Life after a mastectomy: I'm more than my body parts
Brandie Sellers teaches yoga, meditation, nutrition and cooking. She paints, writes, runs and plays with her children. She is a divorcee and two-time breast cancer survivor who's undergone a double mastectomy.
Brandie is crazy about her three children, and is blessed with a slew of sister friends who pick her up when she's down, keep her honest with herself when she's full of it, and make her laugh until she cries. Follow her at http://simplelifeyoga.com.
Several years ago I began to wonder if we are our bodies. I learned to meditate and realized that I could observe myself, as if from the outside. I realized that who I am is not my body. Who I am is the soul that inhabits this body.
Then, when I was diagnosed with cancer last year, the doctor said that I should have a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy if I tested positive for the BRCA gene.
I left the appointment devastated over the loss of body parts and shocked at the direct, stark mention of removing them. It was as if they are unwanted extras instead of parts that contribute to my womanhood.
I didn't test positive for the gene, so I had a double mastectomy and kept my ovaries and uterus.
Losing body parts to cancer
Many cancer patients lose body parts to cancer or cancer-related issues. To date I've lost two breasts, two nipples, two areola, 25 lymph nodes and a melon-ball sized chunk of chest wall above my left breast.
I lost some abdominal skin and fat when they did breast reconstruction. My belly button was removed and then replaced so that it would be in the center of my abdomen in its approximate original place.
I lost a scar that was just above my pubic line, the only physical remnants of a child I lost to an ectopic pregnancy ten years ago. I lost the nerves in my armpit, the middle of my breasts and the middle of my belly.
Next month I'll add two ovaries to the cancer tally. A medication I take to keep my ovaries from producing estrogen isn't working, and if you have estrogen-receptor positive cancer it's important not to feed any lurking cancer cells in the body. So I'll have a laparoscopic oophorectomy.
I've done a lot of grieving over these body parts. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't have more children. I'm certain my ovaries are little toxic waste dumps with old, poisoned eggs. But still, my children began in those ovaries, and I nursed them for five years at my breasts.
More than the sum of my parts
With each surgery, each carving away of my physical self, I gain a richer sense of knowing that if I can continue to shine out I'm still here. I'm worth more than the sum of these parts.
As I sit typing this with what's left of my parts in one place, there are people many miles away whose lives have been touched by my experience and my willingness to lay myself bare.
People often tell me in person or on Facebook that they are inspired by me, or that I'm amazing or some other great compliment.
It humbles me and reminds me of the responsibility that comes with the privilege of continuing to live this precious human life. No one would be inspired if I sat at home in the dark. Others can't use my strength as their own if they don't know what I possess inside.
I now know that it's by sharing my stories that I can be of the greatest help to others.
Until I was about 35, I thought I was a mistake because my parents were teenagers when I was conceived. Finally I see that I'm here on purpose with this giant mouth and loud voice and the ability to write what runs in my veins onto the page.
Sure, my body is the vehicle, but it's my soul that radiates out. I'm worth more than the sum of my parts.