From the first mention of something wrong to the day of my bi-lateral mastectomies, four and a half months had passed. Why so long? I was only diagnosed with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) — in other words, pre-cancer. The doctors felt there was no rush to surgery. I honestly agreed as well. Besides, it provided me enough time to prepare myself in any way I needed to.
My husband and I spent a significant amount of time talking about our family plans during surgery and recovery. Our decisions were made quickly, with no debating. Our daughter, Emma, was our main concern — as she should be. We refused to disrupt her life more than we already had. Emma, just starting first grade, needed to be left in school, focusing on learning rather than on her mom’s recovery. To be able to do that, we decided it would be best to utilize family: my in-laws. During the time I was in surgery and the few days following (until Eric could come back home to make the week without Mom a little more bearable), my in-laws would be accompanying Emma to and from school, and see to it that her homework was completed. More importantly, they would be there to provide her with the hugs and cuddles her parents were unable to give.
Family would be utilized even more during recovery. My sister, living less than an hour away from my chosen hospital, volunteered her house for as long as I needed. And she gave me the most generous offer – to be my caregiver. If I was unable to have my husband by my side, I definitely wanted my sister. After all, she has been the one person (next to my parents) who has been by my side my whole life. We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the early years, but our adult relationship was only becoming stronger. My mom would stay until the Sunday after my surgery to help assist those first few days home from the hospital. Once the following Thursday evening came around, my husband and daughter would be making the trip back over the mountains to pick me up — something I already was looking forward to.
After preparing for the necessary arrangements during recovery, it was time to prepare myself for the materials I would need. My typical response was to hit the internet for information. Why stop now? Looking on websites and blogs for other women who had mastectomies, I learned I would want to purchase button and/or zip-up shirts, sweatshirts, and pajama tops, paying attention to the tightness of the clothing since arm movement would be extremely reduced. Any excuse to go shopping, right? I hit the stores, mainly focusing on discount stores, clearance aisles, and the men’s departments for those big, comfy flannel shirts. I wanted to start looking into sports bras too, the ones that zip or have a clasp (front opening would be easiest), but didn’t. I felt I needed to wait until after my drainage tubes were out, and some of the swelling was reduced. Once I would be able to wear a sports bra, I would want one that fit and supported the way it needed to. In the meantime, I would be able to utilize the surgical bra that would be provided.
In the end, the mental preparation was the hardest — yet also the easiest. I was beyond comfortable with my decision to undergo a bi-lateral mastectomy. I was ready to start living the quality of life I knew I deserved. However, this was an extensive surgery, much more than the surgical biopsy I had months before, the wisdom teeth removal in college, or the tonsillectomy as a child. This was going to be approximately five hours under the knife, under the care of the surgeons and nurses. This was going to be the hardest surgery and recovery I hoped to never experience. This was going to take my physical strength away from me for months, maybe even years. But, all of the worry, all of the stress, was for a good reason. I planned this surgery as a preventative measure, to avoid hearing I had invasive breast cancer years down the road, and to provide me with a quality of life for years to come.
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