I don’t think I had to go through this mastectomy experience in order to learn particular lessons, but it sure did help.
This experience has taught me that I am strong. And, in the past week, I’ve been returning back to physical exercise and realizing that I am stronger than I thought. But, while the familiar feelings of fatigue settling into my legs after a 2-mile run reminds me of my physical ability, what I’ve most appreciated are the moments of clarity that I am worth something.
When Joli was going through cancer treatments, it was all about her. My world consisted of making sure life was comfortable for her. We made decisions to physically comfort her – – as a 2-year old who was already sleeping in her own bed, Joli slept tucked in my bed, between my husband and me, as we stood guard for her dreams. We spent money on the softest clothes money could buy to cradle her skin made sensitive by chemotherapy, neupogen injections, and a port-a-cath. We bought organic food, high calorie liquid supplements during post-chemo nausea. We spent hundreds of dollars on a new DVD player and all the latest entertainment for long hospital stays. To make up for her missing eye and a lost childhood, we found ways to fill her life with anything she desired.
It was during this time that I, a social etiquette snob, became a Tiger Mom. Not the kind that makes her kid practice piano for 3 hours or miss out on sleepovers, but the kind that would scratch, claw, pounce, and maul you if you hurt my child. When we were out in public, I absorbed the quizzical — then horrified — looks of people who realized my toddler had a gaping red hole in her face. I argued with doctors — who I had grown up both fearing and respecting — about treatment protocol, symptoms, and medical results. And, I took the heat at work when people didn’t care that I had to stay home because Joli’s blood counts were low.
And, at the end of each day, after fighting for every minute and fiercely protecting my daughter from a cancer that wanted to take her from me, I would collapse and cry. I would sit in the corner of my maroon microfiber couch, curl up in a fetal position, rock back and forth, and cry. I would cry until my obsessively rational side kicked in — probably 2 minutes later. The voice in my head would tell me to stop whining, buck up, get it together, be grateful for what we have, and go kiss Joli who was snuggled in the middle of my bed. I chalked it up my 2-minute breakdowns to emotional weakness and pregnancy hormones. I’d wipe away my tears, embarrassed that I had cried again, and returned back to cleaning the house, doing the laundry, organizing medical supplies, checking the injection charts, scheduling the next round of chemo, and checking my work email. Rinse. Repeat.
The mastectomy journey, and it’s current recovery, has been different. This journey has taught me to be strong for my Self. To advocate for my Self. To questions doctors for my Self. To take control for my Self. While the Marathon B4 Mastectomy was to make sure that I was healthy enough to survive an 8-hour surgical procedure and a 6-week recovery, this new marathon after mastectomy — an emotional and physical marathon — has forced me to focus on what it teaches. It has taught me to hold my head up high, be proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. It has taught me to be inspired, to follow inspiration, and to surround myself with those who embrace life.
It has also taught me to see those who are struggling to live honestly.
When Joli was sick, friendships were tested, new ones were created, some old ones were let go. For me, this journey has taught me to see friendships, to see allies, and to sort through that which makes me weak.
One of the best lessons that I learned is about living honestly. Looking at who I am was one of the most difficult parts of this whole experience; yet, it is the one that has lasted long after the race was over. Ten weeks out, my body is beginning to return to it’s previous strength. Soon, I’ll forget what it was like to have drains hanging off of my sides. I’ll forget what it was like to see my stitches for the first time, to see my bare breasts after the swelling subsided, and to feel silicone where there was once me. I’ll forget what it was like to wake up in the hospital. I’ll forget what it was like to learn that I couldn’t carry my children. I’ll forget what it was like to step in the shower, fearful of falling. I’ll forget what it was like to spend 5-minutes putting on my underwear. I’ll forget what it was like to fear cancer.
I won’t forget what it was like to live honestly.
Long after the physical race has ended, the emotional race keeps going. It’s my marathon. I’ll remember what it feels like to run an emotional marathon long before and long after a mastectomy. I’ll remember what it was like to look deep into my soul and remove the locks and chains that kept me from living.
These days, it’s less about what the marathon and mastectomy prepared me for in the past. Today, and forever, it’s about what it teaches.
Peace, love, and learning to live honestly,