After 4 cancers over 8 years, I thought I was done. But apparently 5 is my new number….. because in December 2022 I learned I had a new breast cancer in the opposite breast from my first breast cancer in 2017. And this time there were more tumors, more widely distributed around the breast such that a lumpectomy wasn’t an option. I went to two different medical centers to get second and third opinions – I needed to be absolutely sure that I must have a mastectomy. While each medical center’s team had slightly different approaches to surgery and treatment, ALL agreed: Mastectomy. So, I had a skin sparing single mastectomy in March 2023. Post surgery I was incredibly lucky – no spread to lymph nodes, and a low Oncotype score means no radiation or chemo. I plan to do Diep flap reconstructive surgery – thanks to some frustrating complications, that surgery’s timing is still TBD.
After running TheBalmBox.com as a ‘survivor’ for the past few years it’s incredibly weird, humbling, and frustrating going back to ‘patient’ status. Of course, I have access to a warehouse full of excellent palliative resources – my current favorites are my Seatbelt Protector, Side Protector, and Bergamot Oil.
Immediately after my surgery I spent a ton of time in my “Peace Out Cancer” chair, watching Netflix and napping. Friends came for short visits, but my stamina and attention span were limited. However, once my drains came out and I dropped down from heavy-duty painkillers to lower powered drugs, I started feeling enormously better. I slowly snuck back into the world – my first step was to attend my kids’ sporting events and a week later, returned to The Balm Box part-time.
Every person is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healing and recovery. For me, getting back to work part-time, especially when “work” is running my own business, has been GOOD. Being productive and feeling “normal”, for me, is soothing. I LOVE watching my kids play volleyball and tennis and HATED missing their tournaments. But every step out the door has a cost. I’m about +5 weeks post-surgery as I type this, and my energy is still well below my pre-surgical levels. Healing takes time and patience – there is no short cut - at least none that I’m aware of!
When I get out of the house and see a friend or acquaintance – the first thing I hear is, “You look great!” And I don’t know how to respond to that. Sure, I can shower, put on makeup, and get dressed. I can sit on the sidelines and cheer. And no doubt, I do look pretty much how I looked pre-surgery. What folks do not see is the cost – after coming home from watching 4+ hours of volleyball I was completely incapable of anything else. I couldn’t answer an email, have a conversation, or lift my arms. It took 100% of my energy to be present for that tournament. (And it was worth it – I LOVED being there!) However, I promise you, when I got home, I did not look great. I looked, and felt, utterly exhausted and in pain.
Recovery is a long process. When you see a cancer patient start to return to the world, they might look great at the moment. But no doubt, they probably won’t look so great in a few hours. My suggestion is to be careful making assumptions about any patient’s recovery; looking great does not always equate to feeling great. I know I will feel great for longer stretches of time soon – incrementally, every day, I am slowly coming back to myself.
I get teary eyed every time I think about my incredible community of friends, family, and business associates that have showered me and my family with phenomenal help and support. My gratitude cannot be captured in words or thank you notes.
I have great faith that over time, not only will I look great, I’ll feel great too.