Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

In the wink of an eye

One can occasionally be transported to another time and place and in that moment be awake and aware and it can be sweet.

Last week I was getting ready for bed and pulled my T-shirt over my head and then realized that I'd forgotten that I was still wearing my Removaboobs and that was a funny little moment where I'd forgotten about my cancerous past. Aahh...

A few days before that I almost left the house without putting on the Removaboobs and I thought it was interesting that my body felt like they were on when they weren't.

Phantom pheelings make for frantic feelings.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Insert tasteless "stiffs" joke here

I am really too speechless to comment on the "Men of the Mortuaries" calendar, which raises money for breast cancer survivors. I guess if you've gotta go, it's good to know the guy putting you in the box looks good in his underwear.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rules for spectators

Rule No. 1: You do not ask me if "they found the cancer early" or whether I'm "cancer-free now" or "all done with this" in front of my 9-year-old daughter. Unless, of course, you just want me to lie to you.

Rule No. 2: You especially don't ask me, "What's your long-term prognosis?" in front of my 9-year-old daughter. Unless, of course, you just want me to punch you in the face and then lie to you.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Dream a little dream for me

A few nights ago my husband stayed up late to pay bills. While I was sleeping alone, I dreamed he had divorced me because he was tired of my shit. What's more, he had completely moved on and found a woman he thought was more fun than I am. I was devastated.

At that point, he must have come to bed, because I woke up enough to realize I was dreaming. I fell back asleep and dreamed I was telling him my divorce dream. He said, in a very serious voice, "That's ridiculous. I would never leave you."

And the fact that he was saying this while walking down the street in his underwear didn't faze me a bit.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Life-changing experience

There's a kid in one of my classes who has become sort of a scapegoat. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with him; he's just younger than his classmates and his adolescent posturing doesn't play well with them.

Earlier this week, I caught the end of an interchange between him and Student X, whose mother died of cancer several years ago. What I heard was X saying to Scapegoat, "I get it: You haven't had a life-changing experience yet."

I remember Cancerella saying something similar to me many, many years ago, after her mom died. It's possible to explain how falling through the mirror changes you, but to a certain extent, there's no point. Either you've had a life-changing experience and no explanation is necessary, or you haven't, and no explanation will suffice.

I joined the conversation between X and Scapegoat and recalled the moment 18 months ago when I learned I had cancer. A few weeks later, something went hideously, horribly wrong in one of my classes, and I remained unflapped.

"I realized that if it wasn't going to kill me, it wasn't worth getting stressed out about," I said.

"Yeah, well, you seemed pretty stressed this week," pitched in Student Y.

I laughed. "It's hard to live in the clear spot," I acknowledged.


This morning, I had a hot flash while sorting my pills into the weekly organizer. Then, I realized that I was running out of tamoxifen. For some reason (hormones?), this brought on an attack of the weepies.

"I'm so tired of being a cancer patient," I told my husband.

I have been tired and achy this week, and it's hard not to listen to that bad angel who tells me it's because the cancer is back, that my next checkup won't be clean. I haven't been able to keep up with my exercising for the past three weeks, and if something does turn up on my next mammogram, I will be convinced it is because I didn't walk enough.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cancer candor

So I'm watching a few minutes of 'The View' because this particular show is going to be all about breast cancer, and their first guest is Dr. Susan Love. She's a big macher doctor at UCLA. So I'm watching this interview and noting that the ladies are all asking their scripted questions one by one and not talking over each other too much so that we in the audience can learn all manner of important and useful info regarding detecting breast cancer.

That's when I notice that Dr. Love is prefacing some of her answers with "Well, with the grant money from (fill in corporate entity here) we are developing a test blah blah blah...."

Oh - mygod. It's the ultimate promo. Who better to have mentioning your company than a doctor who is doing research that will help your biggest demographic?

It made me sad, because I began to wonder if maybe I AM supposed to be buying the pink shite in order to make a difference in the amount of money available for research. More cosmetics from Avon? I guess I'd better get busy if I want a cure for breast cancer found. How much lipstick do I have to wear in order to affect progress in the lab? And is there lead in that lipstick?

See, this is why I don't want to get out of bed some mornings.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Please Jebus, no more. No more chain mail/junk mail 'send this to ten friends' email. This assumes that I have ten friends, and that I'd want to inflict this shite on those ten friends that I might have, as though I can afford to squander those ten friendships by sending them this crap.
I don't care how well meaning you are, how much you want to help "the cause," DO NOT send me any emails that ask me to go to some site and either click on an ad or buy something because that will help pay for mammograms for poor women.

