Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
My "foobs," slang for the fake boobs on my chest to replace the ones removed by a double mastectomy, are under construction.
There was a large amount of time after my double mastectomy with reconstruction where I found myself still in need of a fair amount of pain medication and unable to do much. So, get this, no vacuuming, dusting, loading or unloading dishwasher, or anything repetitive or with more than five pounds of weight or force! I felt like a silly, but fortunate, head stuck on a popsicle stick or a talking head on top of a puppet body. I felt a bit useless. Hey, did you ever make a rubber band guitar with rubber bands and a shoebox? As I have said before, that pretty much describes my "under construction" chest! Either that, or two scrunched juice boxes stapled to my ribs and held in place, top and bottom, with a couple of really tight giant rubber bands. Grr.
What is a person to do when they feel like they are getting well too slowly and there really isn't a darn thing they can do about it? One possibility is to simply try to sink backwards into the process, trusting the process. Another important component is to manage the physical pain as well as possible. A third piece, in an operation this major, is to accept the pain that won't go away, even with medication. Sometimes dropping the rope with the tug-of-war with pain actually improves my perception of pain severity.
Foobs. So, what happens when a person does not really like the interim results? I mean, right now, my partially reconstructed breasts look like a couple lumpy sweaters that someone sloppily folded into squares and hurriedly tied up for Christmas. Every doctor I have seen since surgery, including my plastic surgeon, general surgeon and general doctor, reassures me that this is not what the final outcome looks like. Still, I find myself impatient and insecure. What is the solution? It is, again, to sink into the process and to accept the current moment. I am a work in progress. I am "under construction."
So really, how am I to get through the interim between the double mastectomy and the final foobs that tauntingly promise to help return my life to some kind of normal? Trust me, the tissue expanders there now do not feel "normal." Breast reconstruction is a process that typically takes months but can also take years! My family doctor suggested that, in my life, I accept what I can't change and work in the parameters of what I can change, and that I turn to doing the things in life that personally give me comfort and joy (I treated myself to a manicure-pedicure today). This is good wisdom, but unfortunately, it is easier to agree with it than to do it.
Change and process is hard in a society that always seems focused on outcomes, especially short-term outcomes rather than long-term outcomes. The speed of technology and the quest for instant gratification does not help us develop the patience and process skills that we need — especially as cancer survivors. We don't wait well. We worry along with our waiting. We try to speed up time, which, when you think about it, is actually kind of sad. Our time is our life. Is wishing the time to pass more quickly really the way to live, especially for a cancer survivor?
Still, when I am either physically uncomfortable at best, or in pain of varying degrees at worst, from the surgery or the expanders, I find myself not interested in slowing down. Sadly, my instinct has often been to run away and hurry up. I need to work on developing the resolve to stay put and once again expand my emotional toolbox with ways to grow my patience and live better in the moment. These are my tasks while I am "under construction."