I didn’t know that after a mastectomy with accompanying lymph node dissection (removal), that that arm becomes a restricted extremity. This means I can never have my blood pressure taken, blood drawn or an IV on my right arm. Man down.
Now I’m no math wizard, but if I have 2 arms, and one is out of commission, I believe that means that 50% of the team is benched. I have 1 good arm left.
This is a bit stressful. I don’t know how many of you have needed IVs placed or blood drawn, but it’s not always easy to get a vein on your first go round. As a doula, I see this all the time. The nurses start with one arm and if their initial pokes don’t pan out, they head over to arm number 2. For all intents and purposes, I do not have a second arm. Lefty really has to take one for the team for the rest of our lives.
Here is another fun fact about axillary dissection (having lymph nodes removed), all sorts of stupid shit can go wrong causing more pain, discomfort and immobility than you had bargained for. And I’m not talking malpractice, went wrong, I’m talking healing, went wrong. My body has made some poor choices as it pertains to putting my internal pieces back together.
I am experiencing what is called ‘cording’. If you want to fully understand the concept, google it, but the gist is that the fibers have healed in a rope-like way causing what literally looks and feels like a tension rod going from your armpit down your inner arm. It hurts like a bastard and causes all sorts of referred pain in the region.
My upper back/scapula is so sore that when my husband gently touches it to rub in muscle cream my friend Deja so sweetly concocted for me, it feels like he is pushing on a broken rib. My back is swollen as is my upper arm. The cording has also prohibited me from reaching my arm out completely. It’s like a constant Charlie horse. My only hope is physical therapy which I have heard can be very helpful so keep your fingers crossed.
PT had better work cause I want my fucking arm back. Hell, I want that whole hemisphere of my body back. Right side used to be so trusty. Now it’s like your super shady neighbor who gives you the creeps. It’s just sort of always there pissing you off, and there is nothing you can do about it. Oh did I mention my whole armpit and inner/upper arm, is completely numb yet somehow feels like it weights 100lbs? Yeah that’s happening too. It’s crazy fun (not at all).
None of this is out of the realm of ordinary for a person who has recently undergone 2 surgeries to this area of the body. I just felt like Jesus, Allah, whoever, sort of owed me one for giving me breast cancer in the first place. I don’t have to have all the crappy side effects right? Allah?!
This weekend I attended the local high school’s Relay For Life. Our neighbor is a teacher at the school and chairs this event and she personally invited me to attend as a ‘survivor’ which was so kind.
Sounded like a lovely event and there were things for my kids to do and free food so obvs I was all in. Didn’t give the concept much thought. Fast forward to walking into the ‘survivors tent’ and being given a special colored ‘survivor’ t-shirt. Thank god for giant sunglasses.
I had never publicly stood on the side of the cancer patient. I have never self-identified this way before and I wasn’t ready for it. As I pulled the t-shirt over my head so I could be differentiated in the ‘survivors lap’ of the walk, tears just started to pour out. Not active crying, just my eyes taking a stand and saying screw you brain and better judgement, we are going to SOB.
I was one of them. I was the sick person all these kids had fundraised for and were walking around a track all night for. Me. I have cancer. G. R. O. S. S.
Though I hated every second of being ‘the cancer survivor’, it was a right of passage that needed to happen. That bandaid needed to be ripped off. This is happening. I am in a different colored shirt than everyone else. Forever. Like it or not.
I have cancer. My breasts are gone. My right arm has disenfranchised from the team. My t-shirt is purple, yours is not. But none of those things define me. What defines me is this. What you are reading. My ability to be me.
So thank you all for reading this. Every time someone reads my words, it affirms that I am still here.
And there is no I in cancer.