Breastless Love, The Man Who Stayed with the ‘Sick’ Woman

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In my posts, the fact I stumbled upon the love of my life at age 58 was an aside, like Decker guided me through the cancer swamp as expected of an old stalwart. Reality check: we’re a new couple. He didn’t have much invested in ‘us’ when my breasts tried to kill me.

My choice was between breasts or death in four to nine months. Easy peasy. Decker got to decide whether to stick around for the medical crap. Whew; he chose to. Cancer support groups are filled with women whose partners left. Heartbreak on heartbreak. Like piling on in football without penalty for being last ‘man’ on the guy down. As if getting cancer was being unfaithful: “What – you went to bed with Cancer? How could you betray me with Cancer? Well, now that you’ve chosen Cancer over me I’m leaving.”

Women (or men, or children – cancer is so democratic) have to deal with threatened lives, medical uncertainties, activities disrupted, hideous side effects, and bodily insults. Then the person we count on gets a free pass on the blood, vomit, infected sutures, bulbs of sloshing lymph fluid, low blood counts, shakes, tears, pain, physical scars, and emotional turmoil. Jeez, how could anyone willingly give that a miss? So no one had to tell me Decker’s a gem for staying.

Diane and Dave, 1989

Our father stayed. My lovely sister Andria and I had a disabled mother who underwent countless medical procedures for multiple medical conditions and a constellation of physical complaints. Mom and dad’s mutual verbal abuse was so miserable some relatives refused to visit us. Yet, our folks stayed together until they passed away and, in Andria’s version of the story, they loved each other.

So I asked Decker, ‘what’s the reason you stayed?’ and his expected response: ‘I love you.’ Too simple? He said, ‘sometimes simple is true.’ Yet, an Internet search ‘men leave sick women’ reveals women are six times more likely than men to be left after a cancer diagnosis.

There are also same-sex partners, families, neighbours and best friends who are too busy or can’t accept the neediness of the woman who once did everything and now needs help. In support groups, I listened to abandonment SLS (Shitty Life Stories) and wondered how I was so blessed, in addition to Decker, with friends, family and neighbours who brought food, offered to shop, helped walk puppy Trail, and called to say hello.

There were delightful welcome surprises – my dear cousin BonnyBonny Gold-Babins and I became much better friends. She’d done her stint twice over nursing her lovely parents through chronic illnesses, and still had a soup pot of caring for me.

But other women similar to me weren’t so lucky. It’s easy to blame; we all have villains, victims and heroes in our SLS. BUT, I practice Appreciative Inquiry and I blog at the intersection of what Conflict Competence teaches about Living Breastlessly. Conflict Competence speaks to the quality of relationships we want whether we’re well or sick, or are the friend, neighbour, or significant other to that sick person. How do we make and maintain the loving, trusting, there-through-thick-and-thin bonds that sustain and nurture us even at our worst?

An Internet search for why people stay to help sick partners and friends turned up – wait for it – NOTHING. The focus of the research is on the negative, the losers, the leavers, and the lovers who abandon. They don’t have a name. The people who stay get a name that’s more a label: caregivers. A search about caregivers led to how to become a caregiver, government benefits for caregivers, products for caregivers, and managing caregivers’ strains and stresses. Staying with a sick person is both an act of love and a profession.

We could ask Appreciative Inquiry questions, and research men’s reasons for staying to learn how staying can be an easier and higher quality choice. What made my father stay with my mother, particularly since they fought just about all the time about almost everything? What did Decker see that made the love worth hanging on to? And let’s get to the real heart of it: What can I do, every day with every person I treasure, to let them know I love and value them, appreciate their qualities and forgive their shortcomings if they’ll please forgive mine?

here’s more Decker celebrating the 60s at his 60th:

Decker at his 60th in a wig copy

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Standing up to bullies or cancer with a power stance

During cancer treatment and ensuing brain fog I couldn’t read, write, or converse so TED’s short talks were perfect. I watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk again and again, thinking Amy’s – after so many viewings I feel I know her – research has so many uses, from addressing bullying, to healing, to upping my conflict competence. In nonlinear fashion, power poses cycled through my thoughts into brief ideas.

