The day you undergo your mastectomy is etched onto your soul.
The awakening on the morning of the surgery, the surreal feeling of autopilot because however else would you willingly get to the hospital for this, the crispness of the early morning to be sure arrival is 6.00am as the surgery takes all day, the quiet drive with your partner because no words fit the somber mood, the strange reality of seeing the early morning bustle on the street outside as you are prepped for such brutal surgery, the hurried arrival of the surgeons, the concentration as they mark your body with texta for the incisions they will make, the coolness of the nurses hands as she places the canula, the fear and the inability to speak because the reality of your situation hits hard, the gentle quiet loneliness as you drift off to the pre op drugs that take away your awareness.
It is heart warming to know that in the operating theatre there might be a human who is watching over me and feeling the significance of my situation.
The We Belong Project is "Bridging the gap between health care providers and patients through Empathetic Partnership". This blog piece is incredibly powerful and as a woman who has undergone mastectomy it touches me that when faced with the horror of what I was to endure, there were people in the room who honoured my body and my person.
This is their letter....
Today is the day. I am a member of the surgical team who will take care of you -- the team that will remove your breast to treat the cancer that has tried to make a home in your body. We all have our role today, and the world would see yours to be the "patient." I see it as something more: a powerful gift to us.
Because you remind us why we do what we do.
Today will feel sterile and scary. And I am sorry for that.
I wish there were a better way. Today we will ask you to take all your clothes off and put in their place a gown. Women before you have worn it. Women after you will wear it. Be sure to ask for warm blankets, because we always have plenty. We will ask of you your blood type, your medical history, your allergies. We will ask you to lie down in a bed that's foreign to you. We will have to poke you so that we can start an IV.
You will meet many nurses, doctors, and hospital employees. We will write down important things for you to know. Your surgeon will see you soon. He will have to mark the breast we are having to remove today.
We will take you into the Operating Room -- a room only few have seen. There will be bright lights, lots of metal, instruments that you've never seen, and we will be dressed in gowns, gloves, and masks. Over our masks, we hope you can see our eyes reassuring you as you go off to sleep.
Today is the day you will have to say goodbye to a part of your body, a part of yourself.
Your breast has felt the warmth of a lover's caress, has fed your child with life-sustaining milk and connection. You have many memories stored in your breast, stories none of us today know about. Somehow I wish I knew them.
And yet. Here we are. We must do our rituals. We must scrub our arms and hands with alcohol so that we can fight off infection before we start. We don our gowns, our gloves, our masks. We must drape your body in blue.
You are exposed. And unconscious. And it must be difficult to trust. I honor you, Dear One.
My job is to help your surgeon take away the cancer. I get a bird's eye view of the process. The surgery begins and I feel your warm skin through my gloves. I wonder what stories you already have and the ones that are yet to come.
We carefully remove your breast. It never gets easy to see or to do. You must know this. It never feels natural, it never feels cavalier. It feels sacred to me. Every. Single. Time.
I look down and see your pectoralis major --- the big muscle behind your breast. A source of strength. It is beautiful and shiny. Sometimes it contracts a little bit while we work. Sometimes the muscle is bright red and young. Sometimes the muscle is faded a little.But it is always strong. I like to gently touch it withmy fingers. Because I feel your strength there.
We must send your breast away now. It officially leaves your body. I always feel an ache in my gut in that moment. There is no way for you to fully prepare for this day, Dear One.
I like to think that your body is already healing, as we close the incision we had to make.
Sewing your skin back together feels like I'm helping a little. But I know it's actually all you doing the work. Even as you sleep, Dear One.
We will put a bandage on your incision. We will wake you up. We will tell you everything went well. But the road is just beginning for you.
I saw you today.
You are beautiful.
You are strong.
Thank you for entrusting me and my colleagues with your most intimate moments. I am honored to be a witness to this phase of your life.
Because now the healing begins. Now the grief is in full force. Now your breast is gone and in its place is a memory.
I watch you as you wake up. And I want to make it all go away. I can't. Today your body underwent a transformation. And today our team took care of your body. I hope we took care of your heart, too.
There is nothing we can say or do to make it go away. But please know that I care. We care. Behind our masks and gowns are heavy hearts and sometimes tears.
Yours are a gift today. Because you remind us of human resilience. You remind us of strength. You remind us of trust.
I saw you today.
You are beautiful.
You are strong.
I will not forget.
---Niki, your Nurse Practitioner First Assistant on the Surgical Team