August 20, 2023 - I Am Allowed
I am in the dumps. I am despondent. I am dejected.
This is a departure from my “the sun is always shining somewhere” attitude.
I am allowed.
Two weeks ago, I was walking on air. My latest PET scan continued to be stable. I was finally in a place, mentally and physically, to take care of my breast disfigurement that has plagued me since my first mastectomy and subsequent breast surgeries. I was finally going to rid my body of the pain of necrosis in my chest and perhaps add a bit of dignity to my physique. Perhaps.
I am a Type A, No Holds Barred, No Crying in Baseball, You Get What You Get kinda gal. I’m so competitive that thoughts of anything other than winning or succeeding NEVER enter my mind. I refuse to feel weak. I refuse to let the opinions of others sway my resolve. I am strong.
When I found out I had breast cancer, it was a blow, but it didn’t knock me down - not permanently. When I found out my breast cancer metastasized to my brain, it was numbing and humbling, but it didn’t shake my resolve, it sharpened it. I was just faced with another speed bump in life that I had to navigate. I am navigating it.
During my “cancer diaries”, I lost my dear mother at the young age of 90. I lost my beloved sister-in-law to COVID. Neither can be replaced, nor can the hole in my heart ever be filled. But, I have gained more love and closeness from the 2 most important men in my life - Jamie and Mason.
I dutifully take my meds, see my doctors, receive scans and tests on a very routine basis. My mind and body is preparing for the next onslaught of cancer, preparing for the next fight. I am so ready you would think that I am preparing for the Olympics. (I must add - this is all mental preparedness, I couldn’t run a mile if you paid me).
The point is, I’m ready for anything. And then I’m not.
Last Tuesday I took the bold step to “go flat”. In medical terms, I had a double mastectomy (again) with aesthetic flat closure. Why again? My first mastectomy included attempted reconstruction by creating new breasts with tissue from my abdomen. It was an epic failure, at least on the breast cancer side. Due to many complications, which you can read about in my earlier blogs (if you are so inclined), I had multiple breast surgeries due to infections and non-healing. After chemo, radiation killed what remaining tissue was trying to survive. Net net, since 2020, I have been living a very lopsided and painful life.
My right breast had promise, but definitely needed revision surgery. My left breast was a mess. It felt like a hard brick 3 inches higher on my chest than my right breast. I will say, I got over the way I looked pretty quickly. I couldn’t wear a bra, so I became very comfortable in my own skin walking around with mismatched breasts. I didn’t care how I looked to the outside world. I really never thought about it.
I would have remained this way, but my left brick of a breast mound was full of necrosis (dead tissue). It was hard and painful. I couldn’t sleep on my left side. I couldn’t put any pressure on that side. I was waiting for the day that my docs felt that my cancer and body was stable enough for surgery to remove it. Surgery to go flat. They finally said, “go”. So I went. Last Tuesday.
The first few days were easy. I was wrapped up like a mummy, relaxing with my feet up and the pain pills were taking care of the pain. I was discouraged to discover that 4 drains were needed, and not 2. Originally, my surgeon thought 2 drains would suffice. As it turns out, there was a lot of damage that needed rectifying. In the true spirit of “Groundhog Day”, I have 4 drains, just like the first time. I am lucky that Jamie is one heck of a nurse and can manage drain care like no other.
On Friday, I could finally unwrap the ace bandages and take a gentle shower. It was also the first time I could lay eyes on my new body, the incisions, the aftermath. It was a shock. I cried like a baby. Jamie stood there and held me. He tried to soothe me and convince me that I looked “fine”. I know in the end Jamie is right, but I just needed a cry. I needed a hard, ugly, sobbing, cry. I continued crying in the shower. I cried when he tenderly dried me off in front of the mirror. I cried when he helped me get dressed. And then, I finally stopped. A pain med may have been involved. Mason would be home from school soon, and I could never let him see me like this.
So, as I sit here on Sunday and reflect, here is my new reality. The incisions are angry, but they will heal. The 4 drains are producing, which means I’m healing. I am not in pain. I’m slowly coming out of the fog of sadness and feeling sorry for myself.
I don’t want to be pitied, or have others feel sorry for me. I tell this to myself daily and know it to be true: “I may have problems, but there is ALWAYS someone else unluckier than me. My problems pale in comparison to others. I am fortunate and lucky. I am blessed.”
This mental fog will pass - it is passing. I just needed a moment. I needed this moment to memorialize it to the page, so that I could jettison these feelings.
Reality: I am not exactly flat. I’m concave. Unfortunately, to remove all of that necrosis, they had to go deeper than my mind pictured it. So, instead of being flat-chested, I may need to invest in some prosthetics that take me to Flat or an A cup, I may invest in some good padded bras. Nah! Who am I kidding? Instead of walking this earth with lopsided breasts, I will now walk it with indentions. I haven’t worn a bra in 3 years, why start now?
I am happy. I am hopeful. I am encouraged.
The sun is always shining somewhere.
I am empowered.