I found out I had it in November of 2012--the day before Thanksgiving, to be exact. By May of 2013, I had gone through my last surgery. Over and done. Quick. I had 2 options: Remove my left breast (the one practically riddled with cancer), and go through radiation--hoping that it hadn't spread to my lymph nodes; or remove both breasts, no radiation, and hope that it didn't spread to my lymph nodes. Because of my age at the time, 38, the board at MD Anderson encouraged me to remove both breasts (there would have been a 45% chance that the cancer would have reoccurred). It didn't even occur to me or Chris that I should keep both.
On December 28, 2012, I underwent a double mastectomy. It hurt. A lot. If you know me at all, you also know I don't like to take pain meds. So I tried not to--Chris was pushing my morphine pump when I wasn't looking. After we came home, I still didn't take much. We have a stock of hydrocodone.
So why the blog post? Because I think "Breast Cancer Awareness" month is weird. It's strange to see pink stuff everywhere. It's strange to be constantly reminded that I had cancer every time I walk into a store. I'm going in to get milk, people. Believe me, i'm reminded that I had cancer every time I take off my shirt. And many times, even when i'm fully clothed. Imaging having a part of your body removed that you've had all your life, then it being replaced with a new one. It's...weird. It looks weird, it feels weird. No, my breasts didn't define me, but there were a part of me.
I hear of women going through a depression after having them removed. That didn't happen to me. I honestly had adopted the mindset of, "They're just boobs." That's not to say that I didn't have moments where I was upset. Not really sad, but just exhausted with the process. Particularly, for all those months when I had those horrid tissue-expanders in my chest. Lord, those things are awful. Every week, i'd go to the plastic surgeon, and he'd fill these balloons under my skin with saline. A little bit at a time, to stretch my skin for the implants. Those months, I felt ugly. My chest was uneven, hard as a rock, and oh-so-painful. Jenna wouldn't look at me; Clairey was intrigued, but honest enough to tell me that it was 'ugly.' But I already knew it was ugly.
Right after I had my last saline expansion, an amazing photographer took pictures of me. I wanted these pictures. I wanted to see what I looked like from the outside. And really, what those photos captured was more than that. Sure, you can see the raw scars, the oddly-shaped expanders...but my favorite picture doesn't show my chest at all. It's just my face and shoulders. In fact, I think it was an 'out take.' He was adjusting lighting and I was turning away. To me, I look peaceful. And accepting. And I like to think that's how I took the whole cancer diagnosis. Accepting. Non-blaming. And that's what I wish for any woman going through breast cancer. Peace. Acceptance. And the ability to kick its ass.
Photo credit: Brett Chisholmhttp://houstonphotographyblog.com/