I was reminded of the very important issue of taking responsibility for our own healing last Tuesday night, when I attended the 10thAnniversary Living in Pink gala of the Young Survival Coalition Northern New Jersey at The Brownstone in Paterson, NJ. I was thrilled to run into a very special woman I hadn’t seen in a long time, Alyssa Millman. Alyssa is a supportive oncology and breast surgery massage specialist. I saw her at Overlook Hospital last fall because of pain caused by my TRAM flap reconstructive surgery.
I won’t get into the details of TRAM flap surgery here; suffice it to say that it is major surgery and particularly disruptive to your abdominal organs. Further, it causes numbness and increased sensitivity, which is just weird, but true. I had this surgery on April 15, 2009. I knew my abdomen would possibly be numb for the rest of my life as a result. I didn’t know I would have pain every day from sitting, wearing a waistband or a bra, or just because. I withstood the pain from April 2009 to October 2010, until I finally couldn’t take it anymore and called my doctor’s office.
The first thing the nurse said was that it was a normal result of the surgery. Huh? Another surgery to remove the scar tissue which was probably causing the pain would most likely result in additional scar tissue. My swift and intense upset surprised me, but I asked the obvious question, “Will I have this pain the rest of my life?” Her reply was, “Probably.” At that point, I just wanted to hang up and curl up into a ball. Before I hung up, she told me, “The doctor said you could try massage.”
That’s how I found my way to Alyssa, who dedicated herself to figuring out my insides and making them feel better. She researched my condition, gave me all the time she could and educated me. But most of all, she touched me. She worked on my body with the care, sensitivity and artistry of a healer. It took a few weeks, but I began to feel better.
It’s a shame that I suffered for a year and a half not knowing there was help for my pain. My doctor was amazingly talented at putting me back together (more on that in a future post), but I wish he had warned me. I have to take responsibility too, however, because I should have actively looked for relief, rather than accepting pain as one more punishment of cancer.
To this day, I still have pain, but it isn’t as bad as it was before Alyssa worked on the scar tissue. Now that the scar tissue is under control, yoga, especially stretching poses like cat-cow, do wonders. I do these exercises every day and, if I miss a few days, definitely feel it. Since my surgery, I’ve learned that there is so much support out there. Our job as survivors is to find it, take advantage of it and always be grateful for people like Alyssa.
Have you suffered in silence, rather than reach out for help and support? What did you do that finally brought you to the help you needed?