After last Wednesday’s drama, I was pretty much convinced my week couldn’t get any more exciting. I was wrong. I have spent the past three days trying to figure out how I could possibly find a positive spin to put on this week’s events so that I could share it. Let’s start with the story.
This past Wednesday I returned to Winnipeg, this time with my mother, who optimistically refused to pack an overnight bag because she was so certain things were going to be okay this time around. That despite the trauma my incision and implant endured last week, I would be healing up nicely and nothing worse could possibly happen. I insisted we pack toothbrushes and toiletries, just in case, and off we went.
I am, for many reasons, going to gloss over some of the gory details. Long story short, the doctor took a look, put me squarely on the negative side of the ’50-50′ statistic, and gave me my options. I could a) wait until the following day to go under general anaesthetic to have both implants removed, or b) take a generously offered Ativan and have another ‘awake’ surgery to have both implants removed 30 minutes later. Both options involve healing up for a few months and having abdominal flap surgery done as the other option for reconstruction.
I have been thinking a great deal about some of the women I know who have opted for no reconstruction. I have always admired their courage. Have always thought about how difficult a choice that must have been, how strange a thing it must be for them to get used to seeing themselves in the mirror changed like that. I opted for immediate reconstruction back at the time of my mastectomy because I really didn’t think I had it in me to deal with chemo, radiation, and facing that huge change in the mirror all at the same time.
Wednesday afternoon marked what may have been the first time I truly saw how cancer has changed me physically. I opted for choice b, took the Ativan and a pain-killer, and dutifully turned my head to the opposite side from where the surgeons worked, and breathed my way through a second awake surgery in a week. Said ‘ouch’ when it hurt so they could inject more local anaesthetic, clenched and unclenched my fists and made every effort to relax my shoulders while they removed the offending implants, cleaned me out and stitched me up, unceremoniously and with no effort at neatness, because this was a temporary fix. There were tears this time around; I’m not going to lie. The doctor assures me they are going to do everything they can to achieve the result I want, down the road, when enough healing has taken place.
My mother and I made it to a hotel room in the hotel attached to the hospital, just barely, and had a good old-fashioned-mother-daughter melt-down. I cried because I was tired. Because I’ve treated this voyage like a marathon, and have conserved my energy for the finish, which I thought I was nearing. I cried because it was really, really difficult to look at myself in the mirror. I cried because my plans for celebrating the end of this year are all likely trashed. My mother cried because she feels my pain like it’s her own. We do this as parents. My heart broke for her that night just as much as it did for me. I wish I could have sheltered her from that moment. I wish I could have powered through it like I have other moments. I could not. Sometimes it’s okay to fall apart. When you have to start from scratch, I guess it’s necessary to flush out all the sad and steel yourself for what’s to come.
So. I’ve spent the past few days wrapping my head around this new reality. There are some important details on which I need to focus:
This isn’t a cancer complication. This is a glitch in the reconstruction process, one which is now going to provide me with three months’ reprieve and rest and healing time.
The abdominal flap surgery will provide me with a permanent solution, one which is made up of my own tissue. There won’t be anything foreign puffing up my chest. There won’t be a need to swap them out every ten years or so and worry afresh about complications. The whole ‘implant’ thing has never really sat well with me anyway.
The complication rate for this surgery is 1-2%, compared to a complication rate of about 38% for implant surgery on radiated skin. I am feeling much, much better about those odds.
Traumatic experiences like the one my companion witnessed last week and the one that my mother witnessed this past Wednesday really do change one’s perspective. They can help us sift through the trivia and grasp on to what’s really important. They can bind us together. They have. (Bring on date #3.)
In the meantime, if I never have to gaze up at one of these breast-shaped lights again, it will be too soon.
And, although I’m sure there will be drains sported after my abdominal flap surgery, I seriously hope they go with the little grenade-shaped variety I have had in the past, and not these jumbo hemo-vac specials.