– Part 2 –
continued from 'Woman in Recon/the book'
Very difficult phase. Too much pride and no words to say. In breast cancer’s game, I was just a lousy, insignificant fly in soup, a perfect pawn … so now we get to the real survival of the fittest, mucky sandbur in your dentures, the sounds of silence screaming in my head–
I needed a Unilateral mastectomy, only one breast removed so the good doctors left the other boob alone what’s not broke, don’t try to fix I guess. The ‘recon’ process is called “symmetry” … biatch … It was the rest of me that needed fixed.
All spring I’d been hypersensitive and I reached the last straw … Ed and I fought and bickered all the time it seemed. Cantankerous, he ticked me off with the slightest instigation. I was desperate for some space and peace. In the middle of another senseless quibble I finally looked him in the face, tears ran down mine.
I half screamed, “just stop!! All we do is bicker – you challenge me no matter what ever I say – I can’t deal with it — it’s wearing me out! Please… just… stop. You act like I’m a crazy biatch like your ex. I am NOT her.”
A sad look came over his face, then he looked away and muttered, “yeah it is me too”. He left the room.
He forgot I’m not argumentative like her (not going there). Yet I WAS being mean to him. I was nagging and critical, and he had anger issues from over twenty years of abuse, same as I did… I didn’t cope well. He reacted like a dog getting kicked, not knowing what else to do. Well, we soon had our I’m sorry moment; a truce I guess. It took several weeks to mush through the worst of that spat and the rest of spring. Got a bit better day by day… we knew we must because my issue wasn’t going away and it would be better for us to have each other for support we very desperately needed, than feeling so alone and scared.
I sought my online buddy to yak with. His texts helped clear my confusion. Because I felt real screwed up. A level-headed pro hunter/fisherman buddy from Louisiana, he always had positive things to say. And shared pics of fishing – I got jealous of hauling crappie in January. He bought one of the handcrafted turkey spur knives Ed made. He admired mine so Ed made a third knife. It’s great to get all the fish and deer pics from his state.
I needed reassurance. An outlet for frustration, I texted to gain insight about our bad days. Here’s one thread:
Bobby: Hey what’s going on?
Me: Been a rough week here. Ed & I bicker all the time
Bobby: there are those times.
Me: I get so mad at stupid stuff. Said yeah it’s bad for me too and left the room. Better now. So depressed. So hateful. Writing is the only way I stay sane but it doesn’t make being pissed go away. This helps me feel better, I’d rather just talk. Now I’m rambling.
Bobby: I want to assure you, I never ignore or turn my back on a friend. And you are a sweet, caring friend. About anything and everything. You are someone “special”. Ed knows. Nobody to talk to here. I love your stories, your words.
Me: I don’t feel special… get self-conscious about if I’m wanted, I’m a bitch to be near, look like a freak now. I retreat, like hiding. sometimes gets me in trouble. It’s confusing to Ed but I can’t seem to stop. Good to get a different guy’s point of view.
Bobby: You and Ed are going through the worst right now. But I know what you are going through. It will get better. I hope you feel better. You have been very good to me in my worst moments. When my buddy in the hospital.
Me: Yeah, but u ain’t no dr man. U were so upset, good buddy. I shut everyone out. Like a sick dog. I guess Ed felt it too. I don’t want to let him feel this horrible side of me. Want to get hammered.
Bobby: I’m relieved you value my friendship. I was worried. You’ve been distant, depressed?
Me: it’s so scary. I know I’m being irrational lately, I feel out of sorts I need a little space for writing and myself. To heal. I am hot tempered and trying to deal with another surgery.
Bobby: Ed loves you, I’m sure he’s scared too.
Me: I know. We’re both moody. he’s getting tired, too much to do 24/7. I told him I can’t clock out at home and he really sees why but I didn’t think he did. Communication thing again.
Bobby: We all need to try harder I guess.
Me: Guess so. I’m too sensitive. Like thinking you’re not mad anymore at someone then you snap and you know they know that anger is still just under the skin. I hope goes away. Soon.
Bobby: it will
Me: thanks buddy. Bbye
Feeling raw. Like a caged animal gone mad, so angry because I felt I was fighting repeatedly ‘SURVIVAL (of the fittest)’.
Being human is of itself emotional, and in the middle of reconstruction, overcoming breast cancer, I had become even more so. A difficult admission for a control freak like me. I felt out of control. I lost it and got downright ornery. Felt rough. Believe me, recovering from breast cancer will bring out the very worst before your very best. Only do or die could express my bad mood. I wanted my life back to normal, don ‘know if that will ever be. And that pissed me off!
One week Ed got sick. I’m not a good nurse. He got better with his antibiotics and returned to work okay. Call me selfish, but I was exhausted, and too self-absorbed, barely to heal myself, much less play nursemaid. I really couldn’t deal to be the nurturing wife. So call me a bad wife, a hateful woman. I was floundering.
Why me?? … I wasn’t begging God for an answer — just to live. But my patience had gotten thin from wintertime. I was sick and tired of our cold house and the longer and colder than normal winter. Restless — a tiger pacing in its cage. And durned awful sick and tired of being sick and tired! I was furious to feel so confined inside my frail body, inside my head, stuck to be just an ordinary person, like the song, incapable of miracles.
I felt healthier before the surgery. I was downright pissed off. Simple as that. Conflicted from one day to the next, my soul was in the muddy trench. I felt self-loathing rise out of my gut. Seeds of the 70s vehemence and rebellion, Aqualung’s ugly, greasy fingers crowded into my dreams.
By this time of my treatment, it didn’t feel like progress. My hair felt like straw, my fingernails were weak and splitting, and it was a battle to lie down in bed. A major battle. I was forced to grab the iron head rail to support my weight to maneuver my aching body under the sheets, even eight weeks after surgery. I had wrongly expected that to be easier to manage by this time. So how was I to know??
One small consolation, Dr. Korentager switched my meds. The Xanax took hold. Shortly. I wasn’t so devastated, not bawling like a baby so much. After a couple of months those battles raging inside me subsided more like a mere bad case of cabin fever. At least halfway tolerable.
Yeahp, I dropped the f bomb a lot. I wasn’t coping well. I didn’t care. Yet. It had begun to sink into my noggin there are no shortcuts. It was not poetry I felt – but deep passion agonizing in my heart. My mind was in a very dark place. Haunting and intense as my breast cancer recovery, I felt surging emotions pulsing, struggling with Disturbed’s ‘Silence like a cancer grows’ plugged into my ears eased that fight in my soul. The agony and frustration in my core, searching amid a wretched world’s uncomfortable recon —
My warrior awoke. I won’t be silent any more.
What lurks? Surviving life is being able to walk into shadows with no fear… faith in Him, your feet will follow. I prayed for guidance down a very dark and unknown road.
Breast cancer is a most diverse condition, yet as individually unique as an eyeprint. Classified as oncology, I cannot explain every aspect of its variances here since there are thousands of references for professionals. I hope I offer useful information, either on an emotional or factual level. Oftentimes simultaneously. One is not better than the other. Months of medical processes tangled with my emotions; struggling, searching for answers, connecting the dots, fighting off crazies. Then, God rebuilding my body and spirit, inside and out. Issues bit me as it all sank in… my timeline is sketchy, even with a photographic memory, as best I recall between two biopsies and five surgeries encompassing three years from November 2013 through August 2016. I progressed, plus wrote a bit of a medical journal. It encompassed precious months spent solitaire recovering from reconstruction.
‘Battles Rage’ was only a smidgen of my issues that began the real fight to regain my body — I was a wreck — my self-confidence took a nosedive. These battles screwed with my body for three years. I took a serious break after the sixth surgery, especially at my neurologist’s advice, due to migraines plaguing me consistently worse, as with each surgery ensued an attack.
It’s a real burden on a woman’s spirit; I felt ripped to shreds. And as I edited this, I fought tears again after three years — the trauma did not ease up. Imagine that T Rex or gator is your worst nightmares. These fears caused my angst — the rawest of my turmoil and my anger escaped. You might cringe at some of my descriptions, or my ideas or images or links, but that gator’s jaws ripped deep into my body ‘n soul ‘n I had to get it out.
At times, typing these words got to me too badly. I abstained from writing for weeks at a time, not to stir up those harsh feelings too hideous to describe and too raw to put on screen. Words more intense than clichés are spoken. Ya know how your stomach knots up sitting in a courtroom even if only for a misdemeanor traffic fine. Or tremors squiggle up your spine to see a monster gator on the big screen eating its prey, bloody pieces hanging in those wicked jaws, your gut queasy with unease, your knees rattle as you uncomfortably watch, your face contorted in that “eeeeewe” face. You know that gator ripping your leg off is your worst imagination. Imagined or not, even paranoia is real. Mine threatened for a long while.
We cannot deny our emotions forever — but I kept trying. Here, it took several tries to make my thoughts sensible to someone less knowledgeable or experienced than I. This was NOT an area of expertise that I wanted to be knowledgeable about. Yet there I was, plodding along. And I sensed a foreboding my body would retaliate from three years of surgeries and its rigors and many months of down time with no stamina left.
The body heals in its own damn good time and in my haste to be “cured” of breast cancer, I ignored my own good common sense. I cut off my nose to spite my face, as my mom used to warn me when my Irish impatience grabbed ahold. I pushed my exercise ‘workout’ regimen of whatever yard work I could do without pain. Always a workaholic. I thought woohoo! I’m cured of cancer and can get back to all my normal stuff again!! Wrong.
My health boom lasted a mere four months once I recovered from my last August surgery. I had plodded along, numerous recoups as twenty months rolled into three years, with indelible changes. Despite my resolved mindset to be ‘normal’, I got sick. I had apparently taken on too much normal activity. My burning need to heal had intensified faster than my body’s ability, even after healing up in good fashion from the fat grafting surgeries. That became a major deal as much as major surgery itself. Compounded by wretched fatigue was that inclination to bury into myself and scary recesses of my psyche. I grasped for a little relief from mundane facts. I read intriguing ideas linking my aura color and psychic idealization of the ancient art philosophies of the Tarot, It seemed ‘The Five of Bones’ was more in control than me or the doctors …
Ironically, I thought I was managing quite well thank you. When in fact, I fell into my own lahlahland of cancer’s incredibly frustrating loneliness, wallowing when things didn’t go just as planned. And things weren’t. I knew better, we rarely get what we want… my body tried to warn me with overall fatigue and sluggishness and those incessant, hellish migraines. But I saw no ominous warnings. I couldn’t know. I was a bit more appeased that I drew the World twice, a sliver of fun in an online psychic quiz.
Physically, I recovered from my surgeries and I was overcoming depression bit by bit, one moment at a time. However, inside I felt prematurely aged, downright elderly — I was so very tired. And the mirror told me so too. Allbeit I wanted it all to be over ‘n done with, I had gained some patience by the 24-month mark. I had no major complaints and went from one surgery to the next much smoother than the March after my mastectomy. I justified my attitude, my recoup was par for course, simple medical log. Yet I felt disjointed, like how my lust for experience and my natural passion was lost after my mother died. Not thriving like I wanted, I told myself I should be grateful to be alive. ‘Twas not enough. I wasn’t feeling love for my crafts, fishing or hunting, or gardening or walking my dog. I ached for my daughter’s “aaaaawe”, a little of her tenderness.
Loss of stamina bit me hard – I had not returned to my normal weight. I couldn’t blame my lack of enthusiasm on radiation or chemo weakness either. I acted more of a hypochondriac, since the pneumonia my blood pressure was a bit on the high side. Unaccustomed to extreme fatigue, I asked Dr. Robine if she’d test my thyroid. Despite Robine’s non-concern of any specific cause but from my reconstruction surgeries, she referred me to Dr. Alm, the only thyroid specialist in the Kansas City area. Robine leaned more on my mental and emotional recovery relating to my general health as what should be regarded as the ‘norm’ — not unqualified justification how I felt per popular opinion. Rebellion against the norm was second nature to me, but of late I felt hypocritical wanting to appear normal despite facing cancer and a body that didn’t feel like mine. Not yet.
I was relieved when Dr. Alm assured me, seems I have an abundance of protein in my blood, but otherwise normal thyroid. Nothing extraordinary to cause concern with my diet or my metabolism. [TSH….my stats: “1.358 MCU/ML…. normal range: 0.35 – 5.00 MCU/ML”. ]
Okay. Good to know I guess. Keeping track of my breast cancer info was enough. Maybe I could start to make plans? Dunno, best laid plans often fall apart … hmm just where’d my optimism go?
Home after the fat graft surgery in August, I wrote “Sunday diary”. With peace of mind due, I was slowly feeling happy and more optimistic as my body healed. Then the other shoe dropped. All my hope was obliterated when the next February came with an upper respiratory infection going bad to worse into serious, virulent pneumonia. It was, and nearly landed me in the hospital with a slew of prescriptions.
By the time leaves began to change into bronze and crimson that hunting season, I had difficulty getting a good night’s sleep, often sleeping right thru my alarm, so much so, I reneged on my plans to hunt with Ed. What’s worse, out of exhaustion I really didn’t care. I tried not to disappoint; however, my husband wasn’t discouraged, presumably I’d recoup as my body healed. He moved ahead till I could resume beside him opening day deer rifle season. We held onto that plan.
Just finding deer is a challenge in the Ozarks and this year was a real problem, me lacking body strength of three seasons ago. I’d been scraping by, but that good ole Life University resumed class and I’d be wearing the dunce hat before long — there’s persistent and hardcore feeling pride in yer chest and there’s stubborn and stupid, feeling worn down and defeated. Opening day was a total bust.
By ‘late’ season, Missouri’s weather had us surrounded in chill of December mist…though we tried to out-drive the clouds. It got colder. Any hunter will tell you cold and rain is a rough combo to hunt in; trudging fields, through timber in cold drizzle, that day turned more stubborn ignorance. By sunset, my head began to swell with allergies to the wet oak leaves under our boots as we sat inside the ground blind.
We called it a day as the last light disintegrated into misty dark — totally spent, I regretted every step as we hauled gear and dragged our sorry asses back to the Jeep. Sore and exhausted, I couldn’t remember whose idea; the good ol’ college try didn’t pan out. Whatever game plan of prior years I’d imagined was obviously not to repeat itself this season. That was the first time I didn’t kill a deer in six years hunting with my husband. Was it the weather, or my mastectomy to blame? Didna’ care. I just wanted to go home and crawl into bed…
My first slurp of morning coffee I spat into the sink. Yuck! it tasted crappy! My chest tight and head was stuffy, feverish. I had gotten sick. I plodded through the bone-tired fatigue for days, and ignored all my symptoms that a truck sat on my chest. And got miserably worse, chest felt suffocated, barely able to breathe. Procrastinating more than a month, I collapsed with a high fever and drove myself to three different doctors for a remedy. Keflex is like M&Ms for me. Woke in coughing fits. First and second round of antibiotics didn’t knock it, it got bad. I’m allergic to penicillin and antihistamines, usually gotta just tough it out. One of life’s realities.
I felt like death-warmed-over — looked like it too — sick all winter with an ear infection and pneumonia — couldn’t hear the phone – I wondered if my mom had felt this shitty. My mind whirled in deep fear, scattered and feverish.
Dr. Virginia Robine finally was my old reliable with a steroid shot for my irritated lungs and prescriptions for pneumonia and asthma inhaler. Same as after my mastectomy, I snuggled into blankets on my cushy sofa. By the time I finished my third round of antibiotics and a steroid shot and puffing on an inhaler for a week; surely I had become asthmatic. I lost 15 pounds.
Coughing so much my insides knotted up. Dr. Robine ordered strict rest, a steroid shot and an inhaler to heal my pneumonia. Sipped hot tea & honey and a dose of codeine syrup calmed down my chest, less fitful sleep the rest of the night trying to breathe. With such a fever, I didn’t have enough brain to write.
… in bed five days, time to crawl outa my hole. “Okay, Mom, it didn’t get me…”, I muttered, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, so parched my voice cracked. On wobbly legs, I stood up to brush my teeth. Was time for a hot shower, then clean my house. Especially the bathroom (get rid of that somebody’s sick smell) but in most of our homes, who cleans? Kids? Nope. We do. The day your fever breaks, women scour and disinfect the bathroom and then the kitchen. Just par for course. My man got himself some HyVee pre-cooked BBQ ribs and a case of soups for me. That’s love.
a Zombie looked better… Each day passing was small relief, I told my sweetie, “I’m feeling a little more human today.” He teased me, “good, so go wash the squirrel’s nest out of your hair.” I croaked out a chuckle — funny. I lost weight from the pneumonia. I was wasted and so was the fat graft from six months ago!
Guys are wonderful at times, uh till it’s time to clean the toilet. Ed does it only when asked. Whining or grunts don’t get him to grab the sponge. I was blunt, “it’s your turn sweetie” as I crawled back under the covers with cough syrup in one hand and Kleenex in the other.
And many of you cancer ladies still try to do it. Until you let someone else do some of the grunt-work, you’ll keep getting sick because you’re too exhausted. You know I’m right. 😐We moms know it’s a dern miracle the kids and pets get fed when we’re sick. But the radar’s on, doggies and kitties cling to us in sympathy, while the dudes of the palace may be a bit dense to jump into chores. (Sorry Hun, I’m right on this one.) Most spouses don’t do lists, unless they’re on a ‘getting the woman her juice’ mission. And then often my Mr. Wovey-dovey gets sidetracked, offering me a brownie or muffin. So that’s not to complain about especially when I dropped off my new prescription, barely conscious to drive, fell asleep on the sofa, so he drove to pick it up not even asking me. “thanks Honey, wuvu just can’t eat the brownie yet, sucky sore throat” (in a croaky whisper).
“Anything for my wifey-cakes,” smooches from across the room. He goes downstairs to fix the Chevy’s broken brake line that rusted thru. Typical. I get a juice refill. I saw Daddy fed the muttens after all. I smile.
Can I have a shower now? And a nap. Yeah, I said I’m cleaning today, okay so I scrubbed the bathroom basin, the rest of it, I lied.
I’m not superstitious, bu-u-ut, The Five of Bones said “… a warning to re-think negative habits and thought patterns that keep you feeling separate from friends who might be able to support you, but it also offers validation for your fearful feelings, and your disability experience – being traumatized…. illness” Shoulda figured. My sense of a self-fulfilled prophecy had come true.
I confided my worst fears to Ed but he already figured as much. <sigh> Damnit. Couldn’t hide my boobs were still one bigger than the other. My husband knew I had much more healing to do, more surgeries to endure, even though it took me weeks healing from pneumonia to work up gumption to call my surgeon again. While in fact, I fell into my own Lalaland of cancer’s incredibly frustrating loneliness, wallowing when things didn’t go just as planned. And things weren’t. I knew better, we rarely get what we want… my body had tried to tell me with overall fatigue and sluggishness and incessant migraines. But I couldn’t know. I had seen no ominous warnings. Maybe it’s a simple fact having breast cancer at 58 vs 38, takes more time to get my Tigger bounce back. Well, if I had my druthers, I’ll take being 58. Things had gone too incredibly well – I shoulda known I’d go down – before getting pneumonia. Sometimes by ourselves being human, the inability to not get sick just really sucks. At least unlike my mom, this time I got healed, yet my self-fulfilled prophesy had me scared shitless. That ‘curse’ again.
I was a bit appeased that I drew the World, twice, a sliver of fun and intrigue in the psychic world. I love paranormal ghosties!
