I cried today.
It was both cathartic and scary to open that emotional door after diligently focusing on only the positive since surgery.
My first look at the diagonal incision that has replaced my left breast was a conscious decision. In the hospital, it was easy to avoid, doctors and nurses checked from the bottom, lifting the gauze up and obstructing my view. If I had wanted to see, I would have had to ask.
Dr. Z paused before removing the gauze from my incision.
I looked beyond her, at my husband, and said, "I haven't seen my incision yet."
"It looks very good, you are a fast healer," she commented as she felt the area for fluid and tenderness.
"Where do you want me?" Brandon asked. "Do you want me there? Next to you?"
I looked across the room, directly into the mirror.
The incision, depending on your perspective starts or ends under my left armpit and cuts diagonally down across what used to be my breast toward, but not all the way to, the center of my chest.
It's not an angry incision, barely pink in most places and tinged with a translucent purple thanks to the body-grade super glue that my surgeon used after the inside-only stitches.
Tears formed and fell before I really even realized I was crying.
It's not an ugly scar even in it's newness. It's just not my breast. My breast is gone. And it will take some getting used to.
In moments of clarity and strength, I am easily able to rationalize the loss:
- I breastfed two babies and, at 40, planned no more
- I have never defined myself by my body shape, only by strength
- I made a decision that saved my life
The tears came anyway. My husband held my hand and wiped them away gently.
Once everything was neatly taped back on, Dr. Z asked what should have been an innocuous question, "So do you have an appointment with oncology yet?"
"We have to wait for path results to come back," I said, completely composed and over the 'moment'.
The pause was Hollywood-heavy with drama.
"Are my pathology results back?" I asked pointedly.
"Well yes, but your doctor will talk with you about them."
Pause here for a moment if you think I said, "Oh. Okay. That sounds good."
Uh Ya. No.
Not sure what I said but here is what I now know.
Invasive cancer was found in the breast, a discovery that was predicted by the original pathologist and only validates the mastectomy. The invasive cancer is also Estrogen + (like the DCIS) which is good since there are drugs to work with that. The invasive cancer also tested negative for HER2. Which is AWESOME!
Unfortunately, the words I didn't want to hear came after I asked Dr. Z the pointed question, "What about the lymph nodes?"
"Dr. C will talk to you about that."
"Were there cancer cells in the lymph nodes?"
"Well yes, but just a few. And only in one node."
The wide open elation, the great relief, the expansive freedom that I felt from having my drain removed contracted to a single speck. Cancer in the lymph nodes is no bueno. Period. The end.
So, in exactly 32 days I've gone from mammogram to biopsy; to Stage 0 cancer to recommendation for left mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy; to removal of left breast and sentinel and auxiliary node; to diagnosis of invasive cancer (not yet staged).
Without much more to ask or say, I hugged Dr. Z goodbye, thanked her for removing the heinous drain, and went about the challenge that is dressing my upper body.
And I cried.