You want to help 'the cause?' How about sending some real money to a real charity, not some online faux charity that is actually a for profit company that doesn't make it easy to find out how much of their income they donate to 'the cause.' I'm looking at you, thebreastcancersite and CharityUSA and Homeline Publications.

As for me, lately I've been feeling like I gave a lot to breast cancer research when I had the mastectomies and the survived the chemo. What more can I do? Oh, right, go shopping and buy some pink shit.

9/11; cancer epidemic - just go shopping, that'll make it all better!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Frankly, I have no idea what this story about Taxol's ineffectiveness against breast cancer means. I'm not even sure how closely Taxol is related to Taxotere, one of the chemo drugs I was given.

I also have no idea whether I should be eating soy or not.

I do, however, fully understand why women with breast cancer tend to do less and less research on the Internet as time passes.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Dr. Fatherly says everything will be OK

I saw one of my many oncologists this week. OK, actually, I only have two. This is the one who handled my chemotherapy. He reminds me of my dad.

Dr. Fatherly said that one of the downsides of frequent screenings is that you will get frequent ambiguous readings. It's good to be alert to what could be early changes, but it's also nervewracking.

And, indeed, when the formal letter reporting the results of my mammogram came on Thursday, it said right there in English, "No cancer was detected." (But we want you back in six months, even though it's probably nothing.)

So, Mom calls me Thursday night and asks me how my mammogram went.

"No cancer."

"That's good! I was just wondering, because I hadn't heard."

"Well, at this point, you know, you can figure no news is good news."

"... because I know sometimes you hide things from me to protect me."

"Heh heh heh. No, I'm fine."

Am I going to hell for this?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More ugly weather

...and they called me back in from the waiting room to have additional pictures taken during my mammogram today. Let me just say, you really don't want to hear them calling your name in those circumstances.

The technician, who was upbeat and chatty, told me I have what look like calcifications on my "good" side. So they're going to want me back for even more pictures in six months.

Bad breast. No cookie.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Perfect storm

I'm having one of my biennial hurricanes of doctor's appointments: Surgeon, screening, oncologist. (This time, it's a mammogram. Next time, it'll be an MRI. Wash, rinse repeat.)

Am I cool with this? Well, I was so anxious about missing an appointment with my surgeon, I showed up one day early. Uhhhh....

Take two, today. I'm sitting in my paper shirt, waiting for the physician's assistant, and reading some crappy magazine called Cure. I'm not sure who the target audience is, but it's full of articles about how to keep from getting breast cancer. (Why did no one tell me?)

I found myself getting emotional, even though the appointment went very smoothly: My breasts look and feel as they should.

I got home, realized I didn't have one of the ingredients I needed to make dinner, and had a mini meltdown. It's not even 9 p.m. now, and I'm so tired I can hardly type this.

And tomorrow? I get to do it again with the mammogram.

Really, I ought to be getting paid for this.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes)"

So here I am, less than a month after saying I would rather poke myself in the eye than attend a breast cancer fundraiser featuring Jill Eikenberry. Yet sitting on the table next to me is a pile of crap I received for participating in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure this morning.

Item: Pink baseball cap with pink ribbon logo outlined in Swarovski crystals, courtesy of the Shane Company.

Item: "Warriors in Pink" tribal pattern scarf, courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Item: Pink "Survivor" T-shirt, courtesy of various corporate sponsors.

Item: White "Race for the Cure" T-shirt, ditto.

Item: Pink baseball cap with the Komen logo that reads "I am a survivor" across the back.

Items: Pink lip gloss from Shane Company, pink-ribbon shaped emery board, box of "investmints" from Charles Schwab, flimsy plastic flashlight keychain from Dockers, slightly less flimsy "Redwire" jogging headphones from Levi's, two Tyvek Academy of Art bookbags, two pink bathtub ducks, a "Warriors in Pink" temporary tattoo, and one of those cardboard-and-tongue depressor fans that I always associate with funerals.

I have to ask myself, as I eat my Sun Chips (Harvest Cheddar flavor, with the Susan Komen logo, which were tucked into a pink "Race for the Cure" backpack along with the rest of the swag): How much did corporate America spend on this junk?

What if, instead of giving all the survivors a hot pink goodie bag, Energizer and American Airlines and Coldwater Creek and Yoplait and New Balance and Quilted Northern put that money directly into research or services for low-income women?

