Recently I passed my sixth month post surgery date from my double mastectomy and a couple of friends have asked for an update on my recovery, so here it is. The short answer is – I am doing great! Honestly, recovery has gone so well that at this point, days can go by where I don’t even think about the cancer diagnosis or the surgery – and that’s saying a lot considering the fact that I have this very visable reminder when I look at my flat chest in the mirror. I don’t usually give much thought to my appearance except when I am doing public speaking or training with groups that don’t know me well. I was very open about my surgery with all of my friends and coworkers, so it’s no secret that I had a double mastectomy with no reconstruction. But sometimes when I stand up in front of audiences that don’t know my history, I wonder if they can tell. I wonder if they notice my flat chest, and if they do, do they just think I am flat chested, or do they wonder if I had surgery? I’ve heard others in my situation tell stories of being mistaken for someone who is transitioning their gender, so sometimes I wonder if people look at me and wonder if I am a male who is transitioning to female and hasn’t grown any breasts yet. When I go to the YMCA, I often wear this pink breast cancer survivor tshirt that I got at goodwill, just so if people notice my flat chest, they will quickly connect the dots to the cancer.
My incisions from the surgery are healing beautifully, and I am forever grateful for the amazing surgeon who took such good care of my body to give me such a good outcome. I am a member of a facebook group for cancer survivors who had mastectomies without reconstruction, and many times women will post photos after the surgery and vent their frustrations after surgeon leave extra skin, just in case they change their mind and want reconstruction later, even though the women were admandant that they didn’t want that done. I’m so thankful my surgeon listened and heard me, and honored my wishes. I’m kind of proud of my scar, because it makes me feel like a bit of badass for surviving this major surgery. For me, it has been an empowering experience, knowing that I could make this decision for surgery and come out on the other side just fine. I occasionally offer to show my scars to friends, because I am so proud of them, but most of the time my friends decline my offer, which is fine. I briefly considered posting a photo here, but didn’t want to make others uncomfortable, as I’m sure there are some people who might be okay reading about the update, but don’t necessarily want to see a photo.
I’m also so grateful that I did not need to have any chemo or radiation treatment, and I am well aware that I escaped some of the worst parts of cancer treatment. This month, October, is breast cancer awareness month so there are lots of reminders every where I go. But I find that I don’t really embrace the survivor title, because my cancer was found so early, and survival rates at that point are 100%. So there was never any fear that I could die, at least not right now. Mostly I just feel grateful that I was able to prevent the cancer from fully developing into what it had the potential to be.
But in the midst of all of the reassurances that I did the right thing and lowered my risk and all of that, my fear of cancer has definitely grown. Even though my doctor told me that I am not at increased risk for developing another cancer, I don’t believe her. I fear that it could come back in my chest wall, or some other part of my body completely. I’ve seen pictures that other women have posted when breast cancer came back even after they had surgery and had no breasts. And I know that the cancer that they did find was grade 3, the most aggressive, and that it was actually two separate kinds of cancer in two different spots, growing at the same time. I try not to worry about it too much, but think of it more as just having developed a healthy fear of cancer, if there is such a thing.
I completed my initial program at the YMCA (Livestrong at the Y), and at our graduation, my instructor described me as a secret ninja, which made me smile. She convinced me to sign up for her alumni group, which I did. Although I must confess that I have missed all but one session so far because we had a big project come up at work that has consumed many of my evenings. I’ve had lectures from friends and coworkers about taking care of myself and prioritizing my health over work. And I get all that. I just happen to really like to work, so choosing work over working out is a no brainer for me. I know I need to change that.
I’ve only had one negative experience as a result of the surgery. Not too long ago I was visiting with an acquaintance, a friend of one my nieces, as we were standing outside of a Quick Trip. He’s an older man and usually smells of alcohol. As we were saying goodbye, he put his hand on my shoulder and then quickly commented that I wasn’t wearing a bra. I explained to him that I had had cancer and had surgery and no longer had a reason to wear a bra. He then tried to reach out and touch my chest and asked me a very inappropriate question about the feeling in my chest. I pushed his hand away before he could touch me, but the whole experience really creeped me out and I’m hoping to never run into him again.
But overall, things are good. I’m still figuring out the best wardrobe choices for my new figure, still need to work out more, eat healthier, and take better care of myself. And I’m still grateful for so much, for all the friends who encouraged me and prayed for me when I was so scared before surgery and through my recovery. And for God, who hears my prayers and blesses my life in so many ways.