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November 16, 2010

Is it safe to look?

It's been 5 full days since the surgery that I was fully convinced would change my life forever.  In fact, to be brutally honest, I was not sure I was actually going to make it through the surgery.  I was sure my complete mental block over the entire situation was going to cause some kind of shut-down somewhere and the event would be over before it started.  I am not sure what exactly the outcome would be, but I did not expect for me to be here, feeling as I do.

And what, pray tell, is that?

To already feel as though I have an almost normal life again.

Well, it's not entirely normal. I have sizeable medicine chest just for me (you know the plastic kind with 4 rows for each day of the week), there is the drain issue, I can't wear anything that doesn't make me look 6 months pregnant (the first person that congratulates me...), I sleep 10 hours at night, plus several more during the day and just taking a shower exhausts me to the point of needing a nap.  On the up side, we have been showered with flowers, healthy and tasty meals and I am actually being encouraged to take naps on a regular basis (naps ROCK, by the way...percocet-laced dreams, not so much, but beggars can't be choosers...).

I have been lucky (well, some say luck, but it's also his hard work) to have a husband with a stable job and plenty of sick leave so that he can care for me and run the household.  I am trying to overlook the fact that while I appreciate his help and it is much needed, I still feel incredibly guilty that he is here assisting me instead of saving the world or all the other stuff he does so well in his professional life. I am also very relieved to announce that I received a phone call today that the clear lymph node test results were NOT a fluke (there is a 5% chance false negative) and the cancer absolutely, positively, has not spread.  

There is but one thing that prevents me from feeling 100% myself.  Okay, several, but one biggie:  I have no idea what I look like.   I don't mean what I look on the outside..(squeamish people, run and hide), but what I look like on the inside.  What is lurking behind that incredibly large camisole-type bra that poufs my shirt out to Kalamazoo?  What is underneath the mysterious dressing that I have glimpsed only briefly as I claim to look at a mole on my shoulder, but can't help but let my eyes wander just a teeny tiny bit further south than they should?

In other words, I cannot say whether I am disappointed in the surgery, pleased with the outcome or simply can't wait for the entire reconstruction process to be over as I haven't yet gotten up the nerve to look at myself in the mirror.  If you are wondering, yes, this can making showering and getting dressed (to a point) a bit difficult.  However, since I still have so much accoutrement, there is little getting dressed that doesn't require a tiny bit of help. 

I have seen the before, during (post- surgery, pre-reconstruction) and after photos from my plastic surgeon's other cases.  I have all of the faith in the world that in the end I will be pleased with the results.  Yet, it didn't even occur to me until two days after the surgery that anything had been removed.  I was so tightly bound with dressings and surgical bras that everything 'felt' just like it should.  In fact, during my post-surgical exam on Friday, I nearly jumped out of my skin when my doctor ran her finger along the top of my breast (well, technically the skin is still there).  This startled her as she expected me to have little to no feeling.  I have been pleasantly surprised by itches, the warmth and cold of water temperatures and the unexpected, but happily received pain from Little Guy hugs that were just a bit too tight.

I know I should just give in and look.  I tried to peek the other day, but didn't notice much other than things didn't seem to line up quite the way they had in the past.  It wasn't terribly dissimilar, but just enough for me to notice a slight change and quickly look away.

Tomorrow is not only my first out-patient review with my breast surgeon, but there is also an afternoon appointment with the plastic surgeon.  Peter has suggested that perhaps if I wait until the time with Dr. X, it will be a better time to take that first glance, to see my new (albeit temporary) self.  Dr. X will be present with his kind words, his patience and the knowledge of what to say to those who are perhaps a bit stunned by their newly altered bodies.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll give it a good long look, glance away, look again and (fingers crossed) realize that I have just crossed another hurdle on my path to wellness.  I'll know that it's just temporary, comparatively speaking it 'looks good' and within a few seconds I will be dressed and discussing what will happen next.

I'm really not sure what happened last week.  I went into the surgery thinking it was the end of my world.  I thought I would end up leaving the recovery room a mental wreck, feeling as though I had been mutilated and permanently disfigured.  Instead, at least for now, the only sense that continually swirls through my mind is that I suddenly have a new lease on life and it feels pretty incredible if I do say so myself.



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I don't know if I would be brave enough to look! You are one brave woman and I am so glad things have gone so smoothly after surgery. Thank goodness Peter is there with you and has taken such great care of everyone! Good luck tomorrow!

Oh my gosh - I'm so incredibly happy for you! I don't know what I would do either - if I'd look first. If I did, you can be sure I'd have my husband right there with me, because you can bet he'll be reassuring to you...best of luck, whatever you decide. Good luck with the appts!

I'm so glad things are going well. No advice about looking/not looking. Hope the doctor follow ups go well.

I am also glad you are feeling well. You seem to be in a good mood too, which is also very good and will speed up your recovery.

My understanding is that what you are experiencing is very normal. A lot of cancer patients see the surgery as the end of the world but later find that there is life after it and in many instances get a new appreciation of life and the little things they may have overlooked or taken for granted prior to being diagnosed with cancer. I know that's how my dad felt and in a way his new outlook on life has been surprising and refreshing for him and for us (his family). So in a way I am glad to see that happening to you too. You will recover and get your strength back but it will take a while and you need to take it one day at a time.

I would be split about looking too. I know half of me would be dying to see but the other half would be afraid of what I'd see. There's no rush - you'll do it sooner or later. You've had a lot going on physically and emotionally, so if you need to wait a little until you are ready (or as ready as you are going to be), that's OK.

So glad to hear that you are feeling good about life. You are awesome.

Incredible to read too. You sound like you're doing great. And don't kid yourself, you are very brave!

Beautiful post Jen! It brought tears to my eyes and I'm soooo happy for you! What an incredible journey this has been and you are conquering it one step at a time!!

I loved reading about where you are right now, Jen. I'm still in awe over all you have been through, and the way you've dealt with it all so honestly....well, it's just truly amazing to me. You may be getting your first peek as I write this, and I am hoping all goes well. Hugs from Tucson, Diana

Hang tight Jen! My thoughts are with you...Sarah

Jen, I've been away from Cyber life for a while and I just got caught up on your blog. My husband, who is in the same room with his back to me, asked me if I was crying, and when I answered yes, my reply to why was because I was reading about my friends mastectomy. In about 20 minutes reading blogs from the last week, I felt so many emotions. Fear, sadness, and utter joy at the lymph node results, to name a few. I know we've never met, but I really feel a love for you and wish I could be there to help you out. If you and Pete feel like another getaway (Costa Rica maybe), just let me know when and we'll have a bed for you. My prayers are with you for your recovery.

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