Nevertheless, I have to confess that I enjoyed myself this morning. The 5K race/walk goes along San Francisco's Embarcadero, from the Ferry Building to Pac Bell Park. It's flat and scenic, and as my daughter and I walked past Claes Oldenburg's giant bow and arrow piercing the buried heart of the city, I felt my spirits lift.

Among the runners and walkers were a number of women wearing the pink (of course) registration number that marked a survivor, and it was affirming and empowering to see all those former chemo and radiation patients looking so good. Some of the walkers still had bald, bandana-covered heads, and I wanted to hug them and tell them it would stop sucking so badly very, very soon.

Then there was the one pink-numbered, pink-hatted lady being pushed in her wheelchair by her husband or partner. I have to admit that, from time to time, I've been guilty of that Schadenfreude you feel when you see someone in the waiting room who is clearly worse off than you are. But it was hard to feel that today -- and far too easy to wonder if it will be me in that wheelchair sometime in the next five years.

I had originally planned to walk with one of my daughter's teachers, also a survivor. She encouraged me when I was in treatment to just hang on and she and I would do the walk together this year. I called her yesterday to arrange a meeting time and place, and she had just returned from her doctor with a diagnosis of phlebitis and orders to stay home with her leg up.

I'm off the hook! I thought to myself.

"... But it means so much to me that you're walking," she said, and I was back on. Oh, well -- I needed the exercise, anyway. And Quilted Northern needs the business.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Just walk away...

(Him, leafing through the mail): "Um, Dr. B----- sent you a flier for a conference on surviving breast cancer. It's all day Saturday, Sept. 29"

"Oh... (glancing briefly at it). Um, I would actually pay good money NOT to have to go to that."


"Yeah, really. I'm already pursuing alternative therapies and exercising and writing about my feelings... I really don't want to have to be lectured about it for a whole day."

"So, I'm guessing you're not interested in going to this fundraiser with Jill Eikenberry either."

"I am SO not interested in going to see Jill Eikenberry. In fact, they would be better off mailing a letter threatening to send Jill Eikenberry to my house unless I give them money."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Me, Myself & I - with Auntie's help

Hmm, support groups. They weren't for me. I tried to be good, and follow the pink brick road, but I just couldn't make myself take that step. Luckily for me, in the midst of all that procrastination, I had a chat with my Auntie who'd been down this road ahead of me by a couple of years. She called to offer (wait for it!) support, and she told me of her experiences going to a support group. There were some very nice people there, she said, but then she added they were more than trumped by the people in the group who whined all the live long day. She dropped in a few times and then, if memory serves, decided it wasn't for her.
My auntie was not a person to put up with whining; I learned that when I was a teensy niece. I thought my mom was fierce about that, but Auntie took no prisoners.

So I found solace elsewhere, bending the ears of my dear friends & family and my ever patient spousal unit, and the fantastic nurses at the Casa de Chemo. They'd heard it all but they always listened as though you were the first one telling them about whatever trial you were enduring. Goddesses on earth, they are.

It would have been nice to have a kind of anti-support support group, but how would we ever find each other? This must be what it's like for the procrastinator's club trying to set up a meeting.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"You are old, Father William, the young man said..."

I was walking out of Ye Olde Quaint Market when I glanced down at my receipt and saw that the checker had given me the 5 percent senior discount.

This is getting $%*!@ing tiresome.

My husband shrugs it off: The checker is in his 20s; anyone with a wrinkle or gray hair looks old to him.

But the fact is, now I've had cancer, I have an investment in how I look to people. I don't want to look 12 to 17 years older than I am; I want to look damn good.

Also, hey: check it out. Being in a cancer support group does not make you live longer. It just feels longer when you're listening to other people's problems.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Cancerella's Cancer Back-Story

Cancer the First-

I was diagnosed with my first cancer in 1997. While it was as upsetting as you might imagine to get that ominous call from the gynecologist in which she says, "Come in and see me as soon as possible...can you come this afternoon?" it wasn't a complete surprise as I was looking back at a family history that produced breast cancer in the three previous generations of my maternal family. Whether it was genetics or environment or both doesn't seem to matter so much when you hear the doctor say that the results of the tests revealed a malignancy.
So there we were, my devoted husband and I, getting the life changing news together. (Sometime after that fateful day he reminded me of the first thing I said after hearing that I had cancer; I said I didn't want to die.) I think I said it because my family data points for the disease were, someone gets cancer and then not too long after the diagnosis they die. So in spite of my diligently getting mammograms every year starting at age thirty-one, after my mother succumbed to the disease, and having to fight to get insurance approval for said mammograms, I became another family data point. And even though it was caught early, I had the thought that I could die from this disease, that I would die from it if I didn't do everything I could to get rid of it.
Needle (punch) biopsy, lumpectomy, mastectomy and chemotherapy were the experiences I was bound to endure but destined to hate hate hate with the white hot heat of a thousand suns. Each one worse than the one before, with chemo being a sidestep into a whole other realm.

