It's easy to explain a cancer diagnosis. It's NOT easy to explain what happens after it. The physical part is the easy part. Doctors tell you what to expect, survivors tell you what to expect, everyone seems to have a good handle on that (although, trust me, there are still things people leave out - like how cavernous your armpit will be once those lymph nodes and all that tissue is removed! I'm still struggling to find a way to shave. Can someone invent a razor with a spherical head please?).
It's not over when surgery is over, though. There's more to come. For some, it's chemo, radiation, infusions and drug therapy. For others, like me, it's reconstruction and more surgeries, recovery and rehab.
But the thing is, in between those surgeries there's this sort of
"down time." You're going on with life, trying hard not to look too long in the mirror, trying hard not to dwell on the still long road ahead, trying hard not to sink into the pit of the diagnosis all over again.
You wake up, go to work, tend to your home and family, get back in the exercise routine, go out with girlfriends, shop for clothes (finding a bra now is an absolute disaster! My drawer is full of misfits), and take family vacations.
You somehow adjust to this new you and the new hassles of living life with a foob (fake boob); like when your bra slips off and you don't even know it, or when you can't wear half your shirts because the straps of your sports bra keep showing and a sports bra is all you can wear, or you have to deal with uncomfortable nights of sleep every.single.night. because a hard piece of plastic pokes you when you roll over.
And then, the break is over. The doctor's appointments come up again, the scans, the pre-surgery prescriptions, the consults on what they hope they can do and how they hope it will work out.
And all of a sudden, you're back. You're back in the pit. You're back to diagnosis day. At least that's how it is for me. Less panicky, but my head is certainly spinning in a roller coaster of emotion. I unexpectedly started crying at my last "fill up" with the plastic surgeon. I had no idea why until a day or so later I realized I felt just like I did the first week I heard I had cancer. Anger, bitterness, sadness..... every last bit of it came back.
The new you you just adjusted to is about to be new all over again; but still not you.
Another surgery. Another recovery. Another rehabilitation. Another adjustment to seeing yourself not quite as yourself. And then, a 4th surgery later this year and a tattoo next spring - before the reconstruction is truly finished. And really, it still won't be me, will it?
Sometimes, all I can see is the long road ahead. But I keep taking myself back to the advice I got in the beginning, to take it one thing at a time; one appointment, one procedure, one day. In fact, just today. And when you think about it, who really ever wants to go back? Not me. I choose every day to just move forward, even if my head is spinning.