Before you start reading, be warned. This may turn a few stomachs.
And yes. That’s my stomach. Replete with evidence of poor decisions made in my 20s. This picture was taken the day after I returned from Winnipeg last week, where I went to have those giant hemovac drains removed (Yay!), check out my first mastectomy ‘bra bar’ (Gulp.), and share some good food and wine with my mother, my companion for that trip (Yay!).
After the drain removal, I asked the physician’s assistant to explain the abdominal flap surgery to me. He ordered me to bare my belly, took out a Sharpie, and started sketching. The rule of thumb for this surgery is, apparently, that what you can pinch, you can take. The lines are cut lines. The line down the middle marks the divide between what will become two breasts. Now, think Geometry – cut each of those triangles out, and flip them 90 degrees toward the middle of my body. Attach, and fashion into breasts. Re-attach edges gaping hole left where triangle once was. Doesn’t that sound fun? I have been ordered to eat lots of pasta and ice cream and ‘fatten up’ before I have the surgery done.
I know this is the correct surgery for me. Believe it or not, the risk factors are very low. Yet, as I type this, I know a fellow breast cancer survivor sits in hospital, where she has been dealing with complications from the exact same surgery, and where she has been since the beginning of the month. Healing, as I have learned, can be very complicated.
I don’t want to be back in hospital. I don’t want complications. I don’t want to sit on the couch all day in constant recovery mode. I don’t want to feel like a pharmacy, taking a handful of pills – antibiotics, pain killers, acid reflux meds, you name it, every few hours. I don’t want bandages and stitches. I don’t want drains. I don’t want to ‘fatten up’ right now. I have decided that I need to heal from this latest setback, in more ways than one. I don’t want to write off another summer indoors, letting other people shuffle my kids off to camp after camp to keep them busy because I’m too tired-sick-or-sore to take care of them myself.
The sun is starting to shine. The days are getting longer. It is finally starting to get a little warmer out there, despite some persistent cold snap happening this week. My body is telling me it’s Spring. Tomorrow I get stitches and bandages removed. I feel like I’m surfacing. I can hug my kids without wincing. My youngest can climb up on my lap and I don’t have to banish him. I can put my arms around the people I love without them having to be ‘gentle’.
What I want is to live my life for a little while. The little voice inside me that whispered that there are options, that I could wait and do this reconstruction thing later has gotten progressively louder. I have spoken to women who have chosen no reconstruction as a permanent choice, and their strength of character humbles me. I don’t think I can do this permanently. But right now, I want back in my body. I want to be free of pain and discomfort. This summer, I’m going to swim, hike, paddle, yoga, maybe even run. I’m going to camp, road trip, have weekend getaways with my companion. I’m going to cook, clean, fold laundry, put dishes away in cupboards that are up high. I think I am taking a break. I need some time to get strong again before I do this surgery.
To that end, I went shopping this weekend and found some lacy things that are so great they almost trick me. It actually occurs to me that my new undergarments are not completely dissimilar to what many of us women generally sport. I just may become a little more ‘attached’ to mine.
I have looked at myself in the mirror so often I’m almost used to my new body. Talked it out a lot. Cried a lot. Have taken some pictures. Looked at old ones. Gotten lots of much-needed reassurance. I think I’m good.
And, when I am ready, sometime in the colder months, when it will feel normal to curl up on the couch for awhile, when the days are short and dark and I want to hibernate anyway, I will be ready for another surgeon to draw those cut lines on me and go for it.
For now, bring on the big melt. I have some living to do.