Dec. 16, 2021

Day 160: What Snacks Do You Bring to a Double Mastectomy?

Day 160: What Snacks Do You Bring to a Double Mastectomy?

How do you prepare to have a part of your body removed forever? What snacks do you bring to a double mastectomy? For Kristen, the list starts with a good pillowcase, her Anna Ono robe, her softest Kyte Baby jammies, slippers, her YETI cup, and shirts with places for drains.

How do you prepare to have a part of your body removed forever? What snacks do you bring to a double mastectomy? For Kristen, the list starts with a good pillowcase, her Anna Ono robe, her softest Kyte Baby jammies, slippers, her YETI cup, and shirts with places for drains.

As her surgery date approaches, it’s not the loss of her breasts that makes her fall apart sobbing, it’s imagining herself unable to pick up the baby she nannies for the next 2 months.

Now enjoy a haiku in memoriam of Kristen’s original boobs:

Kristen battles her fear
In the deepest of trenches
Can’t stifle the sass


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Longhorn YETI mug

Ana Ono soft post-surgery bras & other items made just for those affected by breast cancer, breast surgeries or discomfort

Kyte bamboo pajamas

Meet Kristen’s doctors: surgical oncologist Dr. Louis Rivera, hematologist and oncologist Dr. Sonia Ali, plastic surgeon Dr. Salvatore Pacella, and radiation oncologists Dr. Anuradha Koka and Dr. Kenneth T. Shimizu.

About Breast Cancer Stories

Breast Cancer Stories follows Kristen Vengler, a 56 year old single empty nester in San Diego, from her diagnosis of hormone positive breast cancer through chemotherapy, mastectomy & breast reconstruction, radiation, and whatever happens after that.

In 2020, Kristen moved from Austin to San Diego to be near family and start her life over after a life-shattering workplace trauma. A few months later she had that terrifying moment in the shower we all hope we never have.

From her breast cancer diagnosis, through chemotherapy, breast reconstruction, and radiation, we experience each new milestone as it happens. This podcast is about what happens when you have breast cancer, told in real time.

Support the show by sharing online, writing a review, or donating at

Host and Executive Producer: Eva Sheie
Co-Host: Kristen Vengler
Editor and Audio Engineer: Daniel Croeser
Theme Music: Them Highs and Lows, Bird of Figment
Production Assistant: Mary Ellen Clarkson
Cover Art Designer: Shawn Hiatt

Breast Cancer Stories is a production of The Axis.



Eva Sheie (00:09): This is the story about what happens when you have breast cancer, told in real time.

