A dear friend has just survived a double mastectomy. Ladies of the church gave her a prayer shawl and we prayed over her before she went into surgery. Thank God the cancer had not spread into her lymph nodes. This friend was only 29 days short of reaching her cancer-free 5-year mark. We thanked God for bringing her through the surgery with wonderful reports. But, complications took her back into surgery just one day after beginning her recovery. Vomiting caused her sutures to rupture and the drain tubes filled with blood. She lost over two pints before the doctors successfully stopped the bleeding. When a church member spoke to her shortly afterward, my friend’s words were: “My chest is flat.” She is experiencing the fear of not being a “perfect” woman. While I can say her lack of breasts doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things, in my heart I know I would react the same way. Here’s why:
Years ago my pap smear came back showing cancer cells. As a wife and mother, my family relied on me being the strong one…the one with broad shoulders to cry on, the one to give sage advice, the one who would always be there, no matter what. On hearing the news that the dreaded “C” had invaded my body, I wanted to crumple onto someone else’s shoulder. My children were too young to understand and my husband, God love him, didn’t give me the words I needed to hear. He knew my strength, he relied on that, and any fears he harbored remained unspoken.
After the biopsy, performed in the doctor’s office, we waited until the results came back. After that, my doctor told me I should have a “cone biopsy”, a procedure which removes a cone-shaped piece from the cervix. He felt this might remove the cells without my needing the more radical hysterectomy. I prayed this would be so.
But, one year later, he gave me the dire news. I needed to have my uterus removed. The worst part of hearing his diagnosis was realizing the invasive cells were stronger than me. I wanted them out of my body! If a hysterectomy would do that, I wanted it done…now. I could keep my ovaries which would prevent me from going into early menopause, a blessing I cherished.
The surgery went well. I had no complications. But I need to share a funny story. While I was in the hospital, one of my daughters set her alarm early, put on my robe and slippers and a blonde wig (don’t ask). She made a pot of coffee, fixed a cup and carried it into the bedroom where my husband slept. She woke him to go to work, handed him the coffee, and said “I didn’t want you to miss Mom.” Too sweet! One memory my husband will never forget, and though I wasn’t there, I will never forget either. Guess I raised some good kids!
In the hospital, I longed to get home and back into my daily routine. I would have to take four weeks off work, and since it was summer, I pictured me tearing through the house to get it clean. But, a few days after I returned home, I became depressed. Alone in the house during the day, I was too exhausted to clean. The sofa and I became intimate friends. And I wept, loudly and angrily because I was no longer whole! Part of me had been removed, a part of me that only women share. Would my husband continue to love me and want to make love to me? How could he, knowing my insides had been ripped out? I cried. I suffered. I prayed.
God assured me I was perfect. He reminded me that through the miracle of surgery, I had been cured. My husband’s actions assured me I was whole and loved, although we never discussed it. Eventually, I came to terms with what had happened. My marriage remained strong, and my body healed along with my mind.
After hearing my friend’s words about her mastectomy, I know how she feels. Even our Pastor doesn’t understand what she’s experiencing. His comments are that the worst part was getting through the surgery. I believe he’s saying what men don’t express too well. “You are perfect just the way you are.”
And she is. And I am. And so are you.