Sunday, June 8, 2014

Accepting The New Girls on the Block

"If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with. Love the one you're with."

(This quote is about your breasts, not your life partner)

So, when I had the double mastectomy, I was so drugged up, I really did not mourn my breasts and was just focused on resting, recovering, emptying my drains (gross!). Then during the expansion process, I was so uncomfortable for 5 months, I didn't focus on how I looked. I kept looking forward to the "exchange surgery" on April Foobs Day when the bionic boobs would be exchanged for the silicone implants. I was excited as that day signaled the end of a long and painful journey. The new me was about to emerge.

The surgery went great. My doc almost put the wrong size in though, and a courier had to drive to a different hospital to get the CORRECT size for me. That courier thought someone was playing an April Fool's Day joke on him by asking him to pick up someone's new breasts. No joke!

The day after I got home from the hospital, I took a shower.  When I looked down, suddenly I felt normal again. My doctor had fashioned a nipple from my own skin (go to youtube and search "modified skate flap" to see how it's done). Much later on, a tattooed areola will be permanently done by a man named Lenny with a patch over one eye and a tattoo on his forearm that says, "I love Mom".

I have to say that from my bird's eye view looking down that day, everything looked perfect. I couldn't see the scabs and the scars. All I could see were 2 real looking breasts and what looked like my old nipples. For a split second, I felt like the cancer and all that had happened in the previous year never happened. It was quite surreal, just feeling normal again. I felt whole again. I felt like there was hope for healing. I felt like crying, I was so damn happy.

And then weeks went by and the reality set in. I still felt like these implants, as permanent as they are, were just another temporary thing. It finally hit me that I would never see the old ones again.  Then I started feeling stuck and sad, hence the counseling appointments! (See prior blog)

In addition to counseling, I sought out the advice from my pink sisters. Chances are always great that someone relates to exactly how I'm feeling. Well, one bright, shining, half glass full girl named Amber looks at her new breasts differently. She said that her old breasts tried to kill her and she worked too damn hard (between surgeries, chemo, etc) for her NEW breasts, that she grew to like them. She's super happy with the way she looks and she views her breasts as part of her now.  Amber has moved forward.

However, everyone is different and to compare your emotional reactions to someone else's is not helpful.  It just puts more pressure on you to feel happy, causing you to feel like a failure.  Having said that though, many can learn from Amber and I am trying my damndest to accept my new breasts. 

One of my other Pinkies named Pazit, treats them more like an accessory. I call them their own entity. In fact, I have no problem showing people because technically, I feel like they're not really mine. Dear lord, I even showed them to my therapist last week (she's a woman, but still, I'm worried I may have boundary issues now). I may need to get a Groupon for all of these visits!

How do women come to fully embrace these new breasts? I don't know. Should I have some sort of ceremony for them? A coming out party? Should I faithfully tell them how much I love them every day? Should I find a good hypnotist?

Only time will tell.

One more thing. We feel guilty for feeling this way, you know. We always feel the need to say how grateful we are and lucky to be alive and that these things are just superficial. In fact, I was in the shower today and suddenly I heard the Bee Gees singing, to the tune of "You should be dancing":

"You should be grateful. Yah!  You should be grateful, Yah!"

Listen, give it a rest, Brothers Gibb.  We are grateful and we need not feel guilty for feeling sad about some very important body parts gone M.I.A.

In summary: As you can see, if you are struggling with the same feelings as moi, you can tell that I have not been much help. This whole experience is like on the job training. I've never done this before either. I'm like that awful waitress who keeps spilling coffee on your lap. 

But one of these days, I am going to get it right. I have hope that my coffee cup will be half full, just like Amber's.

Now What? Coping With the Aftershocks of Breast Cancer

Some days, I'm so damn happy,  I feel like Mary Poppins with Pop Rocks in my undies. Other days, I feel like a morose and apathetic teenager, slouched over my desk in detention hall.  Such is the emotional roller coaster of the "Now What?" after breast cancer.

