The Pits

So many weird things are discussed and planned before having your boobs chopped off. I’m thankful for the support groups I’ve found my way into, and for family and friends who have lovingly and extensively researched the matter, because I’m out in left field right now, and I need help. It makes sense that my neck will feel tight after surgery and that a fuzzy, lavender-scented, bunny-shaped neck pillow that can be heated or cooled will feel fantastic. Big body wedge/pillow for the bed? Sounds amazing. I sleep on my side and stomach which is obviously a no-go post-op. My sister amazonned me both a fuzzy neck bunny and a medical grade wedge, because I certainly didn’t think of any of that. I was fretting about my daughter, who turns four just days after my surgery, and in stepped my bestie Harmony, who found a winter break day camp at the YMCA and called to reserve her a spot. (Harmony just left after spending a week with me, away from her family, two weeks before Christmas. She will get her own blog post at some point because she did oh-so-much more than set up child care!) Oh yeah, I’ll have four surgical drains dangling from my chest and I haven’t given an ounce of mental energy to a solution to that, but my mom personally experienced this and came up with her own drain hack involving fashionable scarves (naturally) which she will bring and style for me.

But the most humorously perplexing issue by far has been… my PITS. That’s right. My armpits. I haaaate armpit hair. I shave daily. It itches me if I don’t. I feel dirty even when I’m not if I have any growth whatsoever. And Harmony brought to my attention that I should address this prior to surgery after which I am not allowed to lift my arms for THREE WEEKS. Simple solution: a wax. No hair for three weeks. Perfect. Or so I thought. Apparently one has to have one to two weeks of hair growth before getting a wax. I had a pre-surgery long weekend getaway at the beach with my husband and I wasn’t going to be anything other than clean shaven as I was taking my girls out for their last hurrah in a bikini… which of course had to be excessively photo-documented. (Take a moment to imagine me, usually selfie-averse, awkwardly taking pictures of my chest from every angle on the beach. Yep. I was that person. But selfies are a practiced skill and I am just not up to par.)

The Pits
Exhibit A (Who blinks while taking her own photo?!)

There was still time thankfully and I began the arduous growing-out process. And let’s just say that I don’t have cute, fluffy, popstar pit hair which was having a moment a few years ago (or is it still?). Think less euro-chic, more lumberjack. At boot camp, I felt the need to explain my pit-uation to everyone in my immediate vicinity which of course lead to a lot of breast cancer oversharing and sweaty hugs.

Ten days in, I could take it no longer and made the executive decision that it was time to make the waxing appointment. I was so excited. But just before I hit “complete” on my online booking, I paused. I hadn’t taken any time to consider the downsides of waxing. I quickly consulted one of my online support groups for guidance and my reservations were validated. I have never waxed anything before so I have no idea how my skin will react. It could be fine, but I could also come down with anything from mild irritation to a flesh-eating bacterial infection. Lymph nodes will be removed from my armpit during surgery, flesh-eating bacteria of the pits would be, well, the pits. So, I scrapped that idea and immediately shaved simultaneously bemoaning the needless ten days of axillary annoyance and the fact that I would, in fact, have to deal with itchy, hairy pits on top of having my boobs chopped off. RUDE FOREVER!!!

As has happened in a few other instances, I took this disproportionately badly. Like almost as badly as the diagnosis itself. My brain is all confused about what and how much to feel about anything these days. But, if I do end up needing chemo and/or radiation (this is still unknown and will not be known until after surgery), I suppose losing all my pit hair would be the the one perk. Gotta take those where I can get them!

So, my last day to shave my pits will be Monday December 17. In the surgical world, time is measured by the number days after the operation. (“Post op day 1” etc.) I shall amuse myself by measuring time in no-shave days. Christmas will be no-shave day 8. Oh what fun!

Whatever, Vladimir

I received a package in the mail from the nurse manager of the breast center where I was diagnosed with breast cancer four days ago. (Wow, still smarts a little to say that.) It is a book called “Be a Survivor” by Vladimir Lange, MD. Now, I don’t know Vladimir. He might be a lovely person, but he can step aside. Really? They couldn’t find a medically, emotionally, and experientially qualified WOMAN to write (and title) this road map to my new disease and how to survive it??? RUDE. Also rude for anyone to remind me so blatantly that I do, in fact, have breast cancer. I was doing just fine in Denialville with my delightful breakfasts of Ghirardelli dark chocolates.

Also enclosed in the package was a flier for a local breast cancer support group. The nurse had mentioned this previously in a phone call so I was expecting it. But combined with Vladimir and his bossy directive, I started to feel panicky. Too real, too real, alert alert alert! I left my cranky daughter with my tired husband and sped to my new boot camp gym with a winded sensation that felt like I was already doing godforsaken burpees. On the precipice of my first genuine meltdown, I collected myself and forced myself to go inside.

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Side bar: Fitness and I have a tricky relationship. It’s on-again-off-again really. I have gained and lost the same 10-20 pounds since adolescence and have a pretty rotten self image. I’ve tried and successfully completed a variety workout programs, complete with transformation pictures to prove it. But they always come to an end and then I struggle to maintain a normal healthy lifestyle. I have two different Instagram fitness accounts that I never actually posted in because the pendulum swung back the other way before I felt lean/sculpted/satisfied enough to make the big reveal. Healthy. Eventually, I became fed up with the “fitstagram” collective, and armed with the great wisdom imparted by motherhood and my mid-30s, I tried to start a new humor blog about health and self acceptance no matter your appearance. But that didn’t get off the ground either because it wasn’t genuine — I did not accept myself. I really only wanted to humor-shame fitness obsessed people to make myself feel better. Yeah. Embarrassing. But insightful? (Hindsightful?) So over the last six months, I found myself descending into a pit of self-loathing about my appearance, about the fact that all my pants were too tight, that everything seemed to jiggle, but additionally, that I cared so much! I just wanted to be normal and happy and active and healthy and secure! I wanted to model all that for my daughter so she wouldn’t grow up with the same crazy that I have! Clearly this was cause for more of the emotional eating that started all of this in the first place. And that is when I found Burn Boot Camp. (This is not an ad. Well it sort of is, but no one is paying me!)

I signed up for a 30-day free trial, which started October 1 at their grand opening in my town. It was extremely challenging but interesting, and I had never done anything quite like it. There is a community there that is supportive and motivating. It took almost four entire weeks to see or feel any sort of progress (probably because of my chronic-dieting-related geriatric metabolism), and I spent a significant portion of that time hobbling around with muscle-related soreness. However, just before the cutoff to sign a contract with “founders” rates, I noticed some gratifying improvements. I didn’t magically look bikini-competition-ready, but I could hold a plank a little longer, lift a little bit heavier, and while the metrics only changed a little, the psychological lift of accomplishment and sisterhood had me energized and hooked. So I signed the contract on October 30. Literally the very same day that Bob showed his ugly face on a mammogram and ultrasound.

The point is that running off to boot camp is not some subtle humble brag… restrain your eye rolling. Or not. Gym selfies annoy me as much as the next non-fitness-model, but who knows, I might post some one day because I HAVE CANCER AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT. But that place is sort of my sanctuary right now and part of my journey … OK, I hear how that sounds;  eye rolls permitted.

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Exercise proved beneficial for my psyche. It no longer felt like a tunnel of doom was closing in around me. I’m super glad that I made myself go to the gym. Hopefully, I will remember to turn to it in the future, rather than full-on ostrich my head in the sand with stress and anxiety, as I often do. But I did come home, shove Vladimir and his platitudes under a pile of papers, and eat chocolate for dinner. And I’m fine with that, too.