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Can't I Just Pretend Cancer Never Happened?

I wasn’t exactly lying when I wrote not long about how I’ve been enjoying my post-mastectomy breasts, which is just silicone injected under the skin where my breast tissue was surgically removed following my Valentine’s Day bilateral mastectomy. And it wasn’t a mistruth when I said that I wasn’t 100 percent dreading the fact I’ll be spending the next three months with them until they’re replaced with more-permanent silicone implants.

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I do like that what’s there now doesn’t require a bra because they’re as firm in their position as Sarah Palin’s IQ. Sometimes when something so stupid is also just so easy, it’s just plain enjoyable.

But now they’re starting to get to me. I think I really articulated it for the first time when my 2-year-old daughter scrambled up in my bed after I invited her to cuddle with me and before I could stop her, she tossed her head on her favorite place in the world—my chest. Except instead of the soft, large pillows that used to greet her, she was welcomed with the equivalent of a cartoon anvil falling from the sky and smacking her directly on her occipital lobe and cerebellum. I’m not sure who was in more pain, but we both screeched loud enough to startle each other to tears.

It doesn’t help that my damn drains are still sewn into me, causing anything and everything to irritate and aggravate me at the moment. I called my plastic surgeon’s cell phone on Friday night (hooray for fewer “on-call” services and instead, doctors’ practices who now just talk to you immediately when you call after hours!) to crossly report my pain meds were all but gone.

He called something new into the pharmacy on my behalf to dull the constant ache everywhere below my chin and above my navel. And he promised that his goal at my next office visit is to take the drains out, that despite telling me ad nauseum practically with his little finger on his mouth à la Dr. Evil that the drains shall not be removed until their 24-hour cc level is lower than anything that I’m still anywhere close to, that some women are just “juicier” than others. Which means I should be drain-free soon. Halle-effing-lujah.

It’s just tedious enough that it never quite gets to that point where I’m able to forget it’s there.

I wish he’d told me that several weeks ago. I’m coming up on a month post-surgery and have started feeling like the drains might accompany me to my AARP welcome party at this point. But even less annoying than the drains (and who knew that was possible?) is now the hardness of the boobs.

They hurt physically. They hurt emotionally. They hurt psychologically. They hurt theoretically. Pretty much any word ending with an -ally is hurting my boobs. Which, of course, is an ironic thing to associate with pain.

Without diminishing the joy that accompanies the need for no bra, as the events of the past 2+ months continues to really sink in and permeate my every-waking thoughts—the “what ifs” and the “could haves” and the “what else”—the cold, hard reality are these cold, hard mounds on my chest. Reminders that don't allow me to forget. Why should I, I suppose. But more to the point, why can’t I?

Why does it seem like most everyone who has cancer and pulls through must be called a survivor? Why do we need pink ribbons and our names written onto race bibs? Why can’t we just do it, get through it and pretend like it never happened? Does every trauma need to become a notch on our heroic belt? Maybe others are, and rightly should, consider themselves heroic for pulling through something that nearly killed them.

But I had what turned out to be a noninvasive cancer that presumably would have taken a long time to kill me had it not been detected so early. I can’t imagine I did anything that anyone in my position wouldn’t have done. Maybe they would have even whined a little less—who knows?

I’m ready to start forgetting, but my now-hardened heart—or, more accurately, the hard mounds adjacent to my heart—just won’t let me. And that just continues to hurt. In all those -ally ways.

My dad has told me before that pain is the easiest thing to forget, and I’ve usually found that he’s right. Sure, if I need to, I can recall the hour of trying to push out my firstborn daughter when my ob-gyn thought it was amusing (at least that’s how I choose to remember why she did it) to turn off my epidural, causing me sheer agony until I was carted off for an emergency C-section.

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I’ve had other episodes of discomfort in my life ranging from throbbing and smarting to agony and blinding. What’s happening on my chest right now ranges somewhere in the middle. The biggest problem is that it’s just tedious enough that it never quite gets to that point where I’m able to forget it’s there.

I know my dad’s right, though. It will eventually go away, and when it does, I won’t remember it. Not the physical feeling, anyway. And maybe that’s what’s bothering me most of all right now—the idea that as much as I want to forget all of this ever happened, in one or more of those -ally ways, I just know deep down that it will stay with me forever, which is its own special kind of permanent pain.

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