Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mastectomy and Beyond

Some wisdom in here (I hope) about apologizing, chocolate in the evening, and harboring refugees. More of my videos here.

I spent some time on the phone recently talking to a friend of a friend about her upcoming mastectomy. She was struggling with whether or not to have reconstruction. I was struggling to be a supportive listener rather than an evangelist for my one-boob life. But the truth is, if you're faced with this horrendous choice, I highly recommend skipping the reconstruction.

Yes, I am often hyper-vigilant to the reactions of strangers, and yes, sometimes it gets to be too much and I have to cry it out before I can resume my carefree unselfconscious day. And, to be fair, my life does not include board meetings or students or clients I meet with face-to-face, not right now anyway. And I have a supportive husband who thinks a missing breast does not impede my sexiness.

But I am so glad there is no foreign thing under my skin. I am pleased that I haven't gotten around to purchasing a prosthetic or any special bras to hold one. I am surprised and also pleased that there are moments where I find myself, like a tear-streaked child with a big bandage on a wounded knee, feeling proud of my scar. I'm proud of my ability to keep living and loving as fiercely as ever, that I can be an example that cancer and mastectomy and other life disasters don't take away the ability to find humor and pleasure in life. And I am relieved to look back over this paragraph recalling that, at the outset, I did not know it would be this way.

Yesterday while out walking Millie, I ran into a man I know who went through a grueling chemotherapy for throat cancer three years ago, only to begin competing in the arguably equally grueling sport of cyclocross during his subsequent radiation. During my own chemo, I wanted to speak to him, to be reassured that I would one day feel alive again, but I was too tired and too shy to make it happen. Yesterday he told me he had heard I wanted to talk with him and had dropped by my house one day during that period, but apparently no one was home. I was touched to hear this, to be reminded that we don't always know all the good moves people are making in our direction.

"I see they took your breast," he said to me yesterday, or something close to that. It's rare for someone to initiate a frank and direct conversation with me about my mastectomy outside of a doctor's office or a counseling session, especially someone of the male persuasion, so this caught me off guard, though in a good, bracing way, like a gust of November wind after hours in front of the fire. I shrugged and smiled and so did he. "Whaddaya gonna do?" I said, and we both laughed. When we said goodbye he hugged me, hard, without hesitation. And I walked away smiling.


AnneMarie said...

You made a choice that I was too frightened to even consider. In my book, that makes you one of the bravest and most confident women I've encountered! It is all about choice but you have given me another item to put on my list of things to think about. I'm in a self examination (pun?)/self evaluation and self awareness mode. This is absolutely something I want to explore with myself. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Catching up with you, Amy. What a perfect metaphor--a gust of November wind after being in front of the fire. Ahhhh....

I see you are running. Is that half thon still in the works?