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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Some final thoughts before the surgery

So it's almost midnight on the morning before my bi-lateral mastectomy surgery, and I am having an intense hot flash, one of the consequences of going into sudden, pre-mature menopause. Unlike with regular menopause, where your body has a few years to adjust to changing hormone levels, for women who have ovarian function shut down through chemo, hormone fluctuation is immediate and, in my case, results in extreme hot flashes "wooshing" on me out of the blue. But aside from this lingering side effect (or new after-effect), the other residuals from chemo -- like the change in my taste buds, the neuropathy in my fingertips, joint/muscle pain, nausea -- are all a distant memory. My hair is finally growing back (Matthew's new nickname for me is "Peachy" because I have peach fuzz covering my skull, but more importantly I have little black hairs growing through the peach fuzz, and I'm hoping to have a full head covering by Christmas. My energy level waxes and wanes--it will probably be a few months before I feel 100% again--with some women it can take a full year to be back to their post-chemo selves. And, of course, the surgery will take a few weeks on the healing end as well--in fact, I expect to be off of emailing (and blogging) for a good week.

[Aside: Although Matthew will fill in as a guest blogger for me tomorrow or Tuesday to give a post-surgical update].

So do I have any profound thoughts to share before surgery?


But, I do have some observations.

*I am doing OK; however, I think that my body is sublimating the stress and putting it all in my trapezius muscles, which according to this website is a common place that is impacted by stress. So while I'm consciously not registering the anxiety of surgery, my subconscious self is apparently storing it all in my trapezius muscles. I know this because I woke up this morning in A LOT OF PAIN--I could barely move my neck and have spent all day massaging it (and having Matthew massage my upper neck and shoulders) and rubbing tiger balm on the base of my neck, took pain killers, and have had a heating pad on my neck. It feels better--but I fear what my subconscious will do in the middle of the night.

*I will not miss wearing bras. Perhaps the only good thing I can say about facing a breast-less future, but it is true, I was never a fan of wearing bras, always preferred wearing camisole tops sans bras, and never owned a lot of bras.

*I am sad. Or perhaps melancholy is a better way to put it. I will miss my breasts--it's weird to think that part of my body is going to be taken away from me.

*I am ready for this to be over. By "this" it's a bit hard to know exactly what I mean, because the truth is, I don't know if I'll ever feel like I'm "cured" or that I can ever shake wondering whether this cancer will metastisize or whether another type of cancer will pop up in my body (there is an alarming number of cancers in my extended family). I don't know that I'll ever feel like a survivor, but I hope to always be someone who is in a state of N.E.D. (no evidence of disease).

*I'm not angry anymore--or at least, I'm not so angry anymore. I'd say I was pretty pissed off for a good two months, and my anger ranged from the kind of seething, rage filled, "if-looks-could-kill-you'd-be-dead" kind of anger to the low-level simmer resentment. I still get frustrated from time to time--especially at breast cancer narratives that I encounter in popular magazines that have testimonials from women who claim that their breast cancer diagnosis changed their lives for the better (OH PLEASE!) or that they are "glad" that they got breast cancer (YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! WHAT THE FUCK???!!!). But overall, the anger seems to have dissipated. I think it's hard to be angry at cancer all the time.

Anyway, that's it for now. When I'll next be blogging it will be as a post-surgical, post-mastectomy, recovering/healing breastless woman. Which is saying something, I mean, what does it mean to be a breastless, hairless forty year-old woman without ovarian function in contemporary U.S. society?

These are part of the questions I mused on during my talk in Greenlaw sponsored by the Carolina Women's Center--which got written up by the Assistant Director, Ashley Fogle, in an extremely flattering blog post. And although I did not couch it in these terms, these kinds of questions were floating in the back of my head during the talk I gave at the Carolina Inn as part of the alpha Delta Kappa Phi charity ball. They raised over $300 for breast cancer charity and a fine time was had by all (see picture below--a whole slew of friends came out, and we had a great time together):

The last thing I'll say is that I'm in good hands. My Mom, Matthew, and Matthew's family in Raleigh have been taking good care of me, and so many friends have stopped by, signed up to drop off food, left voice mail and email messages. I feel really and truly loved and taken care of, and that is HUGE and will sustain me through tomorrow and the days (and weeks and months) to come.


  1. Hi Jennifer,
    Thank you for your thoughts and for your honesty as always. I'm glad your hair is growing back and that you're regaining your energy, and that your surgery is marking an end of one part of your journey. I was thinking about you all day yesterday and hope everything went smoothly and I wish you a speedy recovery. I'm glad your family and community is gathering around you, because you deserve love, rest, and all the care in the world.

  2. P.S. And I mean "journey" as in a process, not in the pink ribbon "this changed my life for the better" kind of way. :P