A cancer diagnosis brings with it what I call “so much more”. So much more time spent in doctor’s offices, MRI machines, corners of your closet crying so no one sees how scared you are. So much more time on the phone with insurance companies, staring in your mirror wondering who you are now, keeping a litany of appointments in your day planner. At the same time, you feel the idea of less more acutely: less certainty of your future, less innocence towards your past, less time doing what you love in the present. And, of course, less hair.
I must emphasize here that cancer–and the decisions we make about it–never lessens who we are as a person. Cancer never takes away our value as humans who love and deserve love back. But it brings with it those “less” and “more” waves you have to ride when you’re in the midst of it. And that often feels overwhelming–and sometimes you have to do it twice.
In spite of throwing everything at breast cancer after my first diagnosis several years ago, it made an unwelcome return last year as a local recurrence. Since we did a lumpectomy the first go-round, it was time for a mastectomy. My breast surgeon and I discussed subsequent reconstruction and he made several referrals, including Dr. Potter. After doing some online research, I made an appointment with her and, after that first one, I knew immediately that I trusted her completely to do my DIEP flap reconstruction. Dr. Potter is extraordinarily warm and thoughtful and, over the months of receiving her care, she confirmed what I heard from multiple medical staff and fellow survivors alike: she is there 100% for her patients. As my mom has said, Dr. Potter is doing what she was meant to do.
Life after DIEP flap reconstruction isn’t always easy. The stack of magazines and books I packed for the hospital recovery went unread since I mostly slept. My mom who bathed me as a child showered me as an adult. For the first few weeks, walking a loop around my house felt like a loop around the city. And those darn drains.
But, in recovery, I also found strength and healing. From the love of my husband, family, and friends. From the tremendous care, optimism, and kindness of Dr. Potter and her entire team: Rachel, Heidi, Geysha, Sarah, Lauren, and Madison. And from myself and the paths I chose to walk in. Going back to that idea of “so much more”: cancer required a lot more of my body than I wanted to give. As a woman with a goal to be a centenarian next to my husband, though, I did all the scans, appointments, and infusions regardless. But, reconstruction was my choice. After months of poking and prodding that I didn’t want but knew I needed, I finally got to make a choice. My own opportunity to decide what I wanted to do with my body. And, Dr. Potter faithfully and completely walked beside me when I finally got to make that choice.
I’m approaching six months out from surgery and am amazed at the progress I’ve made. Again, it’s not always easy. But, it’s brought awareness of the mind-body connection and I feel confident reaching out to Dr. Potter, my physical therapist, and my counselor to continue healing. And I see a new kind of “so much more”. So much more time spent on the exercise mat, on the hiking trails, in the corner of the closet doing meditation to refocus and find peace. So much more savoring the moments, the sunshine, these days when I don’t have appointments. I take comfort in the words of those women who went before me on this similar journey and hope my own comfort those who will come after me. So, I end this with the words my mom whispered when I came out of surgery: You are so much braver and stronger than you know.