When you have a masectomy a strange thing happens to your body. It’s not just about losing your breasts. It’s about losing your alignment; physically and emotionally….and then learning to rework everything to get it all back in line.
“Breasts are just chest ornaments that hang from your body, like branches,” a friend told me after my surgery. Physically this is true. A masectomy is not technically, truly invasive surgery. No internal organs are physically impacted. It just plays around with your mind and how you view your body. Your plumbing still works. Your circulation is intact. Your heart’s still pumping. Your brain still functions.
The first time I walked out of my apartment post surgery #1, the bilateral masectomy, with drains protruding from under my armpits and bandages across my chest, my shoulders were hunched and my arms crossed protectively over my chest. I walked with my body caved inward, shoulders hunched. I was shielding myself from any possibility of people bumping into me. A fellow breast cancer survivor told me she did the exact same thing when she went out post surgery.
As my body adjusted to the process of reconstruction, injections over a period of months that expand your chest “pockets” to create new breasts, my shoulders started to roll inward as the reconstruction pressed my chest outward. It was painful, especially in my upper back and under my armpits. No one ever really tells you how painful reconstruction is until you are chest deep into it and then someone who has been down that road, “Oh, yes, I remember now. It was pretty painful.”
I was hunched, shoulders rounded and in physical pain. This is partly from the surgery and reconstruction, but I also think it was emotional. Adjusting to a new body image and protecting my body from further attack changed the contour of my body as much as the bilateral M. There’s the physiological adjustment and there’s the psychological adjustment. I even noticed that when I slept my arms and fists protectively curled up over my chest during my unconscious state. I would wake up in the morning with sore hands and wrists.
It took months of physical therapy and special back, shoulder and arm exercises to gain strength back in my arms: to learn to swim again- my arms could no longer hold me up in the water; to pick up a bag or a skillet or a bottle of wine without pain. Typing on a computer or driving a car for a long period of time was uncomfortable.
Learning to realign both my body and my emotional state took time, and is still a work in progress. It doesn’t have to take a bilateral masectomy to throw your body out of wack. Stress, trauma and pushing yourself can do the same thing without the invasion of a scalpel.
Following up my last post about learning to breath with purpose, here is your take away:
Learn to stand, sit and walk with your chin up, shoulders down, chest out and stomach in. Take a dance class, Pilates, Yoga to reinforce this. If your budget does not allow for any of these three activities, use a chair or your kitchen counter as a ballet bar. I use my kitchen counter all the time to stretch and bend and a full bottle of water as a light weight. Cheap and convenient! It should not take a masectomy to do this. Proper alignment is essential no matter what your state.
Sitting at a computer is a tough one. Your shoulders hunch and your stomach collapses. I put a sturdy pillow behind my lower back to sit up, and I get up a stretch every 20 to 30 minutes.
When you are sad or stressed you tend to droop, chin down; shoulders up and hunched. Defeated. So, try going the opposite direction when your mood sinks: chin up; chest out, shoulders down. It will definitely enhance the way your body looks and feels and will make you look upbeat even if you are not.
And if your emotions start to droop- and those times can be really tough – here’s what worked – and continues to work – for me
Call a friend who makes you laugh and have a “real” conversation, not one of those Facebook-Email-Text back and forths
Play with your dog, someone else’s dog, your child, someone else’s child- someone or something that sees the most beautiful person in the world in you
Go outside, chin up, chest out, shoulders down, and talk a walk- alone, with someone, with your IPod plugged in listening to music- anything. Just move!
Get your hands dirty: gardening, cleaning out a closet or a messy drawer, tossing out “stuff” you no longer need. I think I rearranged every drawer in my apartment during my treatment, probably an act of “lightening my load.”
Start a diary and record your thoughts. I did this throughout my cancer treatment and it was very therapeutic. If you don’t like to write, draw. If you don’t like to draw, paint. If you don’t like to paint, cook….You get the picture: Use your creativity as self expression, and set your emotions free. Chin up! You are shouldering alot. Don’t let it get you down. Get it off your chest.