what remains

What remains: a mound of flesh where the full-sized breast used to be, with a red scar crossing the whole area and curving up when it gets towards the armpit area. Yes, that’s Lefty, or Notatata. Affectionately known as. Of course I’m glad to have the breast gone; I would have been scared every day if it were still here with me.

Still, it’s a strange thing, getting used to having a breast on the right side and this mound on the left side. This small mound. It’s not flat as I first imagined a mastectomy would be. Mastectomies come in different forms, perhaps depending on whether the mastectomy was a radical or a modified radical as mine was. When I first saw Notatata, I thought “that’s not so bad.” I even said it out loud; Frank said the same words. Then I had a period where I just thought it was ugly. I moved towards feeling almost protective of it, like, “hey you, we survived this. We’re alive.”

I’ve always felt a bit vulnerable about what remains though. When the surgical bra and dressing came off, that area was so tender that I didn’t wear any bra on it for a couple of weeks. If I had to go out, or if people came over to visit, I would wear a t-shirt and my hoodie sweatshirt over the t-shirt, no matter how hot it was. This was in August, people. Not typically a time to wear a sweatshirt, although thankfully most days weren’t in the 90s like they have been recently.

Only a few people have seen Notatata. My three doctors — surgeon (of course), oncologist, and radiation oncologist — and Frank. That was it until last Tuesday when I had my radiation simulation. I didn’t realize until today when I was talking to my therapist that it was after last Tues. and upon returning to work on Wed. that I started getting really weepy. During the radiation simulation, I had to lie on a wood table and three people were in the room — the kind male nurse, the female tech, K., and a very young-looking male tech. who may or may not be a nursing or a health sciences student because I saw a “—- State University” emblem on his lab coat. I work at that university, at one of the regional campuses. I couldn’t see if there was any indication that he was at a regional campus or at the main campus. Anyways, my radiation oncologist came in at one point to see how she thought things were going, as far as how they were positioning me. She asked me how I was doing, and she touched my hand with her very kind touch. It was enough to make me want to cry, but of course I didn’t. There are times when I can be stoic; it’s what I grew up with, after all, that Norwegian stoicism that my grandfather brought over with him on the ship when he was a mere teenager. Anyways, it was just hard to have other people see Notatata. I felt vulnerable, laying on the table with them twisting me around. They were sensitive and professional, but I felt exposed. I’m sure that will get better with time.

It’s hard to have one of one thing and one of another. As my therapist said, it’s a reminder of how I’m different, or of the differences that are there between the full breast and Notatata. A reminder of what I’ve been through. I wondered why the tears are coming now. She explained it so well. When I first came home from the hospital, I was healing, and after that, I was recuperating. Now that I’m basically recuperated (aside from not having the energy I used to have), my mind is able to process the surgery, the loss. The loss not just of the breast, but the many losses that this cancer has brought to me. In addition, there’s barely time to breathe between treatments — full-dose chemotherapy followed by surgery followed by radiation. Yes, there’s a month in between, but it’s not a long time in the scheme of things, and it’s certainly not time to regain strength lost.

I’m human. I’m vulnerable. There are losses. It’s not only about loss, but I can’t skim over the losses. My therapist said that if I had gone in there and been all Happy Happy Joy Joy, she would have been worried about me. The way that I am, she said, is Normal. Normal. Well, that’s a relief.

Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself to be strong. For my family, my workplace, to be that inspiration that people have said that I am. But it does me no good to hide the other side — the hurting side, the side that’s pained. That’s a part and parcel of me too. It’s allowed. It’s even normal. It would be abnormal not to feel this way.

I appreciate the comments that said as much. I appreciate those of you who let me be exactly who I am, all the time, flaws and all. I’m only a person doing the best that she can each day, and my best varies. But it’s OK. It’s all OK. There are people who love me who I love back. People who don’t judge me for being only too human. These are the people I can count on. These are the people I value. The ones in real life and over the internet lines who give me words of comfort, hope, and love.

My therapist said it would get easier, dealing with What Remains. That it would take time, but that I’ll get more and more used to it. That it’s normal to feel vulnerable when a part of my body has been removed. Even though I’m also glad it’s gone. That paradox exists within me right now. For some time to be determined.

What remains.

It’s still me, just a different me.

I’m changed; how could I not be?

What remains

is the deepest part of me.

Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


4 Responses to what remains

  1. […] what remains « Mothers With Cancer on September 8, 2008 at 9:05 […]

  2. clergygirl says:

    Oh….it sounds like we had similar days. I got to lay on the hard board today too. I cried though. I’m pulled tighter than a drum. Hang in there!

  3. Denise in Ontario says:

    I find it curious that these counsellors say, Oh it will get better. Well, I’ve got news for them. Why don’t they try it. How arrogant of them to talk that way. Unless they have gone through it themselves, they know nothing of the anguish. I lost my breast in June of this year. I know what you’re going through. I spoke to a friend of mine last week who is nearly 80. I’m 51 and consider myself to be a very vain woman. That’s just the way I am. My friend lost her breast at the young age of 38. She tells me that you never get used to it. You feel different for your whole life. She wasn’t being maudlin or “Im different so I’m gonna feel sorry for myself”. She was straight up. Another friend of mine suggested I speak to a counsellor. The only people out there that can counsel me are others like me. Do you appreciate what I’m saying?

  4. Everyone is different.

    My mom seems to be OK with her “new” body. It took her a while, but she’s OK now.

    I had reconstruction, so it’s different. Even though I never “finished” (I never tatooed the nipple). But, sometimes I even forget. I start to undress in the pool locker room, the way I did “before”….

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