By guest blogger Kelly Nemecek
In the weeks after my diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer, I found myself crying, out of fear and hopelessness, devastated at the thought that my 12 year old daughter might lose her mommy. But as I got closer to my surgery date, a strange thing happened. The hopelessness turned into determination and a sense of purpose, like a soldier preparing for battle.
I knew that I would be relying heavily on my faith in God, but what I didn’t know at the time was that my sense of humor would also be a huge factor in how I would cope with this new threat on my life. I have always been very self-deprecating, and my husband and daughter can pretty much make any situation hilarious. Case in point- after my surgery as I was slowly regaining consciousness and trying to get my bearings in the midst of my morphine fog, random thoughts popped into my head, like “I wonder where my boobs are now?” Turns out I said it out loud because on my hospital room white board, under Your Questions/Comments, my husband wrote, “Where are my boobs?”
I know he was attempting to lighten the mood. And it worked! As I was already so loopy, I couldn’t stop laughing (which unfortunately caused more pain). I started texting it to all my friends, who were probably like “What the hell? Kelly’s on some good drugs.” I knew at that moment if I could continue to find the humor in this ordeal, I would be able to fight.
Prior to surgery I was fairly certain I wanted to wear breast forms, but realistically, afterwards, I could not even wear a bra yet. The nurse gave me a snug white tank top with pockets to supposedly hold the breast forms, only they came with weird miniature pillows that looked ridiculous and nothing like breasts. I looked at her like “Really? And they’re white? You understand I have two surgical drains emptying blood and other bodily fluids, right? I can’t stand up and it hurts to move, and you really think I care about putting those pillows in this tank top pillow sham thingy?”
My surgeon wouldn’t let me wear a bra until I healed anyway. As it turns out, I was okay with that. I was sore, tired, and emotionally drained so I didn’t give a crap about breast forms. I was a happy flatty Patty. I felt comfortable wearing just about everything in my closet from before “The Big Chop,” from fitted T-shirts to flowy blouses. Unbeknownst to me at the time, going braless was a good thing as I would end up with bad radiation burns in the near future.
This change of heart about the breast forms turned out to be true with my hair as well. Heading into chemotherapy, I was nervous about the side effects, like nausea and fatigue, and really just the unknown. Originally, my first thought when I heard I was having chemotherapy was “God no! Not the hair!.” I had long blonde flowing locks so I figured I’d better cut it into a pixie in preparation for “The Great Bald Experiment of 2015.” After I lost my hair, I thought I might never leave the house. I was going to get a wig. I was kind of pretty chunky so I thought I won’t even be cute bald like Sinead O’Connor or Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy. Sure enough, two weeks after the first round of chemotherapy it was falling out. I could gently tug on it, and it would pop right out. I became obsessed with pulling on it a little at a time. After someone caught me doing it at work, I decided it was time to buzz it. First, my husband, Tomas took it down to an eighth of an inch, and I looked like GI Jane minus the six pack abs.
After that I couldn’t handle all the tiny needle-like hairs everywhere and subsequent itching. I gra
bbed the shaving cream and the razor and just did it. It felt awesome and liberating. I know hair can be a sensitive subject for many cancer warriors and not everyone can whip out the clippers and go to town, but I surprised myself and did just that. I mostly wore these cute cadet style caps but sometimes went commando. It was summer in Phoenix after all.
My family must have found every bald joke ever written, and I loved it. They supported me and took care of me with love and patience. They knew when I needed to not be treated like an invalid, and when I needed to laugh. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing funny about breast cancer but sometimes laughter is the best medicine and cancer will not take that from me.
Recently, I saw a video that featured a woman dancing around the operating room prior to her mastectomy. It went viral, and it seemed everyone had an opinion about it. While some thought it was awesome, others, especially other breast cancer survivors, thought it was just cray cray. Some were even super offended saying it gives the wrong impression of what it is to face a mastectomy like it’s somehow fun and games. I honestly didn’t know what to think. I sure as hell did not feel like dancing at the time at the time of my surgery, but similarly, I had been making jokes and much like referring to my upcoming surgery as “The Big Chop.” I get what this lady was doing now. She was coping. I think as warriors and survivors we have to do whatever it takes to get us through this hell, whether it’s hiding, crying, laughing or screaming. And yes, even dancing.
Kelly lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, three cats and a bearded dragon named Pascal. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in 2015. She can be found blogging about her good, bad and ugly experiences battling breast cancer at Kelly’s Cancer Beat Down Blog.