Today I had my almost 7 week check up with James, my surgeon, and he is very pleased with my progress. Everything is healing up well. From my point of view, I have been feeling much stronger in this past week. I have moved from the “painful & exhausted” end of the spectrum, to just “tired & uncomfortable”. My breasts are less achy and the need for the pain medication has backed off quite a bit. I’m off Endone (morphine) and just using Panadol a few times a day, with Tramadol at night (this info for fellow breast surgery friends!) And my energy levels are on the rise, although I still need a couple of hours sleep every afternoon. I feel like the second set of six weeks in my recovery will be like I had expected the first six weeks would be – just going gently and resting, having some creative time to myself. After the actual very challenging first six weeks I have had, now I feel like I’ve earned it!
My abdomen feels as taut as a drum, and quite strained at times, as you would expect when a chunk of flesh has been removed and then the gap sewn together. But I think my skin is adapting okay – if it can stretch to fit a baby then it can stretch to accommodate this removal/transfer of skin and tissue I suppose! The big scar feels like a very tight, fine elastic band across my stomach. It is settling down a bit, aided by the thrice daily Bio Oil treatment. And I don’t have to wear the mastectomy bra or binder (sort of a like a post surgical truss around my middle) during the night now, so that’s good. The bruising along the scar has gone from greenish to purplish. (At least it’s colourful!) And my belly button is healing up okay too. It’s a weird feeling, like my torso is encased in a tight rubber tube (which just happens to be my stretched skin!). Numb in many places but I’m told most of the sensation will come back over coming months.
And my breasts are really firm, not soft like breasts usually are but James says they will soften up a bit over coming months. The overall shape is looking fine. I still haven’t seen those scars, I think bandage removal is some weeks off yet. And they are still totally numb. Full sensation will never return (quite sad about that!) but hopefully new nerve pathways will develop over the next 12 months there as well. Personally, I think this bit is my biggest lasting sacrifice to the whole process. The scars will fade but the full sensitivity will never return. I am grateful that I’ve avoided the full cancer treatment and associated trauma. Loss of sensation and a very tough twelve weeks is the cost of that gain.
So yes, onwards and upwards, all heading in the right direction. I feel like I am coming back to being myself again and HOORAY, I even found the energy bring my paints out again on Saturday!
Some of you may also have seen this article in the Weekend Australia magazine on Saturday. It talks about the healing affects of music and art for people recovering from tragedy and trauma. A great article and I loved this quote in the closing paragraph:
“Whether you’re struggling with a health issue or rebuilding after natural disaster, art helps a person make that transition back into the community. It connects them. When things get back to normal they won’t get back to the old normal. That’s what creativity can do. It’s such a powerful tool. Life will never be the same again but it doesn’t need to be universally bleak. Creativity deals with the whole person, not just the physical shell.”
Certainly this has been the case for me. I will get through this series of life traumas but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to my “old normal” in so many ways.
As many of you know, I found it so difficult to come to terms with the death of our beautiful Martha from breast cancer, along with the simultaneous closure of my fashion business, pink zebra, at the end of 2011. I struggled through 2012 and really think I would have lost my mind, had I not found these coping mechanisms:
ART. Before Martha died, I never knew I had any sort of aptitude for painting. The last time I’d painted I was in kindergarten I think! I enrolled in a Colour & Design course early last year because I thought the theory of colour was vaguely interesting and may have had some relevance to my remaining online cashmere business. I was more shocked than anyone when I discovered these beautiful images coming out of my pencil and paintbrush! Friends keep saying to me “why didn’t you tell me you could paint?” – I have to say I didn’t know I could! Since then my love of painting has flourished, and I find that plugging iphone music in to my ears kind of shuts out the rest of the world while I just relax and immerse myself in colour. Finally I understood why Martha always loved her painting (and yes, I always feel her with me while I’m painting – “better late than never” she says!)
MEDITATION. I did a series of meditation courses over 20 weeks last year (thanks for making it easy, Sundari!) and this is another thing I find really soothing. I know it’s an ancient practice, and I’m not the first to discover it, but it is quite amazing to me that sitting still in a darkened room, closing my eyes and doing nothing can really make me calm down. On Friday night I went to a Tibetan bowl meditation workshop – it was so good!
