Here I am, once again, on the other end of a stressful, life-changing event. A little over six months of knowing about the genetic mutation, about four months of trying to find a doctor, and two months of waiting for the surgery. I can wholeheartedly say that I am on the better end of this experience. All of the worries I had and the anticipation of the outcome are gone. Just. Like. That. It’s as if the anxiety I was experiencing was removed with the breast tissue that the surgeon cut out.
This feeling of relief is due to several factors. For one, the surgery went better than expected. When I woke up, the plastic surgeon, who had anticipated placing the expander under the muscle, was able to put it over the muscle. There were two reasons for this: the breast surgeon did an excellent job of removing the tissue, and my skin had extremely good blood flow (meaning that it was very healthy).
Another reason I am mentally lighter is that the surgery is over, done, finito, in the past. No more anticipation of an unknown outcome. It’s true -- the wait for the procedure WAS the hardest part. It makes me think of the children’s poem by Shel Silverstein titled Whatif, about a child who suffers from night time “whatifs” every time he lays his head on the pillow to go to sleep. The difference for me was that the “whatifs” were all day and night. One of my biggest “whatifs” was regarding my appearance. In spite of me logically knowing that this change to my physical appearance would not change my husband’s love for me, it was the most challenging aspect of the surgery to get past. “What if he was turned off by my new appearance?” “What if the scars made him uncomfortable?” “What if he didn’t find me attractive anymore?” “What if I wasn’t attractive to myself or anyone else anymore?” If I could describe myself the month before the surgery, the best comparison would be to a tornado unpredictably spiraling out of control.
Now that the operation is behind me and I can think clearly, I am feeling peaceful and calm again. I don’t look like my old self right now, but I am totally OK with what I see -- scars and all. After experiencing the roller coaster of emotions leading up to the surgery, I am somewhat surprised at how well I am doing psychologically now that the surgery is over.
My post-surgery serenity also has a lot to do with the outpouring of kindness, support and encouragement that I have been shown by my friends and family from both near and far. Several people have come to me over the past couple of weeks and said, “you get what you give.” Personally, I don’t necessarily feel as though I have given as much as I have received. I can say that if a loved one, or anyone seems to be in need, I try to be there to the best of my ability -- that’s all. And the people who have come out in droves surrounding me during this time are people I admire and respect. Their words have added tremendously to the contentment I feel at this moment. They have raised me up and made my heart full. I will never fully be able to express in words how grateful I am for each and every person who has shown me compassion and love during this time.
The clincher for my good spirits, and confirmation that I made the correct decision to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, is that the pathology report showed precancerous scar tissue on my left side! I was a ticking time bomb. This problem was not detected by the MRIs, or the mammograms, or each of the doctor’s manual breast exams (three different doctors per year to be exact). This validation made me want to fist pump and skydive. When I suggested skydiving to my husband he immediately put the kibosh on it saying, “you just had a major surgery to PROLONG your life -- NO!” I guess I’ll settle for fist pumping when I can once again, raise my arms over my head.
I also have to remember that, even though I’m starting to feel much more like myself, I have to take it easy. My husband is back to work after two weeks at home, and I am flying solo until the kids and babysitter get here after school. I have appreciated the visitors that have come by to see me, and the constant stream of friends and local family that have reached out to ask if I need anything. It’s comforting to know that I have an army of people ready and willing to come help at any time. There are some things I have to attend to on my own, and it can be frustrating to struggle performing everyday tasks. I was very sore and needed a three hour nap after feeding myself breakfast, letting my dog out and showering without my husband’s assistance for the first time.
In reality, having to slow down is good for me considering how busy I’ve been as a mom of three boys who enjoy being physically active and involved in the community. Self-care is something we often forget about as moms in today’s world. A friend recommended the app “Headspace” and I’ve been using it to meditate. I have started reading a couple of books. I am also trying not to get worked up when household chores aren’t done exactly as I would do them -- this one might be the hardest to accept of all. And through everything, I am surviving just fine.