- Eat their Halloween candy
- Sneak their old toys out of the house to drop at Goodwill
- Throw out most of their art projects
- Keep their baby teeth
- Miss them when they’re at school
- Kiss them in their sleep
- Plan to live with them when I’m an old lady
- Have ambitions
- Want to go on vacation somewhere besides Disney
- Eat their Easter candy
- LaCroix bubble water
- Old flannel shirts
- My free birthday gift from Sephora
- That one week in the spring when my lilac bushes bloom
- A good hair day
- No line for the bathroom at a public place
- Jean jacket weather
- Time to myself
- A hot shower
It’s been a week.
Here’s what I remember — Everyone is very calm in pre-op. The nurses have wonderfully sweet voices. Anesthesia has the biggest team, and I was visited by no less than three anesthesiologists who told me they would “take care of me” in the operating room. My surgeon is a rock star, a notion that is reinforced by her using a Sharpie to sign her name on the boob she would remove from my body. I remember scootching from the gurney to the table. Then that’s it.
There’s an empty space where my breast used to be. I refused to look at it for two days. When I finally did I thought, “So that’s what it looks like to get mauled by a tiger.”
Except there was no tiger. There was a scalpel.
I accidentally looked at it on the second day. It’s ugly. I’m not going to lie. It’s purple and scarred and folded/caved inward. There are sutures and lines and bumps and dents. And it hurts. It fucking hurts all up in my armpit. I’m on Norco for the pain.
My husband looked at it on the first day. He said, “Baby, remember it’s a start. When this is over you’ll have healthy and beautiful bionic boobs.”
I read about a phenomenon that occurs, mostly in veterans and amputees, who don’t fully realize a part of their own body is missing called Phantom Limb syndrome. This is how I feel walking around the house. I’m sure it sounds strange but I don’t feel like I’m missing a breast. I feel like normal — until I accidentally brush my hand along my chest and I don’t find a breast there. It’s like I need a neutral third party — my hand — to tell my brain something is missing. My brain can’t seem to figure it out on it’s own.
A good friend said if I want to spread the tiger story around town she would back me up. So next time you see me ask about the safari. Ask me what it’s like to fight a tiger and win.
I got to kill the fucking tiger. And I have the scars to prove it.
So I knew this day would come. I was told two months ago it would happen. That’s a long time to prepare. Or, if you’re me, it’s a long time to ignore reality.
The reality is I have DCIS breast cancer. Just one boob. The one on the right. So the next time you see me you can stare. It’s okay. I’d stare at your boobs too if you told me where your cancer was.
DCIS is the kind of breast cancer you want if you ever get breast cancer. At least this is what my doctor told me. It’s non-invasive, which means it’s confined to the breast and doesn’t metastasize in the body. They call it stage 0. It is 99% curable.
The cure is a mastectomy.
Whoa, right? Seems drastic for something some doctors call “pre-cancer.” I think so too. But the alternative is watching and waiting for it to become invasive cancer and this seems even more stressful. I’m not a cross-my-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best kind of patient. I’m a do-my-research-and-find-the-best-experts kind of patient. Which is why I’m having everything done at a major teaching hospital instead of a cornfield.
So here’s the plan. This Saturday is my birthday. I plan to get drunk and eat ice cream. I bought Malibu Rum and Sangria so I can pretend I’m on vacation, and a tub of organic mochaccino ice cream. In my drunken and dairy-bloated state I’ll probably convince a photographer friend of mine to take classy photos of my cleavage. (Is there any other kind?) Sunday I will detox and then it’s onward to Mastectomy Monday. I bought new pink satin button front pajamas and something called a Brobe, so I’m set. After I come home stoned on opiates I will lay in bed and watch Oscar screeners and possibly binge watch Game of Thrones. I hear I’m among the three people left on earth who never saw an episode.
I’m not happy about being out of commission for a week. Pretty sure chaos will ensue. But that’s minor and temporary. What I can’t shake is the feeling I’m running out of time. I’m not talking about mortality. I’m talking about my wholeness. The clock is ticking on the amount of time I have left to feel like “me.” After Monday, I don’t know what I’ll look like or how I’ll feel. After Monday everything will be different.
But until then, it’s booze and ice cream.
- “Who said you could eat that?!”
- “We’re going to be late!”
- “You should have peed before we left!”
- “Did you sleep in that?!”
- “Throw that away!”
- “Where are your shoes?!”
- “I already answered you!”
- “Stop asking me that!”
- “Brush your hair!”
- “Don’t put yogurt in your nose!”
“Mom, do you want me to make a list of everything you do wrong?”
This question came from my son. Nothing provoked it. It was just something on his mind and he thought he would be helpful. I declined, and now I think we can add me declining his unsolicited assessment of my job performance to the list of things I’ve done wrong — feedback is good, right? It would be good to have my shortcomings itemized by the tiny human boss I gave life to.
However, I already have a critic inside my head that’s pretty good at telling me everything I do wrong, so maybe I don’t need her and my son comparing notes — can’t we all just laugh at me and get along?
This same son once told me when he grows up he wants to be a great man so I have to raise him right. When I asked how I was doing so far he shrugged and said, “Okay, I guess.” He’s a tough boss to please. I still have a lot to learn about parenting, like how to resist rolling my eyes when my son criticizes me. But every now and then I can add something relevant to the conversation.
A while back I (thought I) was a seasoned second-time mom in a mommy-and-me group surrounded by younger first-timers. One newbie asked what everyone thought was the best and worst parts of being a mom.
Now, there are a lot of priceless things, like source material for a blog, but that’s not what I said. I told the group the best thing about being a mom is the love — nothing compares to the love you feel for your child and the love you get in return. I don’t care how much you love your spouse/partner (and I do), every mom knows what I’m talking about and you’re all nodding your head.
As far as the worst thing goes, I skipped over lack of sleep, weight gain and accelerated aging and went straight to the truth. The worst thing is the worry — nothing prepares you for the absurd amount of time a mom spends worrying. About everything. I can’t even get started on this one. Worry consumed me even before my oldest son became ill with cancer. I wear worry like an accessory. It hangs around my neck like an ugly chain.
Nobody knows the future. That’s what is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. But as parents we learn from the past and each other. For example, I knew a mom who told me her three year-old son had an inconsolable crying and hyperventilating fit over something. “We had to shove his face in a mud puddle to get him to calm down,” she said. The mud puddle technique never got into my repertoire. I’m not clear on the logic — perhaps she thought if the baby couldn’t breathe he couldn’t cry? This story came from a mom from a different generation and it shows how much easier it was to get away with banana parenting techniques before cell phones.
Now let me tell you her kid turned out just fine. Most do regardless of our eccentric decisions — kids are the most durable thing on the planet. They go through so much turmoil on the road to adulthood yet (most) become productive grown humans.
I screw up every day and my son somehow makes it to bedtime unscathed and relatively happy. One day he will appreciate having a complicated mother. After all, he’ll need something to discuss with his therapist when he’s older.
Or material for a blog…
- My morning coffee
- When I perfectly time the avocado
- When the snow flies off the roof of the car while I drive and makes what looks like a vapor trail
- New slipper-socks
- Finding an excellent condition Kate Spade purse at the thrift shop
- New flannel pajama pants
- In-n-Out Burger
- Steamed potstickers from Chin Chin
- Sleeping in
- The sun shining anytime November thru April
- Someone else doing the dishes
- Nailing it at parallel parking
- When my kids listen to me
- A foot massage
- A comment on my blog