Towards the end of last year, I sat in a plastic surgeon’s office discussing the excess skin that falls at my lower belly. I gently tugged the slight “W” of apron-like flesh from under my clothes, the surgeon lowering his eyes at what I’m sure he’s seen a million times over on other patients.
“Sure, I can do that,” he said. “That will work just fine.”
All it took was a quick glance during a consult to tell him I had a sufficient amount of excess skin to get the job done. The job, however, wasn’t what you might think.
No skin removal surgery for me, thanks.
Although I lost 70 pounds back in 2007, I’ve chosen to keep the excess belly skin that often comes with the weight loss territory. It’s a part of me that — pardon the pun —has been with me through thick and thin: marriage, deaths, promotions, new kittens, whirlwind political scenes. As I wrote in an article on POPSUGAR, “Quite simply, that extra skin is a part of me, just like my fingernails, calves, humor, and imagination. It's who I am.”
As a side note, that apron of excess lower tummy skin is referred to as a “hanging pannus,” which can be undone with the magic of a panniculectomy. Not for me, thanks (the things you learn with a Google search). So why was I showing my hanging pannus to a plastic surgeon if I wasn’t there to remove it and all of its swaying, flabby glory?
I was there because of my hand.
Towards the end of last year, my results for a mole that was removed on my left palm came back atypical. Not melanoma, which the Mayo Clinic refers to as “the most serious of skin cancers,” adding that it’s increasing in individuals over 40, mainly in women. Not some other worrisome skin condition either. Thankfully, it was just some minor oddball pigmentation that’s scattered on the very top layer of my palm, something that hardly caused dermatologists to blink an eye.
Nothing to cause panic. Except for me, when flashbacks of my father’s death — from metastatic melanoma in 2015 at the young age of 63 — kicked in. So, you better believe I didn’t hesitate when the suggestion was made to remove additional skin in the immediate area, beyond what was previously removed during the initial mole removal/biopsy. It can’t hurt to, as I learned in doctor speak, obtain a wider margin of skin. But…
On second thought, no, I will not put my rear end on my palm.
Removing more skin from this area presented a unique challenge. Because this would be a skin graft surgical procedure, I’d need skin from another part of my body to return my hand to normal. There’s just not enough extra palm skin to take from to do the trick. Where, oh where, would we get the skin?
In my nervousness during the plastic surgeon consult, I offered up my rear end fat as an option. This seemed logical to the anxious me, dad flashbacks persisting and getting in the way of focused thought. The surgeon politely informed me that should that be done, my bottom would be sore for at least a few weeks, making everyday rear end things like sitting, sleeping, and bathroom-related activities unpleasant.
Then came my epiphany that I really wouldn’t want to see my butt on my palm on a daily basis anyway, or give a little kid a high five with my magical hiney hand. I continued to scan my body mentally.
“Well, I have excess skin on my lower belly.”
“Let’s see. There might not be enough, but let’s take a look.”
Oh, I thought, trust me, there’s enough. It might not look like there is, what with my cleverly chosen top designed to mask my misshapen abdominal pannus. I know, I know. If I’m happy with my belly as this “it’s who I am” part of me, why not step out in belly-loving tops? Well, super snug clothes have never been my thing, no matter what my figure. Besides, just because I’ve come to accept my apron, that doesn’t mean certain weight-related thoughts from my past don’t still linger. I’ve been through weight loss, the just-right clothing choices, calorie-restricting, memories of almost fitting into a size 0 (UGH) still ebb and flow to this day, albeit to a significantly lesser degree.
He asked me to stand up and unzip my jeans to assess my skin. Surprisingly, for what might be the first time since my weight loss — that’s almost ten years, folks — I showed my belly with pride. I mean, I reached down and lifted up my skin, grinning with a “look what I’ve got for you” gleam in my eye.
The belly that I hated, helps me.
I bared my belly like it was a sight to behold. Because it was.
After all, it was my belly flab that was coming to my hand’s rescue. It was my belly — the same one which people have hinted (some subtly, others, not so much) should go under the knife to achieve some flat-belly greatness — that was going to help my hand heal.
It was my belly — the one I used to think so bothersome that it deserved nothing more than an apple, yogurt, and a pork chop all day — that was coming to the rescue. I had hated it, ignored it, and talked bad about it, and now it was healing me. Life’s interesting; that’s for sure.
80s tunes, bandages, and good news.
As I laid back for the two-hour procedure — which I was awake for — I must say my belly and I had an enjoyable time. I know that sounds strange, having a blast in the operatory and all, but I truly did. Surgical staff asked about my music preference, and in no time, 80s tunes mingled with the occasional clinking sound of medical instruments being placed upon steel trays. Richard Marx discussions ensued. Def Leppard — one of my absolute 80s favorites — played. My belly was being introduced to my hand in this oddly comforting environment, my “W” apron splayed out while doctors uttered their special terms and Joe Elliot sang about sugar pouring. Blood and stitches and George Michael and pet conversations morphed in one memorable moment, all in the name of better health.
Aside from a slight panic when a minor amount of blood bled through my belly patch (normal) a few days post-op and the frustrations of wearing a cast (yeah, being a writer + cast + keyboard = double the time to crank out an article), the entire process was flawless. Subsequent appointments went well; the surgeon was pleased with the results. When he pressed my belly-hand, there was the indication of blood flow and proper circulation. The skin graft took. Go, belly-hand, go!
Oh, most importantly, the biopsy from this procedure came back negative. All good news.
Worth the weight.
I’m now a few months post-surgery. A mark remains on my palm and lower belly, which improves every couple of weeks. It’s an unusual thing, this belly-hand of mine. It’s taken me a while to be able to perform — and get used to — gripping movements or putting pressure on my palm. Dishes and carrying the laundry basket took a backseat (yay!) but so too, did hitting the gym. Kind of hard to hold the steering wheel, lift weights, and fidget with a playlist while wearing a cast (later, just gauze and webbed hand bandage, but still, seriously tender).
Then came a bunch of other non-palm-related procedures including the lovely likes of a premature colonoscopy and endoscopy, the death of my father-in-law, and the stress (good and bad) and sugary delights known as “the holidays.” Along with the sore palm, the anxious waiting for medical results, the conveniences of eating out, the sadness of a death, holiday planning, and lack of gym time, I put on some weight.
So it goes.
There was a time I would have been bothered by all of this. I’d be annoyed that my belly is on my palm. I’d tense up inside over the absence of the gym, my brain about to burst with anxiety from missing out because I had to work off a full-fat yogurt and half a breath mint.
Now, I see it all as a minor hiccup in this thing called life. I’m even able to make jokes about how touching my hand tickles my belly (it doesn’t). A giddy delight washes over me when I feel my palm while telling friends I have a belly ache after indulging in too much Chinese food.
I’ve even been able to ignore people who try to bond with me by assuming that no one in the entire world could ever love their imperfect body. These people have joked that it would have been great if the surgeon could have kept going with the skin removal process (Seriously. People have said this to me).
As for putting on some weight over the course of a few months that’s landed me a size higher? I’m not going to let thoughts about it rule my every thought, every second of the day. I’m back on track at the gym now that my hand — and mood —are much improved and I feel good about that.
There are ups and downs in life. There are the times we go to the gym (or don’t), the cupcakes we choose over the quinoa (or vice-versa), the 5K we finish in no time (or back out of at the last minute). There are changes and challenges that come upon us. How we tend to these matters and attempt to fix ourselves may, at times, seem unusual or nontraditional, but in the end what is important is that we do what’s best for us to get on the right path to physical and emotional wellness, even if that means having a part of our hanging pannus sewn to our hand.