My doctors have told me to move forward, live my life, and stop worrying. I have a 90% chance of never having a recurrence. Pretty darn good odds. Cause for celebration. Rah. Rah.

Then why do I feel so unsettled and stuck? If I had a band, it would be called "No Direction". I feel sad, forgetful, foggy, and sometimes I just don't care about anything.  I'm not curled up into a ball with the covers over my head and the shades drawn. No, I am very high functioning and to the outside world and many family and friends, I am just fine.  The funny part is that I'm doing everything humanly possible to help me to feel good. I exercise at least 5 days/week. I take yoga classes. I eat well. I say no to things that serve no purpose to me, and I say yes to the things that do. One would think that all of this tender loving self care would have a positive influence on my psyche but not so much. Imagine if I didn't do all those wonderful things? Yikes!

I have been told that all of my feelings are perfectly normal. Some have compared these post breast cancer feelings to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Like war veterans, we have flashbacks too. We hear of a friend being diagnosed or we reach a special "Cancerversary". It all comes flooding back and we relive everything like it's happening to us again.  That feeling of constantly being under a terrorist attack is hard to break from and for me, the first sign is my throat starts to close up. Then the downward spiral begins, again.
I suppose I could keep these private feelings private. However, I find that when I put it out into the universe, I feel better for releasing it. I also know that at least one other person on this earth also feels the same way. So, I'm willing to take this risk. I realize it's a vulnerable place to be; you knowing my innermost feelings. It's like reading my diary.  If it helps you or someone you know, then I'm willing to share. There's nothing worse than feeling alone with your feelings. It's like standing on an island by yourself but you must know, you are not alone if you are feeling the way I do.

Every day I find myself asking this same question. What. Just. Happened? It's still very hard to wrap my brain around so many events and bodily changes in an 11 month period. Did it really happen? How could I have had cancer? Doesn't cancer happen to other people? You'd think by now, it would feel real, but no. It's all so very weird!

People have joked to me about finally getting the "boobs I've always wanted". While it may sound like a cute and funny thing to say, these really AREN'T the boobs I've always wanted. Breasts should have feeling in them. These don't. Breasts shouldn't feel like they are "attached to you". These do.  I finally realized after my last surgery that I am stuck with these forever, unless of course, I decide to have them removed, which isn't an option for me right now. 

Looking at this very changed body every day is hard. Some days it's OK but others?  I'm very sad that this is the way it has to be. I know I made the right choice to save my life and have no regrets. But it's still hard. And yes, I'm still grateful. (Why do I feel like I need to keep saying that? Isn't it kind of obvious that I'm grateful?)  But I'm allowed to be sad about what will never come back.

After trying to sort everything out in my own head for too long and only making things much worse (that's what anxiety does. It completely spirals out of control if you don't stop it!), I finally took the leap and went to see a counselor last week.  She told me that she sees women who've had breast cancer and never sought therapy until 5-10 years after their bc journey. She said they have a much harder time understanding why they feel so emotionally horrid and don't even connect the dots back to their breast cancer.  Wow. Imagine holding it in for years and years?

I'm glad I took the leap to counseling. My friend told me that the strongest people seek help, so I guess I am strong.  

I am certainly not ashamed of it and I encourage anyone who is struggling with anything in their life, not just a disease, to seek help for it. No one should live a life in pain and silence. And thank you Jesus, I found a therapist who uses the "F" word on occasion. Phew...

One more thing from my therapist. As we talked about the new breasts and trying to adjust to the loss of the old ones, she said, "It sounds like you need to welcome the new ones into your body and accept them as a part of you", (of course, I'm paraphrasing because I can't remember shit anymore!).  I never really thought of it like that and now, going forward, that is on my "to do" list every day: Try to accept things now as they are and learn to love the new and strange parts of me, along with the old and strange parts of me.

I know it's going to take time and thankfully, time is on my side now. In my next blog, I will delve a little deeper into rolling out the welcome mat for my new breasts. Stay tuned!