Actually, I really wish that I looked as good as this brave woman on this cover. Just picture much fatter and bald......sorry....not pretty.
So last night was the longest night ever. I was still trying to fall asleep at 5:30 this morning. I have been sleeping on this wedge since my surgery two months ago. I am normally a side sleeper, but that seems to almost be impossible these days. When you have a mastectomy with delayed reconstruction, it is somewhat like having a bulldozer plow through your chest. Because the breast (cancer) surgeon is not a plastic surgeon, they seem to not care what the outcome of your surgery looks or feels like to you. I may be somewhat graphic here, so if you can't handle it....stop reading now.
Basically, I am cut in what seems like from one side almost to my back under the arm/flank area to the middle of my chest under where the breast used to be....the cut skips an inch or so then picks up again and continues far to the other side. So far, that it almost goes into my back. On the sides of my body, I have this extra tissue and skin. It is more pronounced on the left side and sticks out pretty far. For those of you who sew....it is like having darts put in your pants. Except my darts are on my sides. It has little feeling so it kind of feels like I have a steak hanging there. I can feel it, but "it" can't feel me. I remember the first walk down the hospital hall that Kevin and I took after my surgery...he asked me why I was walking with my arms so far away from my body. I replied "I don't know they have something shoved up underneath my arms under these bandages." Boy was I in shock when later that night we went to the bathroom and removed the bandages so I could shower. I soon realized that there was nothing there but me....it was extra "me" that was sticking out and sewn together like a dart. I was horrified. On the left side there was enough to make an extra boob. I did not understand why the surgeon just plowed through and left everything in such disarray. Then as I looked at my scars which also went vertical towards where the nipple was ....I could have sworn that there was still part or all of a nipple on the left side. It was sewn together, but it sure looked like one. Nothing was left on the right side that even closely resembled a nipple. So these areas on my sides have little or no feeling, but my arms can feel them. The left side really gets in the way and I can no longer sleep on my left side like I used to. Towards the end of every day, I begin to ache and hurt in those areas....especially the left side. It seems that the whole left side swells, and the incisions become bright red and it is hot feeling. It is very painful at this point and it seems to make my whole body ache.
Last night I went to the salon to do a client for the first time since my surgery. This appointment was pre-booked during the week before my surgery. Courtney, who drives from Dallas, has always been a really good client. She has spent the last year taking care of her 72? year old mother who also has had breast cancer. She was able to fill me in on some of what was ahead for me that last week before my surgery. I really wanted to try to do this client. I needed to see if I could physically and what it would be like. And I wanted to see Courtney. Well, I will tell you that when I got home, I cried. I cried many times throughout the night just wishing I had my life back. Going to work made me realize that I wasn't going to be "normal" for a while. I highlighted Courtney's hair. My back was having spasms, my neck hurt, my incisions were swelling, and the extra "me" on my left side was excruciating and annoying. I felt like someone had wrapped a picture frame wire around me and was twisting it tight, really tight. I hurt so bad when I finally got home. It was so upsetting that I felt that way and I had only done ONE client. Then I think to myself " ...I have one surgery to put in expanders after chemo is over. Then, I will have another surgery to actually do the reconstruction. Then later, there will be another surgery to reconstruct the nipples."...which I think I should get a discount on because I think that one nipple got left behind! When will I be able to work again? When will my body not hurt from having a surgery?
During my conversation with Courtney last night, we talked about the fact that in her mother's case, it also seemed as if the surgeon just "bulldozed" through. I mean so I get it....they are not a plastic surgeon.....but geez....it is not like they are chopping steaks for the butcher either. I just think that there should be a little more care and consideration taken. It seems like the cancer surgeons view their job as "to get in, get it out ....it's ok if it looks like ground zero...the plastic surgery will take care of the rest. " Hello? Nine or ten MONTHS from now!!! In the mean time, I am still sleeping on a wedge.....feeling like I am hanging meat out to cure. For many older women, reconstruction is not a path that is chosen. They just don't want to go through so many more surgeries. So they are left with the outcome of the mastectomy. I can't blame them at all for not wanting to go through more surgeries. I really don't want to either.
I will have to say that I am very grateful to my surgeon. I know that the main goal is to get the cancer out of my body. I have my complaints, but I am still very grateful. I am at the stage in this where I am tired and annoyed. I look at my chest and see that I am basically healed from the surgery. I look, and I see that it is not a pretty sight. "Healing" in this case did not bring any normalcy to my body. It has reshaped and re-landscaped me into something that is not attractive. Having a flat "bulldozed" chest accentuates the tummy that seems to be getting bigger and bigger. I think most people I pass are probably thinking "...that poor pregnant lady has cancer!" I seem to stay swollen everywhere. Then I look up and there is the bald white scalp that tops everything off.
Today I went into Dillards to find something to wear that might minimized all these huge flaws. It wasn't long before I was walking through the women's department crying. I just went from rack to rack wiping my tears trying to dodge the sales girl that would probably come and try to offer her help. Boy would she be opening a can of worms!
If you have never seen mastectomy pictures, I encourage you to google some on the internet. They are not pretty. Most people do not realize the harshness of this disease. I think if more people knew the reality they would be shocked. So many women have breast cancer and to all of society they never appear any different. So in a way, it is often blown off as "no big deal". Many people are totally unaware that there is often not enough skin left to reconstruct or stretch. A dear friend of mine is in the process of reconstruction and had to have cadaver skin used to cover the implants which will come later.
The purpose of this post was not to gross you out or gain your pity, but to enlighten you as to the harsh reality that breast cancer brings. It is an ugly disease that affects beautiful women everywhere. It affects them not only physically, but emotionally and mentally. There is hope, and there are great plastic surgeons out there who are doing amazing things. I am hoping to find one of those. My body right now feels like a disaster zone. My skin has aged years in the last month. I have 5 chemo treatments left and 30 radiation treatments and 2-3 surgeries. However, I am alive and I am grateful. I have a wonderful family and so much support from my friends and co-workers. I am so blessed and I know that, but last night and today shook me into a reality that I was trying to suffocate. However, this too shall pass. :) I appreciate your comments and feedback. Until next time my friends!