Just after I ran my first half marathon, the catalyst for the Marathon b4 Mastectomy journey, one of my BRCA sista/bloggers had her Happy Half Birthday to her new boobs. It was June 2010. I remembered thinking, “When I have my 1/2 birthday, it’ll be May 18, 2011. Light years away.” And, yet, here we are.
Happy Half Birthday, Silicone Breasts.
When my kids each turned 6 months old, we celebrated their 1/2 year birthdays. They each got a 1/2 cake with a candle cut in half (leaving the wick intact), and a “Happy Half Birthday to You!” song. It was always a big deal to us to celebrate this occasion.
On the eve of my children’s birthdays, I get all nostalgic and stuff. I take out the scrapbooks and digital photo albums and begin my journey into the past few months and years. I re-read the journal entries I wrote as I was waiting for my contractions to become more frequent. I read through the stories of the first few days: how we came up with each name, what labor was like, who I think the baby looks like (me, of course!), and my excitement for our family.
This time, I took out a different album. It was a birth journey of a different kind, right? I took out my Marathon B4 Mastectomy album, surfed through this blog from the very first post, and recalled the fear, anxiety, tears, joy, relief, pain and triumph. I recalled the warmth of strangers, friends, and co-workers as I reflected on fundraisers, bowling tournaments, cards, art projects, and kindness in so many forms.
I saw the last photo I had taken, of my original breasts, which now seem saggy, tired, and lifeless. It’s like they knew it was time. I look back at them, as if they were telling me it was time to go. To let go. To move on.
I watched the video I had made at 5:00am, the day of my surgery, thanking friends for reading, walking, running, crying, supporting and guiding me all those months. I heard the fear in my voice. The trembling in my lips. “I’m scared,” I thought. Then, I opened my prescription bottle that held one single pill. Who would have known that 12 hours later, I would be unable to push-click-turn the top of a prescription bottle for another 3 weeks because surgeons would slice my chest open, severing muscles that I needed for the most basic tasks? I washed the Ativan — a single pill of an anti-anxiety medication — down with a small glass of water, making sure not to sabotage answering “No, doctor, I haven’t had anything to eat or drink” to the anesthesiologist charged with putting me to sleep.
And, I let go.
I kissed my kids goodbye. My husband drove me to our “second home” (Mass General). A former Stonehill student put me up in a first class room at the hospital. My husband Twittered, Facebooked, blogged and emailed his way through the 10 hours it took for the doctors to remove my breasts, reconstruct new ones, and see me out of the ICU. The next day, my family, showed up at some point. I heard my oldest child cried while she was at school.
“I feel like I’ve been stabbed,” I whispered, mustering up barely enough breath to speak.
“You were,” replied my husband. “For an entire work day.”
That day, surgery day, remains the most viewed post of the Mb4M blog — over 800 people read his entry while I was in surgery.
Looking back on those early pictures, once I finally had the courage to peek under my compression bra and take photos, I have a hard time believing it was real. Though the scars on my chest are still pink and thick; the implants are still feel totally foreign; and the skin around my breasts still have no feeling, I can’t remember what life was like before my surgery. I can’t remember the feel of my breasts, the shape of my body, nor the ways my arms moved. I can’t remember what it was like to not feel tension in my chest. To not feel my body quiver when I push it just a little too far. To not feel my shoulders tense up when I sleep.
The photos, especially from the first few weeks, just look like I’d been beat up. I’m bruised. Swollen. Tired. And, it’s clear my body is not quite my own. Now, 6 months later, I’ve connected with my body through physical training, talking with other women who have had mastectomies, and engaging in cancer wellness exercise. My body is beginning to feel like a part of me again. I’m beginning to feel whole.
After my surgery, I was sure that I would bounce back. I never imagined that I’d still be talking about recovery six months later. Of course, here we are. I’m told that recovery is actually a life long process. I’m told that, just like motherhood, it will be nearly impossible to remember a life before it changed. And, true enough, though I sometimes miss the freedom of going out to a late night movie with my husband or eating dinner that doesn’t involve macaroni and cheese, I can’t imagine a life before my children. I can’t remember a life before diapers, sippy cups, and stained shirts.
I did think that, by now, I would have already run another half marathon (ha!). I thought by now I’d be back in shape, running, lifting, and moving with ease. I saw a race that I registered for come-and-go, and my ticker on my blog reminds me that I have another race in just over a month. Will I be ready for that race? Will my body be ready for another test? Am I living a life of Half, while my Full is waiting for me to catch up?
No. Instead, I will let Time be my trainer. Let Patience be my routine. And let Love be my training log.
Happy half birthday. Here’s to many, many more.
Peace, love, and celebrations,