Nature Doesn’t Care About My Awesome Willpower
Now you see them on Facebook. Before it was the last segment of the news that they save for the uplifting stories: a grandma running her first marathon or a kid sending a truckload of supplies to Sudan or something: stories of mind over matter. I have always been able to marshal my meager forces to accomplish my mediocre stunts, whether it be deciding my cold/flu is over and just going about my business or reaching mostly reasonable fitness goals I have set for myself. This time, my mind is pushing up against the matter of my reconstructed body and utterly failing to make a difference.
At first, I allowed myself time to heal. I had the obvious signs of extreme unwellness: drains sticking out of my sides, big gauze pads taped to me, and a walker prescribed by a doctor because I was required to stay bent at the waist while my abdominal incision, which looked like I had been sliced open from hip to hip, bent back like a weird tummy Pez and emptied of candy, healed and grew new skin. It made it pretty easy and obvious that my best play in this situation is nothing.
Now, three and four weeks out, my drains are gone. My abdominal incision, although wildly unattractive, looks less like it could pop and spill guts if I sneezed. My new tummy-breast, although still frozen in place by inflammation so extreme my skin felt like wood, is beginning to thaw. This is all good news; however, the thaw is causing the most pain yet. The nerves, which at first had been shocked into shutting down, are beginning to wake up and freak out. The breast as it swelled on the operating table, made a lump under my arm, which is constantly brushing against the skin of my arm, whose nerves, nicked during the removal of lymph notes, caused a typical reaction (in mastectomy patients) of painfully sensitive skin. The newly transplanted breast flesh, as it is released from the immobility of inflammation, is beginning to react to gravity as I move, which jostles the newly wakened nerves, which (as noted) freak out. Now, as I am feeling better, I am feeling the most pain. It’s beyond frustrating. I just want to walk freely and the pain has me grounded.
It has caused some bouts of ugly crying, which lead to some great pep talks by those unfortunate enough to get hit by tears, and I try to remember it won’t always be like this, that I am not alone, that whatever I am feeling is legitimate and right. But I want to be done feeling it and move on. Weeks and weeks of this is more than I was prepared for, because although I have had illnesses and surgeries before, I have never had this much surgery which did intentionally this much damage before. My body was literally carved up, pieces that had turned evil were removed, other pieces were removed to be placed elsewhere and those pieces had to be stitched back in, one blood vessel at a time, then covered back up with parts of skin from here and there. And I keep having to remind myself that this didn’t happen because I had the urge to rearrange my body one day. It happened to save my life from cancer. Without it, I would have died. Better alive and rearranged than an exquisite corpse.
I have fought against being perceived as vain my whole life: I don’t wear makeup, I keep short, uncolored hair, I don’t get manicures or pedicures, I don’t wear Spanx. I always felt that the appearance of the attempts to beautify oneself were just proof that one needed outside help to achieve beauty. Is this a reasonable approach to beauty or femininity? Of course not, but I was shaped by my pioneer stock family and Disney at a young age to believe that no amount of frippery is going to change who you are. That doesn’t mean that I’m not vain. I would just rather you think I’m not vain.
The most unvain way to have a mastectomy would be to tell them to take it off. Unreconstructed. I am what I am. This is the new, cancer-free me. I think I would have gone that route if I would have had to have a double mastectomy. But I felt strongly against waking up off balance with just one headlight. I just couldn’t imagine walking, dancing, looking in the mirror the rest of my life with a left breast and a right emptiness. Many women do and are happy with their decision. I was not ready. Why am I rearguing my choice? Because it hurts.
But it won’t hurt forever. And it won’t hurt after the proper amount of healing time has passed. It just hurts now and it will hurt longer than I had imagined.