One year. 365 days. That’s how long it’s been since November 7, 2012, forever known as the day I had a life-altering surgery. Most people’s first surgery is for their wisdom teeth; I guess you can say I don’t do anything half-assed.
In the past year, I’ve gone through the emotional wringer, dealt with disappointments and dashed hopes, and come out of it an even more awesome version of me – and cancer-free, to boot.
Last November, I spent the weeks leading up to my surgery in a constant state of stress. More stressed about the time off than the surgery itself, I was bitchy and tearful at work. The fear of all the aspects of my life I’d miss out on was overpowering. All I’d heard was that the surgery would be awful, the recovery would be awful, and life in general would never be the same.
They were wrong. Maybe it’s just because my surgery was done in pieces, but nothing was as bad as I expected. The sore throat from the breathing tube was the worst; the unexpected ab muscle pain was the second worst. Notice I haven’t mentioned my chest. That pain was negligible, especially compared to what I’d gone in expecting.
Emotionally, it sucked. Flat out. I’d argue that there are few women who would be pleased to wake up flat-chested after going into surgery planning to awake reconstructed. The following complications didn’t help, dragging the process out for the better part of a year. But did it kill me? No. I learned things – how to make prosthetic breasts look real, how to hide my nonexistent cleavage, how amazing the people in my life were with their visits and gifts and check-ins. I learned that Percocet makes me sad and that I’d rather be uncomfortable sleeping on my stomach than force myself to sleep on my back.
Maybe I was lucky. Maybe, like my mother, I have a superhuman tolerance for pain (and lack of tolerance for bullshit). Either way, I woke up groggy and sad but functional. I never needed help bathing and although I stayed with my parents for a few weeks, I managed to keep myself alive while they went to work (copious amounts of Parenthood on Netflix and leftovers helped). The aftermath of my expander-insertion surgery was hard, the first couple days being painful enough that I took narcotics, but the fills didn’t hurt. The expanders themselves don’t hurt – the stretch in my chest muscle impacts my already-chronic upper back muscle tension, but it’s nothing traumatic, nothing I can’t deal with.
I don’t cry when I see myself in a mirror; I never really did, even the day I finally ripped my shirt off and forced myself to see the post-surgery damage. In all honesty, I wouldn’t say I miss my old breasts. Even with expanders and their unnnatural tennis-ball hardness, I look normal. Nothing is missing.
The past twelve months have been quite the year. A year ago, it felt like time would never pass. Three months (ha!) to start reconstruction seemed like forever, and then it was eight months and now it’s been a year and everything feels like it rushed by. Looking back over the last year, it isn’t even this stuff that stands out. My boyfriend returned from overseas. We moved in together. Friends got married and engaged and pregnant. Work was crazy. People moved away. My brothers started college and high school. All sorts of things, none of which had to do with my chest (or lack thereof).
The second-best part of the last year was that I didn’t have breast cancer. The best part was that I got through a whole bunch of, quite frankly, crap, and came out on the other side, happy and awesome and with, if I do say so myself, a pretty nice (and cancer-free) rack.
So hello, November 7th. Good to see you again. Until next year.