Sunday, November 29, 2015

One Hundred Percent

One hundred percent. That's an A+, a completion, one whole.

It's also a percentage I've been striving for in my own life. I'm preparing for what I hope will be the final leg of the marathon I've been running with breast cancer for more than a year. After a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and an implant exchange, I'm scheduled for a nipple reconstruction and scar revision surgery next month.

I've gone back and forth during the past year on whether I wanted this last operation. Surgery is hard on the body, and this one will have me laid up during the holidays. But I finally put the green light on it because I'm shooting for 100 percent. I want to feel like 100 percent of me again.

Pain Management

This past year has been filled not only with physical pain, but psychological pain, as well. A mastectomy is disfiguring and I was troubled by the way I looked immediately after the surgery. Going from DD cups to nothing was difficult to say the least.

There has been an upside. Some of my clothes fit better with my D cup implants. My breasts no longer sag. I don't have to wear a bra if I don't want to. The downside is my chest no longer has any feeling to it. It is a strange sensation. I have slowly, but surely, come to accept what I look like now. The scars are fading quickly. My breasts are the same pretty shape they were when I was younger.

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Milestones Along the Way

I have hit a few milestones recently that have helped me along to my 100 percent goal:

  • I bought a "real" bra for the first time in more than a year. I had been wearing sports bras and the compression bras I had to wear after surgery. I had to screw up some courage to go into the lingerie store and ask an associate to measure me. 
  • I put on a swimsuit. This was a bigger deal than I thought it was going to be. At my local YMCA, I have spent the past three months participating in their LiveStrong program for cancer survivors. Our group decided to try an aqua aerobics class in the pool. I wasn't even sure my swimsuits would fit me. When I tried them on, I really liked the way the look. I gained a few more percentage points after this one. The experience also reiterates the need to push my personal boundaries.
None of the healing I have achieved this past year could have happened without wonderful doctors. For those of you who may be making decisions about treatment for breast cancer, it is important to remember that you don't need reconstruction if you don't want it. Insurance companies are legally bound to cover reconstruction if they cover a mastectomy. For people like me, reconstruction is an important part of the healing process. For other people, further surgery is unacceptable. The decision is yours, but a consultation with a plastic surgeon will go a long way in helping you decide.

If you choose reconstruction, choose your plastic surgeon with care. I've heard far too many stories from fellow survivors who have had to sit through crass and demeaning exams (Gentlemen, clean up your act!). My plastic surgeon is the doctor I have seen the most this past year. I am fortunate to have met him. He is kind, funny, knowledgeable, and has always given me the truth about my treatment. He has been compassionate and supportive when pain and doubt have invaded. Although the office visits could be difficult, I never dreaded going. His office staff has been equally kind and supportive.

When I first met him - when my head was still reeling from my diagnosis - he told me it generally takes 18 months to start feeling "normal" again. I'm right on track.

I'm at 98 percent and I'm aiming for that A+.