I drove white knuckled 75 mph on Interstate 435 to the plastic surgery office in Overland Park. I sat feeling insecure in the waiting area impatiently thumbing a HERLIFE magazine. I was a bit too happy to see familiar staff and nurses, bittersweet to be seated there. Because I needed another surgery it seemed breast cancer was doing it to me again. I had that sucky feeling again everything was out of my control. Almost as bad as cancer. I hid a grrrrr… when would I be done with it all?? I hid depression again.
Those myths and monsters! Time after time. I didn’t want to write about the disappointments. I wanted ALL my strength back, wanted to be my normal outdoorsy self! I wanted to relate excitement about my new boob… show off beautiful selfies (ha!) to my friends like in the magazines of those women, overcoming all breast cancer odds! Getting on with their lives, regaining a feminine figure, a supportive family and co-workers by their side, etc., etc. Yet there I was biting my lip and occasionally tearing off a ripped fingernail (good ol’ Tamoxifen) feeling dissatisfied and defeated. Here we go again, more surgery, more soreness, more inane explanations to family that my new boobs were still lopsided because the fat died.
“WHAT fat?”, “OH take mine!”, “How does fat DIE??”, “you can’t expect perfect fake tits, it’s a miracle you’re cured!” friends said, trying to console me. Too much focus was on my be-e-eautiful perfectly, supposedly perfect boobs. I wasn’t prepared for this let-down. Yet despite my worry, nobody made notice of my newest physical discrepancy. I was exasperated — being vain. Their ribbing was better than being sick with pneumonia or breast cancer.
My final surgery was set for August 1, 2016. Waiting, I kept busy. I occupied myself with home projects indoors and out, as weeks s-l-o-w-l-y rolled by. I posted to my blog and wrote zealously to pull these pages out of my head in a productive spiel worthy of print. I gained a few loyal followers.
By April, walking Sasha eased the tense wait on a few spring days.
I waited for the last surgery that would salvage my fat grafting after pneumonia. I longed for my new implant “exchange” surgery to be my final. Was that asking too much? I wasn’t striving for perfection, only to appear more normal. Dr. Korentager assured me, smiling comfortingly, he was striving for perfection. I was still fighting off an occasional Rougarou or mythical monster dreams. When a big face-off with those damn monsters hedged me into the corner, I kept slugging at an imaginary enemy in a nightmare stuck on ‘pause’. Had some real slug-outs. As if right on cue, even T Rex showed its terrifying ugly self again — I woke in a sweaty shiver, skeered like a child! Just how many monsters can harass me?
I knew the real threat was not just in my head or my nightmares — my breast cancer was real — my faith must win. I felt the actualization of my will to survive begin to seed. To stop the nightmares, I must stop the damn monsters. Terror-ridden — they swallowed me up. Maybe my subconscious could give my wakeful mind some insight, I believed I had deep down. Times I coped, other times, not good. I’d been cowering — I thrust a fist at the ol’ Rougarou and T Rex– I must fight back!
Gators or Rougarou, and some woods cannibal! The worst horrors in my nightmares, even Freddy Krueger isn’t as evil – or as vicious. T Rex – I knew was just a bad dream — any myth-monster or gihugic Tyrannosaurus, didn’t give a rat’s butt. I’ll fight ‘em all! I’ll bludgeon their heads off!! ‘Cept I hadn’t seen the last of—
I wanted to jump back out of myself but had no idea how. I huddled, scrunched in the dark, an itty voice whispered, “let Christ be a force”.
Family rougarous …
At the onset of my treatment, my family history was revealed to Dr. Manana Elia. In charge of my cancer treatment and Tamoxifen dosage, she 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. That’s a misnomer. A person isn’t likely to develop liver cancer by itself, but by metastasized breast cancer cells. Not prepared for that conclusion, in that moment sitting on the exam gurney, it felt so cold. I did not comprehend what it all meant, how it affected me, how she died, till I began reading up on my own.
I told Dr. Elia, all I knew was Mom had had a lumpectomy back in ’77; she died on December 26th, six years later. Over thirty 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 because I had just lost my breast from cancer.
I’d been a hopeful, happy young mom, I wanted to believe my mother would hold my little baby girl on her lap, till she hopped down to play. Then, Adrian’s curly red hair in ringlets bouncing off her nose. She was precocious; so much like me. Mom guided the big blue tricycle, herself once a curly haired, vivacious blonde with an infectious smile. Ryan, Adrian’s older brother rode the trike, 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”. And I had no consternation of the disease or the coming months. Mom didn’t want to burden me and my sisters, likely very aware she’d die of her cancer even after a lumpectomy removed the small tumor. I thought she should have had the full deal — But what did I know 34 years ago? What was left of her breast was not her once voluptuous self either but that wasn’t a concern for anyone. Neither was reconstruction.
The whole world loved my mother. 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. She knew I would. For 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 gator-monster myth. 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.
With that, I don’t maintain faithful rationale to place vestment in breast cancer remission, since my mom died after a simple 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 for me anyhow. (She described my tumor as a stretched-out hand with the cells forming fingers in my milk ducts.) It struck me 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: REMOVED. GONE.
[The word rougarou comes from the word “loup-garou” with “loup” being French for wold and “garou” coming from the old Frankish form “wari-wulf.” the night lurking, bayou-wandering creature called the Rougarou. A wendigo: terror breeds terror in native American folktales of that a skeletal creature, part deer, part cannibalistic human with ravenous hunger chasing after woodsmen.]
The wendigo is certainly not in the realm of the sacred symbol of the deer. Easy to say, but my fears were valid and it sounds childish here, since we all resort to near childlike faith to face down them monsters. Gator or Satan or Wendigo throws its worst to knock us off kilter — hit our weaknesses and devour our souls — I was barely out of Rougarou’s grasp. I had to beat those monsters – living in my nightmares! An old Native Indian grotesque mythical monster and cannibalism is too evil a monster to let into my head. Yet there it lurked – in the deepest wilderness.
Months went by …. 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 booty … my heart pounds again.
I stated 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. Not so often, a couple of recurring vivid bad dreams, as shocking as I’ve ever had. The nightmare of my mastectomy plagued me as I was awake, and interfered with sleep. Seemed no escape from that battle. My dreams kinda-sorta settled into a more like-me pattern…
I harbored anger I thought I had buried. Guilt pangs of mom-daughter struggles since that snowy day. SCREW 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.
In those weeks, I did not give a rat’s whisker 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. Follow my mom’s words or my dad? Sorry, Mom, I took Dad’s side for a while.
Disgusted by my cancer, pissed at my body and even 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. Totally went against the grain, causing a volatile rift between my sis and my conscience.
“WTH not???”, I wailed out loud, sitting in my misery, alone in my dark room. Nowadays I was just plain mad as all-get-out. And hateful. That was gasoline thrown on the fire, making me out a bit likely dubbed the unforgiven bitch. Tears ran down; with an arrogant shrug, I told myself I’m thick skinned.
Biatch dog inside me 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 old happy-dancin ‘glory days’ stuff, till I spit out ‘mom’. She didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t be silent. Especially needing sympathy! I had the impulse to barf. “What I’ve felt, what I’ve known, never shined through in what I’ve shown” constant tunes in my head…
I felt betrayed as I’m sure did my mother. 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 — we saw it coming — 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 supposed to know that. She was too consumed by her own pain, on too many pain meds and me, immersed in mine. I couldn’t diss her. <heavy sigh>
We shared a bedroom and bike trails, both gone now, my heart fondly remembers …
At the same time, I shared the same fight as 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? Yet my consequence is 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. Being a fighter took more gonads than I believed I had, but then again…
I watched my first husband wither into nothing, as his wretched character mirrored the poison in his atheist soul, despising his illness and everyone nearby. Before then, yon 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. Fearing it, I realized she and he knew their death was near. What thoughts and feelings satisfied her to bring such peace to her? That which can’t be emulated, whereas schizo torment underlied Bob’s character. I humbly pray I inherit my mother’s spirit when I am near the end of my road on this earth.
Nobody else in the world may understand the thoughts bouncing around in my head because of the horrible seeds of disease I’m trying to kill; from my spiel to book about this, but my little bro does. 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 felt awesome to be able to relate with him, finally. He kept his life to himself years ago, went through his own hell for years after his best friend/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 Jerrie. With that knowledge, I could understand his aloofness of past years. ‘Wrong Side of Heaven’, played over and over…
Ed knew my reasons for my monsters, Jerrie, my brother understood my psyche, what it takes to heal. How. I knew I could trust him no matter how ugly my story sounded. Avoiding ugly wasn’t our goal. I wanted the truth of his pain. Needed to know. Not the ‘need to know’ of secret ops– but for real. We spilled our guts via cell phone for hours. I told him of the nightmare of trying to find him, of hacking off monsters’ heads with a Mahican axe… He laughed that I’d gotten so vicious. 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 cleared all questions, our heritage and sopped up bad blood between us from stupidity and youthful egos, being so blunt we opened all those wounds. We bled out onto each other’s floor, no sweeping under the rug — the honesty was brutally dragged over the rocks that our hearts had hid beneath. It gave me shivers, literally. anyone who’s had to mend that fence knows how it rolls. The plot is too thick, blood kept between my brother and me. Opening my heart to Jerrie for the first time ever, not the Pandora’s box I had feared.
After 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 quake. 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 in my mind! 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 and felt it too, talking 270 miles apart …
Between brother and sister. Life had gotten unavoidably messy… and now we were finally healing. There must be a psychological term for all we felt in those moments on the phone. I don’t want to rationalize love for my brother. It was intense fathomable relief! This time our strength was not usurped by our age difference or one bein’ Dad’s favorite. Finally, our connection was a deep bond of more honesty than skin and bones.
We’ve shared similar visions of healing and letting go that I believe only a brother and sister can — we’ve both had to struggle with psychological demons buried deep to get past the stifling pain of PTSD and breast cancer. It doesn’t stop there. Each suffered our own PTSD, to top off the cake, both Jerrie and I inherited the FLCN mutation gene. The so-called Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome… that little genetic monster, protein coding index of folliculin mutations that matched the criterion of 1st familial symptoms. We both had numerous ‘Acute Primary Spontaneous Pneumothorax’ episodes.
My lung collapses, I was referred to Columbia, Missouri for surgery at the University of Missouri Hospital. Tests showed my lung air capacity was at 65%. When those little cyst-buggers popped inside my lung membrane, hurt like a semi-truck fell on my back! Ever had the wind knocked outa ya? Same feeling. It left me gasping in tiny, shallow, painful hiccuppy breaths. Two months later, a second surgery repaired the torn holes by cementing saline glue to the lung membrane. I assured my brother that his lung surgery pain is the closest he has felt comparable to my mastectomy. HURT LIKE 3RD DEGREE BURNS IN MY CHEST. Not meant to outdo each other but he got the idea.
“He who fights monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes long into you.” Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins)
Baby possum to its mamma … For an awful time, no drugs, bottle of wine, kiss, a nice text, nor friendly face alleviated my inner turmoil for more than a smiling moment. I realized my jovial texts and posts had disappeared. I learned who truly cared, that was for sure, and naturally I sought some comfort with them, grateful to the point of tears. Childhood insecurities at times was an ugly shroud strangling me with impatience and longing for weeks, not knowing what for. I wasn’t agoraphobic but I understood how a person could get that way. I knew I’d closed off, withdrawn from everyone and didn’t give a care. I’d return to humanity in my own damn good time.
I didn’t want to talk and answer “how are you?”, like “how the blazes do you think?”. I avoided answering texts or any media. I only answered calls from my brother and sister — with them there were no awkward moments. And only texts from Terri, Michael, Bobby and Joann. I didn’t want sympathy — that would mean I had to face the disease — I could not own up to it. Physically I was on autopilot, tending to my body. Breast cancer robbed me. The life I had was gone. Meanwhile, those first months I grasped for a semblance of myself and began to write scribble.
Weird dreams of Rougarou and a Wendigo eating someone’s flesh repeatedly, slashed at shadows and killed them as viciously as I could. I had to own up to just plain bitchiness, from my mouth. I regret comments that popped out of my lips. I didn’t care how rude I was. I felt hate and self-loathing. Poor husband. Never accused me of being rude, but I knew my arrogant orneriness was showing. I was. And it ate at me.
After six horrendous months, I could no longer let myself feel so pitiful. It felt so bad and I was embarrassed. Ed was very sympathetic of my pain; his strength was reassuring while knowing I clung like a baby ‘possum to its mamma. Knowing I hated myself. Then sometimes he was just a typical guy, let me be myself, since I wasn’t used to being this ultra-sensitive, needy woman, clinging to ‘mamma’ for dear life. I was dangerously near PTSD myself. Had Jerrie been right? I’ve never been so overtly expressive, so it was very difficult to let family know I needed so much comfort.
Often words strangled in my throat whenever I tried to spill my guts. Only two days after my mastectomy, I ventured out for a big pizza birthday-bash. I couldn’t talk of my surgery that day, even as I was sitting with Ed’s family who cared for me in a way I’d not felt in many years. As my initial chest pain eased, I accompanied family to restaurants,
Christmas and church get-togethers. Did what mattered most to me. Loving family and close friends gave me assurance I could depend on them for comfort and a reassuring hug. Anxieties about cancer and my mastectomy sl-o-o-w-l-y began to be a mentionable while my body healed. That itself was a small miracle for my spirits. Family didn’t expect me to return to grabbing my bow, run my dog, or hang out with my grandkids. They made it clear it was a blessing I was alive at all. Seeing the worry on their faces obviously translated into ‘take it easy, we love you’!
Enveloped in the rigors of surgeries it was not my intent, nonetheless reflex to shut out my closest people, I was so apprehensive they’d be repulsed by me, my anger, and not be able to understand my inability to cope. I’m emotional enough under normal circumstances, by the time I got into my reconstruction phase I had turned into a basket case. My family was aware and concerned. I didn’t know how to reconcile or redeem myself. The bad-ass in me shriveled up as the monstors took over – irrational fears surfaced.
Herta, my mother-in-law knew my depression was not mere doldrums. Through our countless hours while I convalesced from surgeries, Herta related her younger days to me, back through war-torn Germany as a starving little girl digging potatoes out of the garbage. I envisioned Herta growing up in Germany’s poor countryside at the convent. In the early 1940’s, Herta was removed from her family as a little girl, her mother deemed unfit by Germany’s family services, Herta’s siblings were separated. She was sent to the Catholic abbey raised by nuns, dealt with her own gators back in the day — poverty and maturing under the nuns’ communion. Raised in the abbey, Herta learned basic English primarily with schooling. They rewarded her with a book to read for chores done promptly. She loves to read to this day. Their charity had a lasting effect on her character, instilling frugality and acknowledged a girl’s intellect, taught her skills to get along in a harsh world.
Nonetheless, she said, “I was very sheltered and naive, overprotected from learning how to be a woman. I didn’t know about sex. Ha! Men whistled and got me free beer and “brroht“(bread) in the tavern so I could eat. Knowing how to belong in a family — or to be a wife? [laughs] I certainly did nöt learn from my mother.”
A young German couple not much older than she hired Herta as a nanny. They provided room and board; she’d never dig for food out of the trash again. Germany was still in the climax of war; impoverished Europe was home to thousands, soon to emigrate to America. Two hundred years earlier, my McKinney’s emigrated, as in 1960, my mother-n-law migrated from Germany, the same search for a new life, yearning for family roots, minus the slaves.
Struggling aboard a TWA airliner, Herta migrated to the U.S. with a toddler and his baby sister, Heidi in tow. She told me it was a wedding gift from her American in-laws. Thankful to be with a real family, yet uprooted from her country, she made the three-day journey from Nuremberg to Frankfurt, Germany to New York City to Kansas City and finally by car to Valley Falls, Kansas.
Becoming a newlywed was an adjustment. As a poor, young Catholic matron, flying overseas; seeing the ocean, New York City and the hubbub at customs was terrifying. She recalled the awesome Appalachians not unlike Germany’s Taunus scenic mountain range in Hesse, Germany and how exhausting that trip was. She said, “it was so overwhelming!” Never flown before and with two babes, Eddie-boo clutching her skirt, Heidi in her arm.
She recalled Heidi’s bottled milk spoiled enroute to LaGuardia airport, in the hours of delays. Another woman gave her children doughnuts and a small bottle of pop at the excruciatingly long layover, she nearly cried, so grateful. A guardian angel she said. She flew across two continents to meet her new family in Kansas City, Missouri and three weeks later joined by her husband still in the Army, who’d crossed the Atlantic by military transport ship. What a ride!
Little 16 month-old ‘Eddie-boo’ gripping her skirt. Blonde and shy, same as my son twenty years later. She told me of her survival, being released to the guardianship of a Catholic sisterhood, I cannot imagine being a little girl separated from my home, my siblings and my mother.
Like me, being short and buxomly, she knew of men’s overt ogling, knew I’d need to adjust to the up-top department again not to feel self-conscious. Women understood that after my reconstruction began, going from a scar painted across my flat chest back to a full bosom… I was rattled and wanted to hide.
“Just cuz you don’t have a nipple anymore, but you don’t need one”, her clipped German accent was thick (which she doesn’t believe). Saying hers was so lacking to make breastfeeding very difficult, “I had to be shown how to put a baby on my boob! back when there was no choice but to breastfeed.” Then laughs that her children didn’t suffer because of it. Oh goodness, that’s a bad visual! It was good to laugh in spite of our boobs. We laughed jovially that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed like some parts were missing. So much for being tactful…
Fortunately, I’m blessed with loving people who showed me I didn’t have to find the guts to face them or answer inane questions — seemed to know what to say, how to deal with me through every bad moment. Michael and Terri were more best friends, than cousins, the most support through my worst. She’ll be embarrassed to read it, but Terri was to blame to start blogging; writing relieved the pressure — released my heart and mind onto the screen — felt downright awesome that I hadn’t expected! No matter what I griped or worried about, Michael’s texts and occasional phone calls was reassurance from over 1,600 miles cross-country. So surprised to get ‘Liked’ and ‘plusses’, followed by 143,000 for just one post. I kicked it up for thousands of breast cancer gals and families coping. Always, Terri’s life, and her spirit inspired me.
Rougarou vs. Christ
Passionate, 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 Bob died… Muddy vile spit in your eye kind of stuff. It took many tries to get all of it down.
Writing these rawest words, pseudo friends slipped away, who I had believed were good ol’reliable, who I had believed would be glad to hear my voice. Became strangers of my past. Change doesn’t sting any less with age. In weakness, I sometimes texted, however my plea fell on deaf ears. Saving face was not my mindset as I rediscovered my own convictions a compassionate Lord taught me.
Having such history is not as personal as simply a treasured thought in our past. Although my writing gained a few blog followers, it too, too often, was out of my control.
Times I wanted to yell at everyone. I was confused and half-drunk, without the slightest hangover cure. Right or wrong, my heart was in trouble. Nobody knew like my husband. My new online friends got the truest sense of me. My buried thoughts were curdled milk in my gut. Desperate for consolation … I found Hillsong United. Christ gave me peace to let go of pain, when I asked. Inside of pain I needed solace.
Horrifible rougarous and an evil timber-beast afraid of no human had snuck in, and for years, cannibalized my breast cells — my breast — gone. GONE. My breast cancer had been in there, in me. I fended that monster off from crippling my emotional self, to scrape up the courage to deal with all the rage buried inside me, and at times, even now slithers in my gullet, escaping in dreams. I cried searching for the deer in my nightmares, running.
