On November 3, 2011, I endured bilateral mastectomy surgery. Fast forward (well snail crawl, really) to March 7, 2013: I finally had my exchange surgery. Tissue expanders were exchanged for smooth round high profile gel breast implants–and I have an ID card to prove it:
This was pretty major surgery (I chose the latissimus dorsi flap procedure) that had me in the hospital for two nights, but it was NOTHING compared to the agony of bilateral mastectomy. I even got the best room in the hospital! I lucked in to the corner room with two (two!) windows.
Here are the sames and differents:
Waking up from BMX: Burning, searing pain, inability to communicate, pretty sure a truck filled with bricks was sitting on my chest. Extreme fear.
Waking up from exchange: Pain, ability to ask for food and drink, just a lot of bricks on my chest.
Later that day (BMX): Could not drink, even through a straw, without help. Jeremy had to apply my chapstick. Arms did not work at all. Catheter.
Later that day (Exchange): Laughed when Jeremy tried to apply chapstick for me, asked for special bottled water, because NO to tap water. No catheter, immediate change into my own PJs. Checking email and Facebook.
Arriving at home (BMX): Going up the stairs to my bedroom was true torture. I could not greet my kids. Getting into bed was scary. I wasn’t able to venture out of my room for days. I felt truly, hopelessly full of pain…and more fear.
Arriving at home (Exchange): I hugged my kids, sent air kisses to my doggies. Jeremy helped me up the stairs, but I could have done it myself. I felt pain, but I also felt strength. Able to go up and down the stairs fairly quickly.
Scars (BMX): You know I have scars. Permanent marks on my body and heavy, permanent marks on my soul.
Scars (exchange): I ended up with scars this time too. But a week before this surgery, I got a special tattoo on my right foot. I love symbolic stuff like this…no fear, standing strong, etc:
It is tough and wonderful to compare these two experiences. I don’t think words can describe the horror of that first surgery. I hated it and I hated that I had to recover for so long. I also felt like I had nothing to look forward to, especially when the surgeon called and said that my margins were not clear. I subjected myself to this awful procedure and they didn’t even get everything? That sucked. It sucked big time. But this time, even though I’m not quite finished, I feel like I’m finally on the downhill side of all of this cancer stuff. I feel like there is less to have to plan or think about, and that feels great. My new, albeit fake, upstairs section feels good. I learned that some ladies call these things “foobs”, and I think that’s kind of funny. My recovery time has been easier and shorter, and I like that.
The other thing going through my mind as I compare these two surgeries is the state of my mental and physical state. I think the two surgeries are pretty rough, but I wonder about the fact that I am springing back so quickly this time. I’d like to think that I’m much tougher than I was before: mastectomy, chemotherapy, hair loss, radiation–that shit will either kill you or make you stronger. I don’t recommend cancer as a way to build up your pain tolerance and inner strength, but it sure works.
I’m not finished with surgeries or with treatment, but I can see the end.
For now, I have been rebuilt.