On December 19th, nearly 3 months after the ultrasound that revealed my cancer, I underwent a double mastectomy. I think back to that day when my surgeon called with the results of the MRI and recommended that I have the surgery. I had been leaning towards the option, but to hear the doctor reiterate that it was really my only choice, I felt gutted. I recall being in the car when she called, having just picked Hattie up from school. I try to shield my kids from the moments that are particularly hard for me, but that time I could not and I cried the whole way home as the reality of the situation became clearer.
The days and weeks leading up to surgery were peppered with moments of grieving. You come to quickly realize that cancer is one of those big hurdles where life becomes measured in before and after; the shifting sand between the two being treacherous and filled with uncertainty. There is a floodgate of feelings that come when you are faced with undergoing major surgery that will remove your cancer but at the price of altering the body you’ve worked really, really hard to make peace with.
At some point, however, you just stop resisting and surrender. And so I did. About 5 minutes before surgery began, I knew there was no turning back and the only way through this surreal experience was to walk head-on into it. With Bryan by my side and tears streaming down my face I leaned in and let go.
It has been a week since surgery. I am healing well and not in terrible pain. (It turns out this avid runner makes for a pretty good couch potato too.) My pathology report came back and it was as good as we could have hoped for. No cancer on the right side and clear margins. I felt relieved to know that the doctor felt confident she’d gotten it all and angry all at once. Something so small caused tremendous upheaval in my world. The emotional side of recovery mirrors the physical with many ups and downs. I find that my emotions sneak up on me at the most unexpected times like when slipping on my new Christmas pajamas or in the elevator at my post op appointment. All of a sudden my new normal is right there in front of me and I feel blindsided by feelings of “How did I get here?” I just want to have a good long cry. So I do.
But thankfully, life often pairs difficult times with some of its most lovely.
Way back when I first received my diagnosis, I was determined to keep my eyes and ears open for the bright spots along the way; to collect them up like petoskey stones gathered up on a beach walk. While this week has been one of the most challenging thus far; it was filled with glimmers of light. The mother of one of Ben’s childhood friends works in the surgery department at Munson. She came in right before I was taken into the OR and held my hand the entire way while gently reminding me I was not alone. A small but powerful gesture of kindness that still makes me weepy. Another moment came when my sweet Hattie braved a peak at the aftermath of my surgery and said, “Mom you look great! You are so dang beautiful!” Visits with cousins I don’t see often, texts from friends I haven’t heard from in years. And finally unwrapping a Christmas gift for my little tribe that was given to us by members of our families and friends; a generous amount of money collected to send our family on a much needed getaway. Wow.
Cancer is humbling. It has rocked my world and stolen more than its fair share. And it also reveals some deep truths. It has shown me that I am pretty tough. That I am more than the sum of my parts and that my family is truly and unconditionally loved by those around us. And for that I am grateful.