Months of surgery after surgery and recovery after recovery, I endured rebuilding my strength slo-o-w-ly, s-l-o-o-ower-r than molasses in January. Months of rest. Ed made a compassionate attempt to get me going–bought used Shimano mountain bikes for us to get back ‘into the swing’ hopefully. I needed patience and a work out! My people showed me genuine love that totally choked me up. That gator I harbored began to dissipate. Hugs and their compassion soaked my spirit and finally I looked forward to my nipple tattoo — the pièce de résistance!
As logical as doctors following protocol, how rationally I could discuss it, emotions are a scar on my breast. My family’s faith is amazing, in my determination to fight this kind of death, yet did not keep the trepidation away from my lovely step-daughter, Christina. Her voice cracked with worry at times. She knew there is no protective shield. Her anxiety is my reality, why God is my shield. With so many cancers, I can only hope I’ve covered some of my bases for prevention. Through the doctors, staff and other women I met, my people reaffirmed my sense of belonging that was awesome. They were my little glimmer of hope in a tidal wave of uncertainty.
Empowered by flowers sent to me, texts and invites to school events, I finally commenced my social life, feeling human again, cut loose from that sad, deep achy feeling as when my little Abby died. Every minute, every day … I fought the worst of nightmares. It was no picnic. I didn’t know how to rejuvenate myself.
“and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20c
— couldn’t stop the floodgates once it started — the emotions of recovering from breast cancer became entrenched in everything I wrote, everything I did.
Bobby texted me … send a message anytime … at times I just couldn’t.
Time was irrelevant … can’t breathe good … no photos now … Lately I felt little relief to talk and write about it. I hid in my room for days. This was most difficult, took a while to write, emotions rushed out. I had to stop, dry my eyes several times to regroup.
And so, with regained composure, several months gone by, I resumed this, hopefully to make better sense of my uh challenges, or so I’ve heard. It’s become popular now to say my mastectomy was a ‘challenge’. Screw that. The other is journey. Two words overused these days that are such misnomers it perturbs me — inept and so cliché. Screw that. How the hell, does ‘journey’ define living with breast cancer? The use of that word sure is not the implication of a fun vacation, what the word journey implies. Stupid society-talk. Having had a boob amputated with cancer I got no patience for inane society-talk.
Reading other stories of breast cancer, I was aghast. Media has a way of circumventing the real agony. When the submerged iceberg is too deeply troubling, the fear that breast cancer evokes and the trauma the family must face learning the diagnosis, if it’s incurable that hope is lost out the window. The proverbial tip of the iceberg is her whole world came crashing in, yet she feels hope in spite of it all. What hype. So much bull c-r-a-p. Only in the movies or for an overambitious magazine writer does a breast cancer survivor brave it all unscathed, non-traumatized, gorgeously fit and runs the marathon, wins a cruise or a televised hunt of a lifetime, and her newfound political agenda rakes in millions to win the social media shares she deserves. Those women are only in Hollywood.
The real challenge is there is only one option, to live with the choices you face. I had one ultimatum, to open my mind to change without the fear of falling, desperately crying to end the nightmare. I offer sincere empathy to any woman reading this who is enduring the same nightmare. Cancer cuts to the core of your being so I pray the good Lord bless you to recover. I know a blessing when I get one …
Worst night in a long time–
My chest always hurt… couldn’t get comfortable. Painful chest jabbed like a knife. Hot stabbing pain. Feel weak, wretched, self-centered. Hate it, can’t write either, too bottled up. Been home about a week; it’s such a blur. Can’t organize my thoughts…. feel soooo messed up… soooo tired… jotted down notes of it.
Everyone’s surely asleep. Hard to say, I couldn’t judge time well but soon after Ed left for work I had gone to bed so tired I literally crawled onto the bed without the strength to stretch out or pull the blankets around me for the onset of sleep. I fell into a heap, slumped on top of the blanket hanging half off the bed for extra warmth and Sasha hopped up too, wrapped in her little circling routine to curl up next to my feet. Our ritual. Several soft rumpled blankets covered the bed to ward off the winter drafts.
Very drained, my brain was mush. I reached out my hand as if to pull sleep over me but sleep was evasive – I grasped at thin air. No little pill could cure this agony, more emotional than physical …
Even in the absence of logic, I needed the dose of Valium I had forgotten to take to ease the spasmodic chest pains. Forced to drag my tired body back to the kitchen just as soon as I pulled the strength to walk. My drugged inattentiveness, but the Valium had completely worn off. I gritted my teeth, squelching stabbing agony in my chest to pull on my comfy college sweats that were also wadded on the bed and fumbled for the knit blanket next to my legs, yanked it over me. This wound is more obscure, I hurt like my mind’s in a Zombie world alone and sinking into the muck dying, dying.
All day I had hurt like a huge tree was jammed into my chest. Intense pain now swallowed me whole, a tornado swirling inside my head. I needed those meds. I admitted to myself, with this pain there was no such thing as ‘grin and bear it’. I strangled a furious scream, muffled by burying my face in the quilt. I pounded the pillow with my fist in a blur of furious outburst, the old iron bed frame squeaked from the force. That startled little Sashie to shy away from her tormented master. I reached out and gently stroked her ear in repentance. She curled up, watching me in the dark. Through hot tears I saw her blink in the streetlight.
Dim shadows along the wall ……. I tucked my knees up to my chin, huddled there in the dark. Sasha moved, resting her muzzle on her paws. Intense self-wallowing pain – not a bad dream — my grief and surgical soreness swallowed me. I wanted my daughter. My throat tightened, I choked, and lost all control. I cried bitterly till my head hurt too … I heard the clock … tick-tick overhead my bed … I couldn’t hear the usual street traffic. The dam exploded with sobs that all hit me like a tidal wave. Seawater choked me…
No one was to blame. No enemy but an evil tumor. It stripped away my womanhood. Forever changed me — I hated my body — my life.
The cold February draft from the windowsill wafted into my teary face. I reached over and grasped the iron head rail, my hands shook like a 90 year-old struggling to hold her cane. My arms trembled weakly under my weight, bracing my arms to shift my body, same as I’d done in the hospital bed. I feared I might collapse. I inched my legs over the side of the bed. Every muscle quivered with frailty. Every fiber of my chest hurt and my consciousness begged for relief.
Vehemently, I hissed through clenched teeth, “Ohhh my God, why didn’t I take that pain pill?” I strained my shoulders to sit up, stringy hair damp from tears, my chest labored in tight shallow breaths… a panic attack. Pushing that thought away, I mentally pictured myself working up the strength to walk as if I had Polio. My legs were too wobbly. Instead of standing, I steadied my body, pressed a quivering hand onto the pillow and buried my head, slathering nose-drool on my arm from sobbing. I didn’t care. Whispering, I begged, ‘Jesus please get me through this,’ infant-like sobs bellowed from me again, the pulsating retching of crying straining my chest.
Saliva strangled me, swallowing hard I feared I would vomit. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, the squeaky bed gave no comfort, my teeth rattled uncontrollably, dangling feet getting cold… In the dark so alone! M-my face twitched. I shivered from the marrow of my bones. Raw, grim, terror shivers — I gasped tiny swallows of air to breathe. I felt the evil surround me in the shadows, waiting to devour me in irrepressible insanity. I envisioned Lucifer. Eyes burning from tears I hadn’t wiped away. Blinded by my fear, I blinked, shook deep into my core. I sensed death, my destruction, the demon hovering over me ready to grab my weak body, and consume my soul to spite my prayers. I sat paralyzed and weak.
My hair glued to my face, I could barely see. Unable to breathe. I’d fought demons before. Never did I feel so vulnerable. Absolutely terrified! My throat clenched in panic — I nearly screamed. I heard my voice crack, call out faintly.
I gasped, “oh… my… God…dear Lord, I am-m so-o alone, SAVE me! Protect my daughter. I beg you let me live to be with my grandchildren and my husband now.”
I shut my eyes – and prayed. My tears stopped — evil demon dissolved. Vanished. I saw God’s angel’s silky light fill the dark shadows of my bedroom; I impulsively bowed my head in her presence. Sacred. Impenetrable. In my mind, redemption was clear. I trusted my broken faith that the angel would keep me safe! I gasped in cool air and my shoulders collapsed. My mouth fell open, drinking in the utter relief, the
feeling Jesus was next to me on the bed. His love filled me as a father comforting a child, my body went limp. I was safe. A tremor of solace spilled over me — His angel embraced me in a shroud of strength unlike any feeling I’d ever had.
Enraptured. Time meant nothing in that moment. In the dark on my bed those bitter waves of sobs quit and I began to feel warmth inside me, despite the cold draft from the window over my shoulder. Despite my terror of seconds ago from the dark, formidable evil infiltrating my soul. I felt my pain become intangible, unobtrusive. I sat in a sort of shock, the angel’s quintessence washed over me, tense muscles in my face softened. The Lord heard me – overwhelmingly incredible, my fears evaporated.
I only had to believe. I only had to ask. Jesus gave me the fighting spirit I desperately needed to face down breast cancer. His angel guided me, I was no longer unforgiven — my hateful vehemence, my yearning to hate evaporated. I have felt that purging before in my hunger, my humanity transfixed in the eye of a hurricane, calming the insanity that plagued my soul, that peace only comes from the Lord. Jesus.
Laying my hand against the wall. I stood up. Slowly steadying my trembly legs I slid along the wall for support. Fingers fumbling, I turned on the light. Blankly I saw my face in the mirror that hung by the doorway, cheeks tear-stained and ruddy, the telltale last moment’s solace in my eyes behind my tangled hair.
I trudged one crippled foot in front of the other into the kitchen… a soothing hot cup of tea would ease me into dreamland. Sasha hopped off the bed, trotted sleepily at my heels, my little loyal friend.
Standing there wobbling in the wee hours of the night, I brewed hot chamomile tea. I sipped thinking quietly after that freakish moment of terror. I miss my family, both my children. Indulged with that thought I knew how much their emotional support would help me recover to some semblance of norm, if that could ever be. I also knew I had to take the initiative to reach out to rebuild my relationship with my daughter. She was part of my soul, we’d been to Hades and back in her lifetime, and I could not bear any longer to live without her near me. Forgiveness was in my grasp; it finally gave me peace, not to die, but to live passionately without fear. I smiled.
The doctors had tended to me with calm, competent seriousness that impressed me without the surgery, without diligent treatment, ‘Lord knows’ how many years it would take for the tumor to kill me. I guess I can say unequivocally that wasn’t God’s plan because my pathology report proved the diagnosis was Stage 1 Ductal Carcinoma. No less scary, but my cancer was not aggressive, less urgent, nonetheless the pathology report was black and white proof. The report said it and I could not deny Stage 1 Ductal Carcinoma. I repeat. This is serious shit.
Sitting on the bed that night I had shaken with real terror all huddled inside my frail body. Now, I knew what it truly meant to have doctors and God on my side. I braced for a full-on attack with a vengeance against the disease. I have always taken my strength for granted. Now I couldn’t. I humbly acknowledged beyond a casual “okay uh, thanks Lord” from whence my strength cometh. This soulful introspection was vivid truth. In my heart, I realized the Lord did not induce my disease. Some people will question that. Yes, I have blind faith however irrational it seems, I’m stubborn. I don’t care. His strength is my comfort. I live for my Lord, not anyone else. He put me here for a purpose so I consider my life’s been in His hands more often than illness has taken from me — I’m still kicking; therefore, I will live for Him. He brings me peace in my heart when all else is destructive and I fail. I can’t imagine going through this nightmare without the Lord to steady me.
I drink my tea thinking: I cannot even fathom the miracles Jesus displayed in Biblical days, it’s too grandiose, but one of those miracles in my life was guiding me and my husband together. Ed understands my faith even through the fear and unknowns of breast cancer. My husband is strong comfort, always with a steady hand to help me off the sofa and encourage me, assuring he loves me even with a growing fake boob because that’s what good husbands do … in sickness and in health …Tenderness beyond my hopes exude from him … a fleeting vision of our love, I smile. We both laugh at silly, dirty jokes with a flirty pat on my rump he calls ‘yo little white butt.’
With a second cup of tea I pondered: if I’d been dealt all of this to love my family for all their faults and accept my children’s uniqueness as a kind mom and gramma who deserves love too, in that moment standing there I accepted God’s plan as my own path to forgiveness. Family’s support is unconditional, deep as an ocean’s intensity and vital to survive through this, an ordeal. Now the pain is relaxing and I need sleep bad. Even if … had the demon been just a nightmare? I forget …
My eyes teared up editing again; these years passing has not diminished the power that fills me to be touched by Jesus, giving me strength I could never presume to own. I still tremble from the rawness of that night; however strong we think we are, Jesus absorbs our pain – indescribable.
“Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak; O Lord heal me…” Psalm 6:2
“through hardships to the stars”
2 a.m. hot tea
night after night I can’t sleepI’m a wreck. Losing sleep after 3 weeks of injections. In slow motion. I stagger like a drunk to the kitchen … shivering. I pull on my good old WMA hoodie, wrapped a soft afghan around me.
Aaaaaahh hot tea. Soothing… I just stand there, numb.
My breastbone hurts so much I want to rip out that godawful tissue expander!
Hurts to drive a vehicle or bend over. Can’t lift my newest baby granddaughter. I long for my grandkids’ laughter.
I know Sashie misses her walks — winter refuses to quit. Such miserable cold and wind like crazy.
Yeah, this is my blood and guts on the floor, the nitty-gritty as they say. I take in all the emotional upheaval and the Lord is patching me up, again. I shake my head with doubt.
Small household chores help as sort of home therapy. Only my own determination and everyone’s prayers to rely on for me to return to as close to normal as possible. Would I ever? What the hell am I gonna do now? Just how the blazes am I gonna get through this?
Small things like lying down on the sofa to watch some TV or bending over to give my dog her food bowl is painful. I manage. In those first weeks, I got weak as a kitten from lounging, resting. E-e-e-v-e-ry task is a struggle.
next night 3:45 a.m.
Woke up in tears, my chest is throbbing. Constant. I guess it will be till after my surgery in June. I count the days. Strenuous anything doesn’t help the ache subside but I needed to work off the stress.
I don’t care if anyone knows or not. The city is killing my soul, only God knows what’s in my heart right now. There’s more complexity than I can say, words are inept here.
I’ve never written about such pain or felt such urgency toward change. I feel at a loss. Too excruciating to put on paper last year, I unburied notes following my surgery. Too wrought with emotion;
I’m … drowning … I took a Valium to relax my chest muscles twitching… everything is fading finally
2:45 a.m. what the hell day is it? Woke up with my pillow wet from tears again, my chest in pain. Gawd I hurt!!!! I take a Valium. I scribble. Constant pain. Awful, unrelenting. Writing it does not help.
My chest muscles twitching, throbbing, everything is fading … I want Ed’s kiss.
I try to turn my body in my sleep but my muscles cramp with any movement. Instant hot stab makes me cry, wakes me up. I get up, take another Valium. Nurse said it’s okay, soon over. My implants surgery is not until July. Then <sigh> … another recoup.
I keep sending photos and texts to Adrian. Ache to see her smile after my surgery. Our silence is deafening. Never been so lonely. I need her desperately. Never been so stupid stubborn…Can’t bear much more without her to talk to, to coach me. My heart is in agony more than my boob…
Week 6 It’s warmer today. Walking lil’ Sasha again. Up and down the block. Do my neighbors watch? Do they notice I’m getting out a little? Tried some workout videos to build my upper body strength. I lost it all. Will I be able to shoot my bow this autumn???
It’s been awhile. My routine is a soap opera — my outdoors — breast cancer blew my world all to pieces! Recuperating from its consequence, trying to rebuild. My tattered insides, a stitched-up bod. My house a mess, old sheets on the bed, left-overs taste gross or getting moldy in the frig. I lost my smile somewhere at the hospital I think. Hugs nearly nonexistent, medicated for constant pain.
… patience … enough for today … sleep is coming on fast now.
Week 7 I couldn’t sit all day — had chores to do — at least I believed I did. I told myself I learned my lesson, not be such a workaholic. Took my pain meds to ease the constant throbbing. Oh God! my chest! In my uneducated, impatient opinion, my inner chest nerves are too slow to mend. Twitching like I stuck a wet finger in a light socket – doesn’t hurt – me arm or chest jumps. Feels weird. I asked Trisha, she said those nerves will try to mend themselves … makes a snail look hyper.
As I lay in bed I remember my younger years of romantic gypsy days, my heart wistful for love, tunes in my head of Scarborough Fair, angelic chords in my throat since childhood, imagery of ancient lore suffering in love… true love never ages.
As I said, I took my mind off horrific breast cancer by researching my father’s ancestry. FYI: there is only one FREE website I found, these links proved the most factual. In hopes of learning about crazy breast cancer genes, trivial or not, I devoured any info to give me answers. Inquiries at the new National Genealogy Society Conference Center in Independence offered some assistance for research without having a clinical DNA test. (Do not fall for the gimmick of $79 DNA tests as on TV ads [y’all know which one] for proving your ancestry and genetic diseases.) A true DNA test costs upwards of $10,000. Even a simple genetic consultation is considered a ‘specialist’ bill – averaging $400-1000.00. If you’re a typical breast cancer patient, like me, sorry I ain’t got it.
For centuries, Europe has endured such turmoil to prompt emigration, but we cannot outrun the tendencies of disease in a bloodline or alter our DNA’s molecular structure. The increased risk of inherent diseases is why the law prohibits marrying first cousins, etc. in the hope a dominant disease-free gene will overcome (be non-receptive) the mutated gene in a DNA strand. Such is genetics.
My MacKenney and Clan MacKinnon (a Map of Locations associated with) ancestors were emigrants from Ireland. When the English confiscated land belonging to Catholic Irish nobles, some absconded “Scotch-Irish” Protestants migrated to the ‘New World’ settling in the Appalachians. One of those Irish emigrants was John McKinney aka, Jn Kinna, my five times great-grandfather of the Catholic clan MacKenna/McKenna, original inhabitants of County Monaghan, Ireland. Apparently, he brought wealth of the MacKenna pict and housing several slaves, by the American colonies’ census records.
His father, Jn Kenna had settled in Limerick, Ireland where Jn Kinna was baptized at St. John Cathedral in 1745. Circa 1765 he set sail for the American colonies in New York City changing his name to John McKenney, as was proper as a MacKenna clansman. Passenger ship lists are too vague to verify. Having escaped Britain’s religious tyranny for sect freedom, at best, sketchy records were written as a book The Border Settlers of Northwestern Virginia from 1768 about settler’s acquisitions, his own land adjacent to Root Creek. His surname is first recorded McKenney for the land ownership.
Trivial ancestral finding: German and Irish nearly two hundred years apart, migrated to the United States. Thus, archives about John McKinney began in West Virginia, later moving to North Carolina.
Scientific/DNA: Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome (BHDS) is an inherited autosomal genodermatosis characterized by fibrofolliculomas of the skin, renal tumors and multiple lung cysts.
WHA??? Here’s wha– the FLCN mutation gene is a predominant factor with renal cancers and my tendency for primary spontaneous pneumothorax, inherent from the father’s side. I explored this relative to genetic mutation for some cancers; however, only 3.3% is affected by inheritable breast cancer due to my FLCN gene. Genetic studies show responsible germline FLCN mutations are diverse.
