A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Great Expectations

You could say that I underestimated the extent of my surgery and recovery. Just a little. The doctors tried to warn me, but I wouldn't listen.

The surgery would take 5 hours. Uh huh. It would push my body to its limits. Uh huh. I would need the full 6 weeks to recover. Blah, blah, blah. Their advice fell on deaf ears.

I told them that I would be power-walking 4 miles by the second week. They nodded their heads...Hmmmmm. Who were they to argue with Ms. Confident?

Okay. So, surgery kicked my butt. By week 2, I was lucky to be able to breathe and walk to the kitchen on my own.

How could this be? I've been an avid exerciser for 25 years. My diet would make any nutritionist proud. I sailed through chemo-surgery-radiation seven years prior. As long as I didn't have to go through chemo again, surely surgery would be a breeze.

What I couldn't comprehend was that healing takes energy. And all the energy that fed this hyper, Type A woman was redirected toward my healing process.

I had even made a "to-do" list that spanned 3 pages in my notebook. After all, I couldn't imagine sitting around with nothing to do for 6 weeks. All that I could accomplish during this time -- like renovate the house, re-landscape the yard and write the great American novel. Not to mention, provide a solution to world peace. I ended up accomplishing zero. Zero.

So, now you know. The greatest advice I can give anyone who undertakes this surgery is to be realistic and be prepared. Because I wasn't realistic, and I wasn't prepared. But my friends were.

My friend, Tammy, became the point person to assign all tasks. Friends signed up to bring me meals. Meals? I balked. I was a serious cook and was planning to go through my Bon Appetite cookbooks and try new recipes (in the midst of my home renovation, of course).

For the first week after surgery, I rejected all forms of nutrition. The pain medication, along with my nausea and exhaustion, removed any appetite. But after a week of not eating, all of the sudden, I found myself ravenous. My body ached for sustenance, and my friends showed up with home-cooked, over-the-top meals. I couldn't believe my appetite. I ate everything that moved. The dog hid from me.

I learned from the recovery period that your body craves the following: food, rest, pain management and exercise. It demands these things immediately and intensely, so you spend your time & attention taking care of those basic needs.

Even more, you need the help of others more than you realize, and it takes humility to be served. Ego, arrogance and pride can get in the way of accepting a gift. So, push yourself out of the way and accept the kindness of others. You might be surprised at the result. You will feel greatly loved and valued...and this aids, as well, in the healing process.

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