Look, Ma. No drains!

January 23, 2012

This past Thursday I went in for my post-op with Dr. T-dubs. She took a look at the drain log (we’d been keeping track of how much fluid was coming out of my body and being suctioned into the grenade looking guys) and decided the drains were ready to come on out.

Whew.  Those guys were really starting to irritate me.

‘You can go ahead and take your shirt off and get up on the table,’ she says.  She wants to look at the incisions on my chest and she wants to be able to cut the stitches on my sides so she can pull out the tubes.

‘Okay,’ I say.  “But I’m gonna look at the ceiling the whole time.  I haven’t felt brave enough to look at myself yet.’

I take my shirt off, lie back on the examination table. Starting with my right side, she cuts off the long length of the tube that leads to the drain, snips the stitches that are holding the remainder of the tube to my body and gives one nice hard pull to get the tube out.  ‘Ow. Ow. Ow.’  I say. Then she moves to the left side (where the cancer was) and goes through the same process.  But when she pulls the tube out of the left side, it burns like hell and hurts a whole lot worse than the right side did.  ‘OW-OW-OW-OW-OW!’  My knees jerk up to my chest and I squirm around.  ‘It won’t hurt that bad if you remember to keep breathing,’ she says. I take a deep breath.  She’s right.  The pain goes away.  She moves on to remove the steri-strips from the incisions on my chest.

I continue to keep my eyes on the ceiling throughout it all.

‘So… You really haven’t looked at yourself yet?’ she asks.

‘Nope.  I don’t think I’m gonna til this is all over with.’

She finishes pulling off the steri-strips.  ‘Okay.  Sit up and put your shirt back on.’

I do.

‘Look,’ she says.  ‘I don’t really believe in a lot of psycho babble.  But you have got to look at yourself.  Soon.  If you don’t, you’re gonna continue to live in some sort of state of denial about what is happening to you and it’s gonna leave you stunted emotionally.  I’m not kidding around this time.’

(‘Is she ever kidding around?’ AA asks later.)

Ugh.  I know she’s right.  I have to look.

So, the next morning, in the shower, I don’t let my eyes blur out of focus.  I look down at myself.  From this angle… really not too bad.  I can’t exactly see the stitches from above due to the little bitty mounds formed by the expandable implants that are in place.  I do, however, wonder why I ever let myself stop doing crunches every morning.  But overall, I still feel okay about things.

I get out of the shower and as I’m toweling off, I decide to go ahead and look at myself full on in the mirror.

Oof.  This is where it hits.

It looks exactly like I expected it to.  Dr. T-dubs had shown me pictures before the surgery of what the first step in this 8 month process would look like.  But this is different than looking at a book of laminated pages filled with images of headless torsos.  This is on my own body.  And after years of getting out of the shower and doing whatever I needed to do… brushing my teeth, drying my hair, etc… before getting dressed and not thinking about the naked reflection in the mirror… because it was MY body, and because I’ve always been relatively pleased with that reflected image… what stares back at me now is a harsh reality.

The breast mounds look gnarled by horizontal black stitching across the center where my nipples used to be.  The skin is a little misshapen where the expanders have not been filled to capacity yet, puckering around the stitches a bit to leave room for the muscles to stretch out over the implants. There are holes just below the breast mounds and on either side of them where tubes have been in my body for the past week. Red, raw marks highlight areas of my skin where medical tape has been put on and ripped off daily.  And somehow, resilient through everything, I can still see the tiny bullet holes on the side of my left ‘breast’ where they did the biopsy three weeks ago.

This is how I look from the outside.

Weak. Sick. Scared. Distressed.

I don’t cry.  I just stand in disbelief.  It doesn’t look like me.  And it certainly doesn’t match how I feel inside.

Strong.  Healthy.  Brave.  Happy.

I breathe deep and start to get dressed.  Ready to cover up all of the imperfections that I can do nothing about.  This isn’t a matter of revisiting a morning routine that involves crunches.  Deciding my ass has gotten bigger than I like and choosing to bike or run more.  Contemplating how I like my hips to be a little softer and allowing myself afternoon cupcakes whenever I want to achieve that desired effect.  I have no control over what my chest looks like now.  It all lies in the hands of Dr. T-dubs.

Given, they are capable hands.  Pre-op, I also flipped through laminated pages filled with headless torsos that had reached the end of this 8 month process.  And they looked great.  Really.  Great.

But… sigh… eight months?  Eight months until I am okay with my reflection in the mirror?  And that is if everything goes smoothly without any complications and without chemo getting in the way of reconstruction… which can happen.

AA reassures me daily that it does not look scary or horrifying the way I feel it does.  That it looks normal for what is happening.  That I am a work in progress and that is okay.  That the outside, physical result of kicking cancer’s ass is not the sum of all my beautiful parts.  She also reassures me that she does not HAVE to say this and if she felt this needed to be a time where I grieved the passing of beauty, she would level with me.

I do believe her.  To an extent.  And I do know how I feel on the inside.

Fierce. Witty. Kind. Pretty.

But… there are many moments where it doesn’t seem to matter.

How well I like myself.  How much I am still able to accomplish.  How fully I am able to live despite my newly discovered disease.  How much I love others.  How full of inner beauty I feel…

It’s inner.  Not outer.

It is difficult not to dislike my physical form… hard not to hate this body in which I am housed.  Right now.  At this moment.

I know I will eventually be glad Dr. T-dubs made me face this.  For now, I am very glad that the grenade looking guys have been removed from this body that I feel so much angst for.  With the drains gone, I can lift my arms above my head.  (Again, cheers that a two year old would receive for such a feat.)  And in the meantime… I have some pretty awesome shirts to wear, courtesy of the always-appropriately-blunt JT.

Here is the one I am wearing today:



End cancer chapter 5.


3 Responses to “Look, Ma. No drains!”

  1. Tara Wiseman Says:

    Awesome. Just f’ing awesome.

  2. Pablo Says:

    That shirt is the business.

  3. Susan Larissa Smith Says:

    So proud of you Gwen. You are amazing and brave!

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