Part Two: Love
By: Saylor Gibbs (@saylorkgibbs)
The two weeks following my breast cancer diagnosis marked the slowest passage of time I have ever experienced in my almost 27 years of life. It seemed everyone and their friends had opinions on what I should choose to do with my body, and I faced an endless barrage of texts, calls, and online messages containing the two cents of the masses. I was immediately both too busy and not busy enough. Left alone for too long, I would curl up in bed and sob as quietly as I could manage. Too busy, however, and I would make myself sick for days trying to run - okay, limp - from appointment to appointment and office to office.
I shuffled from oncologist to oncologist, from second opinions to meetings with plastics and radiation. Every move I made felt so unbelievably heavy; as if each choice involved a “no turning back” promise that I wasn’t ready to make. In the end, I would be choosing between a lumpectomy (spot removal of the cancerous tissue) and radiation OR a bilateral mastectomy (removal of both my breasts) and full reconstruction. The thought of trying to survive radiation gave me and my doctors pause. None of us were sure if, given my weakened health, I would be able to tolerate the course of radiation that I would need. Signing the eviction notice - a permanent notice - on both of my breasts, however, felt as if it would rob me of my femininity, even with a reconstruction to follow.
The hardest part about reaching a final decision was the weight of the choices of the women in my family who also fought and beat breast cancer. It was easy to confuse what was the best decision for them with my fear and not wanting to start a big argument over what I wanted. The truth is, I pretty much had my mind made up the day they told me my diagnosis. With the doubts about my ability to tolerate radiation in my mind, the bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction seemed the preferable option. I am a person who has been through many, many different surgeries. I figured, well, I know how to heal from surgery; I know how to deal with the pain and recover the best way that I can, therefore, I can do this.
After signing off on the mastectomy, I met with two different plastic surgeons to speak about the reconstruction part of the process. Because of my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and POTS(Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), among other things, the surgeons are extra concerned about my vascular tissues and the healing process occurring without complication. EDS is a connective tissue disorder that has several different sub-categories. Very few doctors have the education or training to handle patients like me with EDS and a multitude of other chronic symptoms. I had to round up opinions from my specialist doctors before I could get plastics to agree to anything. I felt so defeated during those conversations. It felt as if my chronic illness was robbing me of my ability to make my own choices, and that terrified me on a devastating level. My negative self-talk got louder and louder; every small failure blew out of proportion, every victory never enough. I resented my body, felt betrayed by my body yet again. Six years of suffering and people treating me like the dirt on their shoe: calling me crazy and an addict and a liar. Six years and now cancer? It was the straw that broke the camels back.
I felt like I was drowning in an ocean of my own making. Despite having made peace with my diagnosis, every day I sank deeper and deeper, robbed of my breath, my freedom. I melted into the warm embrace of my loved ones, both in-person and online. My partner, Peter, constantly bolsters me with a sense of relentless positivity and support, and the love and praise of my friends envelop me in a sense of safety and security. It is this support that has brought me the stability and peace that I desperately need during these difficult times. It’s this kind of deeply rooted love and friendship that has opened my eyes to all of the incredible things that my body is capable of, rather than dwelling on the negatives and self-criticism.
The festival and rave communities have been so incredibly warm and welcoming to me, and living my best PLUR life has been a blessing during dark times. It has enabled me to find joy and meaning in every interaction, no matter how small. Most of all, however, it has aided me in my journey of self-love and building my confidence. I have come to realize that each day has its own magic, no matter what obstacles I am up against. Living PLUR has given me incredible insight into who I am and who I want to be, and the first steps down that path are fueled by my newfound inner peace and the self-love I am working so hard to achieve. Change, when it comes, cracks your life wide open. It is how we push those boundaries that reveal who we truly are. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not something I could have ever planned for, but every day and every step forward resonates with peace, gratitude, and self-love.
My surgery date is November 26, and I will be growing and changing and loving myself until then, and all my days after that. Thank you for letting me share my journey with you. Be on the lookout for the next installments in this series during the week of Thanksgiving.