A double mastectomy didn’t ruin my day

Here’s what I discovered from what’s called the Cancer Journey; it can be a trip. A vicious bad actor colonized me, doctors cut off my breasts, poisoned me with chemo, irradiated me, and various body parts swelled with sluggish lymph fluid where lymph nodes used to be. I’m still the happiest ever in the universal and particulars. How? I’m not delusional or trapped in the twin tyrannies known as positive thinking and good attitude. There’s an upside to living breastless and I’m going to blog about it. Breastlessness isn’t all great, but much of it is.

For one full year before the diagnosis I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life. Then along came not just any old run-of-the-mill garden variety Breast Cancer. Nope. It was Triple Negative, one of the deadliest, rare type that invades only 16% of breasts, yet kills 25% of all breast cancer patients, the genome most resistant to known treatments, and the most successful at adapting to its hostess so that it can live on to kill another day despite treatment.

Yeah, for a year I had it all; at 58 I’d met the man of my dreams who rearranged and down-sized his 20-year collection of bachelorhood to make room for me; I accepted a job to try for six months, and loved it enough to do it forever; and a biological grandson ‘magically’ appeared to bring me joy for the future. Never had I been happier in the universal and the particulars.

The June 2009 mammogram showed micro-calcifications the radiologist assured me were nothing. The June 2010 tests (that I almost skipped because of new, government-sanctioned guidelines to test only every other year), showed those micro-calcifications were mid-stage cancer. My partner, Decker, was groping me in April 2010 and felt a small hard spot. No lump, no dimple, no pain, no swelling, no symptoms, but he thought something wasn’t quite right. THANK YOU Decker, for groping me, for having sensitive hands, for insisting I go for the mammogram – I love you. The oncologist outlined the choices, including ‘do nothing’, which gave me an estimated four and nine months to live. Do nothing was never my style.

First, here’s a requiem for my breasts: MY BREASTS were lovely – small (32 C), firm (I bought my first bras at age 55), perky (no sag or droop), smooth (no stretch marks or scars), and attached to me (much more than I was attached to them). Even though they were nice to look at and feel, gave me a good figure and brought pleasure to admirers and gropers, the decision they had to go wasn’t that difficult for me. Maybe I have more confidence than some who struggle to decide or regret and grieve the loss, and if so, I’m grateful for self-confidence, undeserved though it might be. Maybe it’s because my breasts were within nine months of killing me, and I like living more than I like filling out a T-shirt.

Now, here’s an ode to MY LIFE: For the rest of my life I’ll have scars across my chest from sternum to armpit as a reminder to be happy I’m still here. In the locker room, I wear a towel around my waist like a man because why be modest?  It’s cheaper buying children’s clothes for my new shape of a twelve-year-old. A wonderful tailor (thanks Sam) took the darts out of my tops. Approximately nine months, the time it takes to be born, stood between me going to the second hand store with a suitcase of clothes Sam couldn’t alter, and Decker having to do it after I was dead. Goodbye darts.

What happened after the two surgeries, chemo, radiation and brutal side effects of all that crap, was Brain Fog. Crushing, time sucking, demoralizing, paralyzing, reduce me to crying daily and make me catatonic Brain Fog. From diagnosis to the one-year mark, I couldn’t read a book or write a word. My terrific job as a Conflict Management Advisor requires analysis, concentration, focus, and long hours listening to people talk. For almost 24 months I couldn’t follow a conversation. People exhausted me. Attempts to work had me in tears every day. I laid off work again because I was a hazard to the fabulous team at Parks Canada Agency (Robert, Tom, Rebecca and Pierre) that had covered for me during my year of treatment and to the clients.

The goal of this blog, for me, is to re-learn to think, write, and concentrate. What to write about? I’ll start with the great things about breastlessness, not just getting through it but thriving with and enjoying my new body. I’m at the convergence of three realities: love of words, passion for conflict management, and joy of living post-mastectomy. I’ve not published much yet, but now I’m – finally – writing for (my) life.

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