Reform, recover, restore. This is my mantra for dealing with the physical and psychological process of mastectomy.
Reform comes first – the act of taking something, changing its form and replacing it with something else, something that is similar to and different from the original. The original brought with it a very high risk of future breast cancer, a likelihood of anywhere up to 75%. The reformed version is a reasonable reproduction – aesthetically acceptable, undetectable under clothing and more importantly, it reduces the risk of a new cancer by up to 90%. Some mental reform is necessary because a newly reconstructed breast looks and feels quite alien but sitting on a time-bomb where the tiniest change in size, shape or structure might indicate another cancer is much more disconcerting. The surgery is challenging and the scars are unsightly but I am unable to mourn the loss of something with the potential to kill me. As mantras go this reform is welcome, positive and reassuring.
Recover is next – time, discipline and patience – aka The Difficult Period. The initial effects of surgery wear off quite quickly – grogginess subsides, pain disappears, cognitive and physical energy begin to return. A couple of weeks down the line all seems well, the sun is shining and that’s when temptation begins to creep in. There are so many things I’d like to do, so many chores that need to be taken care of and so much I’m tempted to just get on with. Our bodies are expert at on-the-fly repairs when given half a chance. The challenge is embracing sufficient discipline and patience to allow those repairs to take place. Resisting temptation when the overwhelming urge is to get up, get out and get on with things is difficult but right now Spring cleaning, gardening and sorting this year’s charity donations all have to wait. The recover part of the mantra is the one I have trouble with. The Difficult Period – time, discipline and patience – slows me down and leaves space for frustration to creep in. Three more weeks and this phase will be done.
Restore is the last part of the mantra. It builds on the recover phase by addressing the frustration of ‘taking things easy.’ It’s positive and welcome because it offers the opportunity to set some goals, work to accomplish them and in doing so improve. Stamina, strength and agility can each be rediscovered, tested and refined. Help and support are welcomed and appreciated but being a burden to others and a frustration to myself are not. The restore process takes time and effort but its worth it. Eventually the list of things I’m able to do unaided will once again exceed the list of things I need help with… and that’s exactly how I’d like it to remain for the next thirty years or so.
Reform is complete, three more weeks of recover to accomplish and then I can focus intently on restore 🙂