Eva Sheie (00:46): So, tomorrow's a big day. Kristen (00:49): Yeah. Eva Sheie (00:50): What'd you do today? Kristen (00:50): It's weird that it's here. Eva Sheie (00:52): Yeah, I know. I can't believe it. I was kind of in denial. I was like, if I don't- Kristen (00:57): Me too. Eva Sheie (00:58): I don't call Kristen, maybe it won't... Maybe- Kristen (01:04): I know. I keep thinking if I don't wake up, maybe I don't have to go. Eva Sheie (01:08): What'd you do today to get ready? Kristen (01:10): I've been doing stuff to get ready for a little bit, but today... When you asked me that my brain just went to how- Eva Sheie (01:18): Didn't you have the weird needle procedure today? Kristen (01:20): Yeah, I did. I did. They do it regardless of where the tumor is. Just so happens that my tumor is right in my nipple. So they put a needle into my nipple and then they injected this radioactive dye and took pictures so that the doctor can see which lymph nodes the dye goes to immediately. And then, he wants to biopsy those. And luckily, those were in my armpit area and it's easy to get to. And it did help the doctor tomorrow to know what he's looking at too, and where to go first to look at the lymph nodes and his geiger counter thing, because he's going to inject it too and see where it goes. So it's part of the whole procedure. And I like how they minimize it. And the doctor goes, oh yeah. You have to have a little breast injection the day before. And I'm like, hmm. Eva Sheie (02:10): But how long was this needle? Kristen (02:14): I didn't look. Eva Sheie (02:15): Oh, okay, good. Kristen (02:16): Yeah. It felt like it was four feet long. But all these men telling me how it's not going to hurt. I'm kind of like, well, I got a place here... You know, let's pick a sensitive spot on your body and see how it feels. So, yeah. And then I did that, and then I had to go get a chest x-ray for the doctor. And then I went to acupuncture. She said, I'm going to help you relax for tomorrow. So whatever she did, it worked, I'm much more relaxed than I was. Eva Sheie (02:48): You do seem very peaceful for what you're about to do tomorrow. Kristen (02:52): I feel like I have just such great people around me and such good doctors that I just have to show up and I have to do my part. And I know that's the hard part sometimes. I feel like I'm so blessed to have the doctors that I have, and the knowledge that they have, and all these people who are just holding me in prayer and light and just rooting for me. And so I can't let anybody down. I've got to go do it. Can't not go. Probably the hardest thing today with Sammy, the little boy that I nanny, I was putting him down for his nap, and I won't be able to lift him for like six to eight weeks. And that's one of the highlights of my day is us snuggling and doing his nap and singing songs and reading books before we do naps and stuff. Kristen (03:46): And I just walked out of his room and just sobbed. And right now, I'm getting choked up. He's 18 months old. And it's just one of the things that really has pulled me through this, is knowing that I get to... My job is to play with this beautiful baby every day. And I've felt, over the past month, my body really take... The chemo and the swelling and the steroids have really taken a toll on my body. So I'm having a lot of joint pain. And so I've been really feeling how I've slowed down. And I'm on a mission to get myself back in shape. Not just for him, for me. But I've had to really, this week, really do a lot of work on realizing that this isn't one of those fast processes that I can control. That my body may never be the way that it was before. Kristen (04:38): And it's okay. I mean, it's taking me through this, I can't say flying colors, but I've been able to work. And I've been able to make it through a lot easier than I think a lot of other people have been able to make it through. But it's hard for me to realize that my body may be slowing down because of this. Because chemo can take a permanent toll on your body and stuff. Eva Sheie (05:00): Or maybe it's just a season? Kristen (05:02): Maybe it's just for now, you know? Eva Sheie (05:04): Yeah. Kristen (05:06): So just having to process it and realize that it's not going to... I expected to be finished with chemo and all this extra water and all this fluid would just automatically be gone. And that's not what's happening. And so, it's a little bit humbling and it's really, really making me turn it over and surrender. Kristen (05:24): I mean, I thought I had before. This process just has to go the way that it's going to go. I got to have more grace about the patience that I don't have. Eva Sheie (05:33): I was sort of wondering if anyone thinks you're in the military with that haircut now. Kristen (05:39): Seriously. Right? Eva Sheie (05:41): Fuzzy head. Kristen (05:42): It is. It's like maybe a quarter inch, and it's all these different colors. Eva Sheie (05:46): Is it really? Kristen (05:48): Yeah. It has some brown. It has some dark, dark, dark brown. It has some gray. It has some blonde. Eva Sheie (05:53): Uh? Kristen (05:54): Yeah, it's so soft too. It's kind of crazy, but I still have my driver's license that has my bald head. I mean, how often do you get your driver's license picture taken? Not often. And the thing was that mine didn't expire until I was two months into chemo, so I wasn't really worried about it. So by that time I'd lost all my hair. I only lost my hair for four months, but in that four month time I had my drivers license picture taken. Eva Sheie (06:22): I think you might have to go back and get a new one at some point. Kristen (06:25): Do you think? Eva Sheie (06:27): Probably. Just