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It is with great pleasure that I can report I’m almost up
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,
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.”
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
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.