Today, I’m reminded of what “Goliath” means. Though, I don’t often recognize milestones along my breast cancer road, I think it’s right to say, I’ve got one.
My reconstruction is officially complete. Finished, done…That lofty, elusive goal, so unattainable for many breast cancer patients and more than two years in the making for me, has actually been achieved.
The notion of putting breast cancer behind us, or being finished with some aspect of it, is hard to grasp, despite what many well- meaning, non-cancer people like to say.
We can’t be done.
Our reality is always another blood test, another scan, another appointment and good news that spins in an instant with a new pain, a rising tumor marker, an unidentified shadow.
To be finished with cancer when treatment ends sounds so good in theory, but it’s really a carrot dangling in our faces, a gleaming, brass carousel ring taunting us to grab it and we never quite can.
I consider this as I drive to my tattoo follow up and realize there’s no need to see my plastic surgeon after today. There’s nothing left to reconstruct. Perhaps, it is possible to finish something.
Memories of my initial consultation come back to me. Maybe I shouldn’t compare then to now, but I can’t help it. For a happy day, I’m not feeling particularly happy. Obviously, I want to be done with reconstruction, yet liking the finished work doesn’t seem enough. I need to measure how far I’ve come in some other way. How else can I leave behind something that’s literally taken so much blood, sweat and tears?
It has to matter.
These days I go to my appointments alone, but that first, scary day, I drove in a car I no longer have with my husband at my side. I had chosen my breast surgeon, but my decision of lumpectomy or bilateral mastectomy was yet to be made. Surgery still to be scheduled. Extent of my invasive ductal carcinoma, unknown. I remember the moment my plastic surgeon opened the door, seeing him for the first time, thinking he didn’t look anything like his website photo, (in a good way).
I couldn’t articulate what I wanted from reconstruction. I couldn’t see past the cancer. Discussing what I liked or didn’t like about my breasts was unfathomable. I needed this man, this stranger, to provide all the answers without asking questions and maybe that was unfair of me, but at that moment, answers were hard to come by.
Somehow, I muddled through a bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders, a summer of fills followed by implant surgery. I had to learn revisions were part of the process. Though I was thrilled to have the shape of breasts again along with the softness of implants versus the rock hard feel of expanders, something never felt or looked quite right and my surgeon agreed.
It was frustrating feeling dissatisfied with the results. Everyone else I knew with reconstruction were all smiles. What was my problem? I must be too picky, expect too much. I should just deal with it. I lived with an uncomfortable implant for nearly a year. I just couldn’t comprehend another surgery.
Who revises their implants?
Turns out, lots of women. I realize now, there’s nothing wrong, or selfish, in getting it right, which, is what my surgeon said, but accepting that was my issue to bear.
Afterward, nipples and tattoos were procedures keeping me up at night. The idea of being awake for nipple reconstruction so terrified me, my knees shook as my surgeon measured and marked me with his Sharpie that day, but I endured and he told me everything was ok.
It’s impossible to say how I’d react had I known my reconstruction (it’s different for everyone) would take well over two years. I don’t know. I may have opted out of the whole thing, so I’m glad I didn’t know. These days, I feel it was worth it. It’s nice being comfortable, believing it looks good and though none of it’s real…It has become me.
As I sat waiting, I thought about not seeing my surgeon again. Strange, thinking someone with whom I’d shared so much would disappear from my life. His was the first face I saw after waking from the mastectomy. His voice said my lymph nodes were clear. I wasn’t the best or most communicative patient at times. Modesty is a hard trait for me to shed and that didn’t help, but I think we reached an understanding and in the end, a great achievement.
Searching the faces sitting around me, I saw lots of people with cancer and many with a long road ahead. Perhaps, longer than mine. I knew then, I could say thank you and goodbye. There were new patients to help, important work to be done and I was ready to give up my seat.
I finished something, a big accomplishment, but that hasn’t stopped paranoia from coming around reminding me of my upcoming oncology visit and not to get too happy. But, that’s another post.
Reconstruction questions? Feel free to ask away.