guessing. Kristen (06:29): I know right. Eva Sheie (06:31): So you're going to get up early tomorrow. Kristen (06:34): Mm-hmm (affirmative). One thing that I've been doing is I've been sorting through clothes that are post surgery and post-post surgery. So post surgery means things that button up, because you can't lift your arms above your shoulders for several weeks. So I have all of that stuff laid out. And I have my little hospital bag mostly ready, except for my toothbrush. So it's funny, Eva, I haven't even gone through it in my mind yet. But I'm chunking it that much. Get through tonight. So tomorrow morning, I'm leaving at 5:30. So, to back into that, I'll probably be up at four, take a shower. I got some results, I have a staph infection. And so starting last Thursday, I've been washing with that antiseptic stuff to make sure that there's no staph on my chest or anything on my skin. And then also in my nose, I've been doing this stuff in my nose. So tonight and tomorrow, I slather all that stuff all over me. And then just double check the room to be sure it's ready to go for when I get home. And that it's easy for people to help me. And then check my bag again. Eva Sheie (07:46): Are you coming right back home tomorrow? Kristen (07:49): No, I'll be in the hospital at least one night, maybe two. I know that I'll have nervous energy so I'll want to just get up. And I can't eat anything. So what time is it? Okay. I've got four more hours to eat. Eva Sheie (08:00): Shall I order a pizza? Kristen (08:05): I might. I might just order pizza. Eva Sheie (08:08): Yeah. Do you have a good pillow case that you're bringing? Kristen (08:11): I do. Look at you. Yeah. What else? Eva Sheie (08:15): Jammies, good jammies. Kristen (08:16): Yes. Eva Sheie (08:16): Yeah. Kristen (08:17): Yes. In fact, my cousin lives in Seattle, she sent me a robe that's by Anna Ono and it's super soft. But it has these loops, and it has a little belt that comes around the front, and it has the little pouches for the drains. And so I have that in there. And then, I have a couple shirts that have places for the drains. So I'm taking that, and then my softest jammies, and some slippers, and snacks, long phone cord. Eva Sheie (08:44): In California, do they still let you use a plastic straw, or is it going to be some kind of paper straw in your water? Kristen (08:53): Well, Kristen brought the contraband, so. Eva Sheie (08:55): We still have plastic straws in Texas. Kristen (08:59): Yeah, we didn't have plastic straws here, but I do have one that's in my big Yeti, my Longhorn Yeti. Eva Sheie (09:09): Perfect. Are you bringing that? Kristen (09:11): Yes. Eva Sheie (09:12): Okay. Kristen (09:13): And have a couple good friends that are going to be there when I wake up tomorrow. Because it's at 7:30, so I have to be at the hospital at 6:00. So I'm leaving here at 5:30. My friend Jerry is taking me. Then surgery starts at 7:30. So plastic surgeon's going to come in and do his little artwork. And yeah. It's weird to me that this time tomorrow night I'm going to be completely different, all bandaged up. Well, I'm supposed to be wrapped up pretty tight, and I'm not supposed to do anything with it until I see my doctor at the post op on Friday. And then, he may take some things off. Eva Sheie (09:51): You know what I will tell you from... I spent about five years serving people after surgery. We surveyed, by the time I left there, at least a 100,000 people after surgery, it was incredible. And the thing that stuck with me was that the number one reason people are dissatisfied after surgery is not the result, it's that they were not prepared for what was going to happen during recovery. And so, another friend of mine just had a really serious breast surgery along with two hernias a couple weeks ago. She was in real trouble afterward. And they didn't give her enough pain medication. They didn't give her what she needed. She was not capable of calling and letting them know. So I'm telling you that because if there's any way that can stick in your head, that if anything's wrong, even if something just seems a little bit funny, to not be afraid to call the doctor right away. Kristen (10:54): Yeah. I completely appreciate that. And my doctor's been pretty good about being realistic about what to expect. My plastic surgeon took me through, I'm going to get a pain pump in the hospital, and then he's going to see me the next morning, and he's going to evaluate it. And he gave me, I have seven prescriptions. And so there's antibiotics and anti nausea and all that. And then there's muscle relaxers, and then there's oxycodone and then there's Tramadol or something like that. And what he said is I want you to have as much medication as you need, but I also only want you to take the Oxy, pop it in half, and see how that does for you, but definitely stay ahead of the pain. Eva Sheie (11:37): Well, that's interesting. Yeah, don't skimp. Kristen (11:40): No, he doesn't want to over medicate, but he doesn't want me to be in pain either. So he's like, you're just going to have to find that happy place and do what you need to do to stay ahead of the pain. Eva Sheie (11:49): Yeah. I think that's true. Kristen (11:51): I expect to be down for the count, and not being able to communicate much and all of that. And so I'm hoping that I'll be pleasantly surprised. But I've been pretty realistic about it. That's why I have everything laid out. So it's super easy for somebody to just grab what I need. Eva Sheie (12:09): Yeah. And they're not going through any muscle anywhere, are they? Kristen (12:14): Well, they're putting the expanders underneath my pecs. Eva Sheie (12:18): Yep. That'll