12 Aug When Fun-bags Stop Being Fun
“From every wound there is a scar, and every scar tells a story. A story that says, I survived.” ~ Fr. Craig Scott
I was taught by the time I was eighteen the importance of breast health: I was taught to check my breasts regularly for lumps, bumps, or other irregularities. I was taught the proper way to do a self-examination and handed some brochures; Save the ta-tas—all of that.
I didn’t give it another thought until many years later.
One day, one of my really good friends and I were engaged in a playful banter, bickering back and forth. I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember that she suddenly reached over and punched me in the boob.
Ha! A ball check for women.
Less than a week later, my reflexes failed me when I saw a medicine ball flying in my direction. Missing the catch, the ball ricocheted off my breast. Coincidentally, it was the same breast that my friend had socked the week prior.
It wasn’t too long after these two incidents that I awoke with a stabbing, throbbing pain radiating from my breast. I remember standing naked in the bathroom mirror bewildered by the red and angry glare it was giving me. It was swollen, hard, and hot to the touch.
I immediately called my doctor.
Fast forward four years: I had several biopsies done, mammograms, and breast ultrasounds. I was on antibiotics continuously over the four year period and developed severe stomach problems. I met weekly with hematology/oncology and tried some experimental medications. I even opted to meet with a Reiki healer and a Kinesiologist.
Still, the infection remained.
As traumatic as it all was, I kept a smile on my face and my tears at bay. It was important to me to stay strong for those around me. I didn’t want sympathy and obviously no one wanted to mention the white elephant in the room—was it cancer?
I cried myself to sleep, quietly, in the dark of night—almost every night. I was f*cking terrified.
Then the morning came when I met with a new doctor. I liked her immediately as she had a kind warm, grandmotherly smile. After examining my breast and having me get dressed, she walked over to me. Taking my hands in her own, her eyes filled with tears. “I think it’s time we talk about the possibility of the C word,” she said quietly.
Nodding my head in agreement, I cried an ocean of tears.
Many more tests were ran and it turned out the answer was no, I did not have cancer (*insert huge sigh of relief.*)
However, I did learn I had a very rare condition. Apparently, I am one (in a very select number of people) who had begun lactating even though I was not pregnant nor was I breast feeding. The trauma to the breast imploded one of the ducts which turned into an infection. The outcome was that I would have to have my ducts and tissue surgically removed.
I have undergone two surgeries to date.
The second surgery was the most significant and emotionally traumatic. I had so much anxiety and fear. I almost cancelled surgery several times. My mom had passed away in the same hospital five months prior. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about returning there—where I saw her take her last breath.
And my love—I know he’s been so strong for me, but is he really going to stay? And during surgery—what was going to happen?
My surgeon could not give me a straight answer as to whether I would be getting a full or partial mastectomy. (He said he wouldn’t know until he got in there and could see how everything looked).
I went into surgery with a lot of unanswered questions. I was terrified.
I had no idea whether I would still have a breast when I woke up.
Mom, God, Grandpa—someone, if you’re up there, make sure I wake up, okay?!
After months of healing, I found myself standing, once attain, naked in the bathroom mirror.
I traced the scars with my finger tips and viewed my breast from all directions. My breast looked foreign to me and I could not accept it was my own. It was ugly. It was puckered. It looked like a crater in my breast.
I was missing half an areola.
I started to cry, which quickly turned to loud sobs.
I was embarrassed by my appearance. Would other people be able to tell? Were there breast prosthetics I could purchase? Mostly, I was insecure that my love would not look at me the same. I was scared he would think of me as less of a woman.
Would he still be attracted to me?
Then I cried for my vanity. I should be grateful it was not cancer. I should be grateful it was not actually a full or partial mastectomy. But I wasn’t and this shamed me. I felt insecure and angry. I became reclusive. I was angry at the doctor when he told me insurance would only cover reconstruction if there had been a cancer diagnosis.
Unfairly, I took much of my anger out on the love of my life. I was so busy having a pity-party: party of one that I failed to notice he hadn’t left. He was still standing by my side. What I didn’t realize was that I was so afraid of him rejecting me, that I was rejecting him.
Finally, he had enough. One night, lying in bed, he started kissing me, gentle and tender. His hands worked their way up my shirt and around the back to unhook my bra. I instantly started squirming and pushed him away. I found myself getting angry—I wasn’t prepared for him to see it yet.
I found myself going into fight or flight mode.
Securing my arms over my head with one hand, he locked eyes with me. He lifted my shirt and I began to cry. I felt ashamed. I felt ugly.
I felt completely vulnerable and it scared the absolute sh*t out of me.
With loving lips, he kissed my scars with care. He hovered, lying over me and with one finger, tucked my hair behind my ear. He kissed my forehead and then my mouth. He told me I was beautiful. In that moment, I knew healing. I knew unconditional love. I felt beautiful and I knew I would be okay.
I felt something I hadn’t felt in a very long time—I felt relief.
I wish I could say that was the end and that I have fully recovered, but very recently, I had to return to the doctor. Five months after my last surgery, I awoke with an internal sharp pain in my breast. I dreaded the walk to the bathroom.
Standing naked, looking in the mirror, I barely pressed on my breast; slightly red and swollen.
When I did, I noticed a clear, bloody discharge coming from my nipple.
The tears came easily this time.
Recently, I had to restart antibiotics. I am still going through this process and do not know what the outcome will be. However, during the course of this journey, I have learned several things that I would like to share:
- Do regular breast exams. This is not something to take lightly.
- There is no right or wrong way to feel. It’s okay to feel and be authentic and transparent in your emotion. You don’t have to be strong for everyone. You need to be strong for you.
- Get a support group. Surround yourself with beautiful souls. I have become friends with many beautiful women who are cancer survivors and who have had full mastectomies. They are every bit just as beautiful with or without breasts.
- Ask questions. This process has taught me to navigate through the healthcare system. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Question medications, side effects, etc. And if you don’t feel you are receiving proper care, get a second opinion…or a third, if need be.
- Learn the facts: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
The American Cancer Society’s estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2015 are:
- About 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
- About 60,290 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
- About 40, 290 women will die from breast cancer.