i am writing this on the eve of my bilateral mastectomy. at the age of thirty two. today is a dedicated day of mourning. well for me it is anyways. it’s the last day i get to spend with a third of my body. in a little less than twenty four hours, my breasts will be cut off in an effort to eradicate my body from stage two breast cancer and new ones will be formed using my abdomen. it’s a twelve hour surgery. one that when it was presented to me three days after being diagnosed with cancer, i just kinda brushed it off. it seemed so far away and it seemed like a small hurdle compared to the chemotherapy treatment one that had been placed first. but today marks one hundred and fifty three days since i started the battle to fight cancer. which doesn’t seem like a very long time. but it’s here. and the claws of so many emotions have dug into me. and anytime anyone brings up the surgery, i find my eyelids heavy with tears. and it’s not because i am afraid. and i think that is the common misconception. i am not afraid. there is zero point in being afraid. and i realize how people can often lump fear and worry or fear and anxiety into the same knapsack but i have always found them to be separate. so let’s be clear, i am not afraid. and here’s why: i picked an incredible medical team. i would trust my oncologist with my own life [bahaha and i actually have done just that] and i would let my plastic surgeon stitch me up blindfolded. i have become friends with the group of women who delivered carniogenic drugs to me for five months straight and would trust them to do that a million times over; even if they had a chipotle burrito in one hand. see? fear stems from, in my opinion, not having trust. but that’s not my issue here. i am willing to hand my life to my team on a silver tray and expect it back without harm. i have zero reason not to believe in them. zero. the internet will tell you that only one percent of women die on the table during a mastectomy. the percentage is the same for women having a double. ten percent of women have lifelong scar tissue buildup or swelling that never subsides. forty percent of women will have their breasts removed only to discover cancer still alive and well. ten percent of women will see breast cancer resurge in less than ten years, even after having surgical amputations. those are facts. real facts. not google searched facts. and those facts don’t line up with trust. because while i trust those facts to be based on science, i can’t trust that they won’t happen to me. but honestly, when i stack everything up and look at all of it; the pile is so much bigger than it seems. see, i am not afraid. it’s not fear. i am not walking into this surgery caring the weight of fear on my shoulders. i am carrying the weight of what is happening to me. saying ‘it’s a lot’ feels like a bit of an understatement. and i know i don’t owe anyone an explanation. but the thing is- everything i am holding is heavy. the last twelve months have been heavy. my brain can barely tolerate living outside of a trauma space for more than half a minute. i just finished the most horrific five rounds of chemotherapy and am just hours away from having a lot of my identity surgically removed and new, fake stuff stitched to me. all while a pandemic surges around me. when i wake up in recovery, i will be totally alone. wearing a surgical mask because it’s still a pandemic. everything feels hard. everything feels heavy. today, i laid in my bed and sobbed for nearly an hour. i cried because my body has carried me for the last thirty two years and now we are having a very bitter goodbye. we are parting ways and i can already feel the body dysmorphia settling into my bones. i cried because i spent forty two days absolutely alone fighting for my life less than a year ago. i made life or death decisions alone. i planned my own memorial service from a four by four infectious disease cell. and cried myself to sleep for sixteen days of pure viral hell. i cried today because i feel like i failed. failed at providing a safe place for my body to exist for the last three decades. failed at doing all the right things. starting to think about every piece of bacon i ever ate or every swipe of deodorant or every diet Coke that i have downed in my lifetime. was it something i did wrong? something i failed to do? failed to protect her from all of the terrible parts of life.
and it’s funny. because just a few days ago, a friend of mine texted me to offer another helpful tip in preparation for surgery. and amongst the conversation was something about body failure. and it clicked. that’s what i am going through. actually, for me i have been going through it for quite some time now. i remember being so mad at myself for putting my body at risk last year. for letting my guard down enough to contract a deadly virus. i felt so guilty and ashamed that i wasn’t protective enough. and that’s where my headspace is. that’s where i live on the daily. just constantly feeling like i didn’t do enough to save myself; to save my own body. and so it isn’t fear keeping me awake at night. it’s me. absolutely wrecked over the fact that at the age of thirty two, i have endured too much. and that my body has been through so much. and that i have failed her.
and it pushes me into a reflective space more than you would think. like the other day. i had a full blown immune response to my first vaccine dose. which was an extremely emotional experience. because when i broke a fever on march twelfth of last year and it continued to climb to one hundred and three and stay there for sixteen days, i thought it would never return to normal. and for months after i entered recovery, anytime i thought i had a fever- i full out panicked. it’s a trigger for me. my body has been living in a trauma response place for a long time. and so i had a fever after my shot. a relatively high one- one hundred and one point six. cute right? and i found myself triggered; in full panic mode. and i just kept repeating to myself- “it’s okay. you’re okay. this is your body recognizing the one thing that has tried to end your life. and this is your body protecting you. this is a good thing. this will pass. this isn’t a sick body. this is your body going to war for you”. i must’ve said that to myself over a dozen times with tears streaming down my face. just over and over. reminding myself to be proud of what my body can do. of what my body has done. and it’s not easy to do. when your mind takes you to all the things you might’ve done wrong and all the times you could’ve done it differently.
so today, i truly mourned the end of this stretch of time with this body of mine. i don’t want a new one. i am not excited or happy or thrilled to be receiving a new one. i am so grateful to have spent the last three decades living inside this house, this safe place, this shell. it has survived one hundred percent of the hell it has been through. it has held me in grief, in loss, in joy, in sadness, in love. this body has endured sunburns and held up my wedding dress. worn graduation robes and halloween costumes. it’ll never birth a baby or even feed one and it will never be the original one ever again. it’s the body that’s been photographed hundreds of times and has carried me through life, one foot in front of the other. and it will take time to grow fond of the new one. it will take time to grow comfortable with new skin, new tissue, new scars. a new home. and so alongside the sadness, comes the thankfulness. to have lived this long inside a warrior of a cage. thankful to have had this body for this long. thankful to be alive, because of this body. the one who battled an infectious disease, sight unseen for endless days. the one who fought cancer dehydrated and malnourished. the one who carries me all day from sunrise to sunset without fail. i owe my life [quite literally] to you. thank you. for never failing me, even in the times i may have failed you.
the dawn of a new body is here. in just a few hours, in the most barbaric of fashions, the end of one and creation of a new. and i know that i have to allow myself the space to say goodbye to what was before i can welcome what is. what i have endured has been so much. and the body in which i have done it never got the break she deserved. and guilt and shame and failure surround her. but so does pride. and so here it is. my day of mourning. but also my day of recognition. of just how immensely proud i am of this body. of this house. of this place that has been my safe place. i am proud of you for all you have endured. and i am sad to say goodbye. but proud of all we have waged through together. proud of all the wars we have fought and all the times we have risen after a mighty fall. i regret nothing but wish we had more time together.
but i am so beyond thankful to walk into the next leg of life having been saved by you.