In the news, lately in favor of genetic tests to identify those mutated genes, the tendencies for breast cancer is complex and highly costly. I am not a geneticist but I wanted to gain knowledge about hereditary risks for breast cancer, and information regarding my lung collapses. Such complexities were fascinating, nothing more. Regarding my breast cancer, further studies proved invalid because of the objectives shown. My own experience: it’s only fascinating as my family tree. Keep in mind, “testing is merely to satisfy curiosity, typically for a solid ‘syndrome’ diagnosis which there likely is no cure”
BHDS is due to large deletions as well as small nucleotide (germline) alterations. Racial differences may occur between Japanese and patients of European and Swedish descent in terms of FLCN mutations and clinical manifestations. Due to the second-degree relatives factor, my Swiss ‘Shore’ ancestors may have carried the mutated FLCN gene. However, the FLCN mutation gene has NO known connection to the (BRCA1, BRCA2) breast cancer gene.
A small percentage of all breast cancers cluster in families. These cancers are described as hereditary and are associated with inherited gene mutations. Hereditary breast cancers tend to develop earlier in life than non-inherited (sporadic) cases, and new (primary) tumors are more likely to develop in both breasts. A particular disorder might be described as “running in a family” if more than one person in the family has the condition. Conditions that appear to run in families are not caused by mutations in single genes. Instead, environmental factors such as dietary habits or a combination of genetic and environmental factors are responsible for these disorders, including my DCIS. This is the reason for AWARENESS to guide women toward healthy eating habits and lifestyles.
Record of health information about a person’s immediate and extended family is needed for a geneticist to determine whether a disorder has a valid genetic component within the health of several generations of the family, usually first, second, and third-degree relatives.
After an exhaustive research of gene mutations w/breast cancer, there was no inheritable reason that I got breast cancer since I tested negative for the BRCA1 mutation. I asked Dr. Jew her thoughts, her professional opinion was that without my mother’s medical data as reference, hereditary cancer was inconclusive. For me, none of it mattered by now.
The US National Library of Medicine diagram shows only one parent carries the Birt-Hogg-Dube gene. The Iowa University Hospital surgeon who repaired my collapsed lung in 1990 (for the 2nd time) referred to my father as what’s called the dominant hereditary factor. That meant my siblings had been the main criteria for the FLCN mutation gene from our dad. The FLCN mutation gene did cause both my brother and me to have numerous ‘primary spontaneous pneumothorax’ in the similar time span of one year and the exact symptoms. We simply weren’t aware of its cause till my brother exited the Air Force and was genetically tested for his COPD. We are in the 10% of patients with PRIMARY spontaneous pneumothorax status with a positive family history of the Birt-Hogg-Dube gene (FLCN) causing dominantly inherited spontaneous pneumothorax.
FINDINGS below by: Authors Chiu HT, Garcia CK. “Mutations in the gene encoding folliculin (FLCN) have been identified in individuals with familial spontaneous pneumothorax. Presence of thin-walled cysts in basilar and subpleural locations of the lung is a feature of this disease…”
Surgeons of both my brother and me also verified thin-walled cysts in which seven ruptured in my lung, causing my first lung collapse. Lung tests showed no disease nor disease caused by benign skin tumors and I have had no more episodes. Proof I had primary spontaneous pneumothorax. Ever since my lung collapsed twice in 1992, I quit the smokes — haven’t touched another stik. This year, my brother confided he must occasionally carry a portable ‘O’ tank.
My breast cancer research taught me, my migraines might stem from the FLCN mutation gene as well, in theory. I do believe this because the severity and type of my migraines correlate to the mutated gene, apparently stumping all doctors for a cure. At least Dr. Block, is sympathetic. Ironically, her internship was at Chicago’s Cook county, my first ER episode.
My breast cancer is not inherited? I was negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2, the known primary inheritable breast cancer.
Dr. Jew agreed without definitive DNA tests, there is enough medical background to substantiate ruling out inheritable breast cancer. These citations are based on current research, verification enough for me that my worries of metastasizing cells after my mastectomy are likely unwarranted. I am not worried after this, especially after Dr. Jew’s soothing words, I concluded there was no medical or genetic reason that I got breast cancer.
Occasional dreams of erotic subtlety, relaxing as dancing, like floating on air. Recovering femininity is: don’t let fear of being different keep you from passion to dance by yourself.
Okie dokie … grab that glass of wine, settle into some comfy pillows … here’s my soul, my real thoughts for the real woman with guts or curiosity to read how does this all fit into breast cancer… get ready to be shocked or consoled… read the wanton stuff, the hidden and obvious … I know other women feel as overwhelmed as I did. I am not any different as much as I felt alone inside my head. I’m sure there are clinical terms for it, boring as that is to me.
With simply a background of basic college ‘psych’ classes, I’m more from that ole ‘Life’ University — you know, the hard knocks kind. And class is still in session. Three and a half months after my mastectomy I dug out notes I had buried, too excruciating to edit that winter. Writing had been sketchy because of surgical pain and I was very medicated. Mind boggling. Made me feel psycho — and so scared. It was all very overwhelming — just how many ways can I say this really??
I have only my own experience and basic research to validate a point. I did not have a psychological eval throughout my breast cancer treatment and I chuckle at this more than refer to using analysis as a shoulder for my own needs. After breast cancer, I’m a tad bit more psycho than psychologist! Of all the slew of doctors, not one ever urged me to be eval’d, whether I should have is beside the point.
If there must be a scientific aspect of in and out of awake mode, my nightmares were wrought with mythical creatures and slaying monsters of disease, nonetheless, the Rougarou and daydreams all are pure mumbo-jumbo to me. That’s my slant on psychology.
Knowledge is gained in all phases of interpretation, being comical or philosophical. Raw emotions can be wicked — but it’s what gives us empathy towards others in pain. Truthful as soothing, lucid thoughts. Words are still inadequate to say just what a harsh blow i’twas learning I had breast cancer.
Learning to have faith in myself took a hold of my whole consciousness while I healed. Transparent dreams and nightmares made me shiver from their violence, with my emotions sometimes so rough, later thoughts of the intensity locked inside me erupted shudders up my back. I tried to make sense of those swirling thoughts, awake and asleep. I tried to interpret with reason, both the subversive and the sublime. At first my sleep was affected by pain prescriptions, the mastectomy short-circuited my mind deadened by the sledgehammer’s clang. All analysis failed to enlighten me, insidiously adding to my confusion as the saying goes ‘a little knowledge does more harm than good’… Until the most recent months.
In backlash to media or comfort, my expose׳ fell shattered on the ground without reserve. And that said, please do not over-analyze this chapter nor my dreams, just a lot of getting off my chest (not all bound to BC) as you should figure. Normally I’m a logical thinker BUT I had my boob cut off so this here is all that ‘mumbo-jumbo’ stuff left behind. About psychology, I am an explorer, on and off the page.
Self-consciousness or lack of self-esteem has never been a problem since high school, but losing a breast is simply very difficult to cope with emotionally. Bodily, a woman’s breasts are a part of what makes us a female — it’s the core of our being — it’s cultural, a woman’s whole self, her identity in life. Femininity is often perceived as a social construct, which is made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors. This makes sexuality distinct from the definition of the biological female sex as both males and females can exhibit feminine traits. This being just words to describe attributes, but when the whole physiological self is damaged by illness, it all goes way beyond words.
Disclaimer: I don’t give advice to anyone needing psychotherapy. I’m just a lil’ crazy woman – take the ‘psycho mumbo-jumbo’ chapter with a grain of salt — it’s all just psychology relative to my recovery — no garnishment, no sophisticated hair-brained mush, some for fun …
The Ancient Greeks believed that nightmares resulted from the presence of a demon named Ephialtes. In Germany, they were known as mara, mahr, mare. German Folklorist Franz Felix Adalbert Kuhn records a Westphalian charm or prayer used to ward off mares:
Here I am lying down to sleep;
No night-mare shall plague me
until they have swum through all the waters that flow upon the earth, and counted all stars
that appear in the skies; Amen!
Instilled in our nightmares, we are fascinated with mythical creatures. In ancient Greek mythology, Lamia was a beautiful queen of Libya who became a child-eating daemon. Lamia was a mistress of the god, Zeus. Zeus’ jealous wife, Hera transformed her into a monster that hunted and devoured the children of others. Lamia’s children destroyed from beauty by jealousy of allure into a half-lizard, half woman who eats the children. Aristophanes claimed her name derived from the Greek word for gullet referring to her habit of devouring children. Lamia’s mythical ‘monster’ living in a woman’s nightmare, was once thought to harbor destructive and evil tendencies, but maybe, somehow, we rid ourselves of stress simply by disbelieving the erotophobia of ancient myths.
Knowing mythical origins opened my understanding of real nightmares consumed by grief after a mastectomy, as if my subconscious was trying to cleanse my mind of goriness. Not to be so burdened. Once I rationalized my dreams I could heal — because I was not erotophobic.
The ghoulish-looking portrait (of Saturn) confers our fetish for fascination of evil and repulsion of our darker side. We prefer to believe that mythical creatures, not real people are bad. Beneath at least some of the impulse to ‘feed’ our fetishes, our aversion to both writing and reading sexual or erotically explicit stories is erotophobia, fear of erotic pleasure. This means: borne out of fear of being discovered. Yet, even in our fear, blood and guts and gore excites us. Perhaps we can blame erotophobia on the Victorians — it made us prudes. That is bad mumbo-jumbo.
Psychological prudishness manifested in Victorian times; taboos continue in most us as the moral standard, even if that measure is unhealthy and unrealistic, not human nature at all. But it’s what society dictates for us no matter what generation. And that standard is why I post “caution” on my breast close-up images. My intent is their purpose, the uploads are only a demonstration of breast reconstruction. (Be aware, most content meant for mature readers.) By no means am I ashamed of my photos; they are edited for procedural explanation. I expect there will be readers, maybe my friends who gasp at the audacity, such raw stuff. Subsequently, I dare they are perhaps such naysayers who criticize unwittingly solely based on the above statements. That’s their deal. No sarcasm, it simply is what it is.
Google’s dictionary says:
Recovery is 1. return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. 2. action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.
My voice is a woman’s superlative opinion. Because I’m not a doctor or psychotherapist, my interpretation of my dreams and psychological problems surviving breast cancer could well be disputed. It’s personally subjective, not clinical. Still a whole-lotta mumbo-jumbo to me (told ya), my ‘psycho’ in relation to sexuality, nightmares, depression and some poetry. It took me a full three years of surgeries to concede I recovered from the psychological distress of breast cancer to call myself permanently cured. It was trial and error weight on my mind.
Dr. Robine hit-the-nail-on-the-head about my attitude after a breast cancer diagnosis. Her non-typical manner always no-nonsense, but sympathetic. Her insight seemed more life educated too, when she said, “don’t let cancer define you as being just a survivor, but consider your cancer (your illness) or any life changing event to be only a marker in your life to benefit from. You must move on or be stuck unable to be happy again — your independence has suffered a major setback – you’ll get it back”, then leaned into my face and point-blank, sympathetically assured me, “you aren’t there yet.”
Not there yet. I knew it. But with her tone, her faith in me spurred my self-confidence. I didn’t feel quite so like I’s on a psycho-ville roller-coaster; however, my obvious hesitation spurred anger at my lack of it. I had second-guessed myself, frustrated that it was so plain my self-image was all shot down. That was a new feeling after twenty years of confident rebelliousness. I was scrambling for a little sense of who I had become lately since my mastectomy. I hate labels — her words to look beyond myself as a survivor justified my perturbation at that label. I had settled and I knew it. My battle still raged inside. She saw. In the back shelf of my mind I had seen too — just hadn’t acted on it. Dag-blastit. I heard my mother’s faint sigh.
Breast cancer survival is more complex than a magazine article or the last doctor visit. Average stats show women around the world fight breast cancer’s stigma for years. Recovery number one (1), my physical recovery is measured as my breasts scars fade, but number two (2) is vital to get through my recovery a collective of emotional scars hung onto my occasional nightmare’s illusions, causing a torrential river.
Storm in a Dream
My first-hand experience is only tiny pebbles in a river…
Breast cancer recon was just a big bunch of logs in the river, I wouldn’t drown.
No monkey on my back! I’m not graceful; The Lord is my life-preserver. I trip over my own shadow; I’m sorta coping—
I must plunge upstream, swim in frigid floodwaters like a dog floundering in debris of a splintered forest. Crawl through the storm, through the terror, the mud.
Faith in my heart to lie on the soft sand, warm under my rebuilt body. Sobs of fear turn into tears of gratefulness when I know the worst is over. My storm has passed — but twas no dream …I can breathe. I am alive. I’ve earned the right to be happy again. [spring 2015]
I was both… Pertinent to (female physiology and feminine psyche) recuperation from a mastectomy and six surgeries after many months of pain, all rendered me a woman incapable of physical intimacy for quite a long time. None. Any wonder I got depressed and pissy? Prolonged recoup time from treatments deeply affected our propensity to enjoy any sensuality we had. Ouch. Downright pain in my patooka.
And with my doctor’s insight, I understood my goal. I hope to enlighten and motivate breast cancer patients to be more than just a survivor — but to thrive — with a little guidance, not from me. I’m certainly no expert. I can inform you, only so far as my personal experience. I am not an oncologist, psychiatrist or God; any info is of an opinionated nature. Our recovery needs are different, justified as individuals, dependent on professionals and my upbringing and ultimately with God as my spiritual guide, that my psycho needs are met. You readers must reconcile your own healing, in your own ways. I am hopeful.
Strength was slow returning … seemed vital to my recovery recalling my dad in those months. Memories of his character in my genes boosted my energy, thoughts of his fathering comforted me to explore some McKinney ancestry while I recouped – my quiet recollections drifted back to my teenage days.
I was on the edge of belligerent. Once raking leaves, I argued with him where to pile it. My dad didn’t tolerate arguing, didn’t mesh with my high-spirited independence – he took it as insolent. Dad barked like a drill sergeant. I threw the rake down in the leaves, scattering like a puff of loose feathers. He just shook his head with paternal confusion as I stormed into the house, made a beeline for the bathroom in dramatic, teenage style, so angry tears erupted.
Hearing his scolding and seeing my tirade from the dining room bay window, Mom knocked on the bathroom door. She didn’t wrap her arms around me in comfort as I expected. But in a soft chuckle reassured me in her ever-so-patient-mom-voice why me and Dad locked horns so bad, because we were so much alike. She gently lifted my chin to look at hers and told me quite logically, not to lay blame, things are more because of my choices. Then she left me be. Her words stung like a wasp.
I recouped in a moment, washed my face of my teenage pride. Then headed back outdoors letting the backdoor slam as I always did, as if nothing had been wrong or that I had pitched such a fit at my dad. It wasn’t my norm for outright disobedience, to destroy my sense of calm, hence my reflex sent me right back outdoors.
Without antipathy, I silently finished my job raking as he wanted, as the sunset was completely swallowed by the cool October nightfall. Dad just as quietly tended to his piles of burning leaves and smoldering clumps of glowing embers, erupting into orange flame with each stir of his stick, the crackling fires the only sounds in the backyard cloaked in darkness. Wafts of oak leaves smoke in the air was intoxicating. It got dark, with the only light to see by were little flames of two fires burning as Dad stirred his campfire. Watching him, how many fires had he stirred as a boy?
I leaned the rake against the shed. I walked toward him, still stirring, his mind off in the those distant fires. I bluntly asked him about his old Army days. We both stopped. I could see his face inside the fire glow. Dad did not elaborate. He broke a half-smile covered by his reddish beard, gave his head a twitch, signal for me to head inside the house. Relieved of my job, I was relieved his wrath was gone. I never forgot my mother’s words from my flare up… I hadn’t meant to be insolent, however headstrong I was, especially in his eyes. Methinks that was our thread, ingrained in me, hopefully it might serve me well. Memories of both his glare from disobedience and his wry smile at my son’s antics, years later softened my heart, encouraged my stubborn will to fight, as his red-haired daughter should.
Ancient days till this very moment, we humans are sexual beings caught up in physical attraction and mating. Humans are unique; argue if you will we have intellect which God gave us that differentiates us from critters (m.h.h.o.). Animals mate, whereas humans have intercourse or make love (whatever society, upbringing, or your feelings says it should be referred to). That sounds crude, nevertheless biology is simple science. Our mate is a person, not a verb. We can be possessive too…
Human sexuality is considered a physiological need. It’s an integral part of being, we cannot deny our physical needs any more than our psychological, and that we are complex people whose biological and chemistry by our design is what we are as a male or female. Our bodies and emotional selves are engineered to bond with a partner, and society and our existence is dependent on those needs. We go through all the rituals to find the best sexually compatible mate. In other words, being human is being physiological, thus sex is innately at the top of our needs. Sex is on the list of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a basic need, as a function along with shelter and ‘belonging’, a piece of physiological knowledge from my college days. Intertwined with our psychological nature yet not considered a need for ‘life’ like air, food and water. So lies the complexity — as sex is vital for the species.
We all dream of sex in one way or another. And that complexity begins to unravel as we all wonder as preteens; experience a first kiss, fantasize about real love, and the ‘first time’ sleeping with someone or doing it. Yeah, back in the day it was sex, you call it whatever. Then ultimately getting married, depending on your culture. Not always so much in that order. All those events are intimate and a uniquely experienced physiological need by a young individual playing a role as a man or woman.
As a human race, sex affects nearly everything: how we dress, our behavior, social traditions, books, movies, our children’s upbringing, and even the war and subversity between men and women. How we feel about ourselves as women revolves around a woman’s breasts, not simplistic or merely sexual, but as our public image in correlation to having a female body. It’s a physical identity. Our identity is so interconnected with our breasts, much more innate than just sex.
Sexuality is in our genetic makeup as inherently basic as our sense of smell. In fact, menstrual synchrony of women’s menses cycles may not be adaptive but rather epiphenomenal, lacking any biological function. Synced by instinctive olfactory senses with pheromones, by the phenomenon of reproductive synchrony. Whether seasonal, tidal or lunar, reproductive synchrony is a relatively common mechanism through which co-cycling females can increase the number of males included in the local breeding system (ecologists studying animal populations in the wild). Not by an aroma but by pheromones.
About that, think about billion-dollar perfume commercials. We indubitably know scents attract a partner, a mate. Scents’ purpose is erotic arousal because of our pheromones. It is completely acceptable behavior in our society to adorn our bodies with scents. Not in the least taboo. I personally go m-m-mmmm over sandalwood and lemongrass. So, we humans have sexual desire not for mating, but pheromones justify our needs in Maslow’s life pyramid as innate, piled on top of ‘belonging in society’. Physiology vs. sociology.
There is a differentiation. Exposed nipples in the U.S. is regarded as indecent. Inconsequentially, even in 2017, more elaborate sexual mores are taboo in women’s world. In this book’s context, sex is a known triviality relevant to body structure, merely a woman’s bodily function. In marital relationships, sexuality relates to a woman’s biological and our inherent emotional connection. A fair percent of my photos would maybe be overly exhibitionist in our ‘polite’ society, consequently I’m kinda stuck with our mores. As I see it, facts are digestible and clear, not taboo–
Moving on… Only a human female’s mammary glands are called breasts, not teats, not udders; and to feed a newborn infant while also being specially sexually alluring to a man (or) a partner. Only a human’s nipples have all those nerves designed for the sensations of lovemaking. Wired for pleasure, if you will. 😉 That is, not regarded as taboo but clarification of the special nature of a woman’s breasts.
