Monday, November 7, 2016
More Decisions, More Surgery
Three weeks after September’s surgery, I was scheduled to have yet another lumpectomy. The pathology results had shown that the margins weren’t clear for one of the two tumors removed, meaning some cancerous cells might have been left behind. Two days before that surgery, my doctors called. They had presented my case at a weekly conference to the hospital’s surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists who collectively felt that I should consider a mastectomy because of the tumor’s weird behavior. They were concerned that it will spread or creep up again despite radiation and medication like it did this second time around. One minute, I’m feeling on top of the world, paying bills, pushing money into my savings account, on track with work, and texting my friends about my wonderful start to the day and the next I’m a sobbing mess. After receiving the day’s fun assignment from my Time Out New York Kids editor, I actually texted, “This is awesome!” Yeah, that kind of morning.
And then this call comes in and just devastates me. I tell the girls. “I’m about to burst,” I reply to their attempts to soothe me via Whatsapp. I run into the bathroom, close the door, and slump into the carpet. Muffled hysterics ensue.
A mastectomy. Everything gone. Mangled. Broken. Ugly. No longer sexy. Or pretty. I’ll look disgusting. No one will ever want me. The pain. It’ll hurt. What if it comes back anyway? F'ing surgery again? More intense. Will I feel an emptiness in my chest? The shock. Waking up and finding nothing there. Just gone.
The suggestion had come up in conversations before. My mom brought it up after I told my parents I’d have to have a third lumpectomy. “Mira a la Kardashian! Y Adamari López!” I corrected her that it wasn't Kim Kardashian but Angelina Jolie who'd had a mastectomy and then shut that suggestion down real quick. That’s way too drastic and never anything I would voluntarily sign up for, I told them. Even when I wrote about Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy in 2013, it still felt so distant from what I’d ever had to go through. My case didn’t feel that serious. It wasn’t even genetic!
And now, three years later, here I am. It feels so unfair to have to consider this decision. I still feel little.
I showed up at my surgeon’s office the following day and asked her a list of questions my therapist helped me write down. She put me in touch with a patient of her’s who was more than happy to chat on the phone with me for an hour, share her experience, and address any concerns I had. I researched and read about the procedure online. What to expect. The benefits and risks. I met my potential plastic surgeon and cried when he told me the process would take so much longer than I had anticipated. I thought I’d be OK by next summer, but no. A year, maybe more. I thought I could put most of this behind me in a matter of months, but because I’d already received radiation once and am supposed to go in for another round, he just didn’t want to risk complications by acting too quickly.
On one hand, this whole situation f’ing blows and quite simply, I don’t want it. Nope. I’ve only just started feeling back to normal after my last surgery and now I’ll have to go through the process all over again. The being physically helpless, the discomfort, the not being able to just do things like wash my hair and shave my arm pits or wear anything other than a button-down shirt. And don’t get me started on taking time off work. But this time around I have to accept that I’m going to need help and I simply cannot do all the things. The big-deal week-long Holiday Handmade Cavalcade I was helping organize for the fourth year in a row? I decided to back out of that along with two other markets coming up in the next month.
But here are the silver linings I’ve been clinging to since deciding that yes, I’m having a double mastectomy.
- If I do nothing, my chances of breast cancer recurrence is 30 percent. After a double mastectomy it would - supposedly - go down to 1 percent. I won’t have to look over my shoulder waiting for this to return (although I can’t front, I’m still scared something will show up somewhere else so I don’t know if that total ease will ever fully return.)
- I won’t need to go in for regular MRIs and mammograms twice a year anymore, which is great because a) those MRIs are so damn loud and obnoxious and b) fewer blasts of radiation, which just cannot be good for me.
- I can turn my lifelong insecurities about my small breasts and the turmoil this cancer has caused me into something better. After seeing the possibilities that breast reconstruction can offer and how some women have reclaimed their body by challenging society's perception of femininity by going flat, getting an amazing chest tattoo, and other feats of “I am still woman, hear me roar,” I’m hoping that I can come out of this journey appreciating my body more than I have before.
It’s been a week and a half since I made my decision and I’m still waiting for this surgery to be scheduled. This is a problem because I’ve slowly slipped into a mental space that feels like it’s not really going to happen. I’m finally feeling physically better from the last surgery. My left arm is no longer in chicken wing mode. I can wear my backpack, sleep comfortably, and be social again. I can relax because I'm good, right?
But I know as soon as I get that damn call that my surgery has been scheduled, it’s going to get way too real all over again.