This time of the year always makes me a little more introspective. With the upcoming anniversary of my brother’s death/birth (not sure how to write it since he died on his birthday), it’s hard to not think about what life would be like if he were still here – while examining my life’s current course. I’ve found myself thinking about whether or not I’m living my potential, if I’m truly happy, examining what I can do to be a better citizen/friend/daughter/mother. All of those life questions that at some point most of us face. They just seem to be staring me down right now.
This is not my first rodeo of self-discovery or renewal (said in my best Texas accent). I have said for the last 8 years that losing Jake was the biggest identity crisis I’d ever experienced. I knew how to be Jake Redwine’s big sister. I was good at it…even when I was torturing him when we were kids. I understood my role. Over the years when I questioned if I was a good person, or a good step mother, or a good friend, or a good student, or a good whatever – I never questioned my role as Jake’s big sister. And now, I’m facing another opportunity to refine and improve myself in spite of Jake’s absence. I knew that total rejuvenation was in store for me when I made the decision to take control of my future by removing the burden of cancer in a very “physical” way. I also knew that along with any changes my body would have to endure, I had to face the emotional and mental changes as well. I say all of that just to say – this was all part of a conscious decision to update, renew and challenge “me.” I survived Jake’s death by facing it much like I have the mastectomy. I only hope that the person I am next year grows half as much as I did as a grieving sister.
Last week was rough. When I experience the painful side effects of breast reconstruction, I am very aware of the mind vs. body struggle that encompasses this process. It’s a constant struggle (and sometimes battle) to make sure that I don’t let the pain take over to the point that I slide into a deep depression. It’s so easy to do – no matter if you’re prone to depression or not. On the flip side, I woke up Friday feeling much better and by Saturday evening went out with some friends. It’s the first time in a few weeks that I got to feel “normal.” During the times without pain where I get to blend in with people and do things I would have normally done pre-op, the mind vs. body struggle is still present. I still have to be aware that I have physical limitations. I find myself at times frustrated over not being able to raise my arms, open heavy doors, not having the endurance that I had pre-op (no late nights out on the town), and the fact that my clothes still don’t fit like they used to. Breast reconstruction is in many ways more mental than physical.
Now, with all of that said, the mind vs. body struggle is also much more than those negative struggles I just mentioned. On the bad and painful days, I find myself also daydreaming of what life is going to be like when this is all over. Even in the midst of the most painful times, I’m overcoming the fatigue of pain by staying focused on the finish line. Sometimes the daydream is as simple as thinking about wearing dresses next summer and not having to wear a bra – thus eliminating the whole bra strap issue most of us face. Or the fact that I’m adding in a tummy tuck to my last surgery as a gift to myself. (yay!) During those times when I’m out in public with friends and feeling like I’ve got a little bit of “Mandy” back, I feel a new sense of self-worth and confidence because I’m sitting around people who may not know what I’m going through and aren’t treating me any differently. I’m able to laugh and look them in the eye and appear to be regular “Mandy.” Even though I have no nipples and my boobs are a weird shape and did I mention hard as rocks?! And I have incisions that are still healing and last week I was in bed for 4 days and miserable… I think you get the point.
I’m currently reading The Happiness Project. For those that haven’t read it, it’s about a woman’s quest to increase her happiness over a period of a year. In some ways I feel like from the time that I scheduled surgery to the end of my reconstruction next year, I’m going through a similar “project.” My hope has continued to be that I come out of this year a renewed person. I want this year to be more about the emotional and mental process than the physical. So I find myself separating out the two although while both are running parallel to each other, they are also dependent on each other.
I started this journey by referring to it (to myself) as “Project New Boobs.” I mean, that really sums up the physical piece. I’m getting a new rack. Plain and simple. I had a high risk of breast cancer and a suspicious mass. I have now eliminated all of that risk and worry. But I can’t deny that it’s much more than just a new rack. I’m evolving this year. I hope it continues to occur in a very organic, yet deliberate, way. And so, Tata Tatas is the storefront to my happiness project…the project that I’ll now call, “Project New Mandy.”