Monday, August 25, 2008

The Olympics are over, but I'm not

So the Olympics are finally over. Husband and I skipped the closing ceremonies and went to a movie instead, so I have no snarky comments to make other than to congratulate China for being able to create as big an overproduced, money-wasting, pointless, and garish spectacle as any other industrialized nation. Way to go, China. You've arrived.

But I'm glad the Olympics are over for another reason as well. Watching these games took me back to somewhere I never wanted to be: laying in a hospital bed, tubed up, unable to move without mind-blowing pain, and drifting in and out of a drug-induced haze as I watched the Athens Olympics from my bed. I had had a standard mastectomy but in the name of efficiency had teamed it up with the first stage in my reconstructive surgery. Two surgeons! One operation! Who could pass up such a deal? But really, I was afraid of having bandages come off and seeing nothing but a zipper scar across a flat or even (horrors) concave chest. No—I wanted a zipper scar across a small mound of something, even if it was only a tissue expander that in no way resembled the breast it replaced. For one thing, there was, of course, no nipple. Sort of like a face without an eye: blank, devoid of personality. It was better than nothing, I guess, but I still cried buckets when a couple of weeks later I snuck into the bathroom, locked the door, and peeked beneath the bandages.

But I digress. (I know some people hate to read that on a blog. Too bad. This whole thing is a digression. My digression. My blog. You know how it goes.)

For four days I watched it all: all the comparatively insignificant events they broadcast at strange times when probably only people on loads of drugs and off their sleep/wake cycle are tuned in. Track semi-finals, quarter finals, eighth finals (that was probably the drugs); men's gymnastics (everyone's so much more interested in the women girls); and some event where they ride a horse, shoot a gun, and do something else—paddle a canoe? It's something of a blur.

And during the commercials I either dozed off or contemplated things like "Where did it go?" My breast, I mean. The evening before I went in, I had washed it in the shower, careful not to scrub off the purple pen marking the next day's plans, and said a sort of goodbye to it. But I could never get out of my mind that when they wheeled me out of the operating room, I went in one direction, and that breast went in another, down the hall in . . . what? . . . a cooler of ice? It was no longer part of me, and I was without it. So I didn't follow up on it other than to read the pathology report (a good one, all clean margins) and wonder "Ok, they're done with it. Now what?"

But the worst was over because no amount of physical pain or mutilation could come near what it had been like the months before as I went through all rounds of diagnostic tests, waiting for results, planning for the worst, and imagining Sophie's life without me in it. That was the worst. She was only four. What would she remember? If I die, should she be there with me? Could holding onto her keep me there a little longer? Was that fair to her? I researched endlessly, looking up tables that charted out survival chances for various diagnoses. It's amazing what can sound like a good outcome in these circumstances. Ten years? Yes, I'll take ten years! Can I have that in writing?

That summer was spent under a black cloud while my mind spun these thoughts and did crazy things like plan out Sophie and Husband's financial future and the series of videos I would leave: "Your First Bra," "Peer Pressure: Most of Them Are Lying," and "So You Think You're Ready To Get Married." What else could I do when my surgeon answered my question "I'm going to be ok, right?" with "You know I can't tell you that"? After all, I'm a planner. I like to be prepared.

But there in the hospital, I had turned a corner from the lonely place where you think about these things and what you need no one can give you to a place where I could let people help me. Husband could wash my hair in the sink, Sophie could "doctor me up" with her Fischer Price medical kit, and friends could temporarily absorb Sophie into their families so that my ordeal became a fabulous adventure for her. I was going to be ok; I was just going to feel like shit for a while.

So I survived. Not because I was brave or strong but because I was lucky. Lucky enough that my cancer didn't progress to the next stage, lucky enough to have very good health insurance. For some reason 40,000 women a year are not lucky, and it's not because they weren't brave or strong. I'm sure some of them were absolute ass kickers.

It's not the most important thing that has happened in my life (that was having Sophie), and I don't think about it every day. It didn't fundamentally change my life, but it tweaked it in some important ways. I'm not as afraid. I'm more grateful. I'm more clear on how I want to live my life:
Don't drift. Dig in and make a mark. Do something. Be something that even if it doesn't last as long as you want will make a great memory. Kick some ass with a smile on your face and love in your heart.
I'll be back with some snarky comments for the London games. I missed synchronized swimming, but I imagine I'll have something to say about it in four years.


lisagh said...

You are not only insanely eloquent, but also inspirational.

Thank you.

miss edgar said...


Belle in Bloom said...

I'm speechless.
Love, love, love you.

KatieGirlBlue said...

So beautiful. Really wonderful. Thank you.


KK said...

Thank you for sharing this. Breast cancer runs in my family, so thank you for sharing your story!

Brianne said...

I would love to say something eloquent about how much your story touched me, but I can't find the words. So I'll go with sending you hugs and kisses. Thank you.


The Chic Chauffeur said...

I love that you said 'Dig in and make a mark. Do something that will make a great memory'. It is so easy to drift along sometimes, and then someone reminds you to make the most of the time you are given. Thanks!

Jen Yu said...

You go, lady! First off, as I said in my daily, China is crazy because it is run by Chinese people (who are crazy). This is not an unqualified statement.

Secondly, I recall the little insults of cancer "treatment" taking the biggest toll on me. I guess they weren't so little, but they seem little compared to Death. The mutilation is barbaric. The treatment is more like guesswork. As I was coming out of surgery, I asked my surgeon if I would get my tumor in a jar. That guy is a hoot.

Morbid planning becomes part of normal conversation. I remember asking Jeremy if he would date any of my single girlfriends if I died. I just want him to be taken care of. Has to be someone who likes dogs too... I don't know what I would have done if I had children. That is a heartbreaking prospect that I've witnessed in my sister's family.

Cindy, I'm glad you are here. I'm glad that you were there for me when I, a complete stranger, had some questions about BC. I'm glad to call you a friend. You make me laugh and you make me cry - you make me snort beverages through my nose, you're so damn funny. I cannot imagine this world without you. xxoo

purpleflowers said...

On behalf of my sister and I, thank you for expressing thoughts and feelings that others feel and sometimes can't express themselves.

Tres Poshe Preppy said...

Wow! I'm glad you were lucky and will continue to dig your mark and kick some ass! :) Amazing story.

tulipmom said...

This is the kind of post that will stay with me long after I read it.

You're an inspiration.

Mary said...

Cindy-I was visiting your blog today, procrastinating from the business at hand. This post is quite something! Thank you. I am now going to focus so I can kick some ass before the day is over!

The Mrs. said...

I am so glad you did this post. It's so real and inspirational. I can't believe what you've made it through. You are a hero mama. That is for sure.