Thursday, September 1, 2016

This is what breast cancer looks like

My courageous friend
This is what breast cancer looks like. What you see are two very different aspects of cancer. In the black and white photo, you'll see a woman who's had surgery to remove her cancer and the surgeon has prepared her body for a followup reconstructive surgery. She still has her drains in place (look at those thin plastic tubes running along her sides. Those are to drain away accumulated fluid and blood. They are very painful and sometimes blood clots or seromas develop around the incision site. They usually stay in place for several weeks. The fluid has to be measured and recorded so the doctor can gauge when they're ready to come out.) What you don't see in the photo is her face. She's a vibrant and beautiful young woman. She's strong and brave. She's a friend of mine and I'm honored to call her friend.
Me 
The color photo is a picture of me after surgery was completely healed and my drains had been removed. I chose not to have reconstructive surgery so I'll be forever flat chested. See those pretty colorful sleeves? Those aren't just for making a style statement. They're to combat Lymphedema. It's a side effect many breast cancer patients get after having lymph nodes removed. When the lymphatic system is disrupted, the fluid builds up in the arms or chest area and causes swelling and discomfort. It's a lifelong condition and will never go away. The sleeves help keep it under control. They're made of strong elastic material that squeeze the tissue tight preventing an accumulation. See that long horizontal scar across my chest? It's where my breasts used to be. It took two surgeries to get all of my cancer. My surgeon was very skilled and worked hard to save my tattoo as she placed my incisions underneath it. She knew it was meaningful to me. A phoenix symbolizes rising from the ashes. Mine symbolized rising from breast cancer. See that smile? I'm smiling because it's been a little over 2 years since I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. I'm currently out of treatment but have to see the oncologist every 3 months. He's still keeping a close eye on me. They say most cancers recur within the first 5 years.
What you don't see in both photos is our resilience. We've been knocked down and kicked around by cancer but we've both fought to get back up again. We're determined and focused. We are optimistic and full of hope. We want to live and we want to thrive. We are friends, sisters, wives, mothers, career women, writers, dreamers, and lovers. Cancer didn't choose us by any criteria. It picks at random. So this, friends, is what cancer looks like and these photos are mild compared to many others. When you think of breast cancer and what it looks like, don't just think of the sparse haired woman who's just completed chemo and looks like she's at death's door...think of beautiful, strong women who were innocently living their lives when an uninvited guest came crashing in and totally changed their lives forever. This is what breast cancer looks like and it's not a pretty pink ribbon.#stupiddumbbreastcancer
Please feel free to share!
I'd like to thank my friend, Anne Marie Otis, for the use of her photo.

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