For many of us, the thought of facing the beach in our bikinis is a daunting thought. So, can you imagine how I felt this year, on our first family holiday since my cancer, having to do this, after a mastectomy! I was terrified, to be honest. For so many reasons. I felt different, I looked different, my hair was just growing back and I had fairly substantial scars. Not to mention my mismatched boobs!
Some people say that having a mastectomy is like having an amputation. I was very lucky in that my plastic surgeon (Jason Kelly) and his team did an amazing job when they took 3 hours to rebuild my right breast. Yet, to me, it is still fake. It is not the same. Imagine having your right arm cut off and having to wear a prosthesis, well, it is a bit like that.
At home in Castletownbere, everyone knows that I have had cancer and they are so sympathetic to me on a daily basis. But now I had to face a beach full of strangers who might just think that I had very short hair and a wonky breast! On the one hand, I am just so happy to be alive, yet on the other hand, I am irreversibly different. Both mentally and physically.
And so the day came. And guess what??? I survived it! No body took a single bit of notice of me and my scars. I blended in. I got over my inhibitions, relaxed and eventually enjoyed every minute of it. Okay, so I am not perfect. Yes there are days that I still cry when I need to. I am only human after all. Some days are difficult. But I sincerely thank God for every day that I am alive to spend with my sons, my husband, my friends and my family.
One day while on holiday, we went to a water park. The children were thrilled. We qued up for the first ride, and when it got to our turn, the life guard very politely and discretely asked me aside and gently questioned me regarding my scars. Then he said that for safety reasons, he had to ask his boss up to chat to me. I was mortified. The rest of the que was looking at me wondering what what was wrong. It was definitely an emotional moment for me. While I waited for the boss, I almost cried and wished that for my children's sake, that I was not "different". When the boss came he very kindly asked me about my surgery and asked if my surgeon had said it was okay for me to go on the rides. I mean seriously, as if when you are discussing the surgery you ask "And can I go on crazy rides in a water park after you scoop out my cancer and put me back together???"!!!. So I bluffed my way out of it and said that my operation was over a year ago(lies!) and that the surgeon said I was fine to go rides in a water park. I grovelled and the boss decided to let me proceed. BUT he had to insist that I wear this special yellow and black tag on my wrist so that the lifeguards on all the rides could see that I was "special" and to ensure that they would keep an eye on me. Oh My Gosh! I felt embarrassed, humiliated, sad and sorry for myself. I know that he was just doing his job, but I immediately stood out. Of all the hundreds of people there, I was a "health hazard". All day I spent looking around to see if anyone else had a tag. And I realised that I now had a "disability" of sorts. My body is permanently changed. I have cancer and I cannot hide or deny it.
Myself and Josh at the water park!
People regularly ask me if I have had counselling. To date, no, I have not. I am not ready to go there yet. Perhaps in the future I will when all of my treatment is finished. For now, I enjoy a good ole drink now and again and it helps me relax, unwind and forget momentarily. I pray that I will get to go to Spain again next year with my family. None of us know what the future holds. The last year has been extremely difficult. But I did it! I am so proud of what I have achieved. And if I can face a beach in Spain wearing a bikini after having had a skin and nipple sparing mastectomy with immediate LD reconstruction, I feel as if I can do anything!!!