Our awareness of that special nature is what makes an illness as breast cancer even more traumatizing. Because breast cancer is a direct threat to our sexual and nurturing selves. It spawns deep-rooted fear of danger to our emotional and biological nature, and of dying. We cling to (spiritual) guidance or medicine as only a human can do. Strong women suddenly become desperately fragile. Human spirit is resilient with the drive to survive. The most sought-after relief of my physiological need was sublime faith.
Because of biological instincts, the physiological self is so strong a mastectomy felt like the worst impediment of my productive nature. I felt robbed. I could not squash that awful feeling with reason. It wasn’t a logical rationale and because I’ve been a mother for most of my life, so deeply ingrained in me, my heart says I’m Mom before ‘me’. Eventually, with the aid of low dose Valium, my emotional upheaval settled more into dealing with the physical strain of my mastectomy. I’d never depended on medication to alleviate such strong emotions. Physiological issues were too much to cope with. Don’t ask me how long that sense of imbalance lasted, all I recall is that it faded away. I call it our self-preservation mode. My brain said enough was enough. Good for me Dr. Korentager treated my physiological trauma with the same medication that dealt with my breast muscle spasms. How ironic that the medication he prescribed for my chest’s muscle cramps had the same effects as the ‘let-down’ a lactating mother’s body produce, therefore a natural-like sedative. He’s a very attentive doctor.
I was relieved my medication eased my maternal stress as well. During pregnancy, family and friends’ attention and taking care of oneself to ensure your baby’s good health, most women cherish this time of preparation. Hormones change, spawning the maternal instinct. Then the baby comes and all attention switches to your newborn, the ooo’s and aah’s your little sweetness needs your devoted care 24/7 and then some. That shift is innate. Parenthood and its demands is accepted as all-inclusive, parents have preparation time, mental and emotional to get a handle on a newborn in their home.
Breastfeeding is known to prevent breast cancer for nursing moms, enhancing the new experience as a true gift for a woman’s protection. Postpartum depression was of no concern for me as I breastfed. The ‘let-down reflex’ is a natural Xanax. Typically, no shame or embarrassment whatsoever is in a woman’s mind to give her newborn Mamma Nature’s best. That’s usually beside the point for a nursing mom because there is absolutely nothing in the world quite as soothing as relaxing with a suckling baby. I do not regret one moment breastfeeding my two. It was the natural thing to do and filled me to the brim with a warm fuzzy adoration of the wiggling bundle of teeny tootsies, and fingers tickling my breast light as a feather, so comfortably cradled in my arms. I felt amazing – as if God molded my arms to perfectly wrap my babies in my body. Whether it inhibited my breast cancer is immaterial now.
Because of biological instincts, the physiological self is so strong a mastectomy felt like the worst impediment of my productive nature. I felt robbed. I could not squash that awful feeling. No, it wasn’t a logical rationale, but because I’ve been a mother for most of my life, it is so deeply ingrained in me, my heart says I’m Mom before ‘me’. Eventually, with the aid of low dose Valium, my emotional upheaval settled more into dealing with the physical strain of my mastectomy. Physiological issues were too much to cope with. Don’t ask me how long that sense of imbalance lasted, all I recall is that it faded away. My brain, my self-preservation said enough was enough.
As a nation, we have been obsessed with sex. Despite that obsession, it’s an acceptable practice to categorize movies rated R-XXX, libraries rate books and media censors that which can’t be aired as lewd, S&M or roughness, ‘less appropriate’ such as bondage; we are still transfixed to those vulgarities behind closed doors. Those provocative scenes must be disguised for those erotophobics, and made pleasant, which surely may quiet our fears that watching so much violence might arouse us. Like being glued to an Octagon fight, we crave all the blood & guts. Gruesome horror flicks are addictive, but there ain’t even movies of Zombies really doing it in a movie … Nope, no search results. Too taboo for Google. Too gross. Don’t pretend your mind doesn’t go there. That doesn’t make it wrongful. Just like double-standards in media is too recent for public acknowledgement, making women’s breasts far more visible than man-parts simply because of our social mores and so-called media ratings. Only in the most recent seasons does “Starz” allow a man’s penis to be in view. No wonder every who’s watching.
Delving into the physiological side of womanhood is certainly not illicit or pornographic in any sense. Still we are compelled to make reading about sexual depravity something only a respectable person needs to know. “It’s only for information”. Nonsense. Nevertheless, (this book’s context) a lot is left to imagination for the younger generation’s sake. It’s all in one’s point of view, whether it’s disgusting or a game of peek-a-boob.
Allure is subjective … manifested from a woman’s sense of femininity and the conscious belief she’s attractive. By my twenties, I outgrew being a shy wallflower despite my reserve, not overly body-conscious. I grew up a tomboy, still am. Displayed little cleavage in flirty shirts, I had no inkling I was full figured, by unknowing I wasn’t naive, never seemed to lack allure. I was simply confident in my femininity. Even as a late blooming wall-flower, I learned those social graces becoming an adult.
By my sweet ol’ age of 58, I possessed a typical mid-aged woman’s attitude — allure comes with maturity, a distinct awareness in thine eyes. I agree with Vogue,” … we pick up that attitude to become much more compelling. And life without excuses or quiet guilt about listening to one’s own needs and desires tends to — make you happier in life.” In our imagination, by nature of being a woman — “plus de temps en temps devenir femme fatale”, oh for that certain je ne sais quoi: translated — Ahh! Femme la Fatale:
“… A silhouette of dreams, a charisma overflowing, a presence to make anyone turn pale and a real image of man eaters. She is to the Woman what the male Alpha is to the Man: a mythical personage that attracts the glances and arouses covetousness…A question then arises: how to become this woman whom we observe, admire and jealous secretly? It is to this difficult question that I propose to offer some answers.
Femininity at the heart of the debate: The myth of the fatal woman: what makes the Femme Fatale so irresistible is its ability to highlight femininity without revealing its fragility. She is beautiful, intelligent, playful, charismatic and seems to be able to stand up to anyone, regardless of gender or age. “
Every mature woman knows how this works, how it goes. Every woman has her own expression in the privacy of the ‘boudoir’ – translation NOT needed. My mother taught me: “that women who value themselves, take care of themselves.” thanks Mother. That mindset is not le femme fatale but true femininity.
Being a mastectomy patient demanded I make a conscious effort to feel that allure again. I had to acknowledge the trauma of my physiological self. It sounds simple—but it was painful –not coming to me naturally. So much for mo-jo. A major adjustment, a poignant reminder of where the cancer was interfered with that I must acknowledge mentally and in my inner psyche that I could heal. Family womenfolk kept reassuring me “oh you look good!” and that was very nice to hear as much as I was embarrassed to become the center of attention because of my (lopsided) boobs. As my reconstruction was final, my nicely firmed-up implanted bosom had impregnated me with a new femininity, including my scars, a very satisfying feeling enveloping all my womanhood that only a woman feels inside.
Men are known for going with the flow, whereas women especially judge ourselves too harshly, evidently in their desperate quest for allure and love. Believing they’re synonymous, that we must have both to survive. Recovering from breast cancer rips up that fallacy. Realization buds into self-actualization (Maslow’s hierarchy again), of a woman’s spirit to apply a bit much mascara to make up for lost allure or a low-cut shirt than her encumbered self-confidence can handle.
For some, power shopping or addictions come to the fore in search for her new identity. Remember, most women in the grips of BC have reached their own maturity, fully in their own grasp of womanhood, settled into motherhood roles, coping with life in general. Part of the trauma is having to redo all that personal growth, maybe alone. My mom-n-law gave me perfumes and pretty blouses; little gestures we do to dispel the dark funks of physiological issues.
Back to those taboos, in my opinion, the rigidity of taboos borne from erotophobia are more a danger to our emotional health, precursor of psychological destruction than a benefit toward positive behaviors. It hinges on the ridiculous to deny us such common thoughts, our fantasies as being ‘sick’. All those fine lines we cross needn’t be taken so literally. It’s enough to make a real woman pissy. Women are constantly too anxious to give while not feeling well, actually frowned upon, not giving so much beins’ we simply don’t feel well in recovery. Worry and stress of old expectations, that’s not very conducive for my recovery. Folks take heed.
Turn off your pc’s SECURE SEARCH to find breast cancer info, and all kinds of online perversion pops up. Unless truly criminal or trolls, they’re only labels — but no label suits any respectable woman’s taste who in the face of criticism, fears to be judged. Under scrutiny, women have trouble admitting (openly) to even the smallest fantasies, normal as they are, lest we be criticized. Even a violent fantasy of aggression or even rape, is just in her mind, controlled, and her thoughts are safe. She be safe. Not bad.
Generally, a woman won’t admit to such aggression, so it’s kept to herself, as if anyone knew that those fantasies were in the dark recesses of her mind, it’d be proof she’s a slut and thus, unfeminine and unlovable. Or worse yet, to be criticized or exploited upon discovery of her ‘deep, dark secret’, however justifiably normal such private thoughts are. In my opinion, ‘women’s rights’ have not really made such inroads as we’d like to believe. At least not regarding our sexuality, our mores. Some find progress, most steeped in confusion in the mumbo-jumbo of society’s psychologically outdated rules.
Intimacy (the real love kind)
I’ll be blunt again. Healing my physiological, sexuality was major distress after a mastectomy. It was a painstaking process after cancer gots its grubby paws on me! No matter if it would have been covered by insurance, it was not my intent to sit on that psychotherapy sofa. I should have. It took much quiet introspection to understand I had to accept myself from the inside, with a new body under-reconstruction, while giving my emotions a chance to settle down. The initial shock of my diagnosis took many months to register how to get on with love, communication and tenderness.
Pain interfered. Even bad dreams couldn’t be so much my concern as pain – I chose killing my amputation pain. Valium or Xanax helped me to relax and not be such a worry-wort over being so laid up or about my dreams. I felt oddly non-sensual and didn’t care. I felt as an addict who’s taking Methadone with dulled senses as my body withered from pain’s grasp. Its surrealism controlled me. And that bumped me into being dangerously near maybe PTSD? ‘Clinical’… I knew it too but did nothing.
I hoped my lowered sensuality was only because of surgery. My husband wasn’t concerned with bouncing back into the bedroom, so why should I be? As I recouped I knew I was loved. Our intimacy would survive. I literally prayed for help to recoup that feeling because our marriage has a spirited physical bond. That is the logical rationale; however, I was hurting in a big way psychologically and could not feel attractive (or normal) without constant reassurance. With passion in his eyes, my husband was very considerate and patient even when I was impatient for myself. He’d inadvertently resort to Plan B – whatever that was – in his heart.
No little pill can fix it…The emotional toll of having had a mastectomy was I felt needy as a suckling baby — that was not my norm. Yet it hung over me like a dreary, foggy day. During those months of reconstructive surgeries, I still felt desperate to convince myself, to believe that I was still loved, and looked decent in my husband’s eyes, while I could not pretend to want sex even though my body healed. I felt like a broken china doll. Ed didn’t try to ravish me with a machismo attitude, but rather comforted me in my many frail moments. I think he wanted his smiley wife back even without my boob. He bought me nice clothes, brought me morning cups of coffee, and routinely took me out to eat so I didn’t have to slave cooking — I liked to cook, but he took on most cooking as well. Real easy to start relying on that. And whispered some pretty hot sweet stuff in my ear that made me believe we still ‘had it’, just biding our time, as depressed as I was. Adored by a rough-aroun’-the-edges hunter-fisherman trying to be a bit-of-a swagger-romantic dude. He made me smile. I was eager for a strong, healthy body again. I could endure a bit more excitement to our zing… in time. And beautiful? Now come on, any woman likes to be told she’s good-lookin’ even with bandages on her chest. I wasn’t typically gregarious, not born to be the center of attention, only needed my husband’s.
Ed’s a jokester and I can be goofy; we weren’t all morose. Humor brings worries to light to manage our consciousness with a bit less sorrow. It’s a way to let out nervous energy — like the way we tell jokes and laugh at family after-funeral get-togethers. Sadly, those prudes just might interfere and grab our conscience instead. So, my hubby and me, we giggled in private with idiotic, off-the-wall comments like he’s my Ken and I’s going to be his new Barbie with a big rack.
Self-love and assured of a new breast, not quite replicas, began to pull a sweet Sandy on me, proved a chance love affair, a very unexpected ego boost… more like a sucker-punch. I was tiresome — gimme a Xanax.
My bad – couldn’t resist a bit of satire here. The flip side, psychologically grappling with the whole mastectomy thing, I was a bit psycho for some months with some mean emotional outbursts.
Vinny: What the fuck do you mean, replicas?
Sol: They look the shit, don’t they? And nobody is gonna argue. And I’ve got some extra loud blanks, just in case.
Vinny: In… Oh, in case we have to deafen them to death?
Oh yeah, the poor dude got yelled at,’ he don’t know how it feels, he’s only a man, men are so damn lucky, you-name-it-you-should be all about my needs, men can be asses…’ blah, blah, bullshit. Women can be too. Sometimes I was a bitch and didn’t care. Sometimes it’s just the hazards of being married, nothing to do with cancer (as I wrote in battles rage). Be that as it may, breast cancer’s psychological wounds go really deep and in typical Irish stubbornness, I went through it the hard way… go figure.
Having breast cancer don’t just go away. Our lives got very rudely tossed upside down. We didn’t have to salvage our marriage, while some couples can’t. Our relationship didn’t suffer because of losing my breast — proved we have substance — about that I felt lucky. Some couples have that strength as well.
“HER LIFE MAGAZINE“ features Kansas City’s breast cancer patients, real local families in real relationships, getting through their breast cancer treatments. It features survivors, but I’m also hypercritical the articles leave out most of the real pain of life with bc. A bit glossied.
An hour-long YouTube of family issues, watching “Beyond Breast Cancer: Stories of Survivors” had me in tears. Six women, how chemo and radiation especially affected their love lives. Six marriages not any different than mine. How couples deal with recovery is unique and very personal. These women had courage to voice themselves on YouTube, exposing their real relationships, very emotional to get through their treatments.
I wanted to know I wasn’t the only woman who’s recovering from breast cancer who wanted to get back the chemistry that was at the root of my marriage, that intimacy can’t be swept away but it threatened to dissolve with my lack of well-being. Why would I endure all the breast reconstruction, if not to feel good about my own sensuality again so making love with my husband would be as passionate as before? At least, not to be embarrassed because of a big scar across my boob, still a firm ball, still numb. No nip to kiss – oh yes, I dare say it — ¿ has ido en el amor? Then you have indulged.
Many weeks past, and my husband reassured me with an occasional playful jab that he didn’t see my scar in any of our private moments. I had to remember I am not ‘just a body’ but a woman and he loves me. I knew I must reconnect to her. But it took several months to even begin to try. Reawakening my feminine side didn’t occur naturally, especially at the ripe age of 60, adding some gray to a mature woman … bags and love-handles, minus the menopause. Though I assured Ed I didn’t need to look ‘even-Steven’ for public benefit — society can kiss my booty, I needed his. He liked that. Obviously for appearance’s sake, excited to feel normalcy, my bust to BE equal size again and yes, pleasing to his and mine eye was all I wanted. Sheer anticipation caused more stress than it should’ve. At times, I was so nerve-wracked! And just plain irrational. Dammit again.
Unquestionably, I had been a 58 year-old married woman secure in my skin. Breast cancer stole that from me. That ego, my psychological recovery, is still like a seesaw, however a bit better every month as my life gets back in th’swing. Real rough when a peck on the lips is the sum of your love-life … just sayin’ … I don’t want to feel self-conscious being spontaneous in the daylight, in the shower or slipping on a silky gown, or a swimsuit. Mature women don’t. Absolute truth is, my breast reconstruction ended up benefiting both me and my husband because I could feel my psyche reaching for my womanhood again … very slowly, eager for anticipation of renewed romance.
I wanted my reconstruction to be tolerable and successful. The plan was a major step to feel self-confident afterwards. It was a need. A huge basic need, didn’t matter one iota about my status in that hierarchy pyramid. I didn’t care. Very stressed out and implants was the only way to get half-way back to normal which made me feel better. And I constantly had that final goal in mind. I needed that finish line. I recalled more sensuous dreams than I used to wake up from prior to surgery. It felt good.
Ed was wonderfully comforting, and understanding of my surgical pain, when I couldn’t keep up with him outdoors, indoors or ran out of love-steam… He reminded me, reassuring me, “you’re recovering, you’ll be alright”. Made sense, from a man’s point of view, so simple. Being alright for me meant no more hospitals, no more worries about cancer — that’d take a long while. Being alright to my husband meant he wasn’t a widower and we still had a few years together. Men are born visual critters though, much more so than us gals. With that knowledge, I gave him the heads up that Dr. K promised not only would I love the end result, but he’d love it too. I informed him with a firm hug that I did not intend to go through other surgeries than deemed only necessary by my surgeon to achieve only the symmetry I needed, not to be a bimbo, if that’s what he was dreaming of. He assured me he was not. Good — that’s settled.
About Plan B. I had real issues with the Plan B thing. He likes options. Not to debate it was justified – I did not wanna use it! In those first weeks, I thought it was all physical but the reality was within my soul. After two long years, it filled my heart that I could relax as my man saw inside me, teary-eyed. My longing swelled with his excitement, my spiritual passion for life mixed with lust in our deep connection. He filled me with life. I believed in our love. I know my words are vague here, but not evasive. Because anyone who’s ever loved and wants to be loved in return knows the intimate give and take, the passion in your body that explodes up and down your spine, at times bringing you to tears. All I can say is “God, YOU sure got one up on us!” a woman’s body is God’s miracle of design. Our spiritual and sexual gratification, rush of emotion, the thrill of love. It blows my mind. The intensity enveloped by your lover in God’s eyes, lying together recovering from breast cancer, wrapped in love surely is comfort. God is my number 1 defender against breast cancer and my husband is my 2nd, his love the catalyst of God’s armor. I can’t live without either. I began writing poetry…
In our lives, everyone draws a circle.
Inside it are your people, the people you fight for, the ones you protect not matter what.
As you get older, your circle gets smaller and smaller.
People grow up, or they don’t; they fall by the wayside or just drift off, one day at a time.
But those who stay, through thick and thin and everything in between,
they are the ones you want in the foxhole when the walls come tumbling down.
Like it or not, ready or not, we have to accept one universal truth — life is messy —
always and for all of us. But maybe messy is what we need.
It’s not so bad to know what we need is all around us, our circle is always there
if we just open our eyes…
All the mumbo-jumbo of psychoanalysts is only a partial explanation of our dream state, skirting the underlying causes as irrefutable. From a psychological view about sex, the ol’ Freud-meister theory has stuck in our brains as the only explanation of our dreams. Their notoriety, more political popularity, supposedly as the meat of all ideals that I consider ludicrous. His theory is anything erectly vertical, and so on, is interpreted as a penis in all women’s dreams. To me, suppositions as is unwanted fat. Freud lived in the aftereffects of the sexually repressed Victorian era, which explains his views (remember erotophobia?) as prudish. I prefer the Westphalian charm.
Society still relies on Freud’s theories of repressed longing. I guess my aversion to his theories is why I didn’t pursue a psych degree. I am inclined to have more intuitive rationale than believe in popular crap. I’m drawn to the netherworld of dreams though, and trust our subconscious ability to solve problems. When we listen to it. Here I go, sitting on the fence comparing my opinions as that of an ideologist compared to psychology. Only because I concluded from my college studies that I respect sleep as a safe haven, not to be exploited by a shrink. Subsequently, I won’t argue the validity of prophetic or faith dreams since there’s nothing to verify them but existing within the dreamer’s mind. Who’s to argue what is real? I have had dreams of Jesus and waking up feel His power course through me. Such religious context is indisputable in my heart. I tried to recapture those dreams but often couldn’t.
