Recovering from breast cancer is a lifetime process. Don’t get me wrong; pain does go away, daily life activities are easier, and some scars do fade. However, memories linger, and so does a sense of loss after a mastectomy.
Cancer isn’t like the flu or a cold that, once it’s gone it’s usually forgotten. Cancer is a devastating sickness and recovery can take time. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that your feelings are wrong, because they aren’t. It’s good not to fall into a depression, but please allow yourself to feel emotions.
When I came home from the hospital after my double mastectomy, I was still me, but parts of me had changed. A physical change obviously occurred, but my pain endurance shifted, my independence decreased and my patience for drama definitely decreased. I needed help doing even little things. I remember I went for a walk, just around the block, with my husband and son. I had a difficult time directing my motorized wheelchair. When I came home, I was exhausted.
My attendants and I tried to maintain a positive attitude and sense of humor. We had to navigate our way through learning the correct way to use a bed pan. That made us laugh tremendously. The fluid drains, which are attached to both sides of your chest and pull away excess liquids and blood from the surgery site, sounded scary and disgusting. (Without the drains, a woman would be in a lot of pain.) Despite my fears, the drains weren’t a horrible thing, but just something we needed to keep clean, dry and protected.
Lifting or using my right arm was the worst because surgery left it weak and severely bruised. It hurt a lot when I had to move it, or was being lifted into a chair or bed. I also was nervous because the doctor said to sleep only on my back. I’m a side-sleeper and tend to move a lot as I go to sleep. But after I took my night-time medications and watched television, I slept through the night with little problem.
I was extremely happy when I got my drains removed and could take a decent shower after a week in the hospital. My mom and sister were able to maneuver me enough to wash my hair, and I think I took the longest shower ever.
Everything else became a process to learn to do again, or to do differently. I didn’t like looking at myself in the mirror, although the reconstruction went very well. I felt foreign in my own skin and my modesty wasn’t the same. My chest wasn’t mine anymore, so why shield it? To this day, when I look at myself in the shower or in a mirror, I don’t like it. But I’m still alive, and for that I’m forever thankful.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.