It was nice to be a princess. I mean, the reason for my temporary royalty was rather unfortunate, but it did have its perks. I could get used to the regular delivery of neatly folded laundry to my room, drifting downstairs at my leisure to a fresh cup of coffee, and kissing my perfectly coiffed daughter farewell, her chauffeur sweeping her away for preschool drop off. But, unlike the monarchy, uncomplicated postoperative recovery is predictably finite, and for this I am obviously grateful. Today I am six weeks out from surgery. I dismissed the nanny and chauffeur about 10 days ago. And by that I mean that I told my loving parents that I could not adequately express my appreciation, but I knew they had lives to lead. I assured them that I was capable of at least basic self, child, and household care and they cautiously agreed.
Really my only hiccup was an elevated heart rate one day that landed me in the ER. Six hours, a CT scan with tingly-hot contrast, and a few thousand dollars later it was determined that I did not have a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung)— both cancer and recent surgery increase the risk for that. No one could figure out why my heart was beating much faster than normal, but at least no one said, well not out loud or to my face, that it was probably just my “nerves.” And maybe it was? But as a typical physician-patient who prides herself on utilizing emergency services only if mangled or hemorrhaging, I would have considered such a comment highly insulting. As I think most people would. (Doctors, please don’t ever say that. Ever.)
Now it is time to move forward. The results of my Oncotype test finally came back with a very low score which means NO CHEMO. And no more life-altering decisions. Step one in moving forward: make a hair appointment and procure some functioning styling tools. Now, I have never been known as a maven of hair care or manipulation (I made it well into my 30s before owning and learning to properly operate a flat iron), but lately my mop has gotten impressively neglected, even for me, due to my T. rex arm situation and the threat of impending baldness. Apparently my psyche dealt with the immensity of this last and important piece of good news by focusing in on something as frivolous as my appearance.
Admittedly my personality tends more towards melancholy skepticism than a state of joyful hope, but throwing cancer into the mix tips the scales even further. Cancer sometimes has a way of sapping the happiness out of celebratory situations. Even the smallest tumor (40mm all told, in my case) is still cancer, which is huge and ugly and scary. Even if the doctors “get it all,” the reality is not so absolute. Survivors are living statistics— lifespans measured in percentages, recurrence always a possibility. For my type of breast cancer, all the odds are in my favor. I am incredibly lucky and genuinely thankful. While I cannot and will not live in continual fear, still there remains that sliver of a chance it will come back again, which casts a sliver of a shadow over even the brightest spots, especially now when it is all so fresh.
Additionally, there is the issue of my new boobs. In this department I am also extremely lucky. Cosmetically speaking, given the circumstances, my switcheroo receives pretty high marks. I was able to get immediate implants, skipping the interminable middle step of soft tissue expanders (also known as the “iron bra”), and aside from a very minor brush with necrosis on one side, I was even able to keep my own nipples. So, I am not complaining or overly upset about it, but it is a fact that the new boobs are foreign and different and I am still adjusting to them and constantly aware of them. At this point, the pain from surgery is gone, the wounds are closed and the swelling resolved. However new just this week are intermittent zings of discomfort which are likely benign and expected symptoms of surgical nerve injury or regrowth, but are unsettling nonetheless. And, with every firing of a pectoral muscle fiber, I can feel the silicone orbs under there. Every time that happens, there is a twinge of concern that I am stretching too far or exerting too much, causing some sort of damage. So an action as simple as pumping hand soap out of the bottle or even yawning a certain way can trigger a momentary flood of thoughts and worry that, over the course of the day, is quite draining, dampening feelings of sweet relief.
All this to explain why it is that I have not screamed and shouted, high-fived and Facebook-exclaimed my way through any part of this whole affair, even with the best possible news. I know that as time passes, it will all feel less and less significant and urgent. My brain will eventually accept that the girls are here to stay and stop perceiving them as something new. Confidence in the healing process and my physical capabilities will grow. Life will go on, and as we make our way back into our routine, and maybe even make new plans and set off on new journeys, there will be less bandwidth available for all things cancer. Although I do find it a tad rude that in addition to ditching my princess crown and doing my own laundry again, I will be contending with some complex new psychophysical baggage. Sounds about right. At least I will be doing so with a fantastic, newly beach-waved balayage.