8 days after the surgery to remove the tumors I had a post surgery appointment with my surgeon. As a result of finding more cancer (micro-invasive “cookie crumble” amounts that did not show up in any of the pre-surgery MRIs, ultrasounds or mammograms scans) my doctor informed me that I’d need to have a full – both breasts – non-nipple sparing mastectomy. She also told me I’d need to have radiation and that I’d be a very likely candidate for a full course of chemotherapy. During surgery, micro cancerous cells were also found in 2 out of 3 lymph nodes removed. In her world this meant the cancer had spread and could be found elsewhere within my body. It also meant future conventional imaging and scans couldn’t be trusted.
I wasn’t at all prepared for this. Recovering from surgery was rough. I couldn’t move my upper body without extreme pain; I couldn’t drive or sleep. I had to sit in my bed with several pillows on each side of me…without them I was miserable. I also had a lot of fluid retention in my left arm and underarm which was very painful. But by the 8th day I was doing a lot better and feeling like I could slowly get back to more normal activities. I was feeling optimistic and wasn’t expecting to hear this news. I remember looking at my doctor’s face as she spoke and feeling like I was watching a movie; it all felt very surreal and unbelievable. My husband was with me at this appointment. Although he was rattled, he asked all the right, educated questions and this helped keep me focused. My doctor explained her strong recommendations but she wasn’t able to fully answer all of our questions. She had stats on survival rates, re-occurrence rates, etc… but she didn’t have any data on what if I didn’t agree to standardized treatment. We left the office feeling lost but had referrals to a medical oncologist to discuss chemotherapy and a radiology oncologist. Although I didn’t agree to anything she pressured me to schedule the full mastectomy for as soon as possible.
There’s a lot of talk about fighting, conquering and kicking cancer’s ass. Admittedly, I felt this way early on as well. Initially I felt wronged by my diagnosis. After all I was only 40 years old, in good shape and I led a clean lifestyle. Or so I thought. At first I was angry but as I left the doctors office I was humbled, weak and vulnerable. The stress was insane but once I started processing through those intense emotions I knew I had to get a grip and find some peace in an action plan.
For some that means trusting your doctor’s advice, their protocols, their beliefs. It means following conventional treatments and fighting through the brutal physical aspects of treating the disease. This makes a lot of sense. They are the experts, right? They have the data and see the results of their protocols every day. I didn’t feel this way though. I knew I needed the doctors initially but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to blindly trust them. I knew I needed to trust myself, I needed to listen to my own intuition that was telling me to make changes in my life and once I did…..I was going to be just fine.
A dear friend recently tagged me in a social media post with the quote……
“The healer’s gift is her own wound. It’s the source of empathy and true understanding of compassion and forgiving. To heal thyself embrace your wound as your sacred teacher.”
I don’t know who wrote this quote but it certainly applies to what I did after that last appointment with my surgeon. I used this dis-ease as my guide as I embraced my wounds (both physical and emotional) and began the journey back to health.