Back in June when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the decisions I had to make was, “Should I do surgery first, or should I do chemotherapy first?” Doctors’ opinions and research led us to believe either approach would work well in my case. I preferred neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemo before surgery), so we went with that. I wanted to see the chemotherapy shrink the tumor. I wanted to hurry up and start a fight with any microscopic cancer cells hanging around. And, at the time, chemotherapy sounded worse, so I also wanted to just get it over with.
Some of the women I’ve connected with say, “Oh, surgery will be a breeze compared to chemo.” Others say, “Surgery was the hardest part for me.”
Everyone says, “Stay on top of your pain medicine.” Hollye Jacobs, author of The Silver Lining, describes her experience:
I remembered nothing about recovery or room transfer. Instead, I woke up in a pitch-black room, nearly glued to the ceiling with pain. Pain the likes of which I had never experienced before, ever. My first thought was, “Something is really wrong. It shouldn’t hurt this much.”
In Hollye’s case, the hospital nurses attending to her post-surgery forgot to turn her pain medication pump on. Yikes.
So, while I’ve read about the surgery process, asked my doctors the same batch of questions at regular intervals, and heard people’s stories, I still don’t really know what to expect and how I will feel.
When life gives you lemons, ask for grapefruits instead
When life gives you lemons, see if you get can grapefruits. That’s what one of the women at Bible study joked when I explained I was planning to do a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. (Funny, right? I give you permission to laugh about this. Please–it will make me feel better.)
Whether we’re talking about lemons or grapefruits (or…oranges?), the current plan is 2-3 rounds of surgery, beginning on January 31. That all depends on the next meeting with my surgeon and how my lab work looks. So far, the labs are heading in the right direction. (Hooray!)
I hope to be back to work mid-to-late March, and back to Normal Land by June or July at the latest.
What’s Normal Land?
In my last post I described the span of time between chemotherapy and surgery as Mile 17 of the marathon, but in truth I’m starting to catch a glimpse of the finish line off in the distance. I’m daydreaming about questions like:
Should we plant a garden this spring?
What in the world am I going to do with my weird post-chemo hair?
When will I feel up to joining a running group again?
Should I be using Kroger ClickList on the regular?
How can I paint more often–for real?
These questions are what I would call “signs of life.” Daily, normal, life. Daily, normal, blessed, life.
Normal with a side of Matcha
Still, I know life won’t be the same as it was. Deep in my heart, I want it to be better. No one should escape five months of chemotherapy without learning new things and shaking off a little baggage.
I’m starting to see the formation of new habits. For example, I’m now more comfortable making time to do things I enjoy. Not fancy things–simple things like going to a yoga class or going to dinner with my sister, kid-free so we can really talk.
I’m getting excited about eating healthier. I’ve always loved my fruits and veggies, but the last few years have been about running out the door with a Clif Bar and a pack of almonds in my purse. Cheap frozen pizza. Produce from who-the-heck-knows-where. Definitely several notches above survival mode, but Matcha green tea–what’s that?
We ordered two vegetarian HelloFresh boxes for the weeks before surgery, just to try it out. Lincoln and I have squeezed in a few little cooking sessions after our afternoon rest time. Pro tip: gentle yoga class definitely teaches skills that transfer to cooking with a four-year-old. Focus on your breathing. Deep inhale.
How we’re doing
A lot of friends have checked in lately to ask, “How are you guys doing, and when is surgery?” We really appreciate that.
The word I’d use to describe myself right now is focused. I’m trying to prioritize recovery, family time, and ducks in a row. Every so often I narrow down my list of things that need to get done before surgery. A week from today, it will probably just say “Prayers. Paperwork. Packing.”
We’re also trying to give the boys a little more structure so that it’s easier for us to take care of ourselves during the next couple of months. For example, we finally–goodness, after having it in our cabinet for two years–instituted a clock that turns green when it’s time for Lincoln to leave his room in the morning. I love my sweet, extroverted, early riser more than words can express, but I need time with Jesus and a shower in the morning before I’m ready to play dinosaurs. Lincoln isn’t taking an afternoon nap anymore (but usually I need to!) so, we’re teaching him the discipline of at least one hour of quiet time on his own. It’s been good for everyone.
I will probably get really nervous before all of this surgery gets in motion, but as of today I mostly just want to just get it done. I feel like a boxer resting in the corner of the ring, taking a water break, but excited to throw some punches.
Thank you for all of the prayers and support!
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.