I had a partial mastectomy, and this is what I learned

I had a partial mastectomy recently. I don’t have cancer or anything like that. It was just something that had to be done, something I had put off for a little too long.

I was awake for the procedure, which included two doctors freezing sections of my chest while I lay sprawled with my arms out as a gaggle of nurses placed two, three, four blankets on my shivering body. I was a little nervous, but I’m pretty sure the shaking was from the ice-cold temperatures in the operating room.

“So, how much of Grey’s Anatomy is actually accurate?” I ask, feeling the scalpel slice painlessly down my side, in the crease where my torso meets my underarm. 

“About 15 per cent,” a young nurse admits.

“The cases are pretty true, but we’re not having affairs and sleeping with each other in the on-call room,” one of the doctors adds.

“Um, well…” the nurse laughs.

“Looks like you’re being left out,” I say to the doctor, laughing. I can feel scissors now, cutting — flesh? It’s hard to tell because I’m being held down and I’m, well, frozen with anesthesia.

What feels like seconds pass and I’m being transferred into a wheelchair, my blood soaked gown is removed (apparently I bled quite a bit on the left side) and replaced with a new, warm one. Another two blankets are piled on top of me as I’m whizzed back out into the changing area, where my belongings are crammed into a locker with a yellow sticky note, “Lau,” identifying it as mine for the moment.

One of my socks is slipping off.

I poke my head out into the waiting room, where dozens of people sit, impatient for their names to be called for their own surgeries. I’m looking for my dad and I see the top of his head. He’s asleep, having waited hours for me. I call out to him and the woman sitting on the adjacent bench reaches out to wake him up.

“I need you to help me change,” I say, trying to be quiet, but at the same time, having to talk loudly enough for him to hear me.

He helps me get dressed, fixes my falling sock and we head home.

For the next few days, I sleep on my back. Any attempt to turn over sends excruciating pain up the sides of my body. My husband helps me shower and get dressed.  He washes my hair and I teach him about conditioner.

Two days post-op, I was in the kitchen cooking and almost dropped the bottle of olive oil. Instinctively, I reached out to grab it. The pain came so fast, I was convinced the stitches had been ripped out. A quick Google search reassured me that, I would absolutely know — there would be blood. 

After my operation, I didn’t do yoga for five days. I did teach three classes, but I insisted if I can’t practice at my “full capacity,” why bother? And then Francesca, one of the owners of Evolution IDS, a new yoga studio and wellness centre I’m teaching at, told me about a man who was a competitive athlete, but suddenly became paralyzed in his 20s. He went on to be a Paralympic tennis player.

The next day, I stepped onto my mat. I did what I could and nothing more. That was an important lesson for me. To be honest, it’s one I’ve had to learn over and over again. It’s an eye-opening experience to be humbled in this way. To know that I can still practice. Maybe I don’t do any arm balances or inversions. Maybe I sit in meditation for half the class because everyone is flowing in their vinyasa and I can’t even lift my arms halfway up to the sky. I’ve learned that, that’s OK. And sometimes, simply showing up on my allegiant mat is enough. Because it is — enough.
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