Monday, August 3, 2015

On Mastectomies and Healing

I am almost two weeks post-op from my bilateral mastectomy and axillary dissection.

When Mark and I went in to find out my biopsy results back in March, the first thing the doctor said to me was that I had breast cancer. The second thing she said was, "I'm not going to be able to save your breast". I have been dreading surgery ever since that moment. I knew from the beginning that a lumpectomy was not an option, and pretty early on I knew that I would lose not just one breast but both. I'm not afraid of surgery or pain. I had c sections with all of my babies, and I've been told I have a high pain tolerance. I definitely don't enjoy those things but they don't scare me as much as they should. But I have been dreading this surgery since day one. I was SO relieved to be finished with chemo after my last treatment in June....but I knew that the end of chemo meant the count down to surgery was inching closer and closer.

A lot of people ask me what it was like to lose my hair. If I was emotional the first time my husband saw me bald. Honestly, losing my hair wasn't a big deal for me. I didn't love my hair to begin with, and once it started falling out my head was so sore and tender that it was a relief to shave it. Being bald was annoying, don't get me wrong. I had to cover my head when people came over and constantly having a scarf or a wig on was a pain, especially in the summer heat. But most of the time around the house, I was bald. Mark and the kids aren't phased at my's just how they see me now. It's normal. I can't wait for my hair to grow back. But losing it wasn't emotional. It was inconvenient.

Losing my breasts, however, was emotional. It was harder than I expected it to be. The surgery was what I expected, and the pain was too. But as a a wife and a hurt. A different kind of pain than I have ever experienced before. I'm not a very sentimental person usually, but it's getting harder and harder for me to look in the mirror and hold back the tears.

Fortunately, the first phase of my reconstruction was done at the same time as my mastectomy, and that really has made the emotional part of this much easier. They used tissue and skin from my stomach to begin reconstructing new breasts, so when I woke up from surgery I wasn't completely flat. That doesn't mean that what I saw resembled anything to what used to be there...and without getting into some details that some of you may not want to hear, let's just's not like getting a "boob-job". It's different. They had to take a lot of my skin. I have a lot of scars and incisions. All of this will heal, I know, and I'll look much better after the second phase of my reconstruction, but that probably won't be until next Spring.

Things are different now. I look different, I feel different, and while I'm recovering from surgery, I can't lift, hold, or take care of the kids. Since I had lymph nodes removed along with the mastectomy, I'm not allowed to lift my arms above my shoulder, or lift anything more than 5 pounds. These are standard precautions to prevent clotting, lymphedema, and further complications. But try explaining that to a 2 year old and 11 month old. Not holding Cora has been torture. Not lifting Stella up when she wants a snuggle has ripped my heart apart. But I know I have to do what must be done in order for me to heal.

I'm more thankful than ever for our beach trip we took before surgery. I held Cora as much as I could. I let her fall asleep on my chest and we all cherished the time together. I didn't realize how difficult recovery would be, which makes the time before surgery all the more special.

After our beach trip, we immediately began preparing ourselves mentally and physically for surgery. Surgery would tell us a lot about my future prognosis, and depending on my pathology report from what they harvested during surgery, we would know if they removed all of the cancer or not. We knew that my chemotherapy treatment was effective. I had an ultrasound in the middle of treatment that showed my tumor had shrunk significantly. But we didn't really know how much it shrunk and what the chemo's effect on my lymph nodes or the rest of my body was. 

While I was very confident and prayed big that I would be completely healed, honestly we didn't know what to expect. We knew what we wanted and we knew what we were praying for and we knew that I was in good hands. But ultimately we knew that God's will would be done and He would work it for good, no matter what it was. Exactly a week ago today, my surgeon called me with my pathology report. No cancer in my lymph nodes, no cancer in my skin, and an amount of cancer in my breast tissue so small that it was "immeasurable". They couldn't even give it a size because it was so small! All three of those places originally were positive for cancer. My tumor was so large it took up about half of my left breast. And now, after 6 rounds of chemo, and the miraculous healing hand of our great God, I am cancer free. The super tiny amount of cancer that was left in my breast was removed during the mastectomy (obviously) and the rest of my body is clear.

"But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name." Psalm 33:18-21

"He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking, and jumping, and praising God." Acts 3:8

"I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. " Psalm 13:6

"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you." Psalm 63:3

It took a day or so for that information to sink in. He called me on a Monday late afternoon, and on Tuesday morning I woke up crying and didn't stop crying all day. Tears washed over me in relief, joy and thanksgiving. Tears flowing from months of pain, fear, and despair. Now all redeemed in this moment. I knew immediately after my diagnosis that the Lord wanted me to walk through chemo. So that's what I did. I went through chemo because He ASKED me to, not because He NEEDED me to. He can heal me with a whisper. And I believe He did. I have learned more about my Heavenly Father, my community, my faith and my family in the past 4 months than I have in my entire life. Cancer has changed me in every aspect of my life. What the enemy intended for evil, He turned into good. 

I still have a long road. I have to heal from surgery, begin radiation, and then have the second phase of my reconstruction done next year. I also have to have my ovaries removed in the next year or so. I believe I am 100% completely and wholly healed. But fighting and defeating cancer is a long process, and continues long after the cancer is gone.

For now, I am sneaking in snuggles when I can, loading up with pillows so that the kids can sit with me. They are cared for and loved during the day, but we are all struggling and ready for mama to be back on her feet running the household again. I miss my girls. I miss my husband. I miss my former self. I still miss my eyebrows.

But praise God that the worst is over, and the best is yet to come. Praise God that my story is one of healing and recovery. Praise God that He chose to use our family in this way. Praise God that we are stronger, more united, and more thankful than ever.

Please continue to pray for us. Pray for the girls, that they aren't too damaged by the lack of contact with their mama. Pray for Mark and I to connect and strengthen our marriage after so much pain and suffering. Pray for quick healing and recovery and for no complications from surgery. Pray for provision. Pray that someone hears my story and comes to know Jesus because of it. Pray that we all cling closer to our Savior, in good times and in bad.

1 comment:

Collene Puterbaugh said...

That is quite a long road you are on. But you have started off really well. It's sad that you will have to deprive yourself quite a bit at the moment. But it will all be restored, along with your hair and the parts in your body that were taken from you in the meantime, to stop cancer's spread. Take care!

Collene Puterbaugh @ Baja Hair Center