Cancer the Second-

Here's the thing. When you get cancer, there's this five year clock that begins ticking after your diagnosis. I don't know who decided it should be five years, but after five years I guess you are dubbed cancer free if there are no re-occurences within that time.
The clock starts ticking and almost every day you think about how you are holding your breath until that five year anniversary is reached, where you think you can go back to your pre-cancer brain, the one where life is good, and you might just be the one to beat the odds of humanity and live forever, but you can't ever go back there after. In that way it's like sex; you are never the same after. No judgements here, I'm not saying whether you are better off or worse off, but you are forever changed.
So it was a real punch in the breadbasket when we got the news four years after the first occurence that I had cancer again. Every year between the first and second diagnoses the hard working radiologists found something that needed removal, so every year I had to go in and have a little bit more of my remaining breast cut out. By the end of the third year my breast was looking like it had been through its own disfiguring car wreck. It wasn't pretty anymore, and it didn't feel so fabulous from the inside, and my nipple was now pointing as if to say 'Hey, look at that up there' instead of pointing ahead into the mirror and the future as it had done for so many years before. I had grown comfortable with the idea of a prophylactic mastectomy when my breast beat me to it and spoiled before I could throw it away.
Take two. Cancer the second time meant having the oncologist decide to use the "stronger chemo" just in case this was a reprise of the first cancer. Would I be sick? For days. Would I be bald? Like the proverbial cue ball, except a cue ball doesn't need hair to keep the dust from falling in its eyes or the snot from falling out of its nose (oh yeah, thank your nose hairs for being there; talk about a thankless job).

I celebrated reaching the five year mark after Cancer, Part Deux by having a colonoscopy. The onc. suggested getting one done given my family history even though I wasn't yet fifty years old. Thankfully I passed that test with flying colors.

Sadly, near the sixth anniversary of my second diagnosis, my co-blogger Carny Asada was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Which brings us to here and now. We are blogging it out, talking about the journey that begins after the treatment ends.

Thanks for reading, and do stop by again. We so enjoy having visitors.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Unexpected Feelings

I'm not talking great emotional tidal waves of heart wrenching angst or crushing depression. No, what I'm talking about are phantom feelings. "Strange" sensations. Sensations that made perfect sense when the breastages were still attached and hadn't even had any core samples or divots taken out. Things like that feeling that something is brushing against your breast right through your shirt/bra, or my personal favorite, the itchy nipple.

I ask you, how might you scratch an itchy nipple that is no longer there where you kept it tucked away for so many years? Because when you get cut on in a surgical way, the nerve pathways are disrupted, sometimes damaged, and forever changed. Things like an itch or a pain or a tingle don't respond the way they once did when attended to with a relieving scratch or other kind of physical contact. For me, even if I scratch where I think that pesky nerve is saying it's itchy, the scratch no longer satisfies because that nerve is sending me down a neural dead end. Literally, a dead end. Places where I could scratch with a garden tool and find no relief even as that mystery nerve continues firing the "hey, it's itchy here!" message.
Nowadays I have to literally beat my (faux) breast in order to send some distracting sensory signals along that messed up nerve pathway in order to get my mind off the itch.

So if in your travels on your life path, you come across a woman punching herself in a place that you wouldn't expect any rational woman to be punching, just know that you are witnessing one rational woman's response to a most irrational neuron.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On a Sweatier Note...

Meanwhile, here in the land of prematurely hot weather, I was out for a little bitty walk today and realized that I couldn't wait until I got home and had a chance to remove my HOT, SWEATY, STICKY AND UNCOMFORTABLE prosthetics. See, my breasts spoiled so completely they had to be removed for my health. There are days when I ponder what a great rack I would have had if I'd chosen to be a middle aged corpse, but then I remember once again that I'm happy being alive even if it means having the figure I had when I was, oh, five years old. Flat chested and a little bit of a belly. (Note to self: Maybe that's why I look so young...)

