I expected it would happen. It’s called LIFE. I’m back to busy and finding less and less time for writing. While going through the most trying experiences of the past several months, the words flew onto the screen so fast my typing fingers were a blur. My thoughts, feelings and posts were easy and open. Now, not only does it take me longer to find time to sit quietly, but more discipline to find the right words and enough confidence to continue putting it out here. During this experience I have learned that writing is something I must do for myself. I love it when ideas percolate and start to form. As soon as I realize I have something to say but am not making time for it, I feel restless. I have trouble sleeping. I go back to the topic I have in mind so often that I do not feel alone in my head. If I ignore it or procrastinate, it is as if I have disregarded something important.
It has been 5 months since surgery. I am doing so well, it is amazing even to me. My body has healed beautifully. It is cooperating and dare I admit, thriving. In my life, I haven’t ever been able to rely on my body doing what is expected. Ever. With a chronic illness, one gets accustomed to the lack of control and doubt, so things going this smoothly is an unexpected victory. I saw the surgeon last month for my final office visit. As much as I like and respect him, I am happy to say that I never need to return to the breast cancer clinic! I am still having some significant tightness in my pecs and his recommendation was “massage, massage, massage”. I explained to him that I have been going to massage therapy since before surgery and have continued consistently since.
I have an amazing massage therapist named Mary. She has experience with surgical (specifically mastectomy) clients and is responsible for a considerable part of my smooth recovery. The first time I was healed enough for her to start to work on my pecs was a fascinating experience for me. I was face up on the massage table with the sheet tucked up to my shoulders. She slowly drew the sheet down to my mid-chest. My immediate reaction was to think I needed to yank it back up. I mean, my chest was exposed….isn’t that, um, private? Should I be okay with this? The simple fact was that all (well, both) reasons for modesty regarding my chest had been removed. I literally had nothing to hide and that in-and-of-itself felt different. I was grateful for her reassuring yet matter-of-fact demeanor. As she began to work some of the tightness out of my incisions, as well as deeper tightness in the muscles, I became emotional to the point of choking up. The bottom line? She was helping me. In a way no one else had been able to understand or provide. It felt like letting out a huge breath of air. I was trusting someone else enough to accept what they had to offer. So much more than the simple massage it was at its core. My muscles desperately needed it, and accepting the help despite the vulnerability it took was overwhelming for me. In the many, many times since that first time, I continue to feel a bit exposed (pun intended) during the chest massage but have learned to allow my mind and muscles to let go.
I’m have been trying to sort out my feelings about mastectomy scars in general, and my own chest, in particular. For a long time, my mind has been sitting on the fence somewhere between self-consciousness and openness. At an MRA (an MRI machine/scan but with dye to see the vessels) last month for my yearly Takayasu check, the nurse came in before the test to put EKG electrodes on my chest. As she started to bring down my gown to attach the stickers I quickly stated “Oh…..wait…….I don’t have breasts. I don’t want my scars to scare you.”
Okay, hold on. What? Where had that thought come from? Certainly I had not planned on blurting it out that way, but when push came to shove, I apparently felt like viewing my body needed a forewarning. Would I have felt the need to caution medical staff about a long C-section scar? A chest scar for heart surgery? An amputated limb? No. This felt different from any of those examples, and, different in a way that did not feel good and did not make me happy. It was right about then that my mind assuredly jumped off the fence over to the side on which it wanted to live. Welcome to acceptance, friends. It feels like home. Now, that doesn’t mean that I will be mowing the lawn or going to the beach without a tee-shirt (although interestingly enough, it is legal for me in most states). Nor do I mean it to sound like an easy thing to completely let go of the self-doubt. But it does mean that I will no longer treat my scars as anything other than a couple of accessories that tell a powerful story. My story. And, I sure hope it means that by not wearing prosthetics, not making apologies for my scars, sharing my experiences, writing my blog, or just living normally will in some way empower or encourage others do the same. For whatever you consider your “scars” to be, I hope we can all get to the point where just before we drop the gown, the only thing we feel compelled to share is a smile.