Getting home after the mastectomy was surreal. I knew what I had just gone through, but when you are dressed and entering reality, no one on the outside knows what you have just been through. It opened my heart to those struggling with amputees. Here I had lost a breast, that no one could witness unless I exposed myself. My brothers and sisters in the military, veterans, incidents, accidents that can affect us and there is a loss of a limb, hearing, eyesight, it gave me such a different perspective and empathy for what they have and are going through. Here I was worried about my breast. Some of the friends I found on my journey have much more loss than I. Alex Minsky who is a Veteran of the USMC, and Bob Dobson of the USMC, both below the knee amputees that have given back so much to others. My long lost high school friend, Randall Brooks who lost his eye as a child, seriously…it’s just a breast. So why does it hurt so bad?
I had homecare services for dressing changes, monitoring pain, infection and the drains. The first time I had to change the bandage myself I asked my friend Amy to come over and help me. I couldn’t look at it alone. David, my homecare nurse had changed it already, but I just couldn’t look. Amy removed the dressing and looked first. She told me it looked good, but I was still so nervous, especially after images that I had seen on the internet. Besides, what is “good”? What is your friend supposed to say, “That looks like hell”. As I looked up at myself in the mirror, it was humbling. The incision sites were covered with glue and there were two drains, one coming out of each side of my left breast, and there was no nipple. I forgot about that. The whole areola and the nipple was gone, it was just skin covering an implant. I was fortunate that there was an implant. Some women have expanders, and some women have nothing left but a scar.
I took me three weeks to get back on me feet and be prepared for full duty again at my job. In a way, I guess it was good that I didn’t have time to think about it too long. I had to get back to taking care of my clients. I didn’t have anytime to worry about me. My friends supported me as best as they could bringing food and wood to heat my house, and hugs of encouragement. My mom was over an hour away and at her age didn’t drive on the highway, but we talked everyday until I was back on my feet.
The irony of this was that I had just lost my first client to ovarian cancer just about a week after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Tootsie” took me into her home, and into her family and taught me so much about fighting the fight and knowing when it was time to let go. I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t want to upset her, as she was leaving us a little more everyday. As I said goodbye to her, I think she knew, I think she became my guardian angel. When she passed I was called in by the family. It was approximately two o’clock in the morning. I asked if I could open the window in her room so her spirit could fly free, and when I opened the window, I knew that “Tootsie” knew how much I loved her and what I was up against. Her picture, memories, and family have been with me every since.
“Feeling requires courage” ~ Unknown