I’ve Learned To Be a Cancer Pinball Wizard

Reading about so many different breast cancer stories on social media lately has led me to realize how unexpected my path has been. In the past year and a half I realize my thoughts and feelings have ricocheted like a pinball machine. They evolved and changed so many times throughout this journey I was frequently confused by my emotions and reactions, like I was living in the Bizaro world. When people ask how I felt about this or that, my answer would depend on when you asked. When I first saw my breast surgeon and he said he recommended a mastectomy and radiation I was mostly relieved because now there’s a plan of action. He sent me to the plastic surgeon who explained he would be placing tissue expanders immediately following the mastectomy to start the reconstruction process. At my pre-op appointment my breast surgeon said that the plastic surgeon likely didn’t know I was having radiation and that he would recommend waiting on reconstruction. He called my plastic surgeon right then and there on his cell phone and we all had a discussion about why it was important to wait until everything had healed after radiation. My stomach clenched in disappointment (what?! I have to wait like a year?!) but only for an instant. Deep down I knew it was the right decision but it was a let down.

In the hours prior to my surgery I started freaking out, how’s this going to work exactly? Will it be like slicing flank steak? But when I woke up, maybe it was the drugs, I felt relieved. I was nervous about the pathology report but I was at peace with having my boobs gone. That was unexpected.

Prior to surgery I was positive that I wanted breast forms to wear in my bra, at least to work. Well after the mastectomy I was not allowed to wear a bra for a long time and so by then I was used to going au natural. I honestly didn’t care. I was getting ready to start chemo and I was laser focused on that and all it entailed like hair loss and sickness. So no prosthetic bra or breast forms for me but I did stock up on peasant blouses. Plus news of my cancer diagnosis and mastectomy had already traveled throughout the office. I didn’t try to keep it secret. I would have felt very conspicuous showing up all of a sudden with boobs.

When my hair started falling out a couple of weeks after my first round of chemo I thought it would be calamitous and heartbreaking. My husband buzzed it down to a 1/4 inch and as it turns out, it wasn’t traumatic it was freeing. I was taking control of something. I went to work with it like that for a few days too. A week or so later it was so patchy I shaved it shiny bald. Prior to chemo I looked at lots of wigs and was dead set on getting one and wearing it. But comfort won out because it was Phoenix in July. I had scarves and wore them for about a week but then switched to hats because for me the scarf was saying “chemo patient.” It was just a psychological thing because you could still see I was bald in my hats but I just felt a little bit closer to my old self in them. I went commando at home or in my car. It was actually awesome to get those WTF looks from other drivers.

During the months following my mastectomy I actually pondered the idea of foregoing reconstruction. I didn’t want more painful surgery and recovery. I just wanted to be done. But by January 2016, eight months post mastectomy, I was getting tired of camouflaging my chest and admitted to myself I wanted breasts again. The reconstruction process has been long and painful and more than once I questioned my original decision to go forward with it, but now that I am preparing for the next phase – my implant exchange surgery November 8th, I am confident in the decisions I’ve made however arduous the process.

I’ve learned that until you’re living through an experience first hand, you can’t really predict how you will feel or react and your feelings may even change several times. I would have never thought I could blog about or put a humorous spin on my situation but I’ve been doing just that and I wouldn’t have it any other way.