My co-blogger asks "Why should I be a prisoner of some mass-consumer-driven body image?"
Well, from where I'm standing, it seems kind of difficult to throw off the shackles of a culture that says that girls like to wear high heels and makeup and lots of pink! and they 'should' have long hair and big breasts and teeny waists and round butts or else we won't know they're girls and we won't know how to interact with them if we aren't sure they are girls and if they challenge us by not embracing the trappings of girl/womanhood oh the confusion, never mind the ickiness of dealing with someone who obviously has (had) something wrong with them that left them visibly scarred and/or deformed in some way.
If we don't do all the girl drag, we consign ourselves to some kind of cultural ghetto where we become a poor representative of womanhood (no longer conventionally attractive) and face stares and questions and whispers. Or profiling, as in my case, travelling post 9/11 when I didn't have the strap on girls yet and I was still bald and wearing my lovely Afghan skullcap with the bunnies on it to keep me warm, I was pulled out of every line on every leg of every plane flight I took for months. See, as soon as I felt good enough to travel I went visiting all the people who I couldn't see when I was sick with the chemo. But because I didn't dress like a girl (I wore baggy pants and baggy long shirts because when your breasts are taken away you tend to develop a few self image issues) I believe I was flagged as being a potential something or other. The brown skin didn't help, I suppose. I guess I looked like a vaguely Middle Eastern/African/Not From Around These Parts guy, so of course I must be searched.
The capper for me was standing in the line at the gate waiting for the last leg of my flight home, standing there reading 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again' by David Foster Wallace. Freaking David Foster Wallace! My nose was buried so deep in that book I couldn't see anything but the pages hanging before my eyes and didn't hear anything because I was reading. You know how that is when a book sucks you in so deeply you go deaf? So I didn't hear when the TSA drone was calling me by name and asking me to step out of the line for another bag check. I responded to my name being hollered out for the third time. I looked up from the book and saw the overworked and under trained TSA 'bots waving me over to the table next to the gate. By this time people were boarding the aircraft. So I put my bag down on the table, got yelled at for trying to open it for them, stood back and spiritually bent over. When they were done with me, one of them looked at me with what I thought was an apologetic gaze but who knows? Don't they know terrorists don't have time to read such long-winded writers as Mr. Wallace?
I know, lots of types of people were getting searched over and over again in those days, but I would have thought the no hair on head, no eyebrows, no breasts look might have been a stronger visual cue for 'cancer patient' than for 'potential terrorist.'

Oh, but I digress. We were thinking about body image and breasts. Breasts? Love 'em. Wish I still had 'em, glad I can go buy 'em when I need 'em. Body image? Working on that. Last week I wore false eyelashes for the first time ever and ooh la la, I have found my inner diva, and she likes to dress up. Ah, the circle is complete. I love the makeup but I hate that I love the makeup but I love the makeup...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I always believe what the doctor tells me

I was in the locker room at the pool this afternoon -- first time since Cancer -- and just started whipping my suit off without thinking about it. Then I had this moment of going back and forth: "Ack! People will stare! Fine, let them. Oh, but I don't want to deal with questions. On the other hand, I'm setting a good example if I just let it all hang out. Why should I be a prisoner of some mass-consumer-driven body image?"

What finally settled me was that I had visited my oncologist this morning, and she told me my boobs looked great. So, if the doctor validates me....

Friday, June 8, 2007

But on a lighter note...

There is a zen parable that goes something like this: A man being chased by a tiger falls off a cliff. By chance, he is able to grab a vine and he clings to it for dear life. Below him is a raging river. Above him, he sees two mice start to gnaw at the vine. But then, growing next to him on the cliff, he finds a strawberry. How sweet it tastes!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Stronger than dirt

Another day, another platitude. I haven't had any aimed at me for a while, but I've been thinking about them this week, probably because last Sunday I woke up, turned on CNN to see what new slice of the world hated our red white and blue guts, and I was greeted with a softly delivered yet upbeat narration telling me (in a commercial spot) that today (first Sunday in June) is National Cancer Survivor's Day.

Gee willikers, we get a whole day to survive in public now! If post-chemo memory serves, the featured survivor was an older man who battled prostate cancer, and was now going on a walk. Not a regular old perambulation around his neighborhood, but rather, one of those meaningful "Walks" with sponsors and little bottles of water with logos on them, and crowds of cheering humans who are all probably sharing the same thought; "Jesus H. Christ, I'm glad it's not me.'

