I’m not sure I slept much the night before surgery. I had so many questions. Will I be able to handle the pain? Will I still feel whole? Will the expanders look stupid? Will I care about being cancer free or will I only think about my stupid body shape?
The answers are yes.
I worried for weeks before the surgery if my years of hating my body would return. What if strange breasts bring it all back and I must do all that work to love myself again? And there I was, the morning of the surgery, knowing that there was no backing out. It wasn’t about boob shape or size. It was about getting the cancer removed from my body.
No one tells you when you are younger that there may come a time when you need to decide whether you want to keep your breasts or not. You go through life not even thinking about it (unless you have BRCA) and then one day, BAM, you do. Except that was not my life.
I knew from an early age that it might be in my cards. My maternal aunt had breast cancer and I had been getting mammograms since the age of 35. Because of this I often thought, “What will I do if the mammogram shows a lump?” And very quickly I came to the decision that I would completely remove my breasts.
Now I know what you are thinking. You can’t possibly make that kind of decision until you are looking it in the face. And although that is a factual statement – we really don’t know what we would do until we are there – I thought I knew. Turns out I did. I made this decision years ago. Bilateral mastectomy.
The only thing that scared me at this point was how I would react to my body when it was all done. You see, I live with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. So, loving my body has always been a chore. And it wasn’t until I spent years being fat that I finally realized that it was the only body I had so I better just freaking love it. So I did. I really did. I took up my space, I knew I was sexy, I was healthy.
I’m going to sidetrack a little here while I give you a little background. Hopefully, it will make sense as to why at the end of this blog.
About two years ago I started putting on more and more weight. And I knew that my knees and my heart really couldn’t handle that much extra. But I had NO idea what was going on. I tried EVERY diet you can think of without more than a 20-pound loss and it was very disheartening. I didn’t need to be skinny, but I knew my body couldn’t keep growing at that rate. It wasn’t right, FOR ME.
I kept looking for a doctor who would listen. Long story short, I found one. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over a year ago and that allowed me to start taking a medication that evened out my A1C and assisted in my body being able to process the food like it was supposed to. Fast forward 8 months and I had lost about 70 pounds. And getting used to my new body was taking some time.
I truly believe that had I not lost that weight I would not have felt that lump and may have put off my yearly mammogram. But I did, so I didn’t.
But there I was on the morning of surgery not worrying about cancer, but worrying that I wouldn’t love my body the same if my breasts had no nipples, or a scar across it. If you are reading this and are starting your cancer journey please listen to this next statement if you listen to nothing else: WHATEVER YOUR FEAR IS, IT IS VALID. If it’s that you are scared that you won't have boobs… valid. If it is that you worry they won’t get all the cancer…valid. If you worry about hair falling out, skin rashes, throwing up…VALID, VALID, VALID.
As I went through all the prepping for surgery my mind kept coming back to my husband smiling at me while I’m naked and wondering if he will smile like that in six months (spoiler alert, it didn’t take six months. It was the first thing he showed me when I showed him my new naked body - bloody incisions and all).
Dan and my mom came with me to the hospital. My dad and kids were with me in spirit. After getting poked and prodded and ready for surgery, those were the faces I took with me as I walked into the operating room and got on the table. They were the strength I chose to add to mine as the nurse looked down at me and told me she was going to start the medication to put me to sleep.
The next face I saw was the recovery nurse, Mercy (I know right?!?). The surgery was over. My chest was bound tightly, and I was slightly disoriented.
My breast surgeon, Dr. Jolene Singh, and plastic surgeon, Dr. Ruebeck, had done their jobs and the surgery was over. They are officially my favorite people right now!
I’m going to spare you too much of the twenty-four hours after surgery. Needless to say, it was full of half-hour vitals checks and getting up to walk with the goal of going to the bathroom by myself. Once the vital checks moved to every three hours, I was able to get a few naps in before morning. I was discharged at 11 am the day after surgery and was grateful for it. The nurses who took care of me (Erica and Shay – I'll never forget) were amazing, but for me, there is nothing like mending in the comfort of my own home… and recliner!!
The week that followed was also difficult. There were drainage tubes and pain, meds, and stool softeners. I mean it when I say, if you have any questions – or would like more details, please email me. There are a lot of things that I didn’t know going in that would have been nice to know, but people who have gone through this tend not to share the bloody parts – which I understand. But if you want to know, I will share.
It’s been a week and a day since my surgery and I’m on the mend. It takes time. I’m grateful for so many things. I couldn’t possibly name them all. And I know there is more to come. I’ve learned things during this past month and a half that might steer my life in a different direction, who knows? But for now, I’m going to keep sharing here and I hope you want to keep following along.
Thank you for being here.