As I’m writing I’m watching a storm come over the mountains. The clouds are messy and dark and the rain is already starting to test itself out by falling in sporadic little droplets. The wind is picking up, scattering dust and ash and tall dry grass skyward. The powerful gusts of wind stoke the open fire I’ve made and rattle the walls of the rock and metal shelter I’m sitting under. It’s Fall and change is everywhere. I am no exception, I guess.
The panic attacks started again two days ago. Right around the time I finished up with my other distracting duties and turned to face the double mastectomy that was looming in just over a week. On November 2, I will undergo surgery that will remove both breasts and several lymph nodes, and that will leave me with temporary (but uncomforable) implants, scars, drains, and pain. I am afraid of all of these things.
I am afraid of things known and unknown. I know it will be painful, but how bad? I know I will have to sleep awkwardly and upright, but for how long? I know my range of motion will be seriously compromised, that my arms will feel pinned to my sides, but for how long and will I regain full range of motion? I know my breasts will look different, that the nerves will be damaged, but to what extent? I know they will be hunting for cancer, but will they find any? I know I will not be the same person after, as I am before, and I feel that time slipping away from me like sand between my tight grasp. I’m not ready for more loss, I think to myself. But it’s coming. Just like this storm.
And here’s the real heart of the issue. The changes I am about to face are so much more feeling and grieving than they are physical. Whether I like it or not, my breasts are part of my identity. They are part of my womanhood, my sexuality, my physique, my motherhood. I have pushed them up to feel sexy, bound them down to be active, figured out what to do with them when they first arrived, and fed two children with them. I feel a sharp pain when I think that I will never nurse a baby again. That is a deep deep loss. My breasts will forever wear the scars of this battle, and somehow I have to make peace with that.
And here’s how I’m doing that. I’m honoring the pain. No, my body will not be the same. Yes, I will close a chapter in my life that I cannot reopen. Yes, I am about to walk in to some hurt. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s remember that pain is just pain. It doesn’t define me, it doesn’t rearrange me, it doesn’t control me. Pain has a way of showing us what else hurts, what other cracks we have in our hearts and souls that still haven’t healed. I know I’m not ready to give up nursing because I still feel so very sad over what was lost to post-partum depression with my oldest. But if I slow myself down enough, I recognize that there is time to heal these wounds, and I don’t have to give each and every one of them an audience right this moment.
So while I’m going to recognize the pain, I’m not going to hand it the wheel. I’m still captain of this ship, and I still want to direct where we are going. I’m going to fake it a little even, and tell myself that I am okay, and whole, and sturdy even when I know I’m not quite there yet. Because how else do you get there if you’re not bushwhacking through the forest and creating a new path?
So yes, the storm is coming. Yes, my insides are rattling, but I was built to sustain this. I was designed to handle the hurt. And in the end, hurt is okay. We all carry it, we all come crashing into it at some time or another. So I will reinforce my heart, sturdy my soul, and move into it. I have what I need to survive…and maybe even thrive a little bit.
Give ‘Em Hell.