Before being discharged from the hospital I was given a booklet entitled “Exercises after breast or upper body lymph node surgery”. It lists several exercises to start to do the first week after surgery and then another set after you have your drains removed, which in the book says “in seven days”. Ha, who are they kidding?! The instructions say “when you start your exercises it is a good idea to take pain medication 30 minutes before you begin”. That’s easy because when you come home from the hospital you are already taking pain medication and lots of it. The booklet is 8 pages with simple diagrams and instructions on stretches and strengthening techniques. It was drilled in my head that I am not allowed to lift anything over 5lbs for at least six weeks and not to over extend my arms as it may interfere with the sutures, etc. The scary thing about all the literature they gave me refers to “if you have had a breast removed”….”A” breast. Not two breasts. “If you have had a breast removed your arm and shoulder may feel stiff and the skin may feel tight. Your balance may be off causing stiffness in your head and neck”. Excuse me but what about us poor sods you have had both breasts removed? Over and above the drainage holes on either side of my chest, I have an incisions that run run from the middle of my arm pit all the way across to my breast bone. My arm pits are swollen to the size of a navel orange and my chest is a sunken mess of bruises and dark black sutures covered in steri strips. It is a scary site and one that shocks me every time I have to look at myself. My ribs actually protrude further than my chest.
When I was a kid we used to move a lot. My Dad was transferred every couple of years while working for the CBC. In 1976 he was hired by ORTO (Olympic Radio Television Organization) to help produce the Montreal Olympics. So in grade 7, I attended a french school just outside Boucherville called Le Moyne D’Iberville. In grade 7 I had not yet “developed” shall we say and I was picked on mercilessly. I was taunted and teased and called Flatty Patti. I remember going home each night and doing exercises that were supposed to increase your bust. They didn’t work. One day during morning home room, the teacher called me me up to the front of the class and said the kids had pitched in to get me a present. A present? For me? Finally, I thought, they are going to accept me into the group and I will have some friends. I quickly made my way to the front and one of the kids handed my a package. I opened it, looked and fell silent. The silence only lasted a second as the class erupted in laughter. “Hold it up, hold it up” they chanted. I felt the tears start to stream down my face as I held up the gift. Inside the package, was a training bra.
That was a rough year. I was humiliated and self conscious and ostracized because of my physical appearance. This year too will be a rough year but in this case, I am NOT humiliated and I am not embarrassed. I may be self conscious of my new appearance but just as I was in grade 7, I am a work in progress. Back then, I had to wait for Mother Nature to do her thing, now I will have surgeons to help me transform my body. I may have reverted to Flatty Patti again but this time it was by choice to rid myself of cancer and this time I will embrace the process and come out the other side stronger and healthier than before.
President of As You Like It Marketing & Communications Inc. Award winning speaker and author. Breast cancer fighter and blogger. I’m sharing my journey…the good, the bad and the ugly. Hoping to help anyone else that has been touched by breast cancer be it you or someone you know or love.