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j0186176_2f5ce440Amy’s work continues the study of the mind-body connection, which has lots of science, wisdom and other evidence to back it up. That part isn’t new. During the cancer treatment, I had at least two dramatic experiences of this connection. I used my mind to ease a procedure that wasn’t going well. I was to have a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) in a vein. The chemo was so toxic it would’ve blown out the vein had they injected it without the PICC. The nurse specialists tried to insert the PICC and the line hit a wrinkle in my vein, bending up instead of sliding through. A fifteen-minute procedure was into its first hour. The nurses looked more than a tad concerned. I meditated on the vein and the line slid into place. The nurse told Decker she reported this and suggested  patient meditation be included in the procedure manual. The second time came well into the chemo treatment. My blood was so low the oncologist scheduled a transfusion that would have delayed treatment a week. They said blood counts don’t come up with that chemo cocktail. I asked for time to use my Inner Healer, named Terry Gold, and then had another blood test. My count was up. The treatment went as scheduled.

The variation Amy and her co-researchers further of this knowledge of the interrelationship of minds and bodies is that body postures affect feelings of power. The (unfortunate in my opinion) name Amy has given this is Power Poses. I have other thoughts on overuses, misuses, and abuses of power, including that aggressive people affecting poses in the belief it will infuse them with power is indeed scary. However, the idea that even a few minutes of standing or sitting in a certain pose can change an interaction and how my mind functions also has positive applications. It would be great to have this information in the right hands.

Bullies are news again damn it, because of Amanda Todd. What, I wonder, would be the effect of teaching the victims how to stand and sit in order to stand up against their bullies? Bullies seem to know this instinctively and don’t need more power. They’re getting power over their victims already. (I wonder in what poses they stand and sit? Now there’s a research project begging to be undertaken.) Others could sure use some help in feeling more inner power. Could bystanders be empowered to stand up to the bullies?

The body healing the mind has opened up new ideas for how I can stay in remission, the ways I can help my clients, and where I can improve my relationships with others. My conflict coaching clients stand (pun intended) to benefit when I suggest they observe how they and the other person stand and sit alone or in relation to each other, both in calm times, and when locked in conflict with each other. And, look for me to take a stand of power against my personal bully – triple negative breast cancer recurrence – on those now rare occasions when I’m tired and have bleak thoughts about my long-term survivorship. I’ve added body over mind poses to my toolkit of Inner Healer and mind over body strategies to overcome those thoughts.

Cancer’s a game changer but I’ve still got game

The new year is almost on us. 2013 was supposed to be the summer I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (to add to my 4 degrees, a girl can’t have too many). My secret dream was to enroll part-time while working. Instead of university studies, my 2010, 2011, and 2012 summer vacations paralleled which body part was being assaulted, and I had only medical, laboratory and radiological studies.

2010 was the summer of breasts and lymph nodes.

2011 was the summer of exhaustion and paralyzing fear.

2012 was the summer of brain fog and confusion.

Now I’m aiming for 2013 to be the summer of love and publishing.

2010 was a game changer, the kind of shit kicking where it would’ve been preferable to have a bully beating on me so I could put a face on my abuser. Cancer has no face. It beat me up from the inside out. There was no one to fight back against. I couldn’t dash out the back door, or turn off the computer to escape. It wasn’t lurking around the corner waiting for me; it skulked and stalked inside me, waiting, bidding time, looking for vulnerable places to root, grow and kill. It’s a bully that doesn’t mature in a good way.

