33 years later…
At the onset of my treatment, my family history was revealed; Dr. Manana Elia assured me with softness in her eyes, the sad fact that my mother had died not only of pneumonia, but also of metastatic breast cancer. I was told it was liver cancer. But that’s a misnomer. A person isn’t likely to develop liver cancer by itself, but by metastasized cancer cells. Not prepared for that conclusion, in that moment sitting on the exam gurney, it felt so cold.
I told Dr. Elia all I knew was Mom had had a lumpectomy back in ‘77. Six years later, she died on December 26th. Thirty-three years ago I had no clue, no knowledge that she’d had breast cancer. It was unbeknownst in my mind as a young mom, naive with little knowledge, only hopeful on developing the same wonderful memories as I had of my grandmas. Nevertheless I could not deny it later, this doctor who was my oncologist was qualified in hematology. Her expertise as an oncologist would only conclude from the facts, not meaning to injure me, as dreadful as it was for me to comprehend my mother’s cause of death: pneumonia and breast cancer. It was all I could bear, especially in that I had just lost my breast with cancer.
I’d been such a hopeful, happy young mom, I wanted to believe my mother would hold my little girl toddler on her lap till she hopped down to play, Adrian’s curly red hair in ringlets bouncing off her nose. She was precocious; so much like me and Mom guided the trike, herself a curly haired, vivacious blonde once with an infectious smile. Her oldest grandson rode the big blue tricycle too big for his toes to pedal while baby sister clamored to ride too, giggling hanging off Mom’s hip as if grandma was a circus pony.
Typical rambunctious play, Ryan’s white-blonde hair stuck to his sweaty brow, their raucous natures tired her easily. I smiled at their play, recollected noticing a drop of sweat trickle down her face from under her blonde wig as she walked beside my children balancing on the trike. My pride exuded in an ear to ear grin, watching their joy I chuckled out loud — they adored Gramma June. Engrossed in love for her grandchildren, my mother was beaming, hot and exhausted. She promised me the doctor said, ”remission”. I had no consternation of the disease or the coming months.
Mom didn’t want to burden me and my sisters, likely presuming she’d die of her cancer even after a lumpectomy removing the small tumor. I thought she should have had the full deal — But what did I know 33 years ago? What was left of her breast was not her once voluptuous self either. At least I got my figure back. She didn’t … Yes, in my brash opinion, breast cancer robbed my children of their fun-loving grandma. My kids have no memory of that warm day playing with my mother but she knew I would. That she was happy. That she could walk with my babies and they giggled. That still makes me smile.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her — she faced down that damn gator — Mom’s struggle was compounded with pneumonia. I couldn’t be as brave as she was. She was beyond a cure and the Lord took her even after remission. So I don’t quite maintain faithful rationale to place serious vesting in breast cancer remission, especially since my mom died after a lumpectomy. I understand back in the late ’70s they treated cancer less effectively, main difference is she kept her breast, which God only knows — I sure don’t — made the total difference for her. Bearing such loss, those years made an indelible mark on me.
Of course I asked Dr. Jew if I could deal with my cancer with a lumpectomy as my mom had. It was irrelevant that I was confident in it or not, although I certainly did broach the subject with Dr. Jew at the little round table. Sitting there beside me, Adrian had no clue at that moment why I’d prefer the mastectomy over a seemingly noninvasive simple lumpectomy. Till the doctor explained in detail how it was not possible anyhow. That struck me as reminiscent of déjà vu after all Mom’s conjecture, that her death was hopefully not in vain…
One thing is certain, I’m confident my tumor is gone with a ‘total’ mastectomy. MY pathology report states: fibrofatty breast mastectomy specimen weighing 681 grams, of which 10-12% was my tumor. Now it is gone.
Months went by stretched out on the sofa, my Lab/pointer, Rocky curled next to my legs, coffee cup within reach, tapping the laptop laid on my knees, Sasha lay on her pillow. Months of hammering these words out, as I got more determined than ever to kick cancer’s ass … my heart pounds again … I’ll show that damn monster, gator or wendigo!!
Dr. Korentager altered my prescription to Xanax to ease the muscle cramps from my healing chest muscle, and offset my moodiness. The effect was startling. I slept through most nights, felt more rested and not as frustrated. My dreams kinda-sorta settled into a more like-me pattern, and although not so often, I still had a couple of recurring very vivid bad dreams tilted toward nightmares, which were as shocking as any I’ve ever had. I felt I’d lost that battle. The nightmare of my mastectomy plagued me as I was awake and interfered with sleep.
I harbored anger I thought I had buried. Guilt pangs of mom-daughter struggles since she moved out that snowy day. Fuck that day! At night — told myself I’ll deal with it later. When I’m truly at fault I alone know the intensity of confusing, uncontrollable emotions festering and buried, didn’t mean I was impossible to heal, just messy. just messy. Just messy! I wanted to yell at everyone. I studied psych. I knew the ramifications of being pissed off without rhyme or reason. I was confused and didn’t give a damn. Right or wrong, my family could just deal. Nobody knew like my brother. He’d done the same mess with his ex. Not much consolation; it’s all I had. My buried thoughts were curdled milk in my gut.