I actually felt markedly better afterwards. Just calmer and happier. Magic! (Yes, this is straight laced, ex business person Sarah speaking! Haha! I’ve never tried anything like this before, because I suppose I never felt the need. But it really does work!)
JOURNALLING. Last year I also read Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, which has been around for over 20 years and helped millions of aspiring and professional artists unlock their creativity. A core part of Julia’s philosophy is to keep a daily journal or “morning pages”, as she calls them. I started doing this mid last year and I’m now addicted! I think I could count on one hand the number of mornings I have missed since then. I have found it so valuable in sorting through my feelings and processing what is going on (and yes, there has been a LOT going on for me in the past couple of years!) Since then I’ve come across many articles that verify the benefits of journaling for mental health. Again, from personal experience I can only agree!
ACUPUNCTURE. When Martha went into palliative care, and pink zebra started to falter, about this time two years ago, I began having acupuncture and taking Chinese medicine to help me deal with the stress (thank you kind and wise Kaye!) This really helped ground me through the most challenging of times, and also helped prepare me for my breast surgery. While I was very stressed then and sad throughout much of 2012, I didn’t feel the need to turn to anti depressants or be reliant on sleeping pills. I was glad to be able to cope with the support of these ancient practices. And now that I feel up to having more pins stuck in to me post surgery (!), I’ll start going back to Kaye again, to help with my sleeping and general well being too.
EXPRESSING MYSELF. Last year, so often when I was crying (A LOT!! OMG I cried me a river or ten!) I would feel Martha saying to me “Who cares??! You’re just expressing yourself. So many people are wandering around numb and can’t express what they really feel. So go you… GO THE CRIERS!!” Martha was such a big crier herself, so she would say that. But I agree. Better out than in! And again, since then, I’ve found articles confirming the health benefits of tears. (Clearly I love confirmation of all these things that I know have worked for me!) And the other HUGE thing that has helped me is talking, talking, talking to close family and friends. Some have had their ears almost talked OFF by me! My husband has listened for many hours to me ramble on with my thoughts. And most especially my dear friend Louise, a great advocate of all of the above tools herself, has been an absolute life saver. To have a like minded person to share, laugh and cry with throughout all of my challenges, as well as offer so many wise words of advice, has made all of the difference to me. (I could write about fifty posts just on the marvelousness of all things Louise, but that can wait for another day!)
EXERSIZE. My good old morning walk has also been so positive for me. Just going gently, breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sun on my back, keeping the blood pumping and dreaming, processing, thinking about everything. Love it. Thank goodness I’m getting stronger and my trusty walking shoes are now back in use most days!
Many of you have asked me “how do you get through all of these challenges?”, so I thought I’d share the above in case it helps anyone else too. Just applying myself to simple and traditional practices. And a fair dose of loving kindness. No magic tricks. No hours and hours of expensive therapy. Although I must say before this breast surgery I had a few sessions with both a psychologist and psychiatrist and both only confirmed what I knew in myself – I have come through these traumas remarkably well. Very painful I have to say, but okay in the end. Or “very well intellectually and emotionally integrated” as the psychologist said! I probably will go and see a counselor again in coming months to make sure I am on track and to see if there’s anything else I can do to help myself through the most recent challenges. It can only help.
I’m not saying I’ve been through the worst life traumas ever. Not at all. Or that I have life sorted. Or that I really have completely processed everything around my surgery and Lou leaving us. But I feel like, with the support of all of these practices, I’m getting there. All I need do is try my best. I’m becoming quite good at “letting go” and just accepting that “it is what it is”. And being much more open to new things and new ways of doing life. In myself I feel okay – I have my sad days and painful days of course, but I’m doing okay overall. I’m calmer and happier in myself. And I know my body is healing up fine. There’s always more to learn in life and clearly my old way of doing things was just stressful and exhausting. Well meaning and hard working, but also draining and unsustainable. Going more slowly and gently works for me. I am getting there!