Summer 2011 crawled over me like a bulldozer and I crawled through it. For months I dragged myself to work five days a week, cried throughout my walk home, and was catatonic with anxiety about cancer’s return during the hours in between going and coming. My words were insensible, my thoughts a muddle, and my work substandard. If I wasn’t in bed before 8 PM cancer grinned and looked around for a comfy place to plant. I panicked if I got stressed or overtired because those were cancer’s nectar and ambrosia.

Somehow, I got through to spring 2012 before I screamed for help. After three health care professionals recommended I lay off (the fourth suggested I quit and find my bliss elsewhere) I caved in and took a leave of absence starting 1st April 2012.

The summer of 2012 was a game changer. The leave of absence meant I finally had enough rest, alone time to meditate, exercise time to get physically back to my normal self, and enough mind recovery from brain fog to again enjoy conversation with people. I went weeks without crying or paralysis. I could read simple novels and write stories again, listen to the radio without overstimulation from endless words I couldn’t follow.

The only time I still feel the old bleakness is when Decker wants me to linger with him in nature when I’m hungry for a meal, or to stay up past my limit because he’s having a good time, or tells me to have some great food because it has only a little bit of a forbidden ingredient in it. Then, I hear the dire voice whisper, ‘does he care if I live or die?’ Where last year it was more than I could bear and I had meltdowns of hysterical proportions, now I just tell him what I’m doing. ‘No, I’m hungry and I have to eat before my insulin spikes and the cancer comes back.’ and, ‘No, I’m glad you’re having a good time but I’m going home to bed before I get overtired and the cancer comes back.’ ‘No, just a little of that food is enough to feed mutations so the cancer comes back.’ Yes, I’ll be rigid for the next six years I’m most at risk so that I can live to enjoy other pleasant evenings with you in years to come.’

Now, when the voice of anxiety about recurrence whispers I can hush it. The dire thoughts may come and I have most of my resiliency back to cope with the message. I have a message back for it. ‘I’m doing all I can to stay in remission. whatever happens, I can deal with it. In the meantime, I have a future to live and a grandson whose wedding I plan to dance at.’ And, somehow, I’ll get something creative written for the summer of 2013 because it’s my summer of love. That’s how I intend to change this bully – with love.

Enjoy the images. What are your plans for 2013?

Remission’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose

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clip art credit clker.com/

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photo kriskristofferson.com

Kris Kristofferson wrote in Me And Bobby Mcgee: ‘nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free,’ In the midst of so much bitter debate over free universal health care, free is worth a lot. When it came to treatment for a nasty, rare breast cancer, I had ‘nothin’ left to lose’. I selected an expensive course of treatment and, at the end of my years of living medically, no one handed me a bill. They cheered and waved goodbye.

Is this possible – timely, excellent, appropriate health care for ‘free’ or was I hallucinating? The drugs weren’t that type. The policy answer for how ‘free’ timely, excellent, appropriate health care works is that money from everyone’s taxes is allocated towards universal free health care. Blah blah. The human answer is that free universal health care works because people make it work every day in doing their jobs despite the administrative turmoil around them.

On the cancer conveyor belt you meet everyone on the belt around you. It’s like an exclusive club – if you belong, you’ve got the status of everyone else holding the red cancer membership card. It’s a twist on the joke: ‘I wouldn’t join any club that would have me.’ We have a club that doesn’t want members, and no one wants to join. But, if you need it, it’s welcoming and you’re grateful.

Members of the Cancer Club talk all the time. It’s impossible not to. We’re all anxious, naked under thin gowns, lined up for our turn i the schedule, and in need of bucking up. I sit down, the bald lady next to me smiles and the game is on. What flavour is your cancer? What number treatment or test or exam is this for you? How’d your last one go? Who’s your doctor or technician or counsellor? And so on. So, I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that I wasn’t the only bald, underdressed, anxious person who was happy with the care at Alberta Health Services.

Here are two stories, one from the professional aspect of our free health care and one from the personal side of the experience.