Pain meds are potent stuff… Valium, Hydrocodone, Alprazolam — prescribed to relax my throbbing chest muscles, skin tightness of breast reconstruction and depression from a mastectomy. Dr. Korentager carefully monitored me, although initially, unbeknownst to me these meds influenced my dreams. Night after night, I’d have been a challenge to a dream analyst. Were my dreams a result of the narcs I didn’t know but I was terrified of addiction. It was a welcome lesson in psychology when the doc assured I would not become an addict if I only took the prescribed dose: strictly to alleviate the pain, not to avert pain. Dr. Korentager was very conscientious monitoring my dosage. I found he was right, it was not inevitable I’d become addicted. And I did not.
He prescribed Valium immediately after my surgeries, thus I realized how Valium affected my dreams while eliminating my chest muscle spasms. The by-product of killing my pain was intense, colorful, weird dreams. I dreamt of catching fish from clear blue waters (deep religious connotation), swimming and being in a boat caught up in a raging, flooded Missouri River. “a raging, turbulent or an overflowing river in your dream signifies that your life is feeling out of control. You are feeling emotionally unsettled. Alternatively, this dream means you are ready to confront life’s challenges and life’s twists and turns. To see a contaminated river in your dream implies that you are feeling tired and lethargic. It may also be a sign of some illness”
Go figure. Intrigued, knowing my passions, my husband was surprised to learn, recalling a few dreams to him, that my nightly slumber was not intrinsically sexual. He wanted some unadulterated erotic porn-dream … with a glint in his eye more curious than dumbass, he was fascinated with what I told him, always searching for the inner workings of a woman’s passions, especially of his wife. Yet, inept at using that knowledge for himself. Women are just too perplexing — I didn’t blame him for trying. His effort was amusing. He is still stumped. Haha sorry to disappoint!
Evidently, (I suspected) most amputees dream of walking on both legs, just as I dream both my breasts are still intact when I do. I really do not dream much of them in either sense, maybe due to the fact I’m no longer in such pain. (?) With serious respect, my reference to amputees is not flippant here, because in real life, my own sister’s leg had to be amputated due to severe staph infection. I understand how our dreams respond to the intense trauma of losing a part of your body — mine has. It’s vividly emotional and now I understand our brain copes as it lessens the pain by continuing as normal in dreams, at least for a while, till our brains make the adjustment. Still after three years I have phantom pain and rarely dream of my tumor nor my breast being cut off. Legs and breasts are precious. Joy is a survivor and so am I. If my cancer returns in the good breast, it’s called metastatic cancer and I’ll jump onto that operating table to salvage my life, not my breast.
After my mastectomy, it was reassuring to begin dreaming with sensual feeling; it gave me hope my innate desire would return after coping with the permanent loss of one breast. My dreams became extremely emotional, reminding me how that awesome undercurrent of sexuality controls our very existence. Yes awesome. Hope for normalcy. I dreamt of childhood scenes, my old neighborhoods, climbing to the tops of trees and even flying over them. And there was, occasional dreams of sensuality, some ghoulish bad dreams and nightmares, apparently also common with medication. One nightmare was so intense — and seemed to be horrifically prophetic about ISIS terrorists, considering the timeline of it.
Once my chest began healing, I wanted to simply let my sensuality regenerate naturally, not to over-analyze or be so calculated… Note to self: don’t overthink it. I wanted steady progression into a more sexually natural adult mode. But I kept tripping, for several months my pain meds (Diazepam) made the transition difficult, some nights were an X-rated Alice in Wonderland overload. I awoke in the wee hours feeling uncomfortable within a sense of mental distortion. Sexual dreams weren’t the source of my discomfort as much as surrealism like I was stuck in a freakish LSD ‘trip’ or Zombie crazed-psycho illusion — just weird and those stupid monsters. I was relieved when I no longer needed the drugs for pain.
My subconscious calmed down a bit from a drug-induced state into its prior moderate zone. I was also grateful I wasn’t addicted to Hydrocodone; although, a full night’s sleep eluded me without Alprazolam (Xanax). Dr. K suggested I take 3 mg. Melatonin herb. It worked wonders for me. It was a relief I wasn’t consumed by sleep all day as when I took Xanax, dreaming returned (more) to my typical patterns. Intermittently I began to slide back into getting restful nine hours. Yes, nine.
Mary Kate said those off-the-wall dreams, weird dreams are common with my medications. The occasional dream of sexual normalcy and being in one piece was reassuring. Like my sis dreams of walking on both legs, I dreamt that I still had my upper body intact. Even though much to Ed’s disbelief and somewhat disappointment, I informed him that women don’t often dream of our chests specifically. Sorry guys, that’s your fantasy.
It was a real challenge to write these dreams out as I recalled; I got shaky as I typed. Not many dreams were of my children and laughter, but bittersweet or violent, as I’ve said. One cannot deny deep emotions in dreams because the basis of our dreams is our raw selves.
Riding the silver Metro bus, it ambles up the long arc of the entrance ramp. As it lurches into high gear, joining the metallic wave of traffic, I sigh deep in the doldrums. My eyes scan the inner city’s ragged billboards, crumbling brick buildings and the muddy remnants of snow piled through the alleys. Winter’s blustery days tenaciously plague the cluttered streets of Chicago. The bus sped by the wretchedness, its bowels too deep for me to escape. The buildings surrounded me. I felt hatred. And desperately alone. My mood matched the city’s decadence.
A plague was in the alley; salty, pungent odor wafted through my nostrils. Nausea. it lay dismembered in a heap, in its blood. I watched red blood dribble down the stout blade in my hand, stone cold, empty eyes. Its head rolled sideways on the wet brick. The gory pool ran into the cracks, oozed out beneath the creature. I shivered with virile hatred as raw vengeance coursed through me. I released my skeletal grip of heavy metal, the axe clanged in slo-mo at my feet, grating on the cold pavement.
My brother’s yell, was it to help? I could not see into the dark alley. I ran, tried to find him, blood flicked off my hands. Blinded with rage, I blinked to see. All I saw was horror and anguish, claws and razor teeth, hair in a tangled whirlwind in the haze of midnight, street side. I could not see through the darkest recesses, death’s sour stench strung like bayou moss across its walls, trapping creatures in its web — bones and blood. Heart pounded in my throat– my blood–? I opened my eyes — choking… still dreaming
I stood trembling at the kitchen counter of the small, hot apartment, rats ate dry crumbs scattered in the corner of the floor. Suffocating hot breeze rattled shabby clothes clipped to a cord outside the open window. Cars honked incessantly in the streets below.
He gently dabbed my face with a wadded-up dish towel he grabbed from the dirty sink. Tears dry on my face; my gauze dress stained with blood. My knees shook uncontrollably.
His fingertips cool, his touch was tender but I winced anyway. My eyes burned, my brow was bruised and bleeding. My body was scratched, but here was refuge. My fragile heart torn. I would mend. (my thoughts) I’m salvaged and alive.
I couldn’t see the face towering over me, dark wavy hair hung below his wide shoulders. I heard the rats rummage in the corner again. A TV was loud outside the door; I tried to block it out. The man stroked tangled bloody hair out of my eyes with the damp towel… damp with my blood, and hair stringy from sweat and tears and blood. My blood was hot as the wind.
I clung to his comfort. Strong arms, gentle fingers wiped away my pain. My skin tingled. The burning tingle in my thighs rippled through my groin. He kissed my cheek. My lips. I opened my mouth, our tongues swirled in a deep kiss. I could not swallow, his strong body firmly pushed me onto the countertop. I felt only need. My bloody dress disappeared. I saw his arm muscles flex and dark chin hair when he lifted me up. I wrapped my bare legs around his hips, my knees dirty from the alley floor, my filthy hair stuck in his mouth. He gripped my body against his, hot, shivering. The next second he was gone.
Deliberately, in slow motion I walked down the metal steps. My cotton skirt rippled in the dusty wind against the steel rail. Oddly, I wore slippers …
I woke up. No beginning, no ending. Reality was as harsh. Stuck in the flow of violent society, feeling trapped in our politics and heinous crimes, imagined or real. I lived life through a brutal winter and a violent Chicago in the throes of racist wars. Just as violently, I decapitated whatever’s head of the monster which had attacked my breast. I awoke panicky from the bloodbath. Both dream and reality were Hell on earth to me. Was I stuck in 1974 or monster-ville or cancer?
I killed in terror. Horror-stricken at myself, middream grogginess sucked me back into sleep between beheading the monster and the dirty apartment, the dreams were painful, surreal. Furiously slashed someone or was it the Wendigo escaping those perilous haunts, lurking the alleys of my dream? Evil alive or dead? Oh! my God, I need my brother, his comfort and strength of family to stand beside Ed and me in this… I yearned for his faith in me. I walked away purposefully, unphased. My sleep was as ravaged as I felt inside. Scenes of ugliness and rage, a nightmare and pain turned sensual. Every woman knows. In a dream, a woman’s mind filled with romance is less likely as fleeting moments of erotic palpitation, in which dreamt freedom allows a woman to be free when awake — the life of a dream.
Typical dreams switch scenes without (cognitive) reason. Never had I before, those months, I had many recurring dreams of violently killing creepy, grotesque monsters and villains, outraged — wildly using using Kratos’ Blade of Chaos and a Mahican axe to cut off the T Rex’s head. I often woke in a fit, drenched in sweat, felt huge self-satisfaction to kill them — savagely, more vicious the kill, the better it felt — blood-thirst rules — my savage, animal side. My warrior had woken.
We can be as vicious as our enemy, without remorse, as dominating without conscience, as blood-thirsty to survive, as wicked as is alluring to men. A pattern evolves, even weird dreams lure us; our subconscious knows…
Two months after the first fat transfer surgery, my dreaming became less agitation, more entwined with surreal visions and the occasional lust of typical woman vibe. I was recuperating well and I began to feel more confident of my budding bosom. My new looks had begun to resemble my old self, but much better (without the insecurity) than a budding teenager. I began to feel energized with internal fires as my chest and torso healed and I saw my body start to look better than a stitched-up manikin. My prescriptions were reduced to ‘only as needed’. I finally had begun to reach a culmination to let my inner woman regenerate. A more sensually natural mode. A mature woman understands.
“…Got to open my eyes to everything
Without a thought, without a voice, without a soul
Don’t let me die here, there must be something more
Bring me to life (wake me up) – Wake me up inside (I can’t wake up)- Wake me up inside”
Springtime 2016 —
I rest my head on the metal piping of the swing, cold hardness against my forehead, my body sunken into the soft cushion as I swing in slow rhythm. Its motion and the train in the distance lull me like ocean waves breaking on the sand. Living across from a busy fire station, my dreams are interrupted, sirens infiltrate my dreams, sleep is turbulent, mind in constant dysfunction.
…the door handle slipped out of my hand — I was too focused on the encroaching gangsters to fumble for it — the door slammed behind me. Anxious, I nervously glanced into a troop of soldiers in WWII Army uniform. The cavalry. I watched the approaching men, caught a fleeting glimpse of my father inside the ranks, then he was consumed by the mass of armored faces. My stomach lurched, he was gone. They were disorganized for infantry grunts, I thought. Disappointed, I watched them disperse as I skirted ‘round the corner of the Plastic Surgery Office building. I’m strong. I am a fighter, or so they all keep telling me…Tense with expectation. My heart pounded with trepidation of an onslaught of rats flowing in a river, vermin causing mayhem. Gangs and mercenaries were famous here, perpetrated proud homes with ‘dishonor among thieves’ – false fame. Destroying familiar neighborhoods, infiltrating with AK’s laying claim as vicious as Islamic militants. The hair on my neck stood on end.
I hollered! ”Dad where are you?” Impending revolt out of control edged out the lazy summer. Oppressive summer heat, sweaty hands…
Pressing its cold hardness against my jaw, the .357 revolver reflected light off the polished silver barrel. Clenched teeth. I gripped the stout gun with whitened knuckles in tense readiness, my trigger finger twitching. Nerves charged to fight, impending doom. I stopped mid-stride. From outside the building I saw the flux of unattended families dining in the cafeteria anxiously waiting for a doctor’s comfort — the doc entered, from across the room smiled assurance to me.
BOOM ! The revolving doors blow apart! Disintegrated by an IED of glass shards, twisted spears of splintered steel. Pieces of concrete and granite chunks blew across the entry pavement, blasted out of the glass and steel volcano! The tiled ceiling canopy ripped from the girders, collapsing onto screaming visitors, running to escape the shower tile debris. Deadly as brimstone of a lava storm raining upon their helpless bodies.
The glass-filled blast thrust a young woman’s wheelchair violently through the bomb detonation — twisted revolving doors trapping her like a rabbit in a feral dog’s jaws. Her frail body hurled was into the barrage of fire and glass. Instantly decapitated in the glass implosion, the firebomb vaporized her blonde hair and flowered clinic gown. Her arms and legs ripped by the ripped raw steel from overhead inside the encircled doors – she was thrust through exploding glass. Her body cast into the raining crumbled granite and marble tile across the pavement. She was no longer human but a tangled mass of bloody, splintered, burning bones.
Black smoke billowed above fire raging inside the beautiful steel and shaded glass building with its once ornate polished marble elevators, and the mirrored glass walls collapsing. B-bat-bat-bat B-bat-bat-bat AR bullets hammered through the cafeteria windows shattering a boy’s chest. Blood spewed out his small chest, his body flopped into the panicking diners scrambling to find any way out from the bomb blast and the bursts of machine gun fire. Instantly blood squirted from his gaping wounds, shrapnel-shredded clothes drenched in blood. I saw his face reflected glow in the red pool on the herringbone carpet, blood spurted out the holes in his back, dripped heavily down the seat under him. Blood drooled from his crooked dead mouth. Ran down his arms. Everywhere. Windows shattered as more deadly bullets exploded through glass from AR rifles.
Shocked – my gaze on a man in black, slicing the air with a long black AK. My heart hammered in my chest. Terrorists! Dafuq? My intel was wrong. This was not a gang — an ISIS bomb! Shelves of water glasses shattered and more victims fell in the chaotic blood bath. Screeching in terror… Surrounded, few escaped in a mad scramble from the vicious ambush, a wave of black coats rushed in. A tactical killing spree. Calculated. Cold-blooded. Where’s that crazy zombie army?! Reeling, spinning, in a f’d up story that zombies might overpower ISIS thugs — I was desperate –grasping at straws —
My feet felt as though stuck in glue outside the slaughter of the fiery deluge. I could not run! I dropped. Bent low, I gritted my teeth, hunched in a crouch, fired the full cylinder at the black form who killed the boy barely spitting distance from me… face to face — but no face — bastard!
“you mothe…” I growled at him, his boots square, arms braced in aggressive — zeroed on me… blinding fire erupted from his black AK … blast deafened me. I hit the hot sidewalk. Crumpled in a heap, my neck jerked as my nose crunched onto the concrete… my teeth cracked, splitting my tongue. I tried to wake up … coughed and sputtered hot blood, I choked strangling me… gurgled in my throat. Disjointed legs sprawled under me on the grass. Blood pumped onto the manicured lawn. M-my blood… my arms unable to move. Couldn’t reload my gun… I cringed, gritting my teeth in agony I helplessly watched my fingers go limp… my .357 dropped, metal clattered– nails on glass in my ears.
I heard my heartbeat. beat. beat. hundreds of boots … Couldn’t see. The terrorists fled. ISIS gone. Ambulance door slammed. Somewhere a siren wail pierced my head, beat … beat … my chest mincemeat … Couldn’t speak, could not see through the heavy cloak laid over my face.
I woke with a shudder, gasping … evilessence! … what a death! Slept with my surgeon’s words in my head – to do what I wanted – I didn’t expect such a choice. The whole recon process did take a lot more outa me than I realized, my doctor seemed to know. Puzzled by my own attitude, have I not outgrown that stubborn teenage belligerence? Awakened and shocked by a nightmare with no choice, I can act on choices in life. The good of a bad dream – I realized that’s what nightmares are for. ‘It’s not the size of the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog’ … a not-so-subtle warning, to any not prepared to take a stand ‘n fight. All is good — I am awake and alive, ready to fight for my life. I believed my choices were justified and felt good about it…
Bigger tits simply was not on my bucket list. But there I was, next in line for boobies. The most anxiously awaited surgery. Implants. YAY normalcy!!
For Dr. Korentager to replace the soft plastic tissue expander with cohesive gel Silicone ‘Gummy Bears’. I never dreamed I’d be having such a thing as implants. Regardless of the final symmetry of both boobs, as a child of the seventies, the idea of fake boobs felt unnatural. Uncomfortable to me. However, not having the procedure was not an option. Too abominable. Month after month that finish line came closer. Yet only a sweet promise.
For months, I felt inhibited to wear any tank tops or anything cool, comfortable, or revealing any cleavage, since I didn’t have any. I initially took “selfies” just curious to see how I looked. Hey, I knew how I had looked, now I didn’t. But I got so discouraged and deleted most. The photos herein are a select few for your reference — a woman who is undergoing this same procedure can see to an extent what to expect.
The breast cancer anomaly … sidestepping this issue is totally impossible. Little resolve can be expected in a woman’s health and well-being if one or both breasts are not surgically removed or in the least, surgically incised by a lumpectomy. Having breast cancer leaves a woman no choices whether to let sleeping dogs or bears lie. Both demand immediate, forthright attention to survive breast cancer’s bite. I needed to feel good again. Feeling beautiful was too far of a stretch in the aftermath of recently removed bandages and drain bulbs. I felt tainted. I was in dire need to re-emerge my identity as a woman.
The tissue expander
Better than expected doctor visit. In my previous appointment, Mary Kate asked if I wanted to try to increase the injection of CC’s. No hesitation, ’Yes’ from 50 to 75 ccs, definite difference. I had not added them up thus far, just went along with it. But OUW! My boob moaned — more ccs was even worse for two days longer.
It felt just plain weird like a water balloon was being pumped up inside the hollow of my chest. ‘No pain, no gain’ another idiom, but this pain really sucked — it was fucking miserable, pardon le François. I can only compare the tissue expander to feeling as if a solid, hot microwaved soccer ball was jammed inside my chest. On the inside of what use to be my breast, my skin felt rigid but still numb and hot – I wondered about the numbness. Trisha said the nerves heal, one microcell at a time (not a cellphone). She said those spasms I had were the nerves rebuilding. My body was trying to mend itself. On occasion, my whole chest jerked for a second, like a jolt of electricity — really weird.
I tried to get small chores done. I got into the routine of taking a daily nap when I completely ran out of steam midway through the afternoon. Felt a tad on the lazy side but I just want to be healthy again so I conceded to doctor’s urging to get my rest… I’ve been called stubborn at times and nowadays I’m relying on that stubbornness to heal my body because I feel like a dog licking its wounds after being torn up by a Pitbull. No, it was that damn gator. I needed to gather some energy, get rested up. I’ve written pages that bared my soul about the pain, at times quite gut wrenching and exhausting.
keep pushing, have faith
I kindly recommend do not rely so much on cancer websites if you value peace of mind. The stuff you will see online is not the caliber of medical journals or talking to your trusty doc; you can easily waste hours and hours viewing online augmentation photos if you’re dealing with breast cancer reconstruction. Yes, I did. Then I got anxious and depressed because the photos online looked so much better than mine because my body was still in process. It was very unrealistic and caused way too much stress for me, not knowing what to expect, stubbornly acting like I had all the confidence in the world when I didn’t have the slightest bit. Subterfuge is not good when it applies to your health. I had to squash that lifelong habit.
