The words "you have breast cancer" changed me forever. I am not the same person I was before my diagnosis. Since hearing those words, I have been through a whirlwind of tests, surgeries, and chemo. My body will never be the same as it was before cancer. I cannot go back. I can only move forward. Once I got over the initial pity-party. I was ready to move on.
Cancer surgery is unkind. I chose to have a mastectomy on my left breast instead of going bilateral or having a lumpectomy. I explained the reason for my choice in another article, "My battle with breast cancer: Mastectomy." The surgery left me with one breast and a long road of reconstruction.
I have a tissue expander where my left breast used to be. Soon it will be replaced with an implant. For now, I have to deal with the fact that the two "girls" are not even or symmetrical. Without a bra, I look like a Picasso painting. When I go out in public, it takes a bit to get everything looking right. By the time I am done fixing things--you cannot tell that I had surgery.
Hair loss is another issue for me. I was never particularly fond of my hair. It was thin, curly and hard to manage. Then chemo made it fall out in chunks and I realized I liked my hair more than I previously thought. Now I wear a wig or when it gets too hot, I just wear a scarf. Yesterday, I actually went out and got the mail without anything covering my bald head. That was a first for me.
My physical body is in a state of transition. How it looks changes on a weekly basis depending on the tissue expander fills and if I shaved my head or let the stubble grow back. Although I am in transition, the final results will never be what I had before. I will look good when all of this is done--my plastic surgeon guarantees it. But it takes a while to adjust to intermediate changes.
Chemo brings changes
Chemo is awful. The only thing positive about it, is that it should completely rid my body of cancer. If I did not believe this, I would have stopped treatment by now. Chemotherapy has left me with a body that fatigues easily--a concept that is foreign to me. I have a busy lifestyle. I homeschool, and my boys are into competitive shooting and 4H. Scheduling my treatments around their activities is a monumental task.
Chemo brought other changes as well. The drugs forced me into menopause, not gradually but all at once. Chemo causes my blood counts to drop to dangerous levels and I have to take other drugs to prevent that from happening. I have bad reactions to those drugs. My life right now revolves around chemotherapy, and how I feel. Some days--very little gets done. I have to look to others for help with tasks I used to do without thinking.
My new self image
As I face the physical and emotional challenges cancer presents me, I have learned to change. Learning to reach out and let others be strong for me was extremely difficult. Without adjusting to a new reality, you stay in a place wishing that this never happened. But it did happen, and I have to go on with my life.
I can still do many of the things I did before cancer--just at a slower pace. Other things are either no-longer important or I physically cannot do them anymore. It is okay, I needed to learn to adapt. Learning to be okay with the new me has been the most challenging part of surviving cancer.
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