The timeline from suspicion, investigation, diagnosis and treatment went without a delay. At first, my partner, Decker, and I thought the hour of specialists’ time at each appointment was extraordinary. But no – everyone had the same experience of doctors who answered every question. We all had the same story – competent, compassionate, high quality care with no delays. And it’s the same level of care no matter the level of income.

The second story was from the Peter Loughheed Health Centre when I woke up from surgery ravenous after almost 20 hours fasting, only to find there was nothing for me to eat. The patient kitchen was closed, Decker had gone home to care for Trail, the 11-week-old puppy, and I was too groggy to walk to the public cafeteria. The ward clerk, who earns a modest salary, heard about my plight. On her break, she went to the public cafeteria, bought me something, and had the attending nurse give it to me. The nurse was the one who told me the ward clerk had done it anonymously.

The debate about Universal Health Care focuses on what’s wrong. Well, there’s also a lot right. For all the extravagance in the administration of the health care system, there’s an employee in the system who pays out of his or her pocket for a hungry patient. The system works because the people on the front line know what to do and how to do it, and know when to ignore the upper layers who are purportedly in charge.

With all respect to the extremely talented Mr. Kristofferson, who wrote a wonderful song, there’s no damn way I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday. And thanks to the fabulous care I received from the front line workers who don’t let the chaos at the top get stop them from delivering superb care, I have many tomorrows, none of which I’d trade for anything.

There’s a lot of great care happening as well as a lot of conflict in health care. The norm in conflicts is to focus on what’s wrong with everyone else’s system while defending one’s own. It’s easy to sit in judgment of who has the best or correct or right way of doing things, or feel compelled to tell the other persons what you believe is their best or correct or right way they ‘should’ do things. In conflict, people drive the system and the system amplifies or dampens the good things people do.

As a conflict manager, when I’m looking at systemic issues, I start with the people who are doing a good job and ask ‘how do we get more of that?’ That’s the Appreciative Inquiry approach. Instead, the powers that be order expensive public inquiries into what goes wrong and how to get less of whatever that turns out to be.

If, heaven forbid, I slip out of remission, even though there may not –at this time – be anything medically that anyone can do, the personnel in the medical system will persist in treating me, knocking themselves out trying to save me or give me more time or improve the quality of my remaining life. That’s worth something and – where I live – it’s free.

Here’s Kris singing Me and Bobby McGee:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG2kq-4dM98

 

Breaking the news I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer

There were three reactions to my telling people I had cancer that I’ll share so you don’t ever, ever, ever offer them as useful to someone with a life threatened or game changing future.

First, I had to tell folks. My wonderful big sister Andria is a magnificent force of nature; my mentor and tormenter. As a voluptuous 15-year-old to my gawky, thin 12, she’d say: “What do you want, a medal or a breast to pin it on.” I reminded her of this and added: “I’ve finally got breasts, and they’re trying to kill me, so now I’ll take the medal instead.” Andria was on a plane to Calgary 2 days later. For the most part, I felt loved and supported.

Those nearby I could tell in person or with a phone call. Those farther away got an email, subject line was: All’s well except for the breast cancer. It got many great reactions, ranging from Steven Loble in London, England who wrote a simple, “AW SHIT!!” to encouragement, and offers of – mostly contradictory – advice.

Then there were the unhelpful reactions. First among these was to negate my feelings, the importance of not feeling the way I was feeling at the time, or to feel more of, or different than, or some attitude that was going to save me because they were saved that way, or heard about someone who was, or read it somewhere.

So, here’s the thing to know: how I felt at the time was how I felt at the time. It wasn’t wrong, or bad, or going to affect my life span. It was just part of the process I experienced at that moment. It would change soon – guaranteed – depending on where I was in the chemo cycle and chemo-induced acute pain syndrome and the mood alterations from the drugs, their side effects and the latest news from the lab. Hang on tight friends, treatment’s a wild emotional ride. Rather than be slave to what I call the twin tyrannies of positive thinking and good attitude, I change the subject.