But, you are gonna search anyway, so at least maybe turn ON the safesearch to prevent the plethora of sexually illicit websites and porn that will pop up in your search for legit breast reconstruction photos. The ‘dirty’ stuff may be kinda fun to browse through, uh, if you’re into that. But those photos are not posted by reputable specialists whose livelihood is to rebuild your tattered bosom and the real-inner-person after cancer. I came across thousands of photos of breast treatments, I really wish I hadn’t clicked on because they nauseated me. View the extreme ‘boob job’ photos with a grain of salt. They just ain’t the same.
Especially for breast cancer reconstruction, this link is not too awful: Question: what does a reconstructed breast look like?. Some women’s comments are inspiring and sympathetic, and despondent as well. Another proof-positive that I was in the right surgeon’s hands. They ranged from reconstructive disasters and discouragement, to successful treatments toward leading a fairly normal life after big C.
Skidded toward the downhill slide of my recon — two years and still couldn’t read the articles or stomach the cancer photos for research, not till later 2015, long after surgeries began. It was the ol’ deal I couldn’t stomach my own blood without fainting, remember that.
In one follow up appointment, Dr. Jew especially tried to steer me clear of looking at real breast cancer images online, too grotesque. she wrinkled her face and asked, “why look at those?” She clearly believed I needed to maintain a better ‘healing mode’ not looking at such gross stuff. Not wanting me to dwell on that crap. I appreciated her genuine concern, hard to find such a surgeon as Dr. Jew! I followed her suggestion. There’s only so much a woman can take. Only so much a patient should stomach. Forcing myself to look at the worst ugliness of breast cancer images was putting myself through hell. Not worth it.
Dr. Jew and Dr. Korentager, and Mary Kate assured me that my mastectomy recovery time would be months, not weeks. For some it takes years. Did for me. All my team urged me not to worry, be patient. Yet I wanted to run away from all of it. I’m accustomed to being strong and healthy and independent, suddenly I became quite the opposite. I hated the incessant struggle to heal my body and soul. My stress level skyrocketed. My BP rose, my migraines increased, my appetite got all screwed up, and my sleep (as I’ve said earlier) was screwed up. The reasons were as varied and unreliable as Missouri’s weather. First, a long frigid winter, right into a hot bitch of a summer. There seemed no happy medium — I was very anxious — couldn’t hide it from Mary Kate or Dr. Korentager. I quit trying.
Winter had long overstayed it’s welcome… As the injections progressed, I entered the exam room; Mary Kate must have sensed my anxiety, seen it on my face. I could not swallow, I was struggling to maintain composure, so many unanswered questions running through my head. I had spring fever. I’d had a rough week. Grief, I had not been through this stuff before and I felt really cranky, on the verge of falling apart. She paused mid-exam and reassuringly explained in more detail how the reconstruction is done.
She laid her hand on my arm and assured me smiling, she gets restless too. I don’t readily fall apart in tears but I was feeling very fragile and vulnerable. A good nurse just knows — “yeah, winter’s being way too stubborn, spring is long overdue”. I laughed a little, glad for her humor. It takes a good nurse to make me laugh when I had felt like a bug squashed under someone’s muddy boot a second ago. Although I was inclined to put on a good facade, it was obviously a lost-cause to be so stoic, even in public. Mary Kate understood. I finally believed I was in the best hands. I took huge comfort in KU’s reputation of breast cancer treatment.
Like the injured dog, I understood that Mary Kate and the rest of the staff knew what I was dealing with, my struggles were palpable by the sheer fact that I sat in that office. I gratefully admired their compassion for me and other patients — all the staff in that sleek, glass office had a gentle composure that made me feel comfortable despite all the cancer (you know, the elephant) in the room. After seemingly persistent questioning Mary Kate reassured me I’d love the results.
“You’re doing great!” is what she ALWAYS said. It took all my stamina and positive thinking for me to feel it. I wanted desperately to feel empowered that I’d look and be normal again.
I kept writing–
Spring emerged… Finally!
WOW! It was 78 degrees! I got ambitious. I raked up all the dried up doggie poo piles of the winter. S-o-o-o-o by 9 p.m. I got all comfy on the sofa to watch some TV. Except that my chest muscles hurt too bad after all that arm activity. Tears welled up. Ed was getting ready for work, seeing my discomfort gave me a pain tablet that I had stubbornly avoided until I got to that point, which I was at. He held me. How does a typical guy not chew his wife’s ass knowing I’m a workaholic, anxious to get outdoors, to do what? Just longing to get my hands dirty. For once I listened when he whispered reassurance, “this is the ‘in sickness and in health’ part”. I leaned into his shoulder and cried. Soon I tediously crawled under the covers into bed, no longer able to remain conscious.
Ed’s co-workers all asked about my progress. I became an overnight hero to all my ex-Hallmarker co-workers, their outpouring of caring was awesome. Made me feel more like I belonged than when I was a regular employee. Most are still friends, especially those few who attended our wedding ceremony that blistering hot August morning in 2005. Ed gave them only bits and pieces of info, any Liberty Hallmarker knew he had no time to stand around for chitchat even if it was in the least justified to relay progress reports about me. I used to act tough as nails in that warehouse in the race for my 480, struggling against the clock, pushing friends away. Nowadays I prayed those friends would forgive it was only my job, that now I sought true friendship without a time clock.
My positivism struggled over the first quarter months of 2014. I faltered, got up and slipped again. Nobody likes to feel vulnerable, especially with the whole world watching (at that point ‘the world’ was my family and close friends who knew about my breast cancer). Yes sympathetic, however, they knew my smiles, my optimism, me being strong. They’ve never seen me exhibit such weakness, such major illness, such emotional disparity. Me so mad as hell. I tried to chill. I called myself cranky, on pain killers.
Amid “hi, how r u”, my daughter texted, “ur being biatchy” after one of my complaints. She knew me well, and dared say-so, so I took it. I knew my people were uncomfortable, but forgiving of my extreme moodiness. I could not seem to squelch it. This. But this was difficult to contain and at times really, I didn’t want to. It suffocated me! Day after day I made a little headway, then slipped in the mud. At that point, my moods were sporadic and a tad bit volatile while I attempted to regroup.
Borderline “clinically depressed”. I hate labels. I was near clinical, I don’t mean to say I was constantly depressed. But this was all so very different, more, so much more weight on my back. I got very impatient and could not hide the overwhelming moodiness from my mastectomy to the last week of the injection before my implants surgery.
The tight pressure of the tissue expander under my skin hurt — the hog was getting plump. I fought sleeping slightly sitting up. I believe my crankiness was because of lack of a good night’s sleep and that spurred migraines as well. I was unable to sleep on my left side, sooooo very uncomfortable. I read a lot. Reading other women’s experiences helped me to recover some sanity. And Xanax eased my stress and muscle pain, Dr. Korentager prescribed.
Stress and my active imagination caused such helplessness— everything was difficult. Although a woman certainly will acknowledge it’s acutely warranted, it’s futile to presume she can rationalize that such a precious body part as her breast must be cut away, dissected and destroyed. I didn’t want to read details of the pathology report. I had frightful dreams of my breast surgery. I was so unsure, never before second-guessing my faith, sought redemption with music. Awesome dreams of fishing with Jesus was my only consolation during sleep. Nonetheless in my sagacious mind I was entrenched in Hell. Swallowed in those awful moments, it was solely by the grace of God that my depression diminished into a manageable issue. I was shredded all over the floor, such an uncomfortable feeling. Depression and feeling insignificant to disease caved in to loneliness. Damn idioms. After I let go tears with Mary Kate, Dr. Korentager put me on low dose Xanax which helped elevate my depression as well as the painful breast muscle contractions.
Striving to overcome my depression by reading other women’s stories and watching many YouTube’s of women’s recoveries, affirmation of my feelings of total upheaval. I learned it was a natural response. Relief trickled in. I felt tiny solace, slowly acknowledging all the trauma (and its drama) into being more manageable. Yet, by no stretch of the imagination could I disengage my whole psychological experience amid healing from a mastectomy into simple cognitive reason. I just couldn’t do it. It was not a simple challenge; my will had lost control.
I had no excuse not to dig up my own dirt, with time on my hands. To really dig into myself about my relationships. Empathy. My daughter’s anguish, and her frustration that I had always strove to be so strong, made her feel like a failure. Some of that was my own stronghold on life, a facade to keep plugging away. Was hers to emulate mine? Because if so, she was destined to failure. Some traits shouldn’t be inherited. But I saw it was her own life. I didn’t pressure her to help after my surgeries. First time in years I took my advice and saw I would have to admit wrongs that needed to mend. Damn that fence was high. After our split that winter day, she had said she hated me, I repulsed her. This was not a toddler temper tantrum — my daughter’s anger had merit — as an adult. I knew it was also fear talking. I had no right to question her fears any more than my own, nor she had the right to doubt my suffering from breast cancer. What justifies anyone to say one woman’s suffering is dependent on their ‘stage’, a unilateral or bilateral mastectomy, or preventative? Cancer is cancer, we all fear the same. Ceasefire!
Months rolled by in stubborn reserve, only a text now and then. My heart burst getting a Christmas card/photo of my granddaughter. I knew then she too believed in being my daughter; she deserved to see Mum’s love again. She too tried to be too strong. Wow, that’s a new one, acknowledging we both had the right to be comforted. It had taken nearly a year for us to enact some semblance of a truce. A text every other day. I hoped to give her such deserved comfort and it’d give me comfort too. Win-win. Well, I swore to be positive, again I let texts be my voice to cautiously peek through the door to tighten the knot. Of course, she knew. I also knew it had to be done for us to survive the rest of my BC trial and for her own motherhood. I sent her pic nuggets of my other granddaughters enjoying special time with Gramma. I had no intention to let any child of my family sit ignored in the back seat. Every child deserves to feel and see Gramma’s love and not wait for that perfect Kodak moment.
I had breast cancer. There. I said it. Out loud. I had a mastectomy. I am a survivor. And a gramma who needs her grandchildren near.
After three months of doctor visits I began to accept that I was healing and alive, and cancer free. I accepted being a cancer patient as it transformed my world into a breast cancer survivor’s world. I had to get proactive. That mindset gave me hope and the guts to keep writing and out of just surviving, but living!
Doctors, staff and other women I met, my people reaffirmed my sense of belonging (recall that Hierarchy?) that I needed so badly. Especially my grandkids put a smile back on my face! They were my little glimmer of hope! Flowers, texts and invites to school events, all pushed me towards a better recuperation than I first believed was possible. I finally started to get back to my old self, not feeling even partially womanly yet, but at least I began to cut loose from that sad, deep achy feeling like when my Sweetie-girl, Abby died. I’m alive and kicking — an idiom worth writing.
Breast cancer is brutal, virulent — a monstrous nightmare — and impossible to wake up from. We dream of a cure. We run. We hope, to benefit a world of cancer patients amid breast reconstruction.
Science and humanity struggle with all the diagnoses to alleviate our fears. Take your pick of old sayings to put your fears into perspective. Doctors will say I’m crazy, comparing disease to idioms and monsters. But it’s the only way I could transpose my fear into a manageable entity to conquer it. If you are reading this as a breast cancer patient, don’t be scared to be scared. I won’t lie or ‘pull any punches’, having breast cancer, having my mastectomy, yeahp my boob amputated scared the shit out of me. I had lost all control.
Finally come July, and my surgery check-in. Ed was offered free breakfast as I sat waiting in the hospital reception area. I watched other women come and go. One couple obviously younger than I exited, his arm around her shoulder as she clutched the plastic info-folder, her eyes misty with fear. This is for those women. How traumatic it felt to go home, to face discussions, undergo all my mastectomy, seven hospitalizations, waiting rooms, and all the psychological crap.
Hubby ‘n me
Throat knotted up and my eyes swelled with tears, the full load on how I’d feel if I was the one in that waiting room, in my mind, recalling the fun times fishing or an oohlahlah moment with the one person who gives me tunnel vision. And laugh, despite all else. I threw all trivial crap on the back burner. I felt utter, total love for the man who stood by my hospital bed.
I woke at 4 a.m. and texted Ed on our anniversary … “I haven’t been much the sexy romantic but know that I love you, darlin’ you are the world in my heart…” he’s always stealin’ kisses…
Haven’t felt such extreme emotional upheaval to give me cause to cry… uncontrollably. Menopause on steroids. Except I’d already been there, did the menopause thing. All my life I’ve been told I exhibit so much strength, at times I even appear stoic, showing too much control. Till I was alone. Then the poker face falls off. A few weeks after my surgery I curled up with Sasha. She licked my face and I cried.
As much as I have deep faith, I cannot quote a single Bible verse unless I look it up, but somewhere in the Bible it says that God “blessed” us with tears. I guess the Almighty knew we must have an outlet for our pain and grief, sadness and even happy tears because we’re human. It does relieve the stress! That’s good for my recovery. I found this:
“Tears are a sign of sadness. Sadness touches others’ feeling, whereas laughter cannot touch others very deeply. Laughter is something on the surface, whereas grief comes from within. Since grief comes from a person’s inner being, it must also enter the inner being of others. All who have experience in human life acknowledge this. The shedding of tears is a sign of a broken heart. Therefore, before tears can flow from the eyes, they must first flow from the heart. It is meaningless to shed tears when the heart is not pained.”
Facing facts … I had become a statistic — I hate stats – the cold reality. But what about my husband? He does stats. He was more stalwart, ever my companion, bedside and out. Ed may be the jokester but he’s the number-doer. All I cared about was I had to rebuild my body; he understood the self-confidence and my femininity; not to mention my sensuality. My husband only cared that I was recovering. He made it a point to remind me my survival was what mattered to him. Sometimes with a catch in his throat, definitely got my attention with a quiver of nerves. (He has a way of being direct as an arrow to make a point. No pun here.) The rest would be worked out somehow. Sounds simple enough. I was grief-stricken, overwhelmed at what lie ahead. But as rational as he put on, I knew he harbored fears and concerns too.
It’s what sparked this memoir. First, as just notes to myself, then diary style, finally pages of raw, emotional rhetoric and photos and videos that hopefully will help some women get through the same damn thing as I have. All my feelings into one lumped summation. And not being alone. My sense of self felt damaged. But over many months, Ed showed me patience as close to my mother as a guy could be. Sensitivity by holding me, reassuring me, said I was still beautiful to him and the best part of his life. Though I didn’t feel attractive anymore (not in the least bit) I saw the softness in his eyes of genuine love. That kept me going even when I couldn’t go out with my fishing and hunting partner. I stowed that little tidbit in my heart. Obviously, I was rebuilding the body part of me too, but with chemistry underneath, no wonder the strength of his arms felt so good, still made me feel those little butterflies. I love flutterbies
My whole support, my lover, my hunting-fishing buddy, my lovable, teddy bear. He’s got my ‘six’. Throughout this book, I try to relate how he dealt with my breast cancer with his feelings as well as my own. It’s not so easy to put somebody else’s boots on, but our lives together have been interwoven like threads in a security blanket … soft and strong. He took charge of my well-being in ways I used to take for granted, often fixed dinner while I convalesced and I never got sick from his cooking … or rotisserie chicken. mmmmha!
We met working at Hallmark Cards, but five years ago he transferred into the ten-story warehouse as a specialist; working graveyard, he’s on the wind-down as I’m waking up. Damn nice to wake up to him bringing me an occasional hot cup of coffee as I wiped sleep from my eyes recovering from surgeries! A tad anal in my kitchen, I closed my eyes and bit my tongue not to seem ungrateful if the dishes didn’t always get done and the new granite counter wasn’t scrubbed and polished. We’d put our sweat and love of natural materials into our kitchen remodel, then months later my body got remodeled. I got sledgehammered from the mastectomy that remodeled my life.
Right about the time of my surgery our old dishwasher gave out. My son had a newer, larger one he’d kept in his basement ‘just in case’. He gave it to us. I was so proud of both jack-of-all-trades-fix-it guys whatever needs done. Proud of my son for giving us the machine and my husband for hauling it into the house and installing it in less than an hour so I wouldn’t have to wash dishes by hand. In fact, he would not let me lift the cast iron skillets I always cook with. It was six months before I had strength in my left arm to lift one small iron skillet.
Ed calmly said, “why do I need to read it? I’m with you every day.” Yeah, he’s normally an unruffled kind of guy but my breast cancer affected him — deeply. It’s typically the younger guys who cry or act scared, right? Wrong. Mine was worried sick. Nonetheless what they may say, they are very affected. His best buddy told me a while ago that Ed broke down with him — Reese confided to me my husband cried. I knew. I wasn’t surprised, and he wasn’t ashamed, but it was reassurance and a pertinent reminder his feelings counted as much as mine through all of this stuff. Ed loves the “FXCK Cancer” phrase — started by a man, really hits the nail on the head. If I said it as much as I thought it, my profanity would be on overload …
He cried with me only twice since my diagnosis. It was evident he tried to be strong for me, but just how can any man be stalwart all day, every day, at home with his wife in recovery, in pain, nearly helpless after surgery, only recently having been cured from possible death? Removing those bandages revealed a very ill wife; I can’t let my fears overshadow the fear my husband has had of maybe losing his wife. Love makes life fun — but is not a game any more than death. He gave me flowers occasionally and yes, even vacuumed.
After those first most difficult, angry months, I became much more sensitive with him. We depend on each other for support, bottling it all up isn’t conducive to a loving partnership. Some plans and things we’d always done got put on hold, but life goes on, including resolve within our marriage as well. My husband gets a shit-eatin’ grin on his scrubby-bearded face, razzes me, says I talk ass-backwards being from that ‘foreign country’ Iowa… “okay so I’m corn fed, but cows are dumb — not us women — besides I’m a ‘Show-me’ gal now” Ya gotta chuckle.
Following spring turkey season… After I cleaned each bird, one got roasted for Easter dinner. Unbeknownst to me Ed salvaged those ugly turkey feet out of the trash. My sentimental, crafty husband hand-hewed the knives from old steel files he dug out of an old greasy box stowed in the garage. (I have since rethunk playing pitch-maester of junk in his old greasy boxes.) He scavenged a bit of copper piping, epoxied the blade into the spur bone and rubbed each with linseed oil for smoothness of my grip. The bone, solid as a rock. Handcrafted from the spurs off those two gobblers.
I’d always thought men were being silly ‘cavemen’ bragging how long a gobbler’s spurs were but these knives were too cool about all that! I had no clue he’d made them till he surprised me that night. He always has a way of surprising me when I’m looking the other way. He wasn’t done yet.
Then he pulled the turkey tail mount out of the spare room. He had my biggest gobbler tail all mounted, ready to hang up! Plus, knives I can really use. One is tucked inside the soft leather sheath he made and the other is displayed in the oak stand he also built, atop his Hallmark 25-year anniversary clock, next to our ancient box TV.
For me, it was a very emotional moment to cherish beautiful, thoughtful gifts. Obviously, my mastectomy affected my husband too, and he wanted to surprise me and see me smile after such a crappy winter, stuck on the sofa after surgeries. I choked up with more genuine, happy tears than I had had in a long time.