In those weeks I did not give a rat’s ass about being socially, politically or morally correct about how I felt. I was taught ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’. Whatever. To say I wasn’t ridden with guilt by being pissed off was nonsense — and stupid. I hate stupidity. Anger is real and it’s not bad. It’s illogical to try to deflate anger. As my dad used to say, let the bull crap on someone else’s boots. So follow my mom’s words or my dad? Sorry, Mom, I took Dad’s side for awhile.
Disgusted by my cancer, pissed off at my body and at my mother that she’d also had breast cancer however maternally protective her intentions were, not to give me a heads up about her inevitable prognosis thirty years ago. Nowadays I was just plain pissed. And hateful. That was gasoline thrown on the fire, making me out a bit likely the unforgiven biatch. With an arrogant shrug I told myself I’m thick skinned.
So the biatch dog inside chewed on that bone for weeks — I didn’t feel guilt to argue with anyone. Useless to try talking sense. My sister used to understand — all she offered now was sympathy and talk of damn old ‘glory days’ happy dancin’ shit. I didn’t want to hear it. Especially sympathy! I wanted to barf… I felt betrayed with my cancer as well as my mother’s. Disease robbed her as it had my children. I was always the Devil’s advocate as I believed my sister’s explanation was trying to prove weed would have helped me and my mother. Now I understood how a body succumbed to disease felt like betrayal.
That’s my sister’s life with Osteoporosis. It crippled her; wasn’t how I’d imagined us in our mature years, making my sad longing worse. She didn’t believe me that I cared. I was just angry and Joy was suppose to know that. At the same time I shared the same fight with my daughter. Unbeknownst to me, her torture was learning my art of survival for longevity sake — just as I had from my mother. How do our paths fall so exactly into place? I learned over these three difficult years, we are not so fragile as we fear — our resiliency is bound only by our stubbornness. Our family tree had toppled. The one familiarity was my daughter turned to Christ and grasped her fear, she later told me.
We shared a bedroom and bike trails, both now gone, my heart fondly remembers.
I watched my first husband wither to nothing, his wretched character mirrored the poison in his soul, despising his illness and everyone nearby. My mother’s character shined with Christ’s light on her face; weakness didn’t diminish her love as she approached her last days. I’ve tried to understand the differentiation of two opposing characters, when their human intuition sensed imminent death. She and he knew their death was near. What thoughts and feelings satisfied her to bring such peace to her, which can’t be emulated, whereas hellish angst underlied Bob’s character. I pray I inherit my mother’s spirit when I am near the end of my road on this earth.
Writing passionate or lustful poetry aint nothin’ like writing out anger and sickness. Never written of this dark, wretched side of me except as journaling years ago when my Bob died… Muddy vile spit in your eye kind of shit. It took many tries to get all of it down this time.
My brother applauded my blog posts, closest thing to what PTSD is like, he said. After twenty-five years, we finally saw eye to eye — it was so damn good to be able to relate with him. Finally. He’d kept his life to himself years ago, went through his own hell for years after his best friend, his Air Force comrade was killed while deployed in Desert Storm. Things nobody could talk about. Government secret things my brother could not discuss till two decades later. I was just relieved to learn the truth from the horse’s mouth. With that knowledge, I could understand his aloofness of past years. Nobody else in the world may understand the shit bouncing around in my head because of the horrible seeds of disease I’m trying to kill; from my spiel to book about the hell of breast cancer, but my little bro does. My husband knows my reasons for monsters, my brother understands my psyche, what it would take to heal. How.
I knew I could trust him no matter how ugly this story sounded. Avoiding ugly wasn’t our goal. I wanted the truth of his pain. Needed it. We spilled our guts via cell phone for hours. I told him of the nightmare of trying to find him, of hacking off monster’s heads. He told me of the encounter with his angel. She saved him as she saved me. My relief was tangible.
Dealing with the truth of what’s going on in our heads coping with life ‘n death and disease and caring so much after ten years since I saw him last justified all of it mattered. We had to clear all questions, be blunt so we opened all those wounds, bled out onto each other’s floor, no sweeping under the rug but the honesty was brutally dragged over the rocks that our hearts had hid beneath. It gave me shivers, literally. I am being somewhat vague, but anyone who’s had to mend that fence knows the story. The plot is too thick, kept between my brother and me. Opening my heart to Jerrie for the first time ever, not the Pandora’s box I had feared.
Inside a couple hours, talking with my brother of our pain, my nerves charged in an electrical storm letting go inside me made my whole body quiver. I felt on the verge of tears that might not stop; mouth got dry and my tongue stuck to my teeth. The helicopter torpedoes of a horror flick exploded! I wanted to shut my eyes but I envisioned all the blood spurting out on the ground. I couldn’t stop the shivers — he saw it too. Between brother and sister. Life had gotten messy… and we were healing.
There has to be a psychological term for all we felt, talking 270 miles apart. No, I don’t want to rationalize love for my brother. I felt intense fathomable relief! Finally our connection was a deep bond of more honesty than skin and bones.