Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Healing



It’s been three weeks since I posted on this blog. Since then I’ve been focused on one thing: healing.

I’ve slept a LOT. The drains have come out. I’ve moved back to my own home and am sleeping in my own bed and not the recliner I bought for my parents’ house. I’ve gotten some of my energy back.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had good days and bad ones. The drains have been replaced by a new problem — seromas. Fluid keeps filling in the space where my breasts used to be, and it’s not comfortable. Still, it’s so much less painful than having tubes running beneath and out of my skin. Ouch!

I’ve tried to go for walks and get some excercise. It seems amazing to me that just two weeks ago, I barely had the energy to walk for 30 minutes. Yesterday, I spent three hours strolling at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I think I’m turning a corner here now that I’m five weeks post-op.

There’s an emotional element to recovering, as well. Cancer is scary as hell. Ultimately, facing cancer is about facing one’s own death. Sure, we all die. It’s pretty easy to be philosophical about it, especially when you’re NOT the one with the cancer. Until the real possibility of death is staring you in the face, you can’t grasp what if feels like.

The 45 days of waiting before my surgery drained me emotionally more than anything I’ve had to go through. In the midst of it, I told my sister that I didn’t think I’d ever feel happy or light-hearted again. That much stress has to be resolved somehow. The impact of it is real. So I’ve been trying to be very easy on myself, making no big demands and approaching each day with no expectations of what I should do and focusing on things I enjoy — music, flowers, conversations with my mother, talking with my sister via Skype, slowing organizing all the cards you’ve sent me.

It’s funny how my perspective has changed since April 21, the terrible day I was diagnosed.

I initially told the surgeon that I would not be able to survive — I would not be able to SURVIVE!!! — without breasts for any lengthy period of time. Reconstruction had to be a priority, I said, along with obliterating the cancer.

Now that I’ve been living without breasts for more than a month, I’ve begun to wonder whether I want reconstruction at all. Yes, I miss having breasts, but do I really want to subject myself to the long surgery that a DIEP flap entails? It’s microsurgery with four to five hours of anesthesia and a few days of hospitalization. I’d have chest incisions and drains, as well as a major belly incision. I’d be risking all the pain and hazards of surgery, including infection, just so that I could have sculpted blobs of fat designed to look like breasts beneath my clothing?

I’m not offended by the sight of my chest with its healing scars, so why should I subject myself to that? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself. What a shift!

I initially told the doctor that I would not even consider breast prostheses. No! No! Not me. I imagined they would be big pillow bullet bras or something. And what was I supposed to think when what they gave me in the hospital were two hand-stitched felt pillows? These were made by volunteers — God bless them! — but I’ve never worn mine. They’re not even the same shape. As I said on Facebook, I have no idea which clan they represent, but I call them my Argyle boobs.

A pair o’ wee titties for ye, lass?

Then the referral for a prosthetics came in, and I decided to approach it all with an open mind. The fitting at Nordstrom was interesting. The first pair of breasts prosthetics were so much like my real breasts that I got choked up for a moment. That was tough. Then I decided to go bigger.

Why not?

I ended up with two bras that look like grandma bras and two high-tech breasts made of whipped silicone. The prosthetics are inserted into the bra and can be adjusted so that the little nipples point the same way and such. They look real even when I’m just wearing the bra. When I’m dressed, you wouldn’t be able to tell they weren’t real unless you grabbed them, and even then...

They’re so convincing that one of my cross-dressing gay friends has offered to buy them from me if/when I have reconstruction.

High-tech boobage

I was amazed at how good they looked — and how much seeing myself with breasts again lifted my spirits. No, breasts don’t make me who I am, but they were a part of what I cherished about being a woman. They’re a part of what makes a woman feel feminine. Looking in that mirror, I felt more like myself than I had in weeks.

Some days I wear the prosthetics, and some days I go flat. I feel comfortable both ways. Whether I’ll stick with prosthetics or go under the knife again remains to be seen.

July 3 was a big day. I woke up, took a shower with my iPod blasting, and found myself dancing around afterward while straightening up my bedroom. I said to myself, “I might not have boobs, but I still have the moves.”

Then I stopped and stared at myself in the mirror because it was the first day since my diagnosis that I’d woken up feeling happy.

What a precious thing it is to feel light-hearted! What a beautiful gift it is to open your eyes in the morning and not immediately feel pressed by worries! I don’t think I’ll ever take feeling carefree for granted again, and I am actively cultivating happiness. Yes, Project Happiness is still active.