The second reaction to edit out is related to the first. ‘I know just how you’re feeling because …’ and followed with ‘because I have a paper cut that really hurts,’ or ‘because my neighbour’s wife just died of breast cancer.’ Thanks for sharing, but if it’s okay with you, save your troubles until I feel better. I’m happy to listen when I have energy to spare.

The third reaction is possibly dumbest, just because it’s so common: “Well, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow.” As an aspiring writer, I’m appalled a cliché is intended to be helpful. Pleeze, think of a fresher metaphor for the fragility of life and that everyone is a diagnosis away from potential disaster. The first few hundred times, my response was polite acknowledgement they were trying to say something – anything – to show they understood what I faced.

The next hundred or so times I didn’t hold back. No, the risk of being hit by a bus isn’t the same thing, and to say it is shows no frickin’ clue about triple negative breast cancer that really likes to be deadly. I can manage the risk of stepping off a curb. I can look both ways for the damn bus. I can cross at an intersection on a green light. If the bus comes out of thin air I can jump back to the curb. I can do Risk Management for a bus. I had no cancer risk factors, pre-dispositional, genetic, or lifestyle and I got breast cancer anyway. No amount of risk management could stop it coming at me from thin air and there was no curb to jump back on. There’s no green light or crosswalk option for me now, or get out of jail or free pass for my breasts going crazy on my chest and spreading the insanity into my lymph system. So, unless you plan to throw yourself off the curb under the bus, it isn’t the same.

My friend, Rose Boll, author of an award nominated young adult novel called The Second Trial, reminded me that it isn’t useful to write what not to say and sign off. Of course, duh, slap forehead with hand, I know that; I practice Appreciative Inquiry, and the reframe of the negative to the positive and etc, etc, etc. Thanks Rose, for reminding me to use in writing about Living Breastlessly what I know from Conflict Competency, which is the point of this blog. So, here’s a suggestion on something potentially helpful to say. At the Tapestry Retreat, March, 2012, there was a session on important conversations, including a chance for each person to say:

thank you

please forgive me

i forgive you, and

goodbye

I guess you modify it for each situation and it’s helpful to do empathetic listening, which is nonjudgmental acceptance of what the speaker says.

Risk management is like conflict management and crisis management: genetic triplets in many ways, and distinguishable in when to apply each. Like cancer they operate on a time series. I manage risk proactively to prevent problems from arising in the first place, deal with conflict if it presents, and apply the right strategies should the situation turn into a crisis.

Bests of breastlessness

Here’s my list of the great things about a double mastectomy:

1. Without a breast to squish, the seat belt politely lies flat from my shoulder to the clasp at my waist.I no longer have choreography, like fishing catch and release, to find a comfortable place over or under the breast to fit the diagonal strap.

2. Likewise, purses rest over my shoulder without the strap dissecting one breast into two mounds, forming new topography of that breast, or one breast rode inches higher than the other, or put the strap over the breast.

3. Forever gone is the need to sit around in a thin gown in a chilly waiting room with other unclad women for the ritual mammography, clamping each breast in turn between cold plates for what seems like eternal tenderizing.

4. Bra fitting deserves its own listing. The fitter scrutinizes and points out your breasts’ asymmetries and imperfections, and then disappears, leaving you naked from the waist up while she fetches bras. In Paris, the fitters are famed for measuring breasts with their hands. Urban myth? I’ll never find out for myself.

5. Never ever again will bra straps slip down to my elbow that I have to reach in and put back on my shoulder. No more strap worry about backless tops or cross the shoulder necklines. There’s one faux pas less on a fashion crime list.

6. Gravity and stretch marks will never be a concern. There’s nothing to droop or sag. My neck may wrinkle, my face slacken, my underarms jiggle, and my thighs turn to cottage cheese, but never will I have to tuck my breasts into my belt to get them out of the way. My breasts live in memory at their perky best.

