Last week, I got out of the car in the pouring rain and saw a glorious sight. The tree I parked underneath, which I initially cursed because it was dripping all over my head as I struggled with groceries, instead suddenly became a sign of hope. There, on that bare tree, were thousands of teeny tiny little pink buds. So easy to miss, yet such a glorious symbol. Every year around this time, the world starts getting a little bit louder. I have been hearing birds each morning outside my window, and I can almost hear the sound of the flower buds bursting through the soil in our back garden.
This morning, those very same birds put a little spring in my step as I got out of bed. I opened the blinds and smiled at the sight of my newly planted window boxes with happy little yellow and purple pansies blooming. I admired my newly flowering tulips as I sipped my coffee in the backyard and, then, as I opened my Outlook calendar, the spring in my step turned into a verifiable leap of happiness. Today is my final inflation!
That's right, people, spring has sprung here in Boston....and so have.... my boobs!
Probably one of the hardest things about having a double mastectomy, especially at the ripe old age of 26, is that when you tell people you are having "a double mastectomy and reconstruction" they assume that you wake up with new boobs. Far from it, my friends. I've had to work for these here little ladies. It's been slow and hard and painful.
Even though I had been dealing with scars on my breasts for five years before I ever had my double mastectomy, and even though for five years I was taking hormone therapy that took my once C cup boobs and shrunk them down to a generous A, even though I had worked in breast cancer and seen mastectomy scars both in person and online, and while I was on some level afraid of all that my boobs had done to threaten my life, nothing can prepare you for that moment when you see your very own mastectomy scars for the first time.
Granted, my surgeon did an amazing job. Honestly, if there were a Heisman Trophy for mastectomy surgery, my doc would be a shoe in, but the sense of loss was unexpectedly overwhelming. It hit me in the gut...hard. I know in my heart I made the right decision, and since I've had the surgery, I've slept better than I have in years. I know I have done everything that I can do to keep this cancer at bay, but there are certain things with a double mastectomy that you can't prepare for. For example, in addition to the scars across your chest, you lose all feeling from your belly button to your collar bone. That is heartbreaking, and it serves as an everyday reminder of all that you have lost.
The grief I felt was particularly difficult over the past six months when I would try to resume my normal life. Behaving like a normal 26 year old is incredibly important to me. I will leave the chemo chair and go to a birthday party. I vividly remember leaving one of the most difficult appointments of my life where a doctor gave me some bad test results, and heading directly to a cocktail party. I could have canceled, but I figured, I don't know how much time I have left. I most certainly will not spend what precious time remains - be it 5 more nights or 5,000 more nights- in bed feeling sorry for myself.
Manicures, pedicures, shopping for the perfect dress or shoe, getting dressed up and being told you look great even though you just left the hospital, those moments have kept me hopeful and alive. Then, after the mastectomy, I didn't fit into any of my shirts. I felt ugly. I felt ugly, and no amount of make up was going to hide that.
Also, contrary to what the name of the procedure "double mastectomy with reconstruction" implies, I didn't wake up with boobs after my mastectomy. Instead, I woke up with expanders in my chest, empty balloons that will one day create boobs. A lot of my friends didn't understand that, at least not until they saw me.
Over the past six months, I have visited my plastic surgeon once a month and he has slowly stretched my skin and inflated those balloons in my chest. We have slowly recreated boobs. The process has been painfully slow, not physically painful, just mentally painful. I liken it to when you are growing out your hair- you just don't think it will ever happen.
My first inflation, I was scared about pain so when I got home from the plastic surgeon and surveyed the damage in the mirror, I wasn't bothered too too much. I was able to quell my disappointment at the fact that my chest was still just as concave as when I started that morning. But the next month, after the second inflation, when I still left the office feeling like a 12 year old boy, I started getting a little antsy.
Instead of taking a deep breath like a sane person and realizing these are a work in progress, I saw my gray hat wearing, flat-chested body and saw myself as, for real, a 12 year old newsboy. Cue the breakdown.
But that was February. That was snow. Today is April. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, my boobs have bloomed. One day, I looked down as my doctor was slowly inserting the saline in my chest and I started to actually see boobs! Which brings us to my post today. It has happened! The Girls are back and better than ever! Today is a glorious day!
I still have to have two more major surgeries to finish my boobs, but today I just wanted to reflect with all of you:
Even though I should know this by now, life is a journey. Whenever you are having a bad day, take a deep breath and realize that tomorrow will be better. Spring will come. The sun will shine. And some day soon, you will have boobs.