Thursday, May 27, 2010

Grace, Humor and a New Room Service Button

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Isn’t it funny how I still feel guilty about my inconsistency in blogging? I mean, it’s not like I’ve been getting my nails done. (Trust me. You should see them.) Mainly, I’ve been having surgery (Two surgeries/Four weeks. Sounds like an idea for reality TV. I bet it wouldn’t be about this though. )

So here’s where I’m at. I have breast cancer. I guess the ins and outs of it don’t really matter. I spend a lot of time talking about ‘my first surgery” and “my second surgery” and what the first surgery was supposed to do that it didn’t – which was why I had the second surgery in the first place. I sometimes think that this maze of health care “dates” keeps me from thinking about the real issue. The real issue is that I have cancer and if I don’t keep making “dates” for surgeries and chemo and radiation, I might die. Honestly, I don’t think about that very much. I just try to keep going and keep “doing” which makes me feel productive. Like I’m trying to chase the cancer away through sheer activity.

The day before my last surgery I got really upset. Breast cancer is a weird thing. You can just go through your normal little life and almost forget you have it. In the early stages, you don’t look different and you don’t feel different. You go from appointment to appointment and you can kind of kid yourself into thinking that you’re OK.

I just wanted my body back. It’s like a game I play with myself sometimes when I try to imagine a different season than the one I’m in. Maybe it’s a fall day, but the sun is shining and it’s just in between warm and crisp and you can almost convince your senses that spring is just beginning. Breast cancer is a lot like that. You try to stay in a your routine (a good thing). Then you realize that you have surgery the next day, and you’ll need a few days of rest and feeling helpless and more than anything, wanting your body back without the drains or ports or steristrips. The way it was before all this happened. And suddenly, you know that fall is here and no way is it spring time. You’ll just have to deal.

I find that as I keep going down this path, things change for me. I am less afraid. The more I am exposed to, the more it becomes normal, part of my routine. Tonight, I am going for a consultation related to a “cranial prosthesis” (a wig). While I can’t even imagine having the courage to be a woman who would be proud to be without hair, I have this strange feeling I will get there. I am already thinking about what-in-the-world that journey will be like and trying to appreciate it.

I told my friend about someone I met at the Humphrey Cancer Center. It was the day I learned that I would, indeed, need chemo. Wouldn’t you know it? I was having a perfect hair day that day. The news shook me. I somehow had held out the hope that I would be different and wouldn’t need chemo. As I sat in the lab giving yet another blood sample, a woman my age came into the lab. She was dressed in casual clothes, shiny bald with a baseball cap. Our eyes met: “Is that your hair?” she said. “So far”, I said. “My hair just fell out this morning so I just went with the baseball cap”. I smiled at her and said “Well, just check back with me in four weeks. We’ll see who has hair then” and we both laughed. Although this seemed to be a horrifying glimpse into what was in store for me, I was so moved by her courage to just be “out there” being herself. I so admire that and hope that I will have the same combination of grace and humor and acceptance that she did in that moment.

I am still amazed by the support of my friends and family. In two months, I have gone from worrying about whether or not I have breast cancer to worrying about whether or not I will need a third surgery after chemo. The very idea that I was so upset about getting an IV port a few weeks ago kind of makes me laugh. I have one now and it seems like nothing. Sometimes I pretend to “infuse” a diet coke through it; sometimes I call it my “room service button”. My friends and family laugh at my bad jokes, support me when I get a dark cloud of worry over my head, and humor me incessantly -- which really is the best medicine of all.

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