Aztec 3

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

*Not* the Final Countdown

It's been six months and nineteen days since my breast cancer diagnosis, four months and eighteen days since my bilateral mastectomy, and twelve hours until my breast reconstruction surgery. CB started school yesterday so our summer is officially over. We packed in a lot of fun over the past few months -- trips & visits, waterparks and pools, camps, parties, and everything in between. I kept us busy on purpose. It meant less down time to sit and dwell on cancer, or medication side effects, or the weirdness that is my body right now.

I'm not sure what to make of the last six months. Suddenly I'm a member of this club full of great people, but the club that no one hopes to be in. It's an odd world of pink ribbons, sparkles, scars, and discussions of things that used to be intimate but are all too common and public because of our shared experiences. I've met amazing women and the people who love them. It's helped. I've gone to a few "survivor" events this summer even though I feel so weird identifying as that. I know I'm lucky to have caught my cancer early. I knew what to do and who to go see. I have insurance and a health savings account that's handled this well. Many, many women don't have such advantages. I've seen many who have waited, and those whose tests didn't go the way mine did. They've been through so much more than I have. 

My cancer was cut out of me four months ago. My lymph nodes were clean. People have been asking, "So, it's all gone?" or "You're cancer-free?". I just respond with, "As far as we know." That's the truth. As far as we know. That's not me being pessimistic, it's me being realistic. This deal isn't over. I'm taking a cancer medication for the next ten years to hopefully keep the cancer from coming back. I've talked about this more in previous posts so I won't go into detail now, but this drug has possible side effects raging from annoying to life threatening. It's not a cake walk.

**Detailed stuff here -- read at your own risk**

Phase 2 of my reconstruction process is tomorrow. Some would look at this as being closure to my cancer experience, a sort of last hurdle, a way to get my body back to normal. That's far from reality. My body will never be "normal." I'm not sure people understand what happens during a mastectomy. I didn't when this started. While there are different degrees and procedures according to location and severity of the cancer, every patient is left with prominent scars. Implants don't fix that. Currently, I look like I have two softballs attached to my chest. They look like circles with horizontal lines across the middle. Tomorrow, when the tissue expanders are removed and replaced with implants, things will be a little lower and softer. They'll still be circles with lines. No nipples. No feeling. Just numb mounds of skin to make things look more normal with clothes on. That's the literal technical goal of breast reconstruction -- to appear normal with clothes on. Some women get nipples reconstructed using skin tissue then have the surrounding skin tattooed to look like an areola. I suppose it's an attempt to trick the eye when they glance at the mirror. I've decided against that. I don't think having fake nipples that have zero feeling will make me feel better about any of this. What I'm getting at here is that breast reconstruction is not a boob job. It's not augmentation. There are no breasts left to augment. I don't know what bra size I will be because it doesn't compare that way. The implants will likely be much smaller than my real breasts. It's hard to recreate with implants what took me several years and fifty extra pounds to create on my own. So, no, I'm not excited about having implants. I liked my real breasts. They were pretty great. I'll be glad to have these tissue expanders out and to no longer look like I'm deformed from a bad boob job. I'll be glad to not be waiting for another surgery. That's about it. I'm not excited tonight. I'm just ready to get this phase over with, but I know it's just this phase. I've been off my medication for two weeks (in prep for the surgery) and I'll go back on it two weeks from now. I've had withdrawal symptoms that make me feel like junk and I'll get to experience all of it even more when I start the meds again. 

It's all annoying, frustrating, and depressing...if I let myself go there. In reality I know that there are much bigger and scarier things going on in the world and in the lives of those around me. Not that I'm minimizing this whole experience or that of others who've experienced the same, but when I look at the big picture I know that my life is still incredibly fortunate, cancer or not.