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.