Today (April 23, 2011) is my year anniversary from having my prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction. It is the day I took charge of my own future by removing healthy breast tissue before cancer could slither its sneaky, over-replicating cells into my mutated tissues. I do not regret my decision. Has it been the easiest year? No. Three surgeries in less than a year is a lot to put your body through, not to mention your emotional and psychological well-being. I have had my ups and downs this past year – as my blog clearly reflects. I had my worries prior to surgery. I wrote letters to my boys, just in case (that was not easy!). I had pain and fear directly following my surgeries, especially the mastectomy. I even had “boob envy” when I had the expanders in and they were so uneven I couldn’t even wear a regular old t-shirt! However, I also have had immense relief. I don’t worry anymore if today is the day I am going to find a lump or worry that I missing “IT” because I just don’t know how to perform a self-exam correctly. I have had little wins, like being able to brush my own hair again, or get a shower on my own. Or get stitches out and drains removed. I’ve had emotional wins (see One Sweet Day), when I didn’t tear up or feel sad when I heard the song “One Sweet Day” which was previously enveloped in heartbreaking emotions for me. I have tremendous gratitude to my husband, family and friends for the support and love they have given me selflessly and continuously.
And now, 1 year later, I am almost 7 weeks post revision surgery. “The girls” have better placement overall and look natural. But gravity is starting to claw at these implants too, as my plastic surgeon (PS) said would happen. The scar underneath lefty is already almost a centimeter from its starting position. That worries me, but I am trying to keep optimistic! I don’t have that constant tightness that comes along for the ride after each surgery to constantly remind me that I am not “normal.” My PS had given me the a-okay to start jogging, lifting, etc a bit ago – so the exercising has resumed. I am able to look back on this past year and smile. I made a choice, granted the choices I had to choose from were crappy, but that cannot be changed. I still feel today, like I chose the right path for me and my family. I am relieved to not have to worry about when I am going to get breast cancer. I never actually felt like it was an if I get cancer. I always felt like I was just waiting around to find it. (I do still have a small risk because some cells were left behind the nipples and probably a few sneaky cells here and there, but overall, compared to ~87%, it’s well worth the reduced risk!). I am not saying all is perfect and hunky-dory. I still have emotional ups and downs. But I don’t question my decision nor do I wish I hadn’t had the surgeries.
Last April, before my mastectomy surgery, I posted a poem I had written in a college poetry class. What if, was about what my Mother went through, but as if it was me having to go through it. When I took that class (now I am thankful it was an elective I was able to choose!) it was about 2 ½ years from my Mother’s death and I still hadn’t really worked through my grief. That class was extremely helpful to me to get my pain out in words, just as this blog has been. I wanted to share another one of those poems today. Fair warning – it’s not a happy, smiley poem. It makes me sad to think about how broken my heart was to be able to write such a dark, grief-stricken poem. I am still not 100%, because how can you ever go back to a full heart when you lose your Mother. But I am in a much better place now and have been given the opportunity to not have to go through what my Mother did or put my family through the heartbreak and loss that I have.
A gray haze covers me like a blanket,
padding my round shoulders
as if preparing me for an intense impact.
I am alone.
I am encased in solid blackness.
Each step my foot hammers to the ground
is as loud as a whisper;
a whisper like the soft whimpering of my heart.
The struggle is hilly like the mouth of a crimping iron.
Following every battle my mother wins, there is another
gnawing at the shins of the one just defeated.
The chemotherapies weakening every ounce of her strength
as the cancer devours the length of her body.
At times the heavy haze will release me,
even as the cancer still hides amongst her healthy cells.
But the grayness always comes back
to seize me and pull me to my deepest sadness.
I keep pushing myself because there must
be a brighter side,
a side brighter than this cold twisting tunnel of
emptiness I slide slowly through.
A flash of hope!
I run toward this light of hope,
my feet suddenly clouds of dust.
The closer I get, the dimmer the light,
and then it is gone…
gone like a mirage of water
in the desert summer,
the relief has vanished.
“The cancer has spread to your lungs,” the doctor tells us
as the room begins spinning, everything blurry around me.
“I am afraid there is nothing else we can do.”
These horrible words crash down on me
like a hammer to a nail.
But I am stubborn and optimistic.
Words in my ears ringing over and over,
“She may not live much longer.”
The machine assists her breathing now,
her lungs are filling each second with
killer cancerous cells.
“I love you, Mom,” I softly whisper in her ear as she lies in bed.
She squeezes my hand in return,
too weak to speak those three powerful words
that I am longing to hear one last time.
I lay next to her watching her chest for movement,
the split second for it to expand upwards lasts a lifetime.
Relief floods me, as I sigh deeply thankful for another second with
my Mother, my role model, my best friend.
“It’s okay to let go now, you have fought so hard, so long.”
These powerful words flow full of fear and love to my mother’s ear.
“We know you don’t want to leave us, but you don’t have to suffer any more.”
Surprised at myself for saying something I had been denying, my throat
swells up, lip quivering, entire body trembling.
Knees bounce to the cold black concrete,
tears wildly race down my cheeks,
down my face,
and pounce fiercely at the ground.
Reality smacks me in the face
as I see her chest move with the breath of life
one last time,
one last breath.
I am engulfed in silence.
I kiss her cheek as the warmth of her body
escapes, like steam from a volcano.
I crawl, dragging myself across the sharp blades of
I feel truly blessed to have been given a choice, an opportunity that my Mom wasn’t offered. Obviously, her struggles, fights, and death have had an everlasting scar on my heart. It is something that molded who I am today and maybe it is what gave me the courage and strength to say, “YES! I choose to fight! I will not let this BRCA mutation destroy another generation of my family.” Life is moving forward with new hope and optimism.
Until next time, here is to my Mother’s strength, informed decisions, and hope. :)