Ponder this:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Post-mastectomy: Fun Facts to Know and Tell

With hope that none of this grosses anybody out . . . Murrmurrs wrote recently about her mammogram experience and a few of her readers' comments indicated that people still avoid making the appointment. Murr's response:  "As the late and much-lamented St. Molly Ivins said, Get. The. Damn. Mammogram."
Last August 4 at 9:00am I had two breasts. At noon I had one. During the following several weeks I had the emotional upheaval that, I read, accompanies the removal of any body part. Time and Life filed off those edges and I'm fine . . . and still me, for better or worse.
I wasn't prepared for some of the physical effects that remain. None of these is traumatizing, but nobody tells you about them beforehand. Maybe they aren't fun facts, but from my point of view, they are . . . interesting.
  • The most salient sensation I had prior to diagnosis was itching. I still have an occasional itch but the itchy part is no longer there. Or the itch feels as if it's deep inside somewhere, perhaps near my liver. I have tried finding the spot where the nerve was truncated and scratching there, but it's unreachable. In either case, it's frustrating to have an itch that can in no way be scratched. The affected exterior area is absolutely without sensation, which makes that itch even more odd.
  • One has a silicone blob to wear, of course, and with it in place, my exterior is quite unremarkable. Without the accessory under a t-shirt, that part of the body is amazingly flat. Beyond flat. The original structure never was, and is not now, impressively convex, but as I look down from above it appears that I have Mount Everest sitting directly adjacent to the Dead Sea.  
  • Remember 1980s shoulder pad buildup? The shoulder pads in the coat overlaid the shoulder pads in the blazer, which overlaid the shoulder pads in the blouse and it appeared that my earlobes were resting on my shoulders. Put clothing on this guy to the right and you have the image.  During surgery, the various layers of tissue get stitched up separately, of course, from inner to outermost. If all goes as it should, which it has in my case, all those stitched-up layers knit together and make a hard little ridge in the middle of the Dead Sea. 
  • All those knitted-together layers connect the outside to the inside:  One's skin feels as if it is Super-glued to one's rib cage. Reach for something that requires a stretch, particularly at an odd angle, and the subfloor shifts a little. Not painful, but perceptible.
None of these sensations is constant, except the numb, and most of the time, even this short time after the mastectomy, I forget that I am an amputee. And all of the time I'm glad It was dealt with so simply. 
So, that's all. Just another day in the life. Who else would tell you these things?


Anonymous said...

Thank you ~ stored away for future reference if needed. I'm good at getting my boobs and tubes checked out, and last week had to have a Colonoscopy ~ denial is no insurance policy. May you keep on getting stronger and healthier.

English Rider said...

It is good to hear that you are well into healing. Thank you for the undramatic and informative post. Odds are, many of us will find out for ourselves along the way. No one should fear a mammogram. None of us enjoy the experience but the discomfort is so short-lived and "knowing" is our best defense.

Hilary said...

Absolutely these are observations I've never heard before. Among the many things for which to be grateful, I'm so glad you're here to share your experiences. There's always something to learn here.

Lord Wellbourne said...

Honestly, June, you should have a nationally syndicated talk show. I have no concept of what you went/are going through. I now have a better understanding of courage and resiliency. And some info to bolster my supply of empathy. Thanks.

Murr Brewster said...

It's probably presumptuous to speak as the uncut version I hope to remain, but of all the things that might be edited off my form, I'd probably miss my breasts the least. Well, after the plantar's wart. I'm so glad you're healthy.

Carolynn Anctil said...

June, I, for one, am very grateful you tell me these things. They're things that I should know, I think, as a woman but no one ever seems to speak of it. It's relegated to the woo-woo, unspoken topics that are only ever whispered about and never in polite company. Someone goes in for surgery with two breasts, comes out with one, there is grieving that occurs and perhaps some scarring, both emotional and physical, but no one ever says "Hey, this is what goes on behind the curtain." Thank you.

I've gone for regular mammograms every year since my 40th birthday. Although, having had my test results mixed up with someone else's once (that I know of...) has affected my confidence in the entire process somewhat.


#1Nana said...

I love your matter of fact attitude...it is what it is. You will probably never know who you have helped by sharing your story, but I'm sure you are providing a great service. Thanks for your honesty about a ensitive topic.

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks you for this. The unknown is scary -- the known, less so.

morningbrayfarm said...

I don't think anyone else would, June. Thank you for sharing this. That last bit about the subfloor shifting... that must be a very strange sensation.

You'll be very happy to know that I had my second annual mammogram just last week. Hugs to you.

Bluebethley said...

Aging gracefully. Who could have said it better? Only you! Your witty, irreverent (Mount Everest next to the Dead Sea!), and heartfelt comments keep me coming back. Thank you, June. May you go forward in health and harmony, not sweating the small stuff or the big stuff.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

As I stood in a trailer in the snow that was the Travelling Mammogram Unit a couple of days ago , I thought of you and how brilliantly you coped with it all .
...... and Merry Christmas !

June said...

Well, S&S, I am flattered to think of you thinking of me at that moment!
The coping comes and goes, truthfully. I hadn't realized until very recently the effect of the physical change upon my mental state. Carolynn is right that it happens as: diagnosis; treatment; cured! And then, "You're all right now! Aren't you?" When the physical part, the actual change, occurs so quickly, one is caught by surprise at the emotional detritus.
I was so cavalier, prior to the event, about losing a lump of fat. It's different. It is what it is, yes. But it's different.
I understand, better now, Barb's lingering fear after her cardiac event.

Barb said...

Hi June,
I recently finished a book,The Pain Chronicles, by Melanie Thernstrom, which spoke of phantom pain (which is actually real because it is perceived). Your itch which cannot be scratched reminded me of that. Also when I had the stent inserted, I swore I could feel it - like a piece of Brillo pad in my chest. My cardiologist (bless his handsome heart) said there is no feeling inside the artery because there are no nerve endings. That's when I realized he didn't know everything! I'm glad you're mending both physically and emotionally. I smiled at your descriptions - "the Dead Sea" is brilliant.