Gratitude (and a little about dignity)

It’s been just over a year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  January 2, 2013.  First business day of 2013.  That was how my year started off.  Before the month ended, I’d had a double mastectomy and was awaiting news of whether I’d need chemo and/or radiation.  Luckily, I was determined to be in the low-risk for recurrence category so chemo was not recommended.  I say “luckily” because I was scared shitless of having chemo; now, I wonder if I would have more peace of mind if I’d had chemo.  I am 6 days away from my next 3-month follow-up with the oncologist, and I am already worried about what he’ll say.  Would I be less worried if I’d had chemo?

I did end up having 6 weeks of radiation.  That was a piece of cake.  Er, what I mean to say is that radiation is a deceptively easy treatment.  It was tedious and a little inconvenient (especially the part where I had to figure out alternate treatment options so I could leave town to attend my mother’s funeral in April), but it wasn’t really too bad.  Except that now, 8 months later, I am having such ugly complications because of the radiation.  You see, all the crap they warn you about regarding how radiation kills the tissue and the little blood vessels and capillaries that carry blood to the tissue…that shit really happens!  I’m proof.  I’ve now had 4 surgeries this year — boobs removed (January), tissue expanders put in (June — OUCH!!!!!!), expanders replaced with silicone (October — not too bad, until incision decided not to heal), and finally, silicone implants taken out (also, not too bad until incision decided not to heal).

In some respects, I ended my year much as I started it: having my boobs removed.  This last surgery gave me the opportunity to revisit all the feelings and fears I’d encountered when I first found out I would lose my real breasts almost a year prior.  I think I had a slight advantage, thought, because this time I knew what to expect from breast surgery, I’d already been completely breastless once, and, quite frankly, I was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t wait to get the implants removed.  It did provide some relief initially, until the incision opened up again.  So, for the last 3 weeks, I have been home, “taking it easy”, being waited on, not driving, not working, not cooking or cleaning or doing laundry, not carrying my own purse, not washing my own hair, not even taking real showers.  I’ve had home healthcare nurses visiting every other day to tend to my wounds.  The last I heard (because I still haven’t – and can’t – look at my wounds), I am starting to show some improvement.  The tissue is starting to look a little healthier and the doctor wants me to get in the shower every day now.  No more of those mamsy-pamsy sponge baths.

I have learned a lot about dignity (and the loss of it) this year, and I want to write about that.  But not today.  When I started writing this post, that was my intent, but it is a cloudy, dreary day outside, and I don’t want to darken my heart.  Losing your dignity is dark.  I am fortunate that even at my lowest points, I had something to be grateful for.  When I was apologizing to my husband as he emptied the disgusting drains or held my hair as I puked, he asked me to please stop saying I was sorry and to just say thank you.  To be grateful that he was there to do those things for me.

I am so grateful.  From a practical standpoint, I am grateful for my awesome health insurance.  I don’t even know where to start, except to say that BC (before cancer), I always heard bad things about Health Plan of Nevada.  AD (after diagnosis), I am here to tell you that my insurance company is AMAZING.  I haven’t had one single issue with them.  They have paid all my bills without question.  I have never had to worry about access to doctors, medication, treatment, nurses (seriously, I had a nurse come to my house on CHRISTMAS day.  And New Year’s Day for that matter), you name it.

I am grateful for my friends at work who, on two occasions, rallied and donated so much sick leave to me that I have been able to stay home and rest as I needed to.  They’ve covered my work and made me feel just fine about it.  I am grateful for my amazing daughters who have continually lifted my spirits and given me a bright spot to focus on every single day.  I am also grateful for our new addition, Hank.  He’s the little guy we adopted from the animal shelter — a 1-year old shitzu who has excellent manners and has proven to be the most amazing family dog and awesome recovery companion.

Mostly, I am so grateful for my husband.  I don’t know how I would have gotten through without him.  There was a thing that “went viral” (I feel like a poser using that terminology) about the guy who posed in a pink tutu in honor of his wife who has breast cancer.  Well, my husband hasn’t worn a pink tutu, but I’m sure he would if I asked him to. He has, however, accompanied me to every doctor appointment this year (it’s gotta be pushing 30 appointments), sat through 4 surgeries and nursed me back to health afterwards, emptied drains, changed bandages, wiped my tears, cried with me, let me take my anger out on him, carried my purse, told me I was beautiful when I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, cooked for me, took care of the kids, cleaned the house, helped me shop for clothes that might make me feel at least somewhat comfortable with my newly disfigured body…and he’s continued to love me with and without breasts. 

Yes, I’m grateful.  And lucky.

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