Friday, April 18, 2008

My Body, My Self

I was talking on the phone to a friend of mine this afternoon and I went into a topic that I do not think I have discussed with anyone (except maybe Captain Obvious, here and there) and I thought I should share it here.

As you know, I had lung surgery in September 2007 (a lung resection, in medical jargon). This surgery had several repercussions, including a large scar, reduced lung capacity, and nerve damage. I may have mentioned each of these things in passing, but allow my to say that I feel the effects of the surgery every day and they suck. I have reason to walk up stairs in our house several times a day and every time I walk up them, I need a few minutes to catch my breath. Every time I take Captain Adorable for a walk to the playground by the lake I sweat and pant as well. The sweating may be because I am ovewrweight, bu the panting is from the hills. I know this because when we were in New Orleans I walked for miles (yes, it was checked on the map, I walked multiple miles) with Captain Adorable on my back and never panted unless we had to walk up a hill. I sweated like a champ, on a flat trail or on a hill! ;)

Anyhow, what I was saying to my friend was that the lung surgery has affected the way I feel about my body pretty profoundly. Firstly, (everyone says this is only cosmetic) I have two big purple (!) scars on my back. This makes me feel uncomfortable about wearing a bathing suit or any garment which would show the scar. Not that the issue comes up much, but there are times when you are alone and naked (before or after a shower, for instance) and a giant purple scar is rather jarring to the eye (and the self-perception).

The other big thing is the nerve damage. My right breast (the surgery was on my right lung) is numb and at the same time, overly painful. Most of the time, when it is touched, I cannot feel it, but sometimes and in certain spots, even the lightest touch is quite painful. This comes up most often when I am putting Captain Adorable to bed and he is lying right up against me and then rolls over (on top of) on my boob. Ugh.

As you might imagine, a big yucky scar, nerve damage, and a numb/painful breast affect my self image and also...uh...the way I perceive all touches, and definitely intimate touches. (To spell it out, those touches are now stressful and bad for me). Suffice it to say that I prefer to keep a shirt on at all times. I hate my scar. It reminds me of sad times and scary things. My nerve damage (totally normal side effect of the surgery, according to the surgeon) makes me extra sensitive and extra protective of myself.

My shortness of breath is embarrassing in different ways. I am overweight, as I mentioned above, but I am not in terrible shape. The lung capacity tests show that indeed, my lung capacity has decreased since surgery and it is not helped by inhalers. (No shit, sherlock, I had 2/3 of a lung removed!) However, when I take Captain Adorable for a walk (or, well, anywhere) I am often embarrassed by the amount of panting I have to do. I feel that people perceive me as fat and out of shape when really the culprit is my missing lung tissue...

(Which leads to another thought--why is it that lately every time I tell someone I have lung cancer, that person says "But you look good." I didn't say I had ugly disease, dammit. ;) For the most part I like to be told I look good, so please don't stop yourself from saying so if that is your opinion!)

Anyhow, the point of this post was, my self image has been seriously affected by lung surgery and I am just now (7 months later) beginning to see the reprecussions on my body and on my self image.


Amina said...

I know it probably sounds simplistic and even glib, but you can also see scars as a sign that you survived.

As for re-connecting with people (next blog) I don't think it has much to do with age - or mortality for that matter. An old friend of mine says some people are continuous and others not. By that she means that some people like to keep friendships going (even if it is always they who initiate the continuity). I am definitely continous in that sense.

With my comments I in no way mean to belittle (not quit the word I'm searching for) your feelings about your situation, just adding my 2 cents worth from my own experience.

Love as always

Frances said...

Hi Rose, I am not one to speak about what you've been through BUT staying positive plays a major part in your recovery. I am an active runner who on April 4, 2011 was diagnosed with lung cancer. I had surgery June 12th, thinking that only my right lower lobe would be removed-only to learn that the middle AND the right lower lobe was removeded. Last night I went jogging and I have been jogging for a month now!!!-yes!! Do I have nerve pain under my breast- yes but the drug neurotin takes care of that. Is there pain at my incision site where they removed a rib and seperated the others? yes but pain medication handles that. Do I feel like I am going to die with my lung not expanding the way it used to when I jogged before- hell yes, but I jog slow and do lung and breathing excersise daily. But today (because of the work i put into getting myself back) I can jog (slowly) and I KNOW I will be running full force in a what am I trying to say? You could be dead as I could be- with small cell lung cancer and no hope!!! BUT God spared us and gave us a chance to LIVE..... so start living dammit instead of looking at what you don't have anymore-Thank God what you do and then he'll work with you to make what's left- BETTER!! fRANCINE

Rose said...

Frances, Thank you for your comment. It seems that you are encouraging me to think positive. Let me assure you that I do think positive, every day. :) I think that my outlook comes through in this blog. I also sometimes have days when I feel sad, or sick, or overwhelmed. I share those days and those thoughts here as well. Cancer patients are told that they must "Think Positive" all the time and we forget to acknowledge the full picture, which includes sorrow and loss. Also, this post was written in 2008 (3 years ago now), so of course I have love and sympathy for that past-self, I know now that my scars are points of pride for me. I will never be able to job, and I still have nerve pain in my chest and back, and I am still angry that I got cancer, but: here I am, still. :)

Amina, you were right! I do (now) see these scars on my back and side as signs that I survived. More than once. I Am Still Here. I am still here to feel, see, hear, taste the magic and love everywhere in the world around me.

I also feel sorrow and anger and I still think those emotions are valid and important.