Two years ago this week, I had already been diagnosed with breast cancer and was preparing to have surgery. On this two-year anniversary it’s time for me to get some things off my chest. Ha! I laugh at that silly old joke every time!
I’ve been writing about my breast cancer journey since I found the lump. It was the only thing I knew to do that gave it purpose. It still does and so I write about it every year around this time. It’s a time for me to reflect on the experience, my growth, and new understanding. And there are some things that I just have to say.
September of 2022 was the one-year anniversary of me completing radiation treatment. I remember a few months later finding a crop of new hairs all over my head. My stylist confirmed, and based on the length, we think they started growing that September.
While I was preparing for treatment, I remember asking my radiation oncologist how long it would take to recover from radiation. She said that the radiation remains in the body for one year. And one year after my treatment ended my hair began to grow thicker, curlier, and greyer. I also regained my energy.
During my illness and recovery, I didn’t realize that I was losing hair. I was spared from chemo therapy so I didn’t expect to lose my hair. But apparently, I did lose some hair and only realized it when it started to grow back in exactly one year after radiation treatment ended.
Gradually over the past two years, I have regained some sensation. When I was recovering from surgery two years ago, I thought I would have the intense numbness and sensitivity forever. Much of my chest, underarms, and parts of my shoulders are still numb and sensitive. Some of the sensation is returning and is likely due to me working diligently to desensitize the area and the nerves continuing to heal.
Since the radiation therapy, and the damage it caused, I have put various creams and oils on the affected skin. All of that touching desensitized the nerves. That in combination with some sensation naturally returning, means that I am still connected to my upper body.
That hasn’t always been the case for me. With past surgeries, I have disconnected from the sites, unable to touch or feel. With my cancer surgery, I set the intention to stay connected and do the work of desensitizing. It worked and I am grateful.
Since the surgery, I’ve been experiencing swelling in my right arm arm and shoulder. That’s the side where the surgeon removed the cancer and a collection of lymph nodes for testing. Luckily my cancer hadn’t spread, but I will likely be dealing with the side effects of lymph node removal for the rest of my life.
Recently though I found an angel. Well, actually she’s a doctor. On her YouTube channel, Cancer Rehab PT, Dr. Kelly shares information, techniques, and tips for dealing with lymphedema. I recently found her video demonstrating lymphatic drainage massage. Her energy is very gentle, kind, and straight forward. It was easy to follow along and I found relief using her massage within the hour.
I’m truly grateful for finding her channel. The lymphatic drainage massage technique she shared has improved my quality of life. My arm is less heavy with fluid. My shoulder moves a little more freely. And, when my arm or shoulder does swell, I can do the massage and easily find relief. Oh, and, if you have leg swelling, she’s got a video for that too.
Call it What it is.
I have been thinking about this for more than a year. I almost wrote about it last year, but I needed more time to process it. It’s time for me to say it.
The cancer surgery I had is called a bi-lateral mastectomy, a double mastectomy. I had both breasts removed and chose to forgo reconstruction. I need to call it what it is, an amputation. I know that’s an awful word, but let’s be clear, anyone who has had a mastectomy has had an amputation.
My breasts were amputated. It may sound harsh to say it that way, but words matter. The experience lands differently when I think of it as an amputation. It feels more aligned with what I’ve experienced. Like I said, words matter.
What No One Told Me.
This took me a little while to figure out, but when I did, I was shocked that no one said anything. It didn’t occur to me until more than a year after my surgery. I had one of my erogenous zones amputated. A highly sensitive and important erogenous zone.
My sexual life has changed and I’m still trying to figure it out. I wish I had wisdom to share or great tips and tricks to making it better. I don’t though. Two years post cancer and I’m still working through some things.
Cancer is a long game. It had been growing in my body for a full year before I found the lump. The surgery took a few hours, but it changed my life forever. The side effects of the surgery, radiation therapy, and the medication that I still take, continue two years later. And I still have regularly schedule follow ups with my oncologist. It is a very long game.
If you are experiencing cancer, or any major medical challenge, be gentle with yourself. If you’re not, be gentle with the cancer patients, and survivors in your life. The are likely dealing with things that are never spoken about.
Remember to do your self exams every month. That’s how I found mine early. They work.
Today’s image was made in Canva.
I’m grateful you’re here. I love you.