October is here. This means pumpkin spice everything, changing leaves, and cooler golf temps. October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when we’re reminded to get ourselves checked and support and acknowledge those affected by the disease.
October hits home with me because my family knows breast cancer all too well; my grandma, mom, three aunts, sister, and several cousins all had the disease. Because of this, I’ve been closely monitored for years, and have been called for follow up mammograms and biopsies. Anyone who’s ever had one of those calls understands the stress of tests and waiting for answers. Luckily, I was never diagnosed with cancer.
Last October, I got tired of worrying about when (not if, based on my family history) the disease would finally strike me. I took action and had a voluntary prophylactic bilateral double mastectomy and reconstruction. In other words, I had my breast tissue removed and reconstructed with implants as a precaution based on my genetics and personal history. (Or, “I did what Angelina Jolie did.”)
While I knew this was absolutely the right decision for me, I didn’t take the operation lightly. One, I was freaked out by the enormity of the surgery and about messing with my “womanhood.” Even moreso, as an active person (I golf, run, do yoga, and workout like crazy), I worried I’d be sidelined for months. And if we’re getting personal, since my new anatomy was going to be a “slight upgrade,” I was worried about my golf swing. Let’s just say my frame had never been a problem in the past, and I was curious how things would go after surgery.
Fears aside, I knew I had to do this. I went in October 25 and had a successful surgery. I could write an entire piece on the recovery process, but in a nutshell it was much easier than I expected. The hardest part was getting in and out of bed. I had to sleep propped up on my back, and wasn’t allowed to use my hands to push myself up. Therefore, I had to shimmy myself to the edge of the bed and use my abdominals to get up. I also had four drains to contend with, adding to the challenge. I only experienced notable pain the first week, and felt much better (almost human) by week two. I had to be careful, though—no opening car doors, pulling or reaching above my head as these actions could cause tearing or complications. I couldn’t imagine how I’d ever do my yoga poses, sling a golf bag over my shoulder, or swing a club.
Slowly but surely, I healed. Therapy helped me regain mobility and reach above my head, lift two pound weights, and other normal things I’d taken for granted before the surgery. Six weeks out, I was cleared for running and yoga. Since my recovery took place in late fall, my golf debut would happen months later, allowing for even more healing.
So, the question remains, does a double mastectomy with reconstruction negatively impact one’s golf game? While I’d like to blame a good share of bad rounds this summer on my new physique, I really can’t say my surgery hurt my game. Yes, my swing needs some fine tuning as “things” feel a bit different. All in all, though, my golf appears about the same. Surgery wasn’t the game-changer I expected it to be.
The whole experience, however, was a game changer – physically and psychologically. I felt lucky to be given the chance to prevent cancer, yet guilty thinking of those who didn’t get the same chance. During my healing, I had some revelations…
Things take time.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you don’t heal from breast surgery in a day either. The weeks when I wasn’t allowed (or able) to reach or lift gave me a new appreciation for how easily I navigate through life when not healing. After my surgery I needed to rest, heal, and rehab my way back to normal activity. I learned to be patient and let things follow their natural course. A good lesson I try to apply whenever I want to rush the process instead of trusting it.
Scary news is best handled when discussed with a friend.
I didn’t mention it above, but my surgery in October was sparked by suspicious MRI findings which prompted a needle biopsy and two surgical biopsies. To put it mildly, I was pretty terrified. Thank God for my husband, family, and besties who were there as I navigated through the process. If you’re going through something that’s stressing you out, find someone to confide in!
Take care of yourself—right now.
Don’t wait for that call to change things. Look at your diet; what needs to be eliminated, what should be added? Do you get enough exercise? Do you work too hard? Are you too stressed? It’s funny how fast we change things up when we get a diagnosis. Don’t wait for that to clean up your act.
Get enough rest.
I heard this a lot during my recovery. Surgery wiped me out, and made me appreciate the value of a nap, a lazy afternoon, a day of not running around like a maniac. I realized how crazy my life had been before my surgery, and vowed to take better care of myself in the future. This advice goes for all of us: how can you slow down your crazy schedule? My down time was magical. It helped me truly rest, and as a result, I felt good enough to work, exercise, and just get through my days.
Be your own advocate.
As I mentioned, my surgery was voluntary. I researched my options and found out what I needed to do to make my surgery happen. I asked my (awesome) nurse navigator and health care team a lot of questions, and always reminded myself “this is my body; I am in charge.” This is a mantra we all should adopt. Be in charge of you. Stay current on mammograms, OB/GYN exams, and doctor visits. Ask questions. Be both proactive and appropriately reactive. Please don’t ignore something because you’re worried about the worst case scenario.
Be there for other women.
We need each other. My mom, sisters, family, and friends were amazing, but equally amazing was a group of gals I found in a Facebook group created for women going through this procedure. Having a community of women who “get it” makes anything seem less scary. Whatever you’re going through, find a support system.
Women are fierce.
I believe we possess a super-human source of power embedded in our DNA, just waiting for us to call upon during times of need. While my surgery went really well, I’m not going to lie, the experience wasn’t a day at the park. But, as cheesy as it sounds, having this type of surgery helped me find an inner strength I didn’t realize I had. We all have that power at our disposal, and when we increase that power by supporting each other… that power is unstoppable.
So this October, ladies, please do two things for me. One, schedule a mammogram (or any test you need to address). Two, schedule a date with your favorite pal or pals. Hit the links, go for a walk, go for a drink… it doesn’t matter what you do, just find “your person(s)” and celebrate friendship and support!