Last weekend I went on my first out of town trip since my diagnosis in April, 2015. Usually we go on a beach trip at least once per year but 2015 was the year of The Cancer, The Bilateral Mastectomy, The Chemotherapy and The Radiation. 2016 was the year of The Reconstruction. So last Saturday we traveled to San Diego for a few fabulous and cool weather filled days on the beach and one day at the awesome San Diego Zoo. I wore a swimsuit for the first time since cancer. I have to admit I wish I never had to lose my boobs but these new ones are pretty damn nice in a swimsuit top. Also it is AWESOME not to have to ever worry about a bra.
So one bad thing that happened was I had another fall (for those who don’t know, I am blind in my left eye and trip, fall, and bump into things fairly regularly). More about that here. I was walking with my daughter and husband on the pier and was taking steps forward with my phone to capture a picture of some ducks in the harbor and of course I tripped and fell. On cement. It hurt like a motherfucker too and the scab and bruise didn’t look very good with shorts or my swimsuit. After boogie-boarding with Lili for an hour, and on top of my ouchie I was so freaking sore and tired. I’m 51 but I felt like 80 years old instead of my usual 70 but I was on vacation and I was going to enjoy myself dammit.
I am so grateful for this trip because first – it’s like a sauna in Phoenix right now and second – the beach is my very favorite place on earth. I don’t know if it’s my new appreciation for life or what but the ocean air smelled better than I ever remembered, the sunsets were more beautiful, and the feel of the ocean waves against my poor scarred and battered body was like heaven. It’s true for me that I do enjoy life more now. I have the stiff joints of a 70 year old and hot flashes from my cancer medication but I am powering through it. I am so thankful to still be here and I feel as though I am working hard to appreciate life’s moments and opportunities that I was oblivious to in my old life. I don’t know how my life would’ve turned out if I hadn’t gotten breast cancer and I will never know, so what-iffing is pointless. I am not thankful for cancer but I will always be thankful for the confidence, strength and appreciation for life’s little miracles cancer has given me. My soon-to-be-in-high school daughter gets it too because she thanks God for the gift of each day.
I’ve mentioned that I’m in a few breast cancer support groups on Facebook. It saddens me that so many women are traveling down the path I did in 2015. There are hundreds of posts that talk about what you’ll need for a Mastectomy. Stuff like button up shirts (I wore oversized soft men’s cotton T-shirts instead because they were comfier), gadgets to hold your drains, a recliner or a pillow mountain for sleeping and lots of other little useful items related to comfort and efficiency. Things you’ll need in the hospital. I was only there one night so all I really needed was my phone and my book.
But what do you need mentally to be prepared? I can’t imagine a single thing that could’ve prepared my mind for this surgery. Or my heart and soul for that matter. The last day of work prior to my bilateral mastectomy was a Tuesday and I was sitting by two of my coworkers at the end of the day and they were looking at me with such pained expressions, like I was getting ready to face the electric chair. I was terrified, and jealous. Jealous that Thursday would just be another day for them. I felt as though life was moving forward for everyone else but me. The feeling reminded me of those space movies where one of the astronauts is left outside the ship and can’t get back in because he’s lost his tether and the other astronauts know there’s nothing they can do to help so they’re staring out the window in sympathy. Nobody tells you how alone you will feel. My husband and daughter were with me every step of the way. I had wonderful friends who stood by me. But I was completely alone. For a long time I felt like I was separated from the rest of civilization. Nobody could come close to understanding the depth of my fear and loneliness. I really only felt comfortable and like I belonged when I was around my doctors and nurses. Everyone told me how strong I was and I guess I am. I’ve had some life events that’ve toughened me up in my 51 years but nothing prepared me for cancer. I don’t know how it happened because I didn’t feel especially strong but something deep down took hold of me and turned me into a soldier fighting a war. I like to think it was God giving me the weapons I needed to fight.
Another thing nobody really tells you is what to expect physically. How does this work exactly? Are they sliced off like prime rib? What’s it going to look like? I’d seen photos but they all looked different. When my bandages came off I looked right away. The first photo is not right after my mastectomy but a few months later after chemotherapy and radiation. The tan radiated demarcation is pretty noticeable.
I wasn’t horrified but I couldn’t imagine how The Boob Whisperer was going to fix it. Well after Latissimus Dorsi flap with bilateral tissue expanders, seven months of expansion and implant exchange surgery he did. I’ve still got a bit of extra skin on the right side he said he could remove and I’m planning on the 3D nipple tattoos. Some women actually get plaster casts of their breasts before their mastectomy. I never even thought about that. I didn’t even take a goodbye boobs pic. The Boob Whisperer has a photo but I’ve never seen it. What’s the point? In the end they turned against me. They tried to take my life. I don’t mourn them and I don’t wish I could’ve kept them. But I am forever changed and that’s okay.