Last summer, Benjamin and I decided we had to put a concerted effort toward having more fun. If left to ourselves, we’ll work all day every day. So we regularly planned little getaways, even if they were just quick drives to favorite spots in the mountains. We had a spectacular summer.

We learned from that. If you don’t TAKE time to MAKE memories, you won’t end up with any, and time will pass you by anyway. As a result, I’m doing that again, working to make certain that I include activities that soothe my spirit and lift me up. It’s more important now than ever.

Yesterday, we went to the Denver Botanic Gardens to see the flora and the Chihuly exhibit. I wasn’t sure when we made this plan that I would be able to handle three hours of walking around in the hot sun. Fortunately, it wasn’t as hot as it has been lately, and the beauty of the art and the flowers lifted my spirits so much that I felt as if I were being carried through the gardens. It was bliss.

Blue glass reflecting off the water


Beauty is so intensely healing for me. It soothes and inspires. It lifts not just my heart, but my mind and my spirt, too. Creating beauty is a God-like act, as all creation comes from that original Divine spark. Soaking up other people’s creations is such a joy on every level.

Still, I have a lot of physical and mental adjustments to make. The seromas need to heal. The incisions need to heal completely, a process that will take another three weeks or so. I still have to face treatment — whatever it turns out to be — and then recover from that. But there’s more.

I need to learn to cope with the fear that cancer brings so that stress won’t hurt me. I also need to change my lifestyle from the sedentary one of a writer to the active lifestyle I had before my climbing accident. I already eat organic, but I also eat a lot of sugar. The sugar has to go. These are big changes, and they’re tough. How many people want to live more healthful lives and never get past joining the gym? But this is my agenda for the year.

I plan to enlist the folks at the Integrative Care Center at BCH in Boulder to help me with some of this, through oncology massage, Reiki, acupuncture, counseling. It’s expensive, but I’ll go as many times as I can afford to go — whatever it takes to rebuild my health and my life brick by brick. That’s really what this is about.

The other elements that I hope to rebuild is my community involvement and my spiritual life. As a journalist, I was always involved in something. As a writer, I’ve been primarily focused on my books. I want to shift that. My church community has a program that helps women who are homeless after leaving jail or prison. Can you think of a cause more suited to my particular and very odd life experience and skill set? I think not. The cause of incarcerated women has always been dear to me, so I hope to become involved in that when my health permits.

As for my church, the community there has been very supportive of me. I gave up going to church for years, in part because I was going to sweat lodge and enjoyed that more. But in January after my mother-in-law’s death, I felt the desire to return to St. John’s, the liberal Episcopal congregation where I was baptized. I haven’t been to services since my surgery, but I hope to return this Sunday. Prayer helped me get through my dark days — with support from the beautiful and loving Marliss Melton — and I want to keep this change as a permanent part of my life.

When it comes to writing, I hope to work my way back to Holly’s story as soon as possible. If I don’t write, I don’t publish. If I don’t publish, I don’t have income. If I have no income...

Well, we all know what happens then.

I have some big decisions to make in the days ahead about treatment — decisions that have the potential to impact how long I live. My cancer is low risk and not aggressive, but there was 1mm of cancer in a lymph node. This puts me in an awkward position in terms of whether or not I should have chemo. Statistically speaking, I don’t stand to benefit from chemo because the specific biology of the tumor makes it highly unlikely that it will recur. The odds of recurrence are almost identical without chemo as they are with it — a 0 to 1 percent difference. Because chemo entails some real risks, including permanent organ damage and death, it may be riskier than going without. Statistically speaking.

But statistics aren't science or biology, and there are no certainties when it comes to breast cancer. Even my oncologist says this is a tough call. We’ve gotten a second opinion, and it concurs with the first. Both recommend Tamoxifen for five years and no chemo. But ultimately the choice is mine.

If you pray, then please pray for clarity for me on the next step.

In the meantime, please know how touched I am by your gifts and cards. Your kindness and your prayers carried me through this difficult time. I am truly grateful.




18 comments:

KristinCP said...

So happy to get a blog update. I can't believe it's already been 5 weeks! I know many of us keep tabs on you in the I-team group, but these are so personal. Always thinking of you, Pamela! <3 *hugs*

Kristin P.

Bowen Jake Mehrman Barrs said...

I...am not a cross dresser. I am a drag queen.....And I won't be bothered if you decide to become a silicone sister and keep those new Ta-Tas!

