How much can one body (and mind) handle….
Up until the age of 23 I thought I was very lucky never needing stitches or having any broken bones! For a girl, I always played hard with having two older brothers to keep up with. I remember ‘toughing it out” once when a 6pack carrier of bottled coca cola exploded one summer day when I was carrying it home from the local store. The heat and the shaking just made them all explode leaving a large gash in my leg on the side of my knee from the glass. But I knew I didn’t want to go to the hospital for stitches so we bandaged it up (didn’t bend my knee for like a week) and it eventually healed. My first true scar and an experience I’ll never forget.
Now at 59 and looking back I can’t believe (what I like to consider to still be on the younger side), how my body looks like a battle field! Now some of these scars are happy ones which I welcome from the births of my children, the others I can say make me a 4 time survivor but all together this plays a lot with my physical and mental status.
So, here’s how it played out;
Age 23: After 33 hours in labor my first born was delivered by cesarean section (cut vertical from the belly button down) Who cared about the surgery, I had a son!
Age 26: Pregnant but miscarried
Age 27: Pregnant carrying twins (possibly triplets and miscarried one) both delivered safely full term, cesarean section (cut horizontally). Without a doubt feeling ecstatic even though my stomach looked like an anchor with two cuts different ways!
Age 31: Pregnant but miscarried
Age 32: Had my tubes tied (internal scar)- Happy family of 3 sons and didn’t need another miscarriage
Age 35: Tummy tuck to re-attach the stomach muscles from C-sections due to severe recurring back issues. Long horizontal scar from hip to hip.
Age 37: First breast cancer diagnosis, had lumpectomy and needed to go back in again to gain clean margin (so 2 surgeries)
Age 39: Second breast cancer diagnosis, another lumpectomy in same breast, same scar
Age 48: Third breast cancer diagnosis, lumpectomy, back in again for clean margin (2 surgeries) Then radiation completed to breast.
Age 48: Sentinel node tested (scar in armpit area)
Age 49: Full Hysterectomy -cut horizontally (so much for re-attaching stomach muscles!) because I had genetic testing and learned I carry the BRCA2+ gene mutation which put me at a high risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Age 58: Emergency Appendectomy (begged to have it laparoscopically to save stomach muscles as much as I could)
Age 59: Fourth breast cancer diagnosis- Skin sparing Double Mastectomy with Latissimus Dorsi Flap with Expanders Reconstruction. Also, re-opened sentinel node scar (both sides back muscle scars and mastectomy...)
Age 59: Exchange surgery to take place, date TBD and whatever else is needed for this current diagnosis.
So, as I sit with my husband watching a TV series (while recuperating from the mastectomy) which happens to include a hot sex scene, I began to cry. Yes, the girl was probably half my age but it still made me think back. Did I ever believe my body would have gone thru so much making me feel like it looked like a battle field? Between the scars on the outside, the hormonal affects inside, I am not the same woman I used to be. Inside my head I think I can be but physically I’m frequently reminded I’m not! And why me? How could one not be sad?
In addition to feeling a little sorry for myself, I feel so sorry for my husband. While he couldn’t be any more loving or supportive it’s still incredibly difficult with constantly new challenges. He is my rock and I know I could never have done any of this without his forever love. But in the almost 39 years of marriage, many of them have had a variety of post-surgery care needed. He has emptied more surgical drains than most partners might make dinner!
How can one deal with all of the physical and mental scars they see and feel each day?
At the same time, in my mind I know the flip side, the positive glass half full way to look at life. These warrior scars plus child bearing to hysterectomy have made me a mother of 3 amazing wonderful sons and a survivor. I look down and see a road map of how my body has battled back, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to look and see. I’m a survivor. I know we all wear our scars differently, and in many cases, proudly. For my brother, his mastectomy provides the opportunity for conversation and a way to hopefully bring awareness and save lives for male breast cancer. For a woman, there are so many options today if diagnosed with breast cancer (or as a previvor); whether to choose reconstruction, or what type of reconstruction? Implants and what type? All are hard decisions to make. The lasting effects have both physical and mental challenges. Find what works for you, for some a support group, for others that "one" person, for myself it's often sharing in a blog. Most important is no one is alone on this journey of warrior scars, women and men/pink and blue.
My new “foobs” are cancer free and along with the hysterectomy, hopefully will allow me to live a healthier longer life. So, while I’m still uncomfortable at almost 5 weeks’ post mastectomy and a bit emotional, I will take one day at a time to find my new normal once again. I will make more adjustments, and figure it out as I go. This may not have been the body I envisioned but it is life and I will re-learn how to live it again and again each time, with each opportunity. If anything, I believe it has only improved me as an even more caring, helpful and thoughtful person. And I’m still thankful (to date) I have still never had any broken bones!
Modeh Ani- I Am Thankful