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I'm Up for Parole

It is with great pleasure that I can report I’m almost up for parole.

I was sentenced to breast cancer in January, knowing the term from diagnosis to my bilateral mastectomy and then the completion of the reconstruction process would take nearly an entire year. Now it looks like there’s a small chance the whole thing might actually bleed into 2015, but an end is in sight, nonetheless.

Seeing as I’m so close to the finish line, I was all ready to pat myself on the back for having my daughters, ages 3 and 6, come out unscathed — if not temporarily having the crap scared out of them each time they see my fake boobs and man-made nipples (a.k.a. Franken-tits, as I lovingly refer to their current scarred and frightful yet surprisingly still artful state of swelling, stitching and bruising).

Then I was making my 3-year-old a peanut butter and jelly sandwich recently and she said, “Mommy, pwease cut the bweast off.”

“Huh?” I said.

“Cut the bweast off!” she said more emphatically.

I thought for a second. “Do you mean the crust?”

She nodded.

Breast. Crust. Same thing?

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You can’t really blame a 3-year-old for mixing the two up, I suppose. At least not a 3-year-old who has seen more and heard as much about breasts in the past 10 months then, say, a 13-year-old boy could only fantasize.

Then a couple of days before I was to leave for my fourth 400-mile round-trip journey in four weeks for a post-op appointment following the latest surgery, I walked out the front door in my pajamas and bare feet.

“Bye, Mommy,” my 6-year-old said. “See you in two days.”

“Um, I’m just going to getting the mail,” I said.

Part of me feels as if my kids shouldn’t be acutely affected by my frequent trips to doctors’ appointments. How is it any different, I reason with myself, than children whose parents travel often for business. Except when I come back from a surgery or even just a check-up, I’m generally fatigued or drugged up and usually unable to perform many if not all of the tasks that they’ve always identified as ones that only I do for them.

Before I knew I had breast cancer, I was a different, less conscious version of who I am now. After the fact, I’m emotionally sturdier because I know that something that petrified me in theory (among many other things) didn’t actually kill me.

Whenever I get ready to go, and upon my return, my 3-year-old clings to me — literally wrapping herself around my leg like a koala bear — fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure no one but me brushes her hair, wipes her butt, accompanies her to dance class or makes her dinner.

My 6-year-old, though, is showing her anxiety about my repeated absences and run-down state in subtler but more disturbing ways, like nuclear tantrums that erupt without warning and much reason. My anger and confusion over her behavior is usually overtaken, though, by a crushing sadness, knowing she’s having difficulty articulating her emotions at seeing the person she most relies on in a weaker or weakened condition.

Then there’s another side to it, though, that while I’m distressed about my kids exposure to something so serious this early in life, I believe it’ll make them that much hardier in the long run.

Over the summer I ran into an acquaintance whom I hadn’t seen in a while.

“You look better now then before all this started,” she remarked.

While I’m actually certain I generally look more haggard, not handsome, these days, what I am sure of is that I find my sense of awareness to be more liberating. My eyes are open wider, allowing me to see my entire life to date as Before vs. After.

Before I knew I had breast cancer, I was a different, less conscious version of who I am now. After the fact, I’m emotionally sturdier because I know that something that petrified me in theory (among many other things) didn’t actually kill me.

For my 6-year-old, who, for better or worse, forgets next to nothing, she’ll keep the recollections of this year’s unhappier experiences and ultimately weave them into who she is in a constructive way.

Everything about breast cancer I feared — a death sentence, my changing reflection in the mirror, how I’d manage to keep working, how my family would cope with day-to-day operations— have all come to pass and we’re all still here. Yes, some days the ground is shakier than other, but we’ve still managed not to capsize or sink. This year has been inconvenient, draining and marginally monumentous. But we’re emerging from it with an even more solid foundation because while we might be limping, we’ve maintained a semblance of balance. It’s not the same as it was before, but I’m not convinced that’s so bad.

My 3-year-old might continue latching onto me fervently and subconsciously more so than ever, although her actual memories of this year will fade likely before or closely after we ring in the next one. For my 6-year-old, who, for better or worse, forgets next to nothing, she’ll keep the recollections of this year’s unhappier experiences and ultimately weave them into who she is in a constructive way. I’m confident it’ll help make her more empathetic and resilient once we’re able to help her work through the trauma of my truancies and infirmities.

I’d be hard pressed to look back on having breast cancer as any kind of a good thing, but getting over it is a eminently better than the alternative. So since that is the case, I’ll take my licks and keep on ticking any (and every) day.

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