Monday, December 7, 2009

Paying It Forward

Well, I had my first real post-surgery mentor conversation with a woman who had a double mastectomy a month ago, and is just starting the tissue expansion, and knows she has to go through chemotherapy soon.  I tried to be as positive as I possibly could, I spent most of the time telling this woman that "this too shall pass." 

I wanted to tell her that the rest of her tissue expansions (she just finished her first) wouldn't be uncomfortable (painful is the word I really wanted to use); instead, I told her that the expansions might get more uncomfortable but that it gets more comfortable (when the tissue expanders come out and the final implants are put, seriously, about a month after my final expansion I finally stopped taking pain pills to sleep).  I did tell her how I would wake up in the middle of the night and bolt upright from the pain, but that was only seven months ago and now I've got my final implants so that "discomfort" is over.

I tried to tell her that chemo isn't as bad as one might think, but that would have been a lie.  Instead, I told her that chemo sucks when you are going through it, and that's when you need to have a good support system to help out on the really awful days, but that it all ends and your hair does grow back and you start to forget how awful you felt and that your energy really does come back.  I told her to try and remain active, even though it was difficult to get out of bed on the worst days, and to keep focusing on the positive.

Funny, the silver lining for this woman, as it remains for myself, is that we get new perky boobs.  I didn't tell her that they don't feel like the other ones did, that even though these implants feel more comfortable than the expanders that they really don't feel like breasts to me.  That sensation is gone. 

But that is not what matters.  What matters is that I am alive and that I will be alive to dance at my childrens' weddings.  What matters is that the surgeons and the chemo got all of the cancer out of my body (well, I'm 99.9% sure of that) and that I am at a good hospital and the chance for recurrence is so small that I try to leave that fear in the very dark recesses of my mind.  What matters is that after a year of total crap, I am still fairly normal...and fairly healthy.

I am glad that I have people to talk to about my experience (ordeal?) and while there are too many other women whose names I was given to call and talk about their experiences, sometimes it does get too much.  I still find myself emotionally exhausted after a breast cancer-reconstruction-chemotherapy conversation, though the conversations are priceless and I appreciate every minute someone will spend talking to me.  And so, begins my paying it forward and helping out those people who are a few steps behind's just there are more and more women with breast cancer and it shouldn't be that way...


  1. What a wonderful thing you are doing. I'm working on getting the names of new patients to do the same. When I am at the center for appointments the nurses have often pointed me to the chemo rooms where first-timers are awaiting their first treatment so I can go in and talk to them and give them hope and tips and stuff and I love how it makes them (and me) smile. I plan to do it as much as I can. I'm so glad you're doing it too :).