If you just want the short version, here it is:
I’ve chosen to have a double mastectomy, no reconstruction.
If you’d like to know more, keep reading . . .
My decision is two-faceted, the rational and the intuitive.
- The percentages of having cancer return are the lowest with a double mastectomy.
- If I can’t tolerate the hormone-blocking pills, a double mastectomy gives me the best non-return percentages. I’ve become VERY sensitive to medications, so this is a possibility.
- My left breast where I had cancer and a lumpectomy 11 years ago has a large, hardened seroma. I had it drained eight times back then and finally gave up. It’s painful sometimes. My surgeon says that removing it will probably make that side feel better than it does now. She says that the last cancer was probably in about the worst place because it was at the bottom of my breast and close to the chest wall.
- I already have numbness on the left side because of that lumpectomy, so I know what the numbness feels like and am okay with that.
- Double mastectomy is amazingly a day surgery! I thought it would require a hospital stay.
- The anesthesiologist will use blocks for the pain. They last three days, and some women don’t even need narcotics at all after surgery.
- If the genetic testing shows the BRCA gene, the recommendation is double mastectomy. Not that I think that’s what I have, but I’ll be ahead of the game if I do.
- My surgeon says I’m a good candidate for double mastectomy.
- Reconstruction is very painful. At this point in my life, I go for less pain.
- I’ve felt all along, from the time that I knew it was “probably” cancer, that double mastectomy would be best for me.
- I slept on that last night and woke knowing it’s the best choice.
- I’ve felt for a long time that if I were ever to need a double mastectomy, I wouldn’t want reconstruction.
None of this makes it easy.
Although yesterday after talking with my surgeon, after feeling her encouraging energy, I was feeling strong, and my thought was, “Get ‘er done!! I can handle it! I’ve been through tougher surgeries like double knee replacement, so I know I can handle this!”
Today I’m feeling the fear. My intuition is saying, “It’s a good decision but it’s still hard. You will feel a loss.”
And it’s saying, “Let yourself grieve.”
So today is a teary day. I’m not sure exactly what I’m feeling other than sadness. I’m saying goodby to my breasts. I’ve had them since I was what? Eleven or twelve years old? They’re literally a part of my body. And they’re so connected to “femininity.”
Who will I be without breasts?
I’m not sure.
How will I feel? I know my physical center of gravity will be different. But I also know my sense-of-self center of gravity will be different, too.
I’ll still be a woman. But as an aging woman, one who is in the “senior” category, I don’t have “perky” breasts, so it’s less of a “practical” loss.
But it’s a loss nonetheless.
And how to navigate that feeling?
There’s no pat answer. I know to welcome the feelings (I use the Welcoming Prayer a lot). And I know those feelings will change, sometimes rapidly. Each day, each hour, even each minute might be different. And that’s okay.
I’ve been here before with breast cancer. And with a hysterectomy. And with double knee replacement. So in some ways this place of fear and loss is familiar.
But it’s also unfamiliar. All at once!
I struggled mightily with paradox when I was in my 30s.
But now in my 60s I have less need to understand.
I realized a few years ago my compulsion to understand was a way to try to have control.
Now I’m much more comfortable with mystery. My rational brain can’t figure everything out. And it shouldn’t.
Because wisdom usually lies in not-knowing. Wisdom knows there is so much that is beyond our control.
So much that lies within paradox.
So here I am (again) letting go. Of literal body parts, but also of other things. Of a sense of control. Of a sense of who I am.
I’ll be honest, today has been tough. But as I said, this journey is about dealing with feelings as they come.
So today I’ll be gentle with myself. I’ll let myself feel. And that will be enough.