Nov. 21, 2019
I'm truly fascinated by the unique natural gifts and talents held by people. For some it could be obvious, like my cousin Seema who's an extremely talented animator and works as a storyboard artist. For others it could be a little less noticeable, like being able to remember how to get somewhere, even though you've only travelled that route once before. In any case, I firmly believe that we all hold some sort of secret power, for some reason this one (or more) thing just comes easily and without effort. Some use it to develop a career and life out of while other use it as something to brag about at parties. I fall into that later category.
So, my not-so-secret gift is that I tend to win raffles. I don't mean just one or two in my life, I mean I'm that annoying person at every baby shower, wedding shower, reception, or fundraising event who not just wins one prize, but will quite often walk away with a few. I'm sure I've jinxed myself now that I've revealed it. My family would laughingly shake their heads as I somehow end up winning prizes at company raffles, fundraisers, radio (twice!), tv, etc.. I've come home a number of times toting the oddest things that I never intended to win, but it would occur anyway. Oddly enough, I've also never played the lottery. I've helped others pick their numbers, but I've never bought one for myself. Strangely, I figured that if I played it and didn't win then it somehow it means that my secret powers weren't real. It was just too big of a risk to wager, so I thought I was best sticking to the fun moments at wedding receptions, conferences and so on, where I never expect to win and would be happily surprised when I did.
Up until recently, I always thought the lotteries I had won were for my amusement and joy. However, as I've been reflecting my cancer journey, I note that it has been a series of wins and losses. It started with the odds of from developing the breast cancer, then the risk of it spreading, whether chemotherapy worked, the success of surgery, radiation, and so on. I've definitely had moments where I'm leaping for joy, then closely followed by moments crushing sadness. This all became apparent to me as I went through my surgeries.
I had mentally and physically prepared for my surgery, which happened on Oct. 7, 2019. The day after my 41st birthday. I had 40 years of the same body, then in one day it all changed. I had a skin sparing double mastectomy, with left sided nipple removal and sentinel node biopsy, as well as immediate reconstruction with silicone implants. It was intense to go through as I was largely immobilized, however, I thankfully had the loving support of my family and friends. As the weeks progressed, my right side was healing up well, however the left side was incredibly painful, inflamed and sore. I had areas where the skin had eroded and made it very difficult to look at. I had developed an infection and was put on a series of antibiotics. Finally 5 weeks later my plastic surgeon thought that we were in the clear, yet, as soon as I ended the course of antibiotics, the infection returned. After 6 weeks, daily trips for wound care appointments, weekly visits to the surgeon, being in and out of the ER for potential cellulitis, IV and oral antibiotics, as well as requesting guidance from my colleagues, I ended up having immediate surgery yesterday (Nov. 20, 2019) on my left breast to remove the silicone implant and some skin which had become compromised.
I now have no breast on my left side and I'm not yet ready to look at it. Thankfully, the large bandages protect me from fully seeing the results of the most recent surgery. At my wound care appointment this morning, I had asked my mom to be my eyes for me while the left side was exposed, cleaned and bandaged up again.
The initial surgery was emotionally difficult as I was in pain and largely immobile, however when I looked down I still had breasts, even if they weren't my original ones. Also, I knew it was going to happen, so I prepared myself for it. The second surgery was one I was doing just about everything and anything to avoid, as such I was so focused on the prosthetic not coming out, that I didn't get a chance to prepare myself for the possibility of it actually having to be removed. I was determined that I could get my skin to heal, the infection to move and that it would all be ok. My fear was that if this surgery was to go through, I would visibly be different, a piece of me would be gone. A blatantly apparent reminder of what I went through.
As the surgeon approached my left side with a large syringe ready to freeze my left side, my legs started to noticeably shake. All I could do was turned my head to the right, as I was determined not to witness what was about to happen. James sensed this and, so before he left the room he created a cocoon around my face with a sheet so that I only could see the side wall. It was over in a matter of 15-20 min from when the surgeon began injecting the freezing agent around my breast to when he stitched me back up again. Taking out the implant was difficult emotionally to endure. As he pulled out the prosthetic I felt the remaining tendrils of my femininity resisting until it too was eventually yanked away. I was too shocked to sob, but I did have tears welled up in my eyes that left a visible wet spot on the pillow.
So here I am, no hair, non-functioning ovaries, a fake breast on one side, and nothing on the other side but scars. I question whether I'm still a woman. However, I'm adamant that I need to use every last ounce of self-love to prove to myself that I am still completely a woman, just a newer version of myself. I was given the option of trying the implant again in 6 months after the left side heals up and an expander is put in. This would require two more surgeries. Not something I can wrap my head around at this point.
Now to tally up all my wins and losses: My paternal grandmother had breast cancer, after that it was me who developed the same one. Not a lottery that I was hoping to win. I went through chemotherapy with relatively few side effects, which was definitely a win. With the first surgery, there was 5% chance that the implant may not successful on my left side. When the surgery was recommended I was told that the cancer side would have more extensive work done to it leaving the remaining skin very thin and susceptible to developing an infection around the prosthetic. Of course, despite my best efforts this is what happened. This is what lead to needing the second surgery. I would classify that as a big loss. Despite that disappointment, my pathology report showed that after chemotherapy the 3 tumours were completely gone and that the cancer hadn't spread to my lymph nodes, so no radiation either. Those were the biggest win by far. So in the end, I'm now living cancer free, and I have the battle scars on what remains of my left chest to prove it. I'm proud of myself for having gone through this cancer journey and being able to come out the other side and tell the tale. Definitely a huge lottery win.
Let's create an open dialogue around cancer, so please join me at one of these upcoming talks:
1) Title: Cancer and Naturopathic Medicine (open to those who are a part of the cancer centre)
Date: Tuesday December 3, 2019
Location: Wellspring Chinguacousy Centre
2) Title: A Naturopath's Cancer Journey (open to everyone)
Date: Tuesday December 10, 2019
Location: Nature's Source Mississauga
5029 Hurontario St Mississauga, ON, L4Z 3X6 T: 905.502.6789 https://www.natures-source.com