had been put into place for reconstruction. Just four weeks after my double mastectomy, I was back in the OR for 2 1/2 hours, one of which was dedicated to sanitizing my open chest with shower heads.
Over the next weeks, the skin healed, but without any fat or tissue beneath it, internal scar tissue formed causing the skin to adhere to my rib cage.
I was no longer a candidate for reconstruction, but I could certainly channel Mick Jagger with my new androgynous figure, that is, had it not been for the toll taken on my shoulders.
Two torn rotator cuffs later I decided the cause had to be a combination of chemotherapy, muscles pulling in new directions and a newly degraded posture.
So why would I dare say 2013 was a great year?
First and foremost, I got to make decisions that saved my life.
Secondly, I got to see the music group I discovered online and proposed to my husband and his business partner to manage, explode. ThePianoGuys hit Billboard’s top 20 and now have over 300 million views on YouTube. Along the way, we toured Berlin, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing where they produced a stunning music video on The Great Wall. The PBS concert I produced and directed for them had over 1900 airings across the network. Most importantly, I love them personally.
In 2013 I took over management of a book manuscript written by an old friend who was set on self publishing. I redirected a more traditional publishing and marketing plan that put Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Oct 15 2013) on the NYT best seller list for weeks and was listed as #6 on Janet Maslin’s best books of the year. People Magazine also listed it among the best books of the year.
And there’s still more. As part of the executive producing team, I got to help Nik Wallenda realize his dream to walk across the Grand Canyon before a television audience of 20 million viewers, the largest ever live audience for Discovery.
So how can I say I didn’t love 2013, surrounded by so much brilliance and creativity — especially the gang I ended the year with in Milan where on December 30th I underwent an experimental stem cell treatment to repair both rotator cuffs and prepare the skin on my chest for reconstruction. Ironically, I learned about these new treatments through my work as a founding member of TheCureAlliance, a non-profit group of elite doctors and research scientists who have banded together to share knowledge, break down barriers and find cures for all diseases in the 21st century. After the new year, I’ll be writing about the important research breakthrough that is benefiting me and many others.
Until then, Ciao!