When my hair started falling out, I was devastated. Understand me, I HATED my hair. It was thin, brittle, but it was a pretty shade of medium golden brown. It brought out my eyes. I used to think one of the worst things that could happen to me would be going bald. My mom has thin hair. My great grandmother had thin hair. None of my grandfathers did…there’s no male pattern baldness in my family, but some of the women have thin hair. It seemed I was destined to be one. I didn’t know how much hair I had until it was gone. Losing it, little by little, was hard. Painfully hard. Physically, I felt my hair follicles dying. Emotionally, I felt my self esteem dying.
A family friend, a breast cancer survivor herself, gave me the name of a wig shop in Dallas and told me to go there. The girls at Mimi’s would hook me up with wig options, my family friend said, and they did. They’ve been wonderful to work with…even helped me when I called them in a panic because I couldn’t get my master’s grad cap over my wig. They told me to bring it in, and we’d figure it all out. They did figure it out. I’ve never questioned my “hair” from them. I know it looks natural. Heck, my students forget it’s fake because it looks so real. They don’t remember until I switch wigs on them. It helped my self esteem a little bit.
Then, my eyebrows began to jump ship. I’ve kept about half of them, but I had to become adept at creating eyebrows. I look stupid without them. I didn’t want to look stupid. So, I found an E.L.F eyebrow kit for brown eyebrows. Target had one around Christmas time. I bought it and played with it. I learned how to fake eyebrows…not as well as some of my students, but it was good enough for me. It helped my self esteem a little bit.
Then, I had surgery on Wednesday, the 3rd. It was supposed to be a bilateral skin sparing mastectomy with immediate DIEP flap reconstruction. It wasn’t. There is cancer in my lymph nodes. No reconstruction for me. I had a bilateral skin sparing mastectomy. I have four inch incisions where my nipples used to be that are held together by surgical glue and stitches. I have pieces of breast skin sticking out on what’s left of both breasts because there’s nowhere to fold it, and if I can do reconstruction, they’ll need the skin. My skin is puckered and bruised and numb and ravaged. My skin is ugly. What’s left of my breasts are ugly. I was supposed to wake up to new breasts the same size as my old ones and a flatter, tighter stomach and new belly button because all that skin was going to be my new breasts. I woke up with no breasts. I woke up with my same, stretch marked lined stomach. I woke up covered in bruises, in scars.
I woke up to devastation, physical and emotional. I don’t know what stage my cancer is anymore. I don’t know what my chances of survival are anymore. I don’t know if I will grow old with A. I don’t know if I will see S and AJ grow up. I don’t know what’s going to happen. At all. I do know this, though: my self esteem is wrecked. I am wrecked. I am ugly. I am unattractive. I am Frankestein’s monster. I am no one’s dream woman. I am a breastless, hairless, wreck. I’ve never defined myself by my breasts. I know I am more than secondary sex characteristics. Intellectually, I know that. I was never embarrassed to “get” boobs or to have somewhat small ones. It was a part of growing up. My breasts were just there. I liked mine.
I don’t like what’s left. Because of Wednesday, I will never look like me again. I don’t see how I will ever like what I’m left with again. How do you like tissue expanders and horrible lined scars? How do you feel attractive again? Self esteem comes from within, sure, but there has to be a place for it to blossom.
I have no hope from which it can blossom. I look like my nightmare from the weekend I found out I had breast cancer. I sat on the floor in our master bathroom and sobbed that I would never feel attractive again. I would go through hell, and for what reason? And, despite my very best tries to avoid my current appearance, it happened. I am breastless. I am hairless. I am unattractive. I will never be me again.
Oh sure, it’s just breasts, but when it’s breasts combined with hair combined with scars combined with bruises combined with fear combined with terror, it’s more. Cancer has taken my well-being. Cancer has taken my self-esteem, and in some ways, it feels as though cancer has taken me. And, the irony is…it very well might if the pathology reports come back with bad news, which why wouldn’t they? Everything else has. Nothing about this cancer coaster has gone the way anyone expected. Nothing. So, really, why should I expect any sort of good news come the pathology report? A little part of me that’s trying to be hopeful has been starting to hope that maybe, just maybe, the pathology report will show the cancer was only in the sentinels. Maybe, just maybe, it didn’t go to others, but really, why should I hope or expect the cancer to only be in those nodes. Why wouldn’t it be in more? Has it spread? Am I sitting here with my worst nightmare in my body? I’ve asked why me so many times since this started, and of course, there is no answer, but…why me? What did I do? Cancer really has taken everything from me…and likely, it’s going to take my life, too.