Tomorrow is my third appointment with the micro-vascular surgeon who will perform my reconstruction surgery. Right after we met with the medical team to talk about my plan for dealing with my Stage IIIa breast cancer, I looked forward to this final stage of the plan. After the tumor was out, and I had made it through 20 weeks of chemotherapy, and 6 weeks of radiation, reconstruction with a bonus tummy tuck (I’m having a DIEP flap recon, which takes tissue from your belly to build a new boob) sounded like the wonderful prize for getting through a long and difficult journey. The hard part behind me, a new boob and a flatter stomach – sign me up!
However, right after my mastectomy, I seriously considered not going through with it. Actually, for several months after my mastectomy, I considered not having the reconstruction. The mastectomy took only 2-3 hours all told, while the reconstruction will take 8-10 hours. I had initially thought that the mastectomy surgery would be the hardest thing I had to go through – I had to survive the anesthesia, after all. That’s what I was truly afraid of. I thought once I woke up in recovery, the hard part would be behind me. I wasn’t truly worried about the chemotherapy or radiation, or the recovery. I honestly believed that recovery from removing my breast would be as simple as taking some Tylenol. Dummy.
It turns out that removing my 11.5 centimeter tumor was the easiest part of this whole thing, for me. They gave me the happy juice before I went down to the OR, and probably 15 seconds after I got in there I was off to La-La Land. Waking up in recovery was completely different than I had envisioned. It was traumatic. I felt all over sick, in pain, and disoriented. I couldn’t really communicate, I just laid there and whimpered. I’m not sure my conscious brain was fully aware of what was happening – in that moment my primitive lizard brain took over, and it only knew that things did not feel normal, and that we did not like it. Looking back on the experience, the conscious brain knows now that what I experienced was normal for me. But in that moment, and for months of nausea and muscle spasms afterward, it was only trauma, and not something I wanted to experience ever again.
I experienced that fear before I even met with the medical oncologist to go over the plan for chemotherapy. Since that time, I’ve been through a few other things that once frightened me. I had completed an endometrial biopsy as part of my diagnostics before the surgery, which came back benign. Right before I was set to start chemo, I argued with my first medical oncologist for three days when she insisted I repeat that extremely painful procedure, and could give me no good reason why I should, and then became insulting when I asked to speak to the gynecologic oncologist who had done the biopsy. I changed medical oncologists, and I have completed 20 weeks of chemotherapy.
I have testified at a murder trial, and seen the verdict and sentencing of the guilty party. I watched the whole nightmare of my father’s murder age my extremely vital and resilient grandmother, until she finally decided it was time to go, having seen the guilty party duly sentenced, if not appropriately punished. I don’t know if there is an appropriate punishment for the evil that was done to my father – at least not on this earth.
I have also completed 6 weeks of radiation, and I have had my chemotherapy port removed.
With all this behind me, I am now able to look forward to what the micro-vascular surgeon has to say, and I can honestly say the fear I experienced last spring is not with me today. Whether that comes from the fact that the memory of that experience has faded, or if because I know I have faced worse and survived, I really couldn’t say. I am not sure that I care. The fact remains that reconstruction is neither the prize at the end of the journey, nor a terror I must survive in order to get back to normal. It is simply one more fact of my life.