Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Counting Down to Surgery | Planning Recovery

I am counting down the hours until Friday morning when I'm wheeled into surgery again by planning my recovery.

This surgery feels entirely different. 

The first surgery was fraught with fear of both the known and unknown variety. The first surgery felt like an enormous loss and a total violation. I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I did something wrong. I woke up without a breast. I woke up to discover sneaky cancer cells, albeit just a few, had begun to infiltrate my lymph nodes.

Indeed, the first surgery was a real downer.

Scheduled exactly seven months after the first, this Friday's surgery is about moving forward. Yes, I will be losing another breast but I will also be waking up with expanders on both sides and steps closer to feeling whole again. 

As the community of breast cancer survivors and thrivers know, reconstruction is not augmentation. I will not have normal looking breasts. And this surgery also differs from some other reconstructions such as Angelina Jolie's proactive efforts to avoid a breast cancer diagnosis. Ms. Jolie was fortunate enough to keep her nipples and the eight- inch slash across the left side of my body from the first mastectomy isn't going to magically disappear.

Honestly, my results will probably be considered a bit frightful to anyone who hasn't stood and observed from a similar vantage point.

But this isn’t about vanity - this is about trying to replace what cancer took away. 

And I'm very excited.



Afraid? No.

I trust my surgeons. I trust my oncologist. I trust my decision.

As an added bonus, I'm stacking the deck on the recovery side.

Tomorrow I will visit the YMCA for orientation into the Living Strong. Living Well. program. I had intended to participate in the program last August however, by the time August arrived, I was feeling fantastic and I didn't want to take another person’s slot.

This time, the schedule couldn't be more perfect. Tomorrow, the day before surgery, I'm going to go in to meet the trainers and my fellow patients and say, "This is me. This is what I can do now. Next week I'll be four days out of surgery and won't look so good. I need you all to help me get back to THIS."

Pre-planning my recovery has been both the best distraction and the biggest act of self-empowerment yet in this process. 

Telling family, friends and total strangers all about it is part two: you guys are the ones who I expect to hold me accountable.

I have lofty physical goals and I feel strongest mentally when I feel strong physically.
A recovery win-win.

So here is what I am planning. And I’m publishing it so you can all hold me to it.

Essentially my plan includes a shorter hospital stay and then follows a similar regimen as last time - lots of walking. However, since I have the Living Strong. Living Well program to support me this time, I've added a goal and signed up to do the SF Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon on Groundhog Day - two weeks and two days after surgery.

Don’t worry I'll be walking it. There will be no jiggle in my wiggle for awhile.
But there will be a smile on my face and my husband will be there every step of the 13.1 mile journey - holding my hand, making me laugh and reminding me I often have 'good ideas' that leave me cursing mid-execution. But I always finish.

(Side note: I’ve never finished a race DFL before (dead f****** last) but I expect this may be the first time and I’m okay with it. My goal is simply to finish before they take every bit of KP signage down!)

So please, please, please. Help hold me accountable. Ask me every day if I have walked. Ask me if I'm doing my arm exercises. You'll either be giving me a needed kick in the pants or you'll be giving me the opportunity to say, “Hell yeah, I'm doing great.”

And that phrase, my dear friends, is the ultimate feel-good moment on a long road to recovery.

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