I am watching wantingly as many of my Canadian friends share their photos of cross country skiing. February and March are the best months for it – the temperatures usually warm up a little in late February, and there is ample snow to keep the trails fresh. As I see the photos, I can smell it.
And yet, I am glad that I’m not experiencing winter this year. I need to recover more before I’ll be able to ski, but even more so, to contemplate doing things outdoors in sub-zero temperatures. This is one of my new risks. I now have body parts (my new breasts and belly) that I can no longer feel. They are living flesh, warm to the touch, but they lack sensation. I need to re-learn what normal feels like, but also, I need to learn how to check myself to ensure that I’m not getting frostbite.
I’m also exploring what it now means to do a breast self-exam. This is how I caught my cancer. I examined my breasts every time I got in the shower. I saw the change almost immediately – a lump and some non-clear discharge. But now I don’t have breasts with breast tissue. My nipples are still my nipples, but they don’t leak anymore. They are unfeeling and unresponsive but still warm to the touch.
Now, I still examine my breasts but I’m looking for something completely different. I’m not looking for lumps (they are just stitches afterall!). Instead, I’m examining the skin. I’m looking for damage – damage that might have happened but I didn’t notice because I cannot feel it. Women who have reconstructive surgery are often advised not to wear underwire bras – it isn’t because the bras themselves are problematic, it is because if the wire were to poke at you, you wouldn’t feel it. It would go unnoticed until it had done some serious damage.
So part of my new normal is this exploration of my new body. I’m now exploring my areas of no feeling, but also trying to find the boundaries – the areas where feeling fades from something to nothing. I want to see if these boundaries change. I’m told that I could regain some of my feeling, but only time will tell (nerves can take up to three years to grow back). For now, I’m happy that we are not in winter, and that I’ll have at least a year or two, maybe more, before I need to contemplate what snow and cold temperature mean for my new body.