When I Had My Breast Removed
“Mommy, will you always have an owie?” This is the question my 3 ½ year old asked me 10 days post-op from my unilateral mastectomy last year.
It all started back in May 2017. I suddenly went from the active, social, enjoyable mom to the sick, germaphobic mom who stayed inside more often than not. My oldest was very inquisitive and emotional about the whole process of my breast cancer diagnosis. Of course, we only relayed as much information as we felt appropriate and necessary. But she’s a smart cookie and picked up on everything pretty fast…not to mention she is at my heels, so she has seen my body transform over the last 16 months.
The week before last Thanksgiving I officially had my right breast removed. After 16 chemotherapy treatments, it was time to remove the tumor that had fooled me as an assumed clogged milk duct.
I should have felt incredible relief, but I felt incredible loss.
The breast that fed my babies was suddenly gone. A part of my body was torn from my chest. It was very difficult to look at my reflection in the mirror.
Slowly as days passed and inevitable showers took place, I snuck more and more glances at my mending “owie”. I reminded myself that I accepted this recommended road as a breast cancer warrior. Instead of receiving immediate implants or removing both and receiving expanders, I was encouraged to have only the affected breast removed. For now, anyway. I decided rather than to let myself come undone, I needed to rise above and use this time to show how cancer is on the rise. How women as young as myself are not in the clear, that cancer does not discriminate.
I wanted to show what cancer does to a body… no matter what the age, weight, size, shape, race, or gender.
My daughters have had difficulty adjusting to our life this year, my oldest talks about my hair growing back and gets sensitive when we talk about mommy’s owie. She talks about how she’ll protect me and says, “Mommy, I got you.” My little girl already having to put on the armor for life’s difficulties.
It is truly amazing how resilient children are, and how full of unsinkable optimism they naturally hold. Henley, my baby, who turned one the day before I was diagnosed, has never once looked at me as anything but her mama. This blew me away.
Even when my hair fell out, when my skin became sallow and puffy, when I gained scar after scar… in her eyes I was just, mom.
And I took so much solace in that.
After the surgery, we received the best news we could hear… I had clear margins. This, in cancer talk, means at this point no cancer is detected within my body. The tumor and lymphnodes responded to treatment and had been removed. As much as I have guarded my heart, it was hard to ignore the rising excitement I felt within my chest. The sunshine peeking from behind the clouds.
That high didn’t last long as my oncologist swooped in and gave us the reality check that my tumor was very aggressive and fast growing. She said there were traces of cancer in my lymphnode pathways and fatty tissue that just could not be removed, so yes margins are clear but what I have learned about cancer is… you’re never really in the clear. That is why we did 30 consecutive days of radiation in January… the hardest part about that was childcare and driving downtown every single morning with my two little girls in tow for treatment.
Then I had to take 5 ½ months’ worth of chemotherapy pills, again to keep the cancer cells at bay. As hard as that was and as painful as my hands and feet became, we committed to being as aggressive as possible… I had to keep my eyes focused on being there for my girls. This past summer I was able to enjoy my family and an incredible road trip, free of any drugs or treatment. It was unforgettable.
When we returned I had a full reconstruction surgery to help get my body back to the body I yearned for as a young, active, (striving to be) healthy mom in her 30s.
I have no doubt that our family will come out of this unscathed. Full of a new life perspective and passionate drive for leading an extraordinary life.
I am reminded daily how important it is to cherish my time, my family, my loved ones and how essential it is to give back to those around us.
I am on the back end of this battle, God willing, on Tamoxifen for the next 10 years and determined to be as healthy, strong, and joyful as possible.