On a serious note. I saw my mother go through Chemo. She survived four of the six intended treatments before it disabled her immune system to near death. She is still with us, but has suffered "chemo brain" and has horrible memory issues that started just after the treatments. It is a personal journey and everyone reacts differently. Know specifically what drugs they'll use and do your research...as I know you will. :) Fortunately you are a self-empowered woman and are handling this with an openness and honesty that will help others on the same path. LOVE you muchly my dear friend!

girlygirlhoosier52 said...

Glad to know that you're feeling good enough to get out and enjoy yourself!! That Chully [sp] glass in the garden is glorious.. I saw a similar exhibit at Cheekwood in TN.. didn't get to see it lit at night.
Keep up the good healing!!
I'm just a fan but have been thinking about you !!

Nancy said...

Thanks for sharing your journey. Praying and thinking about you every day. So glad you're beginning to have some happiness again.
Love,
Nancy

Margaret Mallory said...

I've been wondering how you were doing. I'm so glad to hear that you're getting your energy back and that your recovery, though tough, is going well. I can definitely relate to what you said about writing sucking up time that you used to devote to community involvement and outdoor activities. I vow to do better too!
Wishing you the very best,
Margaret

Pamela Clare said...

I'm so sorry, Bowen, dear! I apologize. I need to get my terminology in line. I was afraid I'd written the wrong thing.

Thanks for sharing that about your mother. You've told me before, but I'd forgotten. I hope she's doing better now. She's such a sweet person.

Love you. XO

Pamela Clare said...

Thanks, Kristin!

I worry that these blog posts will be boring or seem self-absorbed. I'm just doing my best trying to get through all of this and make sense of it. <3

Pamela Clare said...

Thank you, GirlyGirlHoosier.

Isn't it beautiful! I was amazed. I didn't know much about him before we went, so it was all a terrific revelation for me.

Thanks for the good wishes. :-)

Pamela Clare said...

Nancy, thank you so much for your prayers and for your kind thoughts. They mean a lot to me. :-)

I'm glad life has settled down to something more normal, too. I needed that!

WendyB said...

Thank you so much for another wonderful, honest and inspiring blog. I have been wondering how you are and the next steps for you. Your blog post made me smile, laugh out loud ("Then I decided to go bigger")and feel emotionally touched. Go the sexy tartan boobs, the only thing more interesting would be knitted ones! You have such a gift with language Pamela thankyou. Social media gets bagged a lot but it is amazing at also bringing people together and I was so pleased to see a blog up. I'm off for my regular mammogram today (although I am under 50). Don't expect anything untoward but you never know eh.. take care. you are amazing.

Lori said...

I'm so grateful that you are beginning to feel joy again, and are feeling better both physically and emotionally.

Thank you for the update. So many people are rooting for your health & happiness.

Shadowcat said...

Congrats on the blessings you have received to spite your diagnosis (yes, I said "to spite"). You have found wisdom & insight. Stay strong and don't be afraid to ask for help if needed.
Thank you for sharing this.

Wendy Probst said...

Love the blog update. I did not do one when I had my breast removed. But it shows that we are all survivors. Look forward to more of the blog.

Wendy P.

Kathy Dennis said...

It makes my heart feel good to know you are in a more positive frame of mind as well as taking more positive steps toward your future. You are someone women facing Cancer, of any type, can look to as an example of how it's done.
Thank you for sharing you experience with all of us. Just think, this blog and your Facebook posts could be responsible for saving one or more lives. How cool is that!!!

Kathleen Young said...

Pamela, my prayers are with you and may God bless you with a full recovery. From what I've just read above, I can tell that your starting to have a positive attitude and THAT is a very good thing. I can't imagine how hard this is for you as I myself have not had cancer. I pray for you to have all the
strength and love you need while you recover.

Thank you for sharing with ALL of us.You are an inspiration to us and we all care deeply about you and what your going through..

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Amen

Sabrina Robert said...

Everyday you are getting stronger both mentally and physically. For future treatment go with in your heart it hasn't steered you wrong yet. .
We are so proud of how you are dealing with all you been through. You are a very strong woman. We will always be here to keep your spirits up and cheer you on.

Michelle Howard said...

I'm do glad to hear you in good spirits and recovery. Just getting around after major surgery is intense. Prayers for you continued good health and the decisions on your plate regarding the breasts reconstruction and treatment

Pat F said...

Pamela, you are such an inspiration! I think the cruelest thing you suffered was having to wait 45 days for surgery, that is inhumane. You certainly have big decisions to make, my prayers are with you every day. I will say that my Mom lived a long and happy life without breasts, didn't believe in prosthetics, so had pads similar to your argyle boobs! She was only in her late twenties when she had her first mastectomy. It's your body, and only you have the right to make that decision. <3. xoxo