Some blogs are easier to write than others. There are times when the words rush out like a mighty river, times they flow gently like a summer breeze, and then there are times they stay dammed up in my soul like waters stored behind a secured fortress. I have learned over the years that until the words are ready to come out, it is senseless to sit down and try to force them onto paper. It just doesn’t happen. Writing about the ‘noobies’ has proven to be one of those stories that has stubbornly refused to release itself from the portals of my soul…until now.
If you have followed me over the past year, you are familiar with my recent journey through breast cancer. In January of 2019, at the age of 49, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. I had two tumors, one was Her2+ and one was Her2-, one at stage 1 and one at stage 2. Within a few short weeks of the diagnosis, my treatment plan began: 6 chemotherapy treatments over an 18 week time span, 1 year of immunotherapy, 25 radiation treatments and a double mastectomy with 2 reconstructive surgeries, and not to mention two port placement surgeries. It has been a rigorous 17 months, but well worth the promise of having many more months and years to spend living and enjoying this beautiful life that I am blessed with. I have been writing for years, it is a form of therapy for me that always brings healing and a deeper understanding of the seasons of life. When this phase of my life came into fruition, it was just natural to pen my thoughts, my experiences, my accomplishments, my victories and my struggles. After spending years in a ministry spotlight, I’ve learned that the ability to be transparent is both intimidating and freeing all in the same breath. I am a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of girl, no one has to guess who I am or what my thoughts are, and I express myself in the same manner when I write. I wear my emotions on my countenance like a favorite outfit. I have been accused of being raw, painfully honest and too authentic, yet I embrace all of those accusations with boldness and confidence saying yes! That is exactly me and I have a beautiful peace with who I am.
During my treatments, I relished in sharing the blessings that came my way and I felt no shame in sharing the god-awful side effects of the chemotherapy on my body. Dignity became a by-word and conversations about uncontrollably crapping my pants became the norm. I freely shared about the fatigue, insecurities, weight loss, hangry-ness due to the mouth sores that prevented me from eating, the struggle with my emotions, my fingernails looking like I had went all gothic with the dead black skin underneath and my feet swelling like elephant trunks just to mention a few. It took me a little time to be able to share the emotions over losing my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, simply because it was difficult looking in the mirror and seeing a cancer patient staring back at me. Now, here I sit, 7 months after my reconstructive surgery (wow! time has flown!!) ready to share what life is like with the ‘noobies.’
Having reconstructive surgery is different than having breast augmentation, or what many just refer to as a ‘boob job.” When you have a breast augmentation, the implants are placed in your breasts to ‘enhance’ what is already there. The implants fit inside the natural breast pockets, and have breast tissue covering them, leaving the new breasts looking and feeling natural. However, when you have a double mastectomy with reconstruction, all of the breast tissue is removed during the mastectomy, leaving only a thin layer of skin covering your chest muscle. In order to make room for an implant, the pectoralis chest muscle must be separated from the chest wall and tissue expanders are placed under the muscle. Office visits follow to have the tissue expanders gradually inflated with sterile fluid to stretch the skin and muscle, creating a new pocket for the soon to be placed implant. Once the expander is fully inflated, and the skin and muscle are stretched to the cup size desired, another surgery is required to remove the expanders and place the implants. The process to stretch the chest wall is somewhat unpleasant. The expanders feel like concrete blocks stuck in your chest, they have no ‘give’ to them, no matter what size they are, they’re constantly getting in the way and sleeping with expanders is a task! When you lay on your side you feel as if they are constantly pulling and are going to come right off your chest, but when you lay on your back, the weight of them can feel as if you are smothering. Lying on your stomach is not an option! It only took 8 weeks to stretch me out to a B cup (sorry folks, no Dolly’s here!) but I had to carry those babies around for 3 extra months due to having radiation treatments. Needless to say when November 25th rolled around, I was more than ready for the surgery to have the expanders removed and the implants inserted. When I awoke after surgery, I immediately felt better – as if the weight of the world had been lifted off of my chest, no pun intended. The implants were squeezable (of course not too hard right after surgery!) and except for the numbness from having my nerves cut through again for the second time, I was hopeful that I was on my way to feeling natural and normal again.
7 months later I am still waiting, and I have this gnawing in my gut that feeling ‘normal and natural’ is not much of an option for a breast cancer survivor. I have adjusted to the fact that the structure of my ‘noobies’ will always feel a little different due to the fact that my implants are underneath my chest muscle. We don’t realize how many movements we actually make that flexes our chest muscle, until we can feel every. single. one! Rock climbing is an adjustment and push-ups are humorously challenging. My right side will always be higher and tighter than my left side due to the side effects of radiation. Insert making sure my shirts aren’t too clingy in photo ops! Double insert rolling my eyes at even worrying about it! My surgeon’s assistant informed me that the numbness never really goes away and since I chose to have 3-d nipple reconstruction (still waiting for tattoos – like, what woman wants to go indefinitely with half of her noobies finished??? thank you COVID 19!), I look like I’m cold all the time, if you catch my drift, so I am forever mindful of what I wear.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some ‘perks’ to having brand new, always standing in attention even after 4 kids, noobies at the age of 50 and I did have the best, top-rated surgeon in my area take good care of me. 🙂 I will eventually get used to all of the differences, which on most days are just distant after thoughts, and for the most part, I have peace about my new normal. During those fleeting moments of humanness, when I struggle with the insecurities, I get alone with myself, I cry a little and then I remind myself that every day I am extremely thankful to be alive, to be on this side of the journey, to be healthy and cancer free, to be able to do all the things that I do and I rest in the assurance that today I am much better than I was when I began this journey.