Because when you come right down to it, we are glad it isn't us, aren't we? Right up until it is us. Then we are not at all happy. Then we are very sad. Then, when the news gets out to those who know us, the deluge begins.

"Be grateful it wasn't worse." O.k., I guess I could sit around imagining all manner of diseases that would be truly catastrophic, but I don't much care for quantifying the unquantifyable. And anyway, thinking about all those awful maladies would be such a downer.

"You are so brave for dealing with this." No. Let's get this straight. Bravery is leaping onto the train tracks to save someone's life. Or falling on a hand grenade to save your comrade's life. Fighting cancer? Not so much bravery as pure human selfishness. I wasn't interested in dying right now, so I did everything I could to make the bad cancer go the hell away.
This was a no brainer; either I fight the cancer and probably live (a long time) or I don't fight the cancer and surely die (in relatively quick time, and painfully, too!).

"God doesn't give us more than we can bear." This is my personal fave. This is the one that makes the teensy veins in my head pop. This God entity that is spoken of, why does this God seem to be o.k. with throwing this crap into my life in the first place? Wasn't being born a Negro enough? Personally, I think that toting the burden of Negro-ness is more than enough for a person to deal with, esp. in this great land of ours.

Honorary mention: "I/We will be praying for you." Um, could you please not do that? Because, this God you're praying to, isn't this the same God who afflicted me with this malady? If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer this God entity not hear my name too often, lest I end up the focus of the all seeing, all knowing, all smiting cosmic gaze. I can do without the added attention. I'm kind of shy that way.

And now, a thought for the day: You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.

You said it, Al.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me

So, let's talk about gratitude.

One of the recurring themes people return to in dealing with death or illness is that, if nothing else, this experience will make you appreciate the blessings that remain in your life. This is part of the old "cancer made me a better person" mantra. (For a brilliant and hilarious rebuttal to this, see miriam engelberg's book.)

Gratitude is the emotion we feel when someone gives us a gift. It implies a sense of indebtedness, and an understanding that the gift cost something.

Am I grateful to be alive? I think that question, somehow, assumes that I deserve to be dead.

Am I grateful that my cancer was discovered before it metastasized? More times than I like to admit, I wish like hell it had been discovered while it was stage I.

Am I grateful that I got to keep my breast? Frankly, I have mixed feelings.

Am I grateful that there's a better than 50 percent chance I'll get to see my daughter through her adolescence? Hmmmm.....

In other words, when you get right down to it, I'm not that gratful. If this post-cancer life were a Christmas sweater, I'd say it was the wrong color and a few sizes too small.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The breast as boyfriend

I suppose I should be grateful* I got to keep my breast, but I have to tell you that, since cancer, we've had a complicated relationship. First there was all the bruising and healing post-surgery -- no sleeping on my stomach or left side for months. The purple scar and the dimple where the tumor came out -- another adjustment. Then radiation, which gave that whole quadrant of my body a lightly cooked appearance.

Then, post-radiation, the shooting pains that eventually seem to have resolved themselves into a case of lymphedema. ("You can get lymphedema of the breast?" I asked the nurse in disbelief. "Oh, yes," she answered. "Of course, we don't refer you out for treatment for it.")

So now, I'm starting to look at my breast with the sort of mingled emotions one used to feel toward that boyfriend who was hot, but sort of a project. Oh, if only he would show up on time for dates or get a job or stop looking down the waitress's shirt, he would be so perfect! But my breast, unlike those boyfriends, isn't giving me much of a return on my investment, and frankly, I think we're either headed for counseling or a nasty breakup.

When I talked it over with my co-blogger, she summed it up succinctly: "I love you! I hate you! I love you! I hate you! Why can't you be a good breast?"

I'm trying to recapture some of the tenderness I felt when I was first diagnosed: "You poor thing!" I thought toward my breast. "You've worked so hard all my life, and now this!" I felt protective, nurturing -- we'd get through this thing together, I promised my breast.

Now, exhaustion and disillusionment has started to set in. The idea that I'll ever have a left breast that looks and functions roughly like its twin seems laughable. Still, we're stuck in this together. I have to ask myself the old Ann Landers question: "Are you better off with or without...?"


*The issue of whether "gratitude" accurately defines what I'm feeling could be fodder for a whole separate blog post.