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The Ongoing Process of Recovery

Alayne White
Alayne White gets real about life after cancer

Alayne White is a lover of all things business, beauty and lifestyle-

She is a daily writer, community activist and a curious and passionate soul who loves connection and kindness. She collects typewriters and sends typewritten notes to happy recipients. A twice breast cancer survivor, she appreciates every day with reverence.

Alayne: I am so impressed by human resilience and how quickly it’s possible to get back to your version of normal. I cannot believe when I look at myself in the mirror that I just went through that. I definitely do not give myself enough credit. 

Because I can minimize the experience and be happy with all the goodness that came from it, I feel like I don't deserve to feel bad. And that's so defeating. It’s created a psychological warfare in my head right now.

Brilliantly: Do you think that's why you write about your experience? Does it help you sort through your thinking?

Alayne: I do. Over the past three weeks I haven't written at all though. Right now, I'm going back to my original writings about my breast cancer experience and I'm rewriting them for what might become a book. 

I rewrote one of my blog posts the other day, and it was really intense. Part of me wanted to never go back and read them again because that was then, and this is now. But I think it’s been helpful, and I have perspective now. I hope that making a book will help others going through the same thing. 

There is no outlet or truly helpful resources post-reconstruction and treatment. Maybe because as women, unless there is a serious problem, we feel selfish talking about the weird shit happening to our bodies and minds post-reconstruction. I tell myself  to be happy. I have new boobs and I am alive and I didn't have to have chemo. I don’t feel like it’s ok for me to complain.

Now that I'm two years out, I’m still startled by everything that's happening. But what is my alternative? kristen carbone mastectomy breast cancer brilliantly

Brilliantly: Many women I’ve spoken with have said something similar. At the end of their surgical journey or treatment they are left alone to sort out becoming themselves again. It’s overwhelming. The real work, the work you have to do alone a lot of the time, happens after.

Alayne: Way after.

Brilliantly: And it’s work that isn’t only about your relationship with yourself, but your relationship to everyone else. 

Alayne: Yes, I’ve been figuring out what doesn't mean anything anymore, too. Some things I used to care about no longer matter. 

Because I'm alive and well, but I have to make my health a priority. I've been so hungry for doing things, but I have to slow down and regroup and be intentional about all of my choices.

But, there is a piece of me that thinks, fuck that. I'm just going to live! I'm drinking the wine!  

Brilliantly: I can relate to feeling the urgent pull of all the things you want to do. And then in that constant doing you create a cycle of being busy that doesn’t help healing. I had to learn that sometimes doing nothing is doing something.

Alayne: That's right. Exactly. I think what's happening is that whenI was going through reconstruction, I was so concerned with not having cancer that I didn't think about all the things that the doctors told me. Because they are cosmetic or seemed unimportant at the time. And I was willing to move forward quickly with reconstruction because I just wanted to be done. To be better.

I’m unhappy with how weird my body looks now. When I go to my doctor he says, "Oh, you're still swollen. You're gonna be swollen for a few years. This is what happens." And I'm left wondering what that means. 

It's very disconcerting to me, because with the wisdom of retrospect, I wonder what I would have done differently. Maybe nothing. I like having boobs. And I don't think I would have asked more questions because I wouldn't have even known what to ask. I just trusted what the doctor said. It’s hard to pin down what would have been right. Or, when I’ll feel right. 

Brilliantly: If your doctor told you reconstruction was going to be complicated, and potentially a life-long adjustment, would you have believed them?

Alayne: It’s hard to know. I wanted reconstruction so that when I woke up from my surgery I'd look down and I would still look like me. That's what was sold to me.

And in the short term, that is what happened. After surgery, when I looked down I thought I looked ok. That made it a lot easier. But at what cost? I'm still going through constant changes. I feel a sense of...not numbness, but almost like a numbness. Like, a numb joy. 

Brilliantly: Like a disconnect?

Alayne: Yeah, that's a good word. I'm happy and I totally love my life and I'm really grateful.

But I don't have that same elation I used to.

Brilliantly: That makes sense. I feel that way too. Before I had surgery I had a silent mantra about not being defined by how I looked or by my breasts. And I think it helped me heal to some extent, but also held me back. I have a body and I have a spirit, or whatever you wanna call it, and each part exists outside of the other. I am still struggling to mend that. There are so many layers to healing. How are you reconnect the parts of yourself and finding joy again? 

Alayne: Unless you are an advocate for yourself, I don't know how that mending happens. I like to use the cape as a metaphor, like a Wonder Woman cape. We walk around with this cape on, showcasing our superpowers. And then when we go through this experience we have to take the cape off and fold it up and put it in the trunk. You have to admit vulnerability. You have to ask for help. And you can't be the one who's wearing the cape all the time, because that's not the power that you need. You gotta pull from other people. 

And if you get through it, there is a moment when that cape sneaks back out. It’s the moment when you want to be the badass that you looked like before. But maybe that cape doesn't fit anymore. It's time for a new cape. And I think what I am trying to figure out right now is the new cape. It's part of the process. 

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