hurt. Kristen (12:19): Yeah. Eva Sheie (12:21): That's where the discomfort's going to come from. Kristen (12:24): Well, and they're filling it with, I think, 300 CCs. And then I go, I think, a couple weeks afterwards and they put more in. Dr. Pacella was saying, I want you to understand this is not what the final product is going to look like. They're going to be much bigger because of the expanders. And then also, because of doing radiation, they over inflate. Because I think during radiation, they shrink down a little bit. So that he wants to have a big enough pocket to put the implant in. And I'm not going big, I mean, I told him B,C. I don't even want to be as big as I am right now. But that's a new cavity that they're forging in there. It's not like they're just putting it over the muscle. Eva Sheie (13:09): I wonder if it's easier when you've already had breast implants. Kristen (13:13): I think it depends on where your implants were. Right? Eva Sheie (13:16): Yeah. I've never asked anyone that question before. Kristen (13:19): That's a good question. It's interesting, I have a real good friend who, Thursday, is going in to have her breast implants taken out. And two of us that are good friends with her are dealing with breast cancer right now. And the other friend is stage zero, but she's still going through the lumpectomy and radiation. So I think that she kind of was like, I better. Because I think she had an implant that was leaking or something. And so she just, it finally got her attention. I feel like it's the calm before the storm, a little bit. I got some pink boxing gloves, and I got some little pink things for under the eye. And Crystal, Sammy's mom, is going to help me take a picture tonight of the boxing gloves in front of my boobs, like making cleavage. Eva Sheie (14:07): Cute. I thought you were going to punch something. That made more sense to me, but. Kristen (14:13): No. Eva Sheie (14:16): I mean, the only analogy I can really make is that I expect this to sort of be like, when you get a... don't make fun of me either, when you get a crown, and you have a root canal, so you have this tooth that looks just like your old tooth, but it doesn't feel anything like your old tooth. And you know that it's not your real tooth. Every time you touch it, you're like, there's that weird tooth. Kristen (14:43): Well, I'm going to have the expanders for like eight months. And that's what Dr. Pacella was saying, just be patient, take this thing in chunks. It's weird because I looked at the tumor today and, to me, it looks bigger, which makes me nervous. But since they're going to take it out... Because I haven't had chemo for a few weeks, so. Eva Sheie (15:02): But no one said it was bigger. It just? Kristen (15:05): It just looked like it to me. But I guess they'll tell me how big it was, I'm sure. They'll measure it all and do all that. I made the mistake of looking up what one of the procedures looked like. It was, I guess, the plastic surgeon is checking the vascular durability or flow or whatever of the inside area of my skin. And I was like, oh yeah, those are real pictures, I just wanted like a graph. Just wanted a quick look at a drawing. Eva Sheie (15:34): A nice illustration done by some beautiful medical illustrator. Kristen (15:38): Not the real thing. Please no. Eva Sheie (15:40): Yeah, I know. Everybody remembers the first time they saw a surgery video, a real one. Kristen (15:47): Oh I bet. Eva Sheie (15:48): I'll never forget it. I walked into the back of a classroom and they were watching an eyelid surgery. I was completely mortified. Kristen (16:00): I mean, I find a lot of it so fascinating. Just what they can do, and especially with the lymph node mapping and all that kind of stuff. I find that super fascinating, on somebody else. Eva Sheie (16:12): Exactly. Kristen (16:14): So yeah. I've had so many sweet calls and texts today. It just kind of, you know? I think maybe that's probably why I'm peaceful too. I just, I feel loved. Eva Sheie (16:27): You are. Kristen (16:27): And I feel supported. Thank you. Like I said, I just got to show up and not freak out. Eva Sheie (16:33): You've been through so much. Kristen (16:35): So crazy. I hope this is the last thing, I'm ready. Ready for it to be done. Eva Sheie (16:44): We should let you go to bed and- Kristen (16:46): Yeah. And you too. Eva Sheie (16:47): Yeah. Wow. Kristen (16:49): I love you. Eva Sheie (16:50): I love you too. I can't wait for you to be healed. That's what I keep my mind on, is that, that's where we're going, right? Kristen (16:58): Yeah. Well, and you know it's not even 24 hours from now. Eva Sheie (17:02): Yeah. Kristen (17:02): I'll be cancer free. Eva Sheie (17:04): Yeah. Kristen (17:05): So it's taken a little while to get here, but that feels good. And I plan on staying that way. Love you. Eva Sheie (17:14): Love you too. Kristen (17:16): Thank you for your prayers. I appreciate it. Eva Sheie (17:19): Text messages, and love and prayers all day tomorrow. Kristen (17:23): Yes. Yes. Please. Eva Sheie (17:25): Okay. Kristen (17:26): Okay. Goodnight, sleep tight, okay? Eva Sheie (17:28): You too. Goodnight. Kristen (17:29): Okay. Night. Eva Sheie (17:33): Thanks for listening to Breast Cancer Stories. There's a link in the show notes with all of the resources mentioned on this episode and more info about how you can donate. If you're facing a breast cancer diagnosis and you want to tell your story on the podcast, send an email to I'm Eva Sheie, your host and executive producer. Production support for the show comes from Mary Ellen Clarkson, and our engineer is Daniel Croeser. Breast Cancer Stories is a production of The Axis.