Dancing into a Double Mastectomy

I know I should feel joy watching this video. So many others found it inspiring and great to watch. For some reason, though, I feel kind of bitter. I was in NO mood for dancing before my double mastectomy, though yes I do remember times during my treatment and surgeries when I made jokes or did things to lighten the mood and be positive in the face of overwhelming negativity.

I wonder how other survivors feel. I’m probably just bitter because I don’t have thousands of YouTube views. Or maybe it’s because things like this perpetuate the view that breast cancer and cancer surgeries in general aren’t all that serious. (More likely, though, it’s the YouTube views thing).

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Reconstruction

I guess I should mention I had surgery on Tuesday. Nothing huge, but my port was removed and I had some work done to my left breast, that pesk that didn’t heal properly after my double mastectomy so it’s taking a couple extra steps to get it looking normal before I can get my implants. With all that happened this summer, a small surgery didn’t strike me as big news. In fact, it felt pretty routine – being in the hospital, putting on the gown, getting my blood pressure checked, answering all the “Are you pregnant, how much do you weigh, when’s the last time you had anything to eat or drink, etc.” It was all very nonchalant, which in some ways scares me, because surgery should always be taken very seriously (especially by the surgeons who are coming at me with sharp objects).

I kept telling people that, after chemo, surgery is almost welcome in my life. Not so much for the act of surgery itself, but for what these surgeries represent: reconstruction. Getting put back together. Getting a beautiful, new chest that I can flaunt on our Hawaiian vacation in January, along with a short hair-do and the anticipation of a year that won’t revolve around cancer.

As I said, the surgery consisted of a port removal, which I am thrilled about. I own a lot of scoop-neck and v-neck shirts, and it was so hard to hide the darn thing. Plus it made me feel like there was an alien poking out of my skin, and the scar was wide and ugly (though they tell you that it’ll be “no more than a couple centimeters”, right on your chest where everyone can see those couple centimeters make a big difference). On the sound advice of my parents, I asked my surgeon to take out the port instead of the interventional radiologists who put it in, and I am hoping that means a much cleaner and less noticeable scar. I still can’t say yet as it’s covered over with a bandage.

On my breast, the plastic surgeon cut out my nipple, which was right above the fold, ┬ámuch lower than it should be, and grafted it into place to match my right side. It’s all still under bandages, but I’ll see things on Monday when I have a follow-up with the surgeon.

Luckily, I’ve had no significant pain – took a couple Percocets Tuesday after the surgery because the port removal incision hurt, but haven’t taken anything since. And I’m glad to have this time off work, too, because work has been crazy and will be crazy for a couple more weeks. I just have to make it through this year to January!

A note about my last entry: I hope I didn’t sound full of myself. I’ll admit, I felt pretty badass when they approached me to make the video. Yes, I thought, my story will make great fodder for a documentary: young girl, dead mother, unfortunate genetic predisposition, bald, etc. And a small part of me wanted to do the documentary for myself – to talk about my experience and have things on tape so that I never forget. But even more so I wanted to show that young girls do get breast cancer, and they can get through it. For all the doctors who said to other women, “You’re too young, come back in 6 months.” For all the young women who felt alone and that all the others in the support group didn’t understand the unique issues that young people deal with. For anyone who didn’t want to hear, “But you’re so young” and “How unfortunate” and “You’re going to get through it and live a long, happy life”. That’s who the video (and this blog) is really for.

Survivor: My Video Story

As my dad pointed out to me the other day, when you Google my name, a whole new host of sites pop up. That’s partly thanks to this snazzy new video featuring, well, me, that was filmed by the good people at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, where I have been receiving all of my cancer care.

Survivor : Cara Scharf from GW MFA on Vimeo.

A couple weeks back, the marketing department at MFA wanted to create a profile of a cancer patient, and my wonderful breast surgeon, Dr. Christine Teal, recommended me. I worked with Brandon Bray, a wonderful filmmaker, to put together the above video, which I think turned out beautifully. When I was approached to be profiled in video, my answer was of course, “YES!” Though it does give me pause to think that some people who don’t know what I’m going through might find this, that’s a small price to pay given the enormous desire I have to educate people and let other young women with breast cancer know they are not alone. It’s why I keep this blog and why I am proud of this video.

Please watch it and tell me what you think.

Hoda Kotb on her Breast Cancer

This weekend, the boy and I went to the National Book Festival, a delightful celebration of literature that brings authors of all genres to the National Mall to talk about their work. The biggest draw for me was Toni Morrison, but I stuck around to listen to Hoda Kotb after seeing that she recently wrote a book about her career and her battle with breast cancer.

Many celebrities have had breast cancer: Melissa Etheredge, Edie Falco, Christina Applegate, etc. Not many talk freely about the experience, which I guess I understand because they’re in the public eye and not everyone wants to hear all the gory details about surgery and chemo and that good stuff. But still, I wish a celebrity would take us through the details, to prove that person is real and has a real breast cancer experience. Hoda didn’t do that – her story was very much about “fighting” and making it through and being a survivor – you know, the sugar-coated version of breast cancer. Still, I think it’s important that she shared the story at all, so here’s what I videotaped on my iPhone for you all. (Hopefully, this isn’t illegal, but I guess if I post a mug shot in a couple of weeks, we’ll know!)

I want to add two things that Hoda said that I found very profound. For one, she shared a story about a man on a plane who, after she was reluctant to tell him she had breast cancer, told her, “Don’t hog your journey. It’s not just for you.” That’s why I keep this blog!

She also said that, though after surviving breast cancer many women feel they need to do something huge with their lives, it’s important to realize that making small changes every day also makes a big difference. I liked that. Maybe I don’t have to run a marathon or start a non-profit or change someone’s life, but I can make small changes every day that will make my life better after breast cancer.

Thanks for the words of wisdom, Hoda.