Does It Hurt?
I get asked all the time, “Does it hurt?” I typically respond, “No,” not knowing specifically what it they’re talking about — and also knowing it really doesn’t matter. I mean, hasn’t everyone heard breast cancer doesn’t hurt? And besides, I don’t hurt. I feel a certain amount of discomfort, sure, it’s been less than three weeks since my double mastectomy, so discomfort after any surgery that invasive is normal, but hurt, I can honestly say: No. True physical pain has only occurred twice since this whole process started.
The First Pain, Accompanied by Human Touch
The first time I felt true physical pain was during the initial biopsy, before I was officially diagnosed. I tell you this not to scare you — let me be very clear: my particular biopsy issue should NOT happen to you. I just happen to be one of the very rare people who is allergic to pretty much every ‘caine’ out there: lidocaine, carbocaine, novacaine. These are the drugs which are commonly used as numbing agents in a needle biopsy. So, please don’t worry that you will experience the same thing. From what I understand, you won’t feel a thing.
Anyway, I did feel a thing. I felt lots of things, and I can definitely tell you that what I felt I would classify as pain — close to unbearable actually…until a nurse named Stacy put her hand on my shoulder. The simple act of her touch, her hand delicately placed on my shoulder while the biopsy was taking place was better than any local anesthetic. The tears that were initially streaming down my face as tears of agony became tears of gratitude. Up until that moment, I had no idea how another’s touch could impact me so profoundly.
Bless you, nurse Stacy.
The Second Pain, Also Accompanied by Human Touch
Fast forward to the day of the surgery. As part of the prep for the actual procedure, for the specific type of cancer I had, it was necessary to find what is called the Sentinel Node. I won’t get into the particulars about it, but I will say that in order to find the node, each nipple was given four separate injections of radiation — while I was still awake. After the first four injections I wasn’t sure how I would endure the other side without passing out, literally. Then a nurse came and stood beside me. As the radiologist started on the other side, the nurse gave me something to bite down on, and began to stroke my forehead with her cool fingertips, stopping at my temple, applying slight pressure, then repeating. If I said the difference was like night and day, it would be a gross understatement.
What is it about human touch? We use it to soothe crying babies. We stroke someone’s hand in times of pain. We stroke someone’s hand in times of love. We do it so instinctively, we teach our children to do the same. I remember my older son standing beside my hospital bed, unable to hug me, so instead he caressed my cheek with the back-side of his four fingers. Fingers which were not yet those of a teenager, yet also not the fingers of a little boy. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. He simply stroked my cheek, over and over, as my throat swelled with emotion and my heart swelled with joy, with overflowing love.
Words aren’t necessary to convey love. During the biopsy, during the radiation/node procedure, during the special time post op with my son, love was transferred each and every time, and no words were necessary. That’s how powerful human touch is.
Take hugging. Hugging is an act that we do on a regular basis. However, we often treat embracing another as more of a deed or a ‘supposed to do’, rather than an expression of love. Next time you hug someone, really feel the other person. Allow them to feel you. Exchange love through your human touch.
“Touch bleeds the heart of its pressure.”
~ Mark Nepo
Ironically, this quote by Mark Nepo, from his book The Book of Awakening was included in his July 15th essay, the SAME DAY I received my cancer diagnosis. It was *this* quote that snapped my memory back to the recollection of how I felt when nurse Stacy placed her hand on my shoulder, thus resulting in the writing and sharing of today’s article.
Thank you, Mr. Nepo, for the beautiful reminder.