May 20th, 2018. Sunday. A cold typical May-Gray day in San Diego. Two months post nipple sparing double mastectomy with reconstruction. The day before I go back to work.
Yes, I took all of the 8-weeks time off recommended by my plastic surgeon and I am thankful I did. Originally I thought I would take 4-weeks and be ready to go. Boy was I wrong! I had to accept that I went through major surgery. The tissue expander pain and the psychological pain have been intense. And although I am anxious about returning to my job, I am ready to finish out the school year with my students and my Special Education team. The anxiety after surgery is something I couldn’t have predicted. This overwhelming sense of fear and change, coupled with my relief that I am “over” the worst of it, makes me feel off balance and confused. When I realized I had nothing left to do like surgery recovery, follow-up appointments, prescription fills, tissue expander fills (I only have one left!), my mind went to the emotional side I hadn’t really dealt with. I could have died. I could have needed chemo or radiation. I could have lost my hair. My mom could have died. My sister could have it. We could have to go through all of this again.
All of those “could have” thoughts that make me feel like I’m stuck in a room where the ceiling and the floor are slowly closing in on me. It is easy to think to yourself that you should feel fine when everyone tells you how great you are doing, how inspirational you are, how you look so good. But only you know where the dark places, the unhealed places, still lie.
After some tears, and a good conversation with my mom, I identified that I needed to do some work on the emotional side of cancer recovery. Working out again was the first step. I’m nowhere near where I was before. Running feels strange with these rock hard expanders on my chest. I can use the water rower but have to constantly remind myself to go slow because the first time I went too hard and my entire upper body screamed the next day (I like to win, ok?). I’m also back down to the 8-10 lb weights which makes me feel disappointed. But each time I go I feel better. I feel like myself. And I know that I am getting stronger and losing the weight I’ve put on from all of this.
I also get to wear this kick-ass shirt so that helps.
Side note: The Empower and Zip-It sports bras from Athleta are no-joke amazing! So much support and room for padding for those who opt for no reconstruction. The front zip makes it easy to get them on and off expanders with ease.
My friend Rachael from Willow Grove asked me to go with her to a Health and Wellness panel featuring a podcast host she listens to (Podcast by Scout) and local women with businesses in the field. Saffron and Sage is a beautiful space in Mission Hills that felt calming the minute we walked in for the panel. Afterwards, I decided to schedule a consultation with the owner and treated myself to a trial membership and an Acupuncture/Cupping session. Trust the journey, remember?
I’ve always wanted to try both of these non-Western medicine practices. My practitioner was patient and allowed me to use my own pillow I brought to make myself comfortable lying on my chest for the first time since my surgery (think pillows above and below my expanders making a hole for them to rest in). It felt wonderful on my neck, shoulder, and back which have been very tight and sore for the last two months. The cupping left bruises, but they don’t hurt, and I imagined them pulling out all the negativity from my sore muscles. I also started attending their Yin Yoga and Meditation classes. Let’s just say, I’m not great at either. I’m not flexible and my body is even tighter than it was before surgery. My brain is even more of a mess. Turning off my thoughts before cancer was hard enough and I’ve always failed at meditation. But as they keep reminding me, it is a practice and I feel amazing taking the time to reflect in a peaceful environment with gentle guidance. Shout-out to Joy who led me in a surprise one-on-one Yin Yoga session that was incredible. Thank you for sharing your friend’s story and embracing mine.
I have felt more grounded from just the handful of classes and sessions I’ve taken. My spirit feels stronger although my body continues to foreign to me. As I continue on this journey to my new normal I will need to remember to make room for all the feelings and emotions I experience. Fear, anxiety, relief, joy. Who knew surviving cancer could make you feel all the feels?
P.S. My next post will explain my surgery details and include some graphic medical images. I will add a warning at the top, but this is your official first notice.
P.S.S. Please send any specific questions you have so I can answer them. Turns out I haven’t explained the process as well as I thought!