Emotional Knapsack

You’re wondering what exactly an emotional knapsack is, aren’t you? Well, it is actually the name of a song (fans of the tv show Friends will get the reference). At first I was going to title this post “Emotional Roller Coaster” because, in many ways, I feel like I am on one these days. Instead, I chose “Emotional Knapsack” because aside from the fact that it reminds me of that scene from Friends (and therefore makes me laugh), it can also be used to describe how I feel these days and how I store my emotions.

My emotions since my surgery last week to remove the tissue expander have pretty much run the gamut from happy to relieved to sad to angry to just about every emotion possible. I am not one to cry (certainly not in front of others) but I came pretty darn close this last week. Okay, these last few months but I digress.

In the first few hours following the surgery, I felt enormous physical relief. I was no longer in pain and my skin was no longer itchy and irritated. As much as I didn’t want to have to deal with any setback, I knew it was the right choice to make. A fact confirmed by the plastic surgeon yesterday who said that “it was a total mess in there.”

I was asked countless times during the first couple of days if I was in any pain. The answer was always no. Honestly. I didn’t have any pain at all. And it wasn’t numbness that was responsible for the lack of pain. It was that the infection was cleared out and the bad skin taken away.

I am going to stop you right here and say that anyone who is squeamish might not want to continue reading. I will not be posting any pictures but my descriptions may freak you out (understandably). But I have always been as open and honest as possible in my posts so….deep breath….here goes….

When I had the mastectomy, I was curious to peek at my incisions right away. I just had to see what I was dealing with. I knew that there were tissue expanders inside me and had seen a picture of what they look like. I wasn’t sure whether I would be flat chested or have some sort of mound. I was relieved to see that I was not flat chested. I referred to myself as a ten year old girl just starting puberty. The incisions were long and spanned pretty much the entire width of my chest and under my arms. But the reconstruction process had started and as my incisions healed and I was expanded by the plastic surgeon, I started to look “normal” when wearing clothes.

This time, however, it took me longer to be ready to peek. The incision area was only on one side and not as long. This time I have stitches whereas last time I had steri strips. But looking at myself in the mirror was ten times harder this time around.

I am now lopsided. On the right side I have a “breast” and on the left side I have nothing. It’s gone. It is not gross looking nor does it hurt but it is still hard to look at. It is sad. It makes me sad.

I know it is only a setback. Everything else – the chemo, the mastectomy, the radiation – went as planned. So why couldn’t this? All I had left was to do the exchange in the fall. The tissue expanders would come out and the implants would go in. My skin would heal. I would get nipples tattooed on at some later point in time and all would be well. Except that is not how things turned out. I can’t help but feel angry, bitter almost. But at who? And what good will it do me?

I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. I’m not exactly sure what the reason was behind the tissue expander getting infected. Perhaps to remind me that things don’t always go as planned. Life is not so cut and dry.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that I seem to keep my emotions inside a knapsack of sorts. In the morning, in front of my kids (and even Mitch) I put my sadness and anger away in the knapsack. I try to remain positive and upbeat in front of them. I do the same for other family members and friends. I’m not ready to open the knapsack in front of them.

But soon the zipper starts opening. And the emotions start coming out. All sorts of emotions are flying around the room. I try to grab the negative ones and stuff them back in but it’s not always easy. I am not always successful. Even if I do manage to get them in there, that knapsack is always there. Just sitting there. Daring me to open it. To empty its contents and leave them out. For everyone to see.

But I’m not going to. Not yet. I’m going to stick to the positive attitude.

Because things could be worse. The cancer could still be there. But it’s not. Thank G-d. I remind myself that I should be proud of myself. I have come a long way this past year. I remind myself that it doesn’t matter what I look like on the outside, I am still the same person inside. Perhaps better. Crazier, but betterūüėČ

I have to say that I do not know how women can choose NOT to have reconstruction. Seeing what it looks like to have nothing is really very emotionally tough. Last Friday I sat and ordered a prosthetic to put in my bra so I can look “normal” in clothes. I couldn’t believe how many varieties there are out there. I finally settled on something that looks like a tear drop shaped bean bag. I am waiting for it to arrive. In the meantime, I guess a sock will have to suffice. That, and big loose tops to hide my lopsidedness.

And in the meantime, I’m going to keep checking the zipper on that backpack to make sure it works.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sonya
    May 09, 2012 @ 09:00:56

    Thank you for sharing this. The emotional knapsack is such a brilliant analogy. Stay strong


  2. Thomas Duff
    May 09, 2012 @ 10:23:30

    Hugs…. hang in there, Elisa!


  3. Kathy Brown
    May 09, 2012 @ 14:01:58

    Thank you for opening the knapsack for us. I cannot imagine what you are going through. As many have said on your blog, I don’t really “know” you, but I still think about you. Big hugs and strength to you. Whenever you are ready to open that knapsack up, I know your friends and family (and us imaginary people here on the internet) will all be ready to help you deal with what flies out.


  4. Mary Beth Raven
    May 09, 2012 @ 17:15:43

    hi Elisa,
    Funny, how I feel like I met you at Lotusphere even though I just made a video to say hello. Because that’s what this blog does – it gives us all a glimpse of the every-day struggles and triumphs of someone who is coping with extra-ordinary events in heroic ways. PLUS I hear you might have a short trip to the Washington DC area – so if you do have fun and sorry I can’t be there to party with you!


  5. Veronica Miedema
    May 11, 2012 @ 19:53:03

    Elisa, I had no idea you had a mastectomy until I just read your blog. I know you want and are strong for your family. ¬†But it is important to cry, get angry, let it out. ¬†Suppression leads to sickness. It doesn’t mean you are angry forever, it just means right now you are pissed. ¬†God built us with emotions, for a reason. It is release.¬†

    I have always said in life I put myself first. ¬†Now it sounds selfish. Most parents say my kids are my life etc. ¬†But I knew if I did not take care of me, I was of no use to my kids or family. ¬†When my older son had cancer. I remember one of my sisters got mad at me, because I was putting a color in my hair and doing my makeup. But that’s how my son knew me. ¬†I knew if I came into him while he was in Intensive care looking a mess, it would have him thinking something is really wrong. He was eight, and had 3 relapses. ¬†I thanked God for the 8 years he gave me with my son and I handed him back to God. The doctors basically said no hope. At 25 he is very much a survivor, and a walking miracle. But I owed it to my son to fight. And fight I did. I never cried, never got angry. But when I was ready I did. ¬†I cry hard for my parents who just passed. ¬†And I thank God I do. ¬†Elisa let yourself feel and release. ¬†God is your strength. ¬†Love is your bond. X love to you and your beautiful family.¬†


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