7. You may have had the experience of playing bouncy with someone you’re not entirely comfy being naked with (and I’m not saying this ever happened to me). In case you’ve done it, you remember being self-conscious when you bounce down and your breasts keep going up, and then reverse the mismatch. Not that I’m admitting to this, but if it ever did happen, I won’t have the embarrassment of me going in one direction and my breasts in another.

8. No matter how chilled I get, or how tight a T-shirt I’m wearing, my nipples will not be tight little pyramid points poking through the fabric. I could have new rainbow coloured nipples tattooed on but even those wouldn’t show what I’m thinking.

9. Flimsy dresses, low in front, cut out in back, and see through are all mine to wear now ‘cause I’ve got nothing that might fall out. I can wear anything now with no fear of wardrobe malfunction revealing anything that might get bleeped out of the photo.

10. The myth of the Amazons who amputated one breast to be better warriors now makes sense. I worked out with weights close to my upper torso and performed a smooth clean and jerk with no obstacles to lift around or over.

This is the first of the reasons I’ve amassed on the joy of living breastlessly. The conflict competence message is – well – maybe there isn’t one and that’s okay too.

Embracing breastlessness

It’s the fad title; The Year Of Living …. whatever, fill in the blank with your choice of taking a year of one’s life dedicated to living off the grid, or like in Biblical times, or as a celibate or eating certain ways, and etc. etc. etc. Having one’s breasts amputated is rarely a first choice for a change of pace, and it sure isn’t just for a year. When homegrown breasts are gone they’re gone for good. This is me now, flat as my Canadian prairie roots from the neck to the navel. Not for me prosthetics or reconstructive surgery.

For what end would I seek new breasts to replace the ones I donated to research in the Breast Cancer Tumor Bank: to look like I’m sporting cantaloupes on my chest? For who: surely not for me, and as Decker said, “Yeah, I miss your breasts, but I’d miss you more.” He got serious points towards being the great love of my life for that answer.

Just thinking of reconstruction gives me phantom nipple pain. More surgery, anesthetic, pain, post-anesthetic vomiting, pain, extra scars, pain, new risks of infection, pain, rounds of different doctors, pain, more time off work, pain. Did I mention not liking pain? With my risk of recurrence so high, there’s no reason (save vanity) to add implants as obstacles to finding any future problems. 

Even though our wonderful universal health insurance would pay for reconstructive surgery or prosthetic boobies, I’d pay personally in oh-so-many other ways.

Here’s my image of the prosthetics option. Every morning sling on a bra filled with plastic forms in the shape of the breasts of my choice, complete with a little mound pretending to be a nipple. I didn’t even wear a bra until I was about 55, and high on the list of great things about a double mastectomy is NEVER having to be fitted for, buy or wear a bra again as long as I live.

Or, how about this labour saving device – stick on boobs? Wake up, shower, dry off, pull on panties, reach for today’s size/shape of breasts from the top shelf, slap them on your chest, button up a blouse and I’m good to go. What fun that’ll be on a hot day! Two blobs of gel stuck over the scars, sweat running between them where my cleavage used to be. Those babies don’t breathe! Then there’s the itch and redness from the sticking mechanism, the allergic reaction to the latex-y material, or the possibility one of them loses its adhesive and slides down to my waistband.

And for what purpose would I torture my good, hard working otherwise healthy body into supporting Barbie- wannabes under my sweater? Beats me. I never did understand the breast obsession when I had two nice ones of my very own. Having ones that someone else manufactured and sold to me sure doesn’t captivate my attention. If no one wants to check out my new as-is body like a 12-year-old boy, well, that’s fine with me. I’m grateful for having a reliable body, scars, no nipples, and all.

As a conflict manager, I’m accustomed to brain-storming all the options and creating novel ways of resolving problems. However, sometimes the issue presented as needing solutions just isn’t a problem needing fixing in the first place. More than just leaving good enough alone, I’m embracing the change.

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.