Life is about choices. We face them everyday. Some of my hardest choices have been about cancer treatment. Is it aggressive enough? Is it worth the side effects?
When I was faced with my surgery options, I was frozen. I was numb. I was terrified. You name it. I had never imagined what I would think when faced with the prospect of a mastectomy, but I didn’t expect that. I had some first-hand observations. My mom had a mastectomy back when I was 4 or 5. I used to play with her prosthesis, and the need for it was not a mystery to me, even at that age. And that’s perhaps why the idea so petrified me at the last minute.
I followed my doctors’ advice. In the end, they told me I was a candidate for a lumpectomy, and left the decision up to me. I went with the lumpectomy. It made sense, or so I told myself. After all, it was an easier surgery with less recovery time. I likely wouldn’t need additional surgery. And most importantly – I didn’t have to make the hardest decision of my life.
Was it the best decision? I don’t know, although I try not to second guess myself. It still was a legitimate decision based upon the information at the time. What I couldn’t have guessed at was the reality. I couldn’t have foretold that I would have to undergo a second surgery a week later to remove more lymph nodes. I would not have predicted that I would end up with an incision that would split open, and not close up for nine months. It never would have occurred to me that I would end up with a fist-sized lump of scar tissue underneath a 2″ X 4″ scar that hurts constantly and is a great predictor of rain. Or a breast that shrank a size smaller than the healthy side after radiation.
I won’t say it’s bad, but my radiation oncologist refers to me as “the scar”. My plastic surgeon put it even more baldly, “What the hell did they do to you?” I’m really not concerned about the appearance, but I’m tired of it aching and hurting. And the nerve pain that it causes periodically in my arm. And the fact that it feels like one big lump, such that all my doctors tell me that they can’t feel if anything else is there. When I first went for a consult with the plastic surgeon, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, if anything. As I have followed up with him, my reaction has surprised me. I told him to reduce the mangled side as much as he can, as well as evening out the good side. I told him that even a mastectomy was on the table, if that was what it took.
The ease of that last statement shocked me. I’ve changed so much in the last two years. Losing my breasts is not the worst thing that can happen to me. I’ve met so many women who have faced this decision so much more bravely than me, and I realize now it’s not the end of the world. I understand how important the rest of me is. And I know what a warrior my mom was, and I want to think I have a bit of that badassery in me.
So tomorrow is my surgery. Currently, it is a bilateral breast reduction that will hopefully make me more comfortable and pain free, as well as giving me peace of mind by removing some extra tissue. But I’m prepared for any outcome now or in the future.
My choice. Because I’m not ruled by fear.