I was scheduled to be in theatre exactly a week after my diagnosis. I generally do not fear theatres; I actually prefer general anesthetic over local – for just about anything. My reasoning is simple: (doctor,) do what you have to do whilst I’m “out”. Then clean up the mess and let me wake up. And that’s exactly what was scheduled to happen – or so I thought.
The original plan as discussed with the surgeon was to do a total right mastectomy, then, together with other specialists, see what the extent of the cancer spread to the lymph nodes in my armpit was. We already knew from preliminary tests that the sentinel node (nodes closest to the tumour) was infected and that its removal was inevitable. We however did not foresee major spread; maybe two or three other lymph nodes but certainly not more than that.
Within private healthcare (an area I’m connected to for most of my working life and which I hope to write about later) we are fortunate to have specialists and superior healthcare facilities readily available in all major cities. As a result, I was fortunate to have a pathologist in theatre that was able to immediately test the malignancy of lymph nodes as it was removed. Upon removal of the sentinel lymph node and four other nodes, the specialists realised the cancer had spread beyond these and therefore continued to remove more lymph nodes. A total of 12 were removed – that’s just about the whole lot located in my armpit. Doctors refer to it as a radical axillary excision. This additional surgery therefore resulted in a longer than usual theatre time. Two and half-hours later I’m wheeled out of theatre, oblivious to what had just happened.
Now, regarding the removal of my total breast – my reasoning is similar to bidding farewell to a deceased loved one at a funeral (I know, it’s a weird comparison, but hear me out):
That which was, is no more. I appreciate the role it had played but since it is no more and I still have breath, it’s time to adapt to the new normal, and move on.
Now don’t be fooled, it is easier said than done.
The challenge with not adapting means one is stuck in the past: longing for, weeping, not accepting, and ultimately regressing. The blessing of accepting the new normal may mean new horizons, scope to grow, opportunity and possible fulfilled purpose.
I remember taking off my oversized t-shirt in front of the bathroom mirror and being shocked at the sight of no breast. This happened a few times. The sight of stitches across my chest and armpit, was weird to see. I would genuinely skrik at the sight!
Whilst getting dressed one morning, my nine-year-old son, Eli, asking me: “ …but dad, was it really necessary for them to remove your nipple; could they not put the nipple back after removing the cancer?” His younger brother Zach, who heard the question, retorted quickly before I could. His response made me laugh. “Would you rather have a dead dad or one without a nipple?” This chirp reminded me not to under-estimate the intellectual capacity of kids. It further made me aware of the importance of discussing and involving our children in this life-altering occurrence. Someone once said: “life lessons are not taught to kids, they are caught by kids.”
Now back to my post-operative recovery:
I always joked about wanting to be admitted to hospital. But my intention then was to rest, chill, watch TV and so forth – as if hospitals are hotels! So here for once, I had all that I joked about plus a menu of food to select from.
On my first day of recovery an elderly cancer support group volunteer visited me. Her words were warm, her smile beautiful and she carried a gift and loads of brochures for my education. Little did I know, the gift – a little blue pillow which one places in the armpit for comfort – would come in very handy during my recovery (my “baby” as I was teased for carrying it all over with me). This brief, yet warm encounter with a total stranger reminded me that I’m not alone in this battle.
The days ahead, both in hospital and at home, meant bathing without stretching, tons of resting, slow movements to avoid jerks and sleeping on my back. It also provided loads of time to read, research and consider where this journey would take me.
Weeks prior to the diagnosis I believe God had placed a confidence in me to trust in His guidance, supremacy and favour. It was at this rather tumultuous juncture in my life where #GodsGotThis resounded in my bones. Little did I know that this very confidence and declaration of faith would become my anchor in weeks to come. I hope to speak about this soon.
In the meantime, the scars across my chest and armpit continued to heal. Healing as if it was readying to tell a story.
The grabbing feeling in my armpit started fading.
A treatment plan was approaching – chemotherapy.
Tests to check for cancer spread to other parts of my body.
Was it going to be a time to face the facts and fear?
…or continue in confident hope?
I was being prepared to tell my story… the story I did not know I’d tell.
“…tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint…”
To read more about my story, please see: http://www.godsgotthisweb.wordpress.com