Almost two weeks ago, I had a double mastectomy. One minute I'm on the couch listening to my local news anchor talk about the importance of doing monthly breast self-exams and the next I'm waking up from anesthesia flat-chested and (hopefully) cancer-free. I was discharged from the hospital with about fifty staples across my chest protected by a layer of gauze and hospital tape with two bulbs--one for each side of my chest--that looked like toy hand grenades at the end of rubber tubing siphoning off any blood that might be left over from the surgery. A week later, all the staples and drains were removed, I officially became 'untethered' and free. Now, it is basically just the dog and me trying to resume 'activities of daily living.'
While I have been given appointments with oncologists and radiologists per protocol following breast cancer surgery, I have to admit that I feel strange. Maybe I feel strange about what I DON'T feel. I don't feel like going out and conquering the world because I had the diagnosis of breast cancer. Right now, all I want to do is feel comfortable. I don't like the feeling of a thousand paper cuts up and down my chest. I don't feel like 'playing through the pain.' I don't want to 'be nice' and stoic when my friends make unfortunate comments about how lucky I am now that I don't have to buy any more bras. I don't feel like I somehow let myself down for choosing a double mastectomy without immediate reconstruction AND I don't feel less female just because I no longer have 'boobage' though going from 38DD to nothing is quite a change.
I like not feeling I was singled out in the cancer lottery. Yes, it might've been easier to understand and accept my diagnosis had I any family history of cancer but no one ever said all surprises are good ones. I like how the world didn't stop 'just' because I had cancer. The house still needs cleaning, bills still need to be paid and the world is still a place of good and evil. Friends are still friends and I have no 'long lost' ones who suddenly decided to look me up because cancer was associated with my name. In the best sense, not a lot has changed for me. Some things have. I credit my mostly positive experience with Cancerland to a book by Madhulika Sikka entitled "A Breast Cancer Alphabet." I needed the author's everyday, matter-of-fact, 'girl-talking' words to demystify the disease and for lack of a better description make cancer "not THAT big of a deal."
Upon receiving my cancer diagnosis, I instantly stopped smoking. I needed to feel like I was being proactive in some way against the disease and putting down cigarettes for good made me feel like I was 'fighting back.' Pink has now joined black as one of my two favorite colors. I look great in both! I have to follow doctors' orders...all of them--not just the ones I want to follow. I have to 'check in' with my son. I'm letting him be there for me. I have to be open and honest about needing help. I have to accept help. I have millions and millions of sisters (and brothers) who've been where I am and to not call on them when I need to would be attempted martyrdom. No thank you.
At the end of the day when I'm getting ready for bed, I "take a look." Despite the remaining and temporary post-op discoloration, I have to admit I am ''diggin'' my new body. A post-op double mastectomy body CAN be beautiful. I am at my ideal weight and firming up on schedule. Little by little, I'm getting back in shape. If I keep this up, I'll have arms to rival Kelly Rippa! Worth a try!