The power of the bath: making a surgery decision

I rediscovered baths this week.

As a teenager, I would spend HOURS in the tub – reading, relaxing, thinking. When I went to college, there was a tub on each floor, but it was in a glorified cleaning closet that was dark and dingy and gross. I don’t know anyone who used a tub in Justin Hall. I continued to take long baths when I came home from college on breaks.

Once I was “on my own,” baths disappeared from my life. Too much to do. Too tired. Other priorities for my time. It’s unfortunate, really, since I’ve lived in places with really nice tubs.

Our first apartment in St. Louis, when Mike was in law school, had a deep claw foot tub original to the building built in the early 1900s. That tub was so flipping deep that I almost needed steps to get in. Water up to your neck. But it was short. I think I took one bath there in four years.

Our first house had a brand new whirlpool tub. I never took a bath there. Our second house had a whirlpool tub built for two. Seriously, while resting my back on one side, I couldn’t reach the other with my legs, which meant sliding down too far. I used the bath pillow as a floatation device the two times I took a bath in that house. It’s not relaxing when you’re concentrating on not drowning.

My current house has a whirlpool tub that is just right. Not too deep, not too long. Still, in three years, I never used it until Tuesday. That’s not to say it hasn’t been USED – the kids love to take baths in there since it’s deeper than the tub in their bathroom. And it has jets! And makes bubbles!

Tuesday I had my annual physical with my primary doc. During the “well woman” portion of the visit, the doctor discovered an ingrown hair (yep, my hair is S-L-O-W-L-Y growing back!) just to the left of center *down there. * It was showing signs of infection and needed to be drained.

SIDE NOTE: Everyone has an issue with a word or two, right? One of my issues is with the word gro*n, which is technically where this problem lies. See, I can’t even type the word, let alone say it…

I’ve seen a lot of docs this year, and I’ve had a lot of tests. Some of the tests and doctor pokes have been painful, some not. But NOTHING I’ve been through hurt as much as when my primary doc injected the heart of the infection with a numbing agent. Hot diggity! That shot hurt. It was all I could do not to kick her in the head or scream.

Once numb, she drained the area and gave instruction to “rest in a warm tub, with a glass of wine and a good book.”

Doctor’s orders, right?

With kids in bed and a new book in hand (no wine since my liver is still not super happy with chemo), I turned on the faucet of the tub and climbed in. I sat there for a few minutes, starting to read the book, then got out. The tub ledge was dusty, and I couldn’t relax so I cleaned it. I read a chapter or two, then went to bed. I slept pretty well, so I decided to take a bath the next night also.

This time, the tub was clean so I could relax. The book was an easy read and perfect for the bath. I read several chapters then set the book aside. I sunk lower in the tub and let the water wash over me. I allowed my hands and arms float on the surface as I closed my eyes and breathed deeply.

I don’t know how long I stayed there, concentrating on my breathing, but I was able to identify and “solve” a couple of the things that have been bothering me lately – primarily weighing my surgery options.

I know a lot of women don’t have an option, but having the choice between lumpectomy and mastectomy is almost worse. What if I make the wrong decision? If this comes back, will I always question my decision? Why can’t someone just TELL me what to do?

I always maintained that I wanted my entire breast removed, but after meeting with the radiation oncologist (who is also the head of the cancer center), I started to rethink that. All the docs have stressed that it’s my decision, but I get the feeling that they’re recommending the “breast conservation surgery” (that’s what they call lumpectomy – defining it in those three words kinda shows which way they lean, doesn’t it?).

One of the biggest benefits to the lumpectomy would be recovery time. It’s far less invasive with almost the same success rate of removing the entire breast. At this point, I just want my energy back. I want to NOT be exhausted ALL THE TIME. I want to enjoy stuff again. I want to be able to DO stuff again. And a lumpectomy will allow me to get back to “me” faster.

Of course, there are cons also. Lumpectomy means I will undergo 4-6 weeks of daily radiation. I feel a little better about radiation after talking to the radiation oncologist. Given the size of my breasts, I (probably) will not blister and burn. Fatigue is a side effect, but the doc said women who have had chemo first don’t think the tiredness is as bad as during chemo. Radiation is only 15 minutes a day, and they will make sure I have early appointments.

I still have to meet with the plastic surgeon to understand reconstruction with lumpectomy. As much as I know my breasts have served their purpose (successfully fed two babies!) and I don’t like to think of myself as overly vain or concerned about such trivial things, I really don’t want to be misshapen or have a deep dimple on my right side.

I’ll probably HAVE to take a few more baths before I commit to a surgery plan. That warm water gives me much needed clarity and decision-making power.

2 thoughts on “The power of the bath: making a surgery decision

  1. Imagine a Brazillian wax?!?! Yikes! So happy you found something to bring you peace and relaxation. Even if it took a bit of pain to get there. Stay brave Jackie!! Sending healing thoughts and prayers your way always.

  2. As someone who just got out of an hour-long bath myself, I think you’re doing your thinking in the perfect spot! You’ll make the right choice, JLT. Keep breathing. 🙂

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