It’s been almost 14 weeks since surgery.
I think of myself as fully recovered–full range of motion in both arms; no more weird nerve perception, that feeling of reaching out for something that isn’t there anymore; no lymphedema, though my risk wasn’t huge, it wasn’t zero; no infection; no zombie effects of general anesthesia; itching gone. I can lift all the things and do all the things I was lifting and doing before surgery, including sleeping however I damn well please. Okay, as much as the dogs allow. I can do yard work. I even did a few weeks ago! My backyard looked nice for four or five days!* I can buy full gallons of milk. I can go to Costco and not ask for help getting stuff in and out of the cart. I can carry the vacuum and shave my pits and not constantly worry about doing “too much”.
*fuck you, weeds
I am used to the scars. They are long and pink. Smooth. Graceful. Not unattractive and though I’m not considering not getting tattooed, I will probably miss seeing the scars so prominently once I do. I’ll wait until at least next spring before getting inked, so plenty of time for “enjoying” the vast expanse of blank skin, broken up by the two gentle, slightly curving lines that run from my sides to almost meet in the middle.
I am used to being flat. Or getting used to it. I haven’t tried on all my old outfits and experimented with placement of scarves and padding of bras, and I probably won’t. I’m just not concerned with passing for someone who hasn’t had cancer. It helps, I’m sure, that I was a card-carrying member of the IBTC before surgery and I don’t look drastically different with clothes on. But it has been something to get used to. I do occasionally pay mind to how much my scars are poking out of an arm hole (because it is summer and the hot-as-fuck Ohio River Valley, I wear a lot of tank tops). Some days I care and change my shirt; some days the shits I give are non-existent. Mostly I just love the ease of not needing a bra. Chilling at home, all comfortable and unconfined, and need to run an errand? Just leave! Seriously! You don’t have to put on a bra or grab a hoodie or whatever. Just leave. I asked Stuart if this is what it’s like to be a guy. He confirmed. I feel like I’ve gotten a peek at a secret cabal. I can’t join, but I got a taste of illicit freedom.
Of course, I look very different without a shirt. But I don’t hate it. I’ve described my peace with the scars. The scars are in place of real curves, 3D curves, with weight and warmth. Those curves are gone and I miss them. But they had cancer and I couldn’t keep them. I am also very much at peace with my decision not to get reconstruction. Okay, that’s not quite accurate. I am super fucking happy with my decision not to get reconstruction. It was absolutely the right decision for me and I know that every day. Reconstructed boobs would not be my boobs, the boobs I miss, and right now I would be getting tissue expanders filled MORE PROCEDURES or getting ready for exchange surgery ANOTHER SURGERY instead of training to run a half marathon in October (much more on this whole running thing saved for a future post).
The oddest thing is less the visual sparseness and more how I feel, both what my hands experience when I touch my chest and the sensations there. My chest is obviously flat, but there is no cushion there at all. At all. Hard. A layer of muscle on bone, under skin–like an elbow or a wrist–but a broad plain with ribs and sternum clearly articulated, instead of a sharp point or a small, fine-boned area. Though the numbness is subsiding, it is still the majority sensation. It’s like novocaine wearing off after dental work. Not horrible, but not necessarily pleasant. It makes me wonder what it will be like in 6-9 months and how it will feel to get tattooed there.
I press my fingers and palms along these scars and the surrounding skin a lot. Both to gauge my degree of acceptance of this flatness and to familiarize myself. Cancer is an evil monster and can come back, despite surgery, despite medicine, despite precautions. Just as this past February, any changes I detect can mean the difference between a treatment that is simple (even if it’s drastic as fuck) and one that requires weeks of radiology and chemotherapy and all the hardship that accompanies them.
I’ve also been on tamoxifen for 7 weeks. So far, so good. At least, I think so. It’s honestly hard to tell. The main reported side effect is hot flashes. I didn’t have hot flashes before starting tamoxifen and I still don’t think I’m experiencing any. I may be getting extra hot at night–I definitely get hot and throw the covers off, then get cold again–but I suspect it is sharing the space with two warm canine bed hogs during a summer heat wave. I’m also a bit restless at night (trouble sleeping is something people report) but I have been off and on for years. Some people say they have low energy because of tamoxifen; I often get sleepy mid-afternoon, just as I have for my whole adult life. Probably has more to do with the amount and type of carbs I consume at lunch time.
Weight gain is another complaint, as is joint stiffness. Lots of women report that exercise helps the stiffness, and so to combat that and any weight gain that may be lurking in my future, I decided to start running seriously. But that’s a post for another time.