Six Months

Exactly six months ago at this time, I was just awakening into post-mastectomy reality, which was confusing because a giant, colorful unicorn was bobbing blithely around the foot of my hospital bed.

Six months. The longest, shortest six months.

The first two months were a roller coaster of events but there was one main objective: recovery. It was emotional and painful and scary, yet somehow I remained chipper. I had a good routine and amazing support. I rocked recovery. I was even able to make it to a girls’ cruise just after the two month mark, and introduce the new boobs to the world.

But, I hit a wall. Then I slid into a pit. It was a delayed low that I did not expect. I was having a hard time accepting my reconstructed chest, in all its imperfectly perky glory, and spent a lot of mental energy fantasizing about explantation. I procrastinated on starting Tamoxifen, naturally, and so that was just ramping up its rude blockade of my perfectly good estrogen. My antidepressant had recently been changed. And I got a raging sinus infection that had me down for weeks. So, it was hard to tell which aspect of life was to blame for my funk, but it didn’t matter. I descended into a zombie-like state of existence.

It is only natural that the people who were so present when cancer burst onto the scene, faded back into the patterns of their own busy lives. It would have been awkward if they hadn’t. My feelings were not hurt, but some days were very lonely. My wounds were fully healed. I was physically back to “normal.” I was even back at boot camp, the one thing I thankfully kept constant. It’s not like I could call someone up and say, “I’m too depressed to get the laundry done.” Except I could have, and I should have, although I’m not sure I had yet articulated that in my own head. I definitely didn’t feel like I should be depressed. I had the best possible breast cancer outcome. What was my problem? Husband tried his hardest to give me space and yet gently press me on, oh, speaking to him about what I was thinking and feeling, all while keeping the house afloat.

About a month and a half ago, someone in an online cancer support group asked for words of wisdom as she was preparing for her mastectomy. My go-to advice is to take the pain pills on a SCHEDULE for the first three to four days but then be fully, pharmacologically prepared for the consequent intestinal gridlock. However, this particular time, I unloaded about the state of my psychological affairs, eventually making the sage proclamation, to my fellow breast cancer recipient, to give herself grace. That any reaction, at any point in the process, regardless of her results and outcome, should be permitted and validated. I’d like to say that it was an epiphany and that I walked away granting myself that same grace I so easily recommended, but things are better than they were.

In May, I was healthy and strong enough to participate in my first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure as a survivor. Over the few months prior, I avoided thinking about it, still experiencing some level of denial and imposter syndrome, unsure about how I felt about the very word “survivor.” But my Burn Boot Camp family rallied a team and I decided to do it. The day of the race was hot and humid. The five kilometers felt like ten, but my running buddy stayed by my side and another friend and trainer pushed me through the final stretch with the perfect encouragement and support as I attempted a sprint to the finish line. At a few points, when I felt like stopping, I tried to conjure a Hallmark-Channel-worthy mental montage of all my obstacles since diagnosis and how I navigated them, complete with Billie Joe Armstrong and his acoustic guitar serenading that unpredictable time of my life… except, it was hot, like I said, and it turns out I had to put all my attention to breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. Which was, of course, the perfect metaphor. I’ll just keep doing that.

“So take the photographs and still frames in your mind, Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time…” Green Day, Nimrod, 1997


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!