Life turns on a dime. It’s what comes after that ends up dominating our future.
After biopsies confirmed cancer, I was referred to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Three weeks later, I had a full day of consultations, more tests and I received a support team. I met with an oncologist, radiologist, surgeon and received pre-op instructions. Two weeks later, I met with a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction, and the next week I was on the operating table.
No matter how long I researched, or how many questions I asked, nothing prepared me for hosting an artificial breast.
Since the cancer had not spread, reconstruction was able to start immediately. I woke from surgery with an expander under the skin where my breast used to be, its purpose was to create a space to be filled with a series of saline injections.
I’ll have new boob on one side, and a 71-year old one on the other. Fortunately, it includes lifting the left breast to match the new one. I’m essentially getting a boob job.
“After all you’ve endured, it’s the least we (the medical community) can do,” offered my plastic surgeon.
The entire process can take as long as nine months. More than once, I’ve collapsed into a pool of frustrated tears. “There must be a way to coordinate ferry schedules with shuttle and train schedules!” I shout to no one in particular.
Studies say productive healing requires minimizing stress. I’m confident that the scientists never tried to negotiate twice-monthly trips to Seattle from Orcas Island!
When I feel overwhelmed, I call my survivor sisters for support. I sigh a lot and scare the crap out of my old cat when I shout, “This is all just too much!” I cry a lot, at the strangest times. And I get weary from all the appointments, the changes in my body, the whole process.
These feelings stem from grief, anger, disbelief, gratitude and relief. I’m not used to them and I wasn’t prepared.
I often compare notes with a fellow survivor about the process. As she moves toward the end of reconstruction, we share our experience and conclude, “We had no idea it would be like this.”
There’s no way to prepare for it all. The physical and emotional toll is a strange and intense journey.
A journey made easier with love and support, patience and understanding, a responsive and skilled medical team and the knowledge that my experience can help others.
Despite my love-hate relationship with social media, I’ve shared this journey with friends on Facebook. Recently, I read an entry from a woman I knew in high school in which she shared her breast cancer diagnosis. When I offered her my support and said I was glad she found it early, she replied “It was because of your postings that I went for the mammogram. Thank you for saving my life.”
As we age, many more of us will develop breast cancer. If you’re reconsidering having a mammogram at 65 or 75, don’t hesitate. Whatever the outcome, catching it early can make a world of difference.
There’s something to be said for a perky pair at 75!
For more information about cancer detection and cures, visit the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org.