My lovable tough-guy. Well, after twenty months since my mastectomy, at least our l’amore’ had recovered some, which of course abated some depression. He didn’t mind the difference or lack of one nipple. We made up for it in spontaneity. Strong comfort that he’d hug and spoon me without reserve, saying I got it whatever, ‘uh je ne quoia?’) with his wry shyster grin. Dunno, I just shrug and smile — wow, sexy going on 61 years was pretty amazing. However, I still didn’t brag I was in remission. Didn’t feel it yet. At least, I learned men don’t care about those imperfections that women fuss over.
Feeling like a whole woman again is the reason for all reconstruction. It took me months to feel anything beyond mere affection. Not calloused, but nothing passionate. Mentally, I got better. I felt our love had deepened with all the hubbub of my reconstruction. Somehow, we both beat it. When the worst seemed to be over, we dove back into our passion for love and life with no hesitation. And that is the root of our marriage, what the Lord designed us to feel. That’s why we hooked up. Indoors and out hunting, that zing is delicious and addictive.
Frankly, after helping each other bear it, I couldn’t hold it in any longer, after months of struggle and pain, passion bloomed inside me again. Happy tears ran down his chest. No subtlety, no way to hold back. I shivered, tingling sensations in my real breast again that sparked his. My husband’s touch no longer an ache in my heart. We smiles to recall it.
YouTube age-restricted vid: a real mastectomy surgery (removing a tumor the surgeon calls ‘extensive’)
This may be too gross for some. Especially if ya got a weak tummy about discolored, decaying body tissues. For months, it was too much for me anyway. Not to be antagonistic, but I pray for those do-gooders, those who doubt it really happens, those who don’t trust that doctors can heal most breast cancer. Even at Stage 4. Overdramatic? doesn’t matter. Whether the cancer’s in food or water or carcinogens in the air, or hidden deep in my DNA, I couldn’t deny its reality.
These is NOT pretty pictures but it’s what breast cancer really looks like. It’s enough to make ya puke your breakfast.
It is damn hard not to have a ‘tude when my heart races all over again at the thought of breast cancer. Web images are only for awareness – breast cancer’s only preventable with mamms — do not think pink — that’s just a popular color. October is my birthmonth, not for special attention of a mastectomy.
DO something positive for yourself. Maybe puking is the only way for you to grab that ‘tude by the balls and face that only you can take care of you. Only you can schedule a mammogram, only you walk into that lil’ exam room, not fear, but know you’re healthy. Only you will resume your life after a mastectomy or chemo or reconstruction, so go ahead ‘n live your life with a smile – dump the ‘tude. Breast cancer patients don’t ask anyone to be sympathetic, but nobody’s gonna criticize a little given.
Rethink … By this stage of my treatment, I re-examined my beliefs that had a choke hold on my attitude to hike up that Hierarchy pyramid. That Hierawhat? Remember the ‘psycho’ pyramid? About our sense of belonging? Yeah, when I thought about what my real needs are, being cured, even as I endured pain, other women were coping with worse rigors of treatment. And to be honest, at first, I had guilt pangs that I had only one breast removed and no radiation, no chemo, Stage 1 not Stage 4. Like a kid acting sick to get out of a thing she’s scared about at school, moments I truthfully wished I had chemo and lost my hair just to prove I understood those women’s pain. (!) Sounds ludicrous — but my empathy worked overtime lately. We’ve all teased to have a bad hair day, so I think about that. Those chemo gals ain’t dumb, especially when the truth shows through your eyes.
What about plenty of gals from podunk USA who get cancer and don’t be impressed by good grammar or my history or doctors or whatever. You gals listen up. What’s really up with breast cancer IS IT’S nothin’ to screw with. Git yer butts to the clinics for that yearly MAMM. And pay yer mind to the nurse lady no matter yer results. You’ll sleep best to know that you got normal boobs – no worries! Ya know a clinic has women from all incomes, some has kids, some wear cool shoes, may drive a beater like my Jeep. Ya never know and remember, cancer don’t care. Just sayin’…
One appointment, I watched kindly faces, women sifting past the phlebotomist chair as she drew my blood. They saw I have my hair — two women’s eyes locked on mine, tiny smiles lingered. I didn’t blink in shame and neither did they. After two visits at the Lee’s Summit clinic, I figured out there was not the slightest inkling of jealousy from those disease-stricken women. We all have our own strengths and nobody can rip kindness from someone just because cancer tries. More keep on smilin’ — sakes, I’ve run into crankier, healthy women in the grocery store. Here I was, accepted in this circle of women… it sounded like bullshit before, but that hierarchy is justified. Cancer survivors’ social circle is blessed…it’s okay to be there.
Breast cancer treatment is rough – my feelings were valid … on my routine wellness visit late summer 2015, Dr. Virginia Robine had this to say:
I mentioned to Dr. Robine others have had worse cancer, she was incredulous. “How? Why is yours only? so insignificant?”
I stammered, “right! I’m not.” She had the opinion I had suffered enough, shown real resilience since my diagnosis and complimented my writing. Our conversation stuck to my ribs, and spawned an attitudes expose´. Most of us have close-minded ‘tudes and we damn-well know it. Does no good.
A woman after a mastectomy must not undermine her own pain or belittle any progress, but believe in her own capacity to get back up. And K-I-C-K A-S-S. How? Kick ass old beliefs, laziness and do NOT put the kids first, rather take care of y-o-u-r own self, that’s how. You have only one life. You deserve your complete attention to heal, then comes your ‘circle’, not them first. They will follow your lead. Those who truly care know you can’t live through them, you must put your own needs first to overcome breast cancer. That’s your ONLY way to live on.
Despite the ravages of surgeries, my cancer drove that circle tighter on itself. Back to the doctor, WHY hadn’t I learned anything?? Truthfully some issues simply don’t go away but just seem to get rearranged, or worse, inadvertently misconstrued over and over. I could not believe after all my years of rebuilding my self-esteem, and self-education to be a better part of society after a disastrous first marriage, I had come to believe that that was at the root of anything I’d accomplished. Yet there I fell on my ass without warning in Robine’s office. I chewed myself all the way down the elevator, booted myself for being so damned fake if I didn’t really believe I deserved to heal and be happy.
Years of a see-saw relationship but in our core, mom and daughter always salvaged ourselves. I soon answered the ‘why’ with a mother’s heart. Then I could forgive myself and understand how my own mother faced death. I’m adjusting to be rid of those godawful monsters. Lord gave me love and inimitable power I’d never felt before to keep me from plummeting into Satan’s hole. By the grace of God, I was not dead – the pneumonia died, not me.
Sometime in the spring our skins softened – my newborn granddaughter melted both mother’s hearts.
My soul died that day I kicked her out. I saw my first husband’s scorn in her those terrible months, and my pride was not worth being the cause of that shift. Neither of us was truly in the right and our blood was thick, like my brother. I built that damn brick fortress in reflex when Bob died. Now, Lord knew it was time to get out the sledgehammer. Knock it down! So, my estranged daughter and me tested the waters… exchanged treasured pics (below) and texts. She called me on my 59th birthday while I took Sashie for a nice walk. Our first phone conversation in nearly a year… surprisingly easy conversation, no tense moments or wariness. I practically ran lil’ Sashie with new zest. Ed was not surprised when we hooked up for a coffee date.
No more dread. Mum-daughter gab. I didn’t know what I’d say but assure her I’d never ignore her pain or love for me again. We gently applied Lanacane to our wounds vowing to not ‘go there’ again. No sense to pour salt in old wounds. No criticism allowed. Our tears were calm and unashamed. Our bond was very reassuring for us both, all cards on the table. Not to gamble with my daughter’s heart.
If I’ve done nothing but wallow in my own pain, it reflected hers. We sat in my Jeep, I let her know I acknowledged her as an adult, she’d seen tough times, didn’t need my adulterated advice, but rather I opened my heart, not to waste another day. It was that simple. As ‘Doc’ Johnson used to say, “good move.” With that in our pockets, peace filtered into my sleep. Adrian invited me over for Erika’s birthday. We bought hot coffees — Erika climbed the big oak tree at the train station, so much the tree frog as her mom and me.
I vowed not to repeat One Blessed Night; raised to rely on myself, but with the severity of breast cancer, prayer would dispel my fears. Hokey or not, every day I whisper solely for Jesus’s ear. Every cell in me believes Jesus helps me out of the muck; He walks with me. He gave me some patience to better endure this tedious, long road I was headed on. … no yellow brick road. I guessed it’s HIS job to kill that damn Rougarou. There is no witty quote that is worth pain. I’m special only for God. Of course, my husband is number one on Earth; but I learned long ago as a widow, before I entered my 2nd marriage, that I’m not on this Earth to please anyone but God. My 2nd husband is supportive and manly, my biblical partner while God supports my spirit and my life.
My suffering doesn’t matter to thousands of other breast cancer patients, with all due respect. I began to comprehend, my recovery was not any different than women who’ve had the crap beat outta them, struggling after rape, addiction, or abuse. Too many women have long since buried those horrible memories and become the ‘survivor’ same as I did. Likewise, we know our baggage doesn’t go away so easily. We’d both been down that road. We must get through it. And get over it. By comparison, no it isn’t the same for men. A woman is wired to cope with physical pain as an emotional burden as well. Being compassionate towards other women did not give me a go-to-church pass, only meant I was human — and coping. Not so easy to begin that one. Women all suffer, relying on each other to deal.
We all deserve to feel special, heal with respect and understanding, rebuild from the inside to cope with what’s outside. No woman compares notes to judge. No adversity is less qualifying of sympathy or empathy for worse stage breast cancer than me. Cliché as it sounds, it’s life altering to really understand the attitude not to have a damn ‘tude.
I had been failing at my own mantra: don’t try, just do it. After so many trials over the years I had to! To heed my doctor’s words demanded I go way beyond the physical. I had to reconcile my own reconstruction was as much of a bitch as though I’d had a bilateral and chemo and radiation. That meant I had to heal my psyche and my relationships. No more excuses. Why? Remember the gist of how intertwined physical pain was with emotions. I faced my tumor head on. My cancer. I thought of my mother – tasted my mother’s eagerness to turn anguish into acceptance. I saw how love freed her spirit. My mother had already set the example for me not to have a bad attitude. Her strength showed me don’t fear to face death, lest you fear to live. I can’t always act so zealous but it is in my heart to!
Why bother? Why write? Why care?
Enduring all my reconstruction, the more I wrote poetry, the more I felt my breast cancer scars disintegrate from me. Pain and angst and fears are still clawing their way out and my self-preservation won’t let me harbor those feelings that prohibit me to heal. A very potent force.
Once I recognized I cared about my own health and my own mind being free of the stigma of cancer, I bothered writing with more fervency than ever, for me to move on. I have more living to do. Putting it to paper, gettin’ it down was a huge relief, diaries and poetry.
From our emotional experiences comes poetry… words flow in cadence like a song. There needn’t be sentences, but it flows like a ballet of words; thought set to dance, music into rhetoric. Some rhyme, as with Shakespeare, most mine does not. My husband says I write like a painting, t’s just like in dreams, poetry is raw emotion. Interpreted freely from whatever images are conjured up. Simple or complex, beauty or drama, only the writer knows the true meaning… spoken mystery revealed subtly or not.
Writing poetry by hand satisfies my soul. Like music, e-v-e-r-y bit therapy for me, I put poetry to paper with grueling emotional candor as the cancer treatments repaired my body. There’s just something about scribbling feelings out with a pen, comfy pillows at my back. My emotions exude when a pen is in my hand, flowing onto paper in a genuine way that a keyboard cannot do. I edit with the keyboard, but creativity flows by hand. My signature is scrawl, hard pressure and fluidity of loops reminiscent of my ancestor’s hands.
… just words, pretty words, the equally empty book end to once upon a time, but our lives aren’t determined by myths and storybooks, star-crossed destiny. Not by what we’re told is meant to be.
Why — a little reprieve from the nightmare of breast cancer. Best part of my recovery. I didn’t care about rhyme. Unlike my dreams, there is no analysis, don’t want to spoil the rule of poetry: read for pure enjoyment that which the author wrote… Hmmm, I’d say Chaucer knew women well.
It’s great consolation there is no happily ever after, because it means you never need to fail;
that clock is only ticking in my own head.
Freedom to make my own mistakes.
I am capable of my own story and I decide what I make of it no matter what the world says,
no matter the game of the day…. not up for debate.
Not to be condescending because our stories are all about life’s choices. I quietly headed downstream. My canoe never toppled. [summer 2015]
Trembling with loss of control, undeniable and exposed. Inner self is innate, untamed and powerful.
Every woman knows it, feels the longing, however we push it down.
It’s strangling me, churning. I can’t ignore too much pain my body is in, I bide my time, and quietly suffer.
Love’s quest is just beneath the surface, passion subdued.
Danger lurks! Raise my weapon, I must gather strength!
The facade yields … fills me with hope.
Passion reigns again. I conquer. I will be rejuvenated with dragon’s blood pulsing.
Devoid of all rational thought.
Emotions swell and churn in me, engulfed in sorrow, an endless surge of tide.
Control is lost to the depths of need — to experience feeling once again.
Danger lurks with sinew tensed for flight to safety from exposure of enemy’s sword.
Safety is sought with warmth and strength, who yearned to be against my breast.
Fear of losing a game long forgotten, instinct for survival draws nearer.
Is it over? Gone, never to be played again.
Another game is begun – my skin remembers its fire.
My consciousness lured into oblivion in a climactic embrace.
Bittersweet aromas arouse my senses into insatiable passion freely given. It is not over.
Instinct beckons again to share in our revival — engulfed, its allure revives my spirit.
Altered course, I became lost, we fumbled, readied for a fight.
No rules exist, but for the fittest of love.
Companion once pungent; our new game is true;
Lust nurtures our game, our heat embodied into one love.
I am awakened, engulfed deep in his spirit.
His sweet touch brought my memory alive.
The enemy is gone. [summer 2016]
In the great scheme of things, I don’t even try to understand what the purpose is to all of this –
My chest hurts like hell after the injection today.
Bending, turning, leaning over feels like a hot soccer ball stuck in my chest…stabbing pain. It’s hard to take a deep breath, pressure on my breastbone.
Over 500 ccs of saline injections, I look normal now with clothes on.
My skin is stretched so tight around the plastic expander inside my chest cavity. I want to RIP IT OUT!
Disgust with the world dissolves with my many prayers resolving faith in my family. I am learning ‘needy’ is not bad.
Sometimes I can’t control the ache in my heart, with a twisted smile and a crack in my voice, on the verge of tears.
Strength is not always best as people think — I felt like a liar. Subterfuge.
I did not feel in the least bit strong. All I wanted was to snuggle under a cozy security blanket of my husband’s arms and nuzzle with my Sashie-girl.
You and I-(nobody-in-the-world); it’s the FEMALE spirit.
While I sat waiting for my consult with Dr. Korentager I read a pamphlet of all the myriad of sizes, shapes and types of implants. All the numbers and technical terms listed with the photos were a bunch of hieroglyphics to me. I felt intimidated thinking I’d have to make a choice which ‘form’ was best for my new bust. Enter Dr. Korentager. Intrigued, I watched as the docster carefully laid his surgical protractor across each sides of my breasts along the mastectomy scar and each side of my normal breast. My husband jovially disputed my opinion but, it was my bone structure which indicated the size of my new implants not my plan for big boobs, and the surgeon confirmed what I had known for years. The numbers from his measurements, added to the diameter of my entire mastectomy tissue was the factor the doc used to calculate the proper size of my implants. Yet Dr. Korentager promised I’d be very happy with the result. I hoped he was right.
July 18, 2014 11:00 a.m.
HAPPY DANCE TIME!!
I often marked the calendar but that day was special … that day I got my implants!
In recovery… Ed took my pic to send to friends and family. Poor guy got his ass chewed — all our friends said I looked like walking death. My bad – guess, that prior reassuring Facebook posts, my pics had just a little bit more preparation, a few were shocked. HA! They ain’t seen nothin’ yet. But this was the real me minutes out of surgery, only because I was barely conscious — I didn’t care either.
But, what typical husband cares how his wife looks with no makeup and mussed up hair, only two seconds out of surgery? Mine didn’t. Knowing what’s truly important, Ed had patiently waited for my gurney to be wheeled into the recovery cubical. Blind as a bat without my glasses, his face was one of the first I saw with my blurred vision. I didn’t care about that either — my man was with me. I was groggy but happy. He was always by my side as I woke from surgeries, teasing me with what he’d had for breakfast, since he knew I’d be starving soon as I became awake. Coffee … where is some COFFEE??
ALL the mammary tissue was removed in my mastectomy; all 631 grams … for those who don’t know, boobs are mostly made of fat tissue. Breasts go much deeper into the chest cavity than our bra cup size gives the appearance of. My underarm lost all of that fatty tissue¹. I never expected my pit would have so much fat — come to find out Dr. K injected nearly three pounds back into that void (later in the fat transfer surgeries) to feel normal-ish again.
Doctor’s orders mandated I could not drive while taking Hydrocodone prescribed for my pain.
How did I feel? Once home, I awoke from my opiate state realizing my areola and nipple were sutured.
WT?! WHY would any other woman in her right mind have this done to healthy breasts just to get bigger boobs?!!?
I had expected relief removing that damned tissue expander. I had no idea — never had I experienced such instant sharp pain and ouchness as this!!
By the fourth week, underarm skin sagged — post-op scar fading on the mastectomy side
Waterproof clear surgical wrap and antimicrobial taped both implants
Recovery is best assured by wearing that hospital-issued elasticized frock after surgery as much as possible, same as post-mastectomy. For me it was vital for comfort; I wore the cotton elastic frock always, every day for a full month. Even slept in it.
The nurses and doctors kept me occupied answering medical history questions, surgery prep, inserting IVs, etc., their protocol took precedence. Too anxious to deal with a cell phone between an IV and slipping on surgical socks and warming blankets. For all my surgeries, my iPhone was turned off, in my purse, handed to Ed for safekeeping. He sure didn’t care about photos of his wife wearing the trendiest surgical gown. Usually he was missing his daily sleep, headed to the cafe for free breakfast … he barely had time to catch a snooze. So, did I mention I got a ‘lift’? On the normal boob, also called a mastopexy; and while I was under, Dr. K removed my old, botched-up C section scars and two big, ugly moles – hey, I didn’t even ask for freebies.
The first week I took sponge baths, hoping for some relaxation. I sat on the edge of the bathtub with a small plastic hospital tub filled with hot, soapy water and lightly dabbed soap in my right armpit. My arm was sore, I cringed unnecessarily, but gently massaged the smooth lather in my underarm and rinsed off with the shower wand. Aaaah… I began to feel better lathering, getting clean. Moving on to my left underarm… Dried off very gingerly with my softest towel, I then smoothed lotion over my arms in slow-motion, the cool slick lotion helped me feel a fragment of femininity I hadn’t expected. I relaxed from the pain.
That follow up was none too soon for me. I was anxious to get rid of the tape and plastic. After two weeks of being housebound, I slid into the Jeep’s leather seat. I hated that thirty minutes of dodging the I 435 traffic amid all the city maniacs. I did not feel much consolation yet to be rid of cancer plus supposedly getting better breasts in the long run. Shiiit! This was a fricking marathon! My reflex to cushion against bumping my chest went into overload. Excruciating. Now more than ever I needed patience with my body. Mere motions of a shower and dressing, because my skin was numb, was so much more emotional upheaval than I was prepared for. My body oddly, healed easier.
Mary Kate took my vitals and removed the silver bonding. Dr. K examined me with a gentle, thorough hand. My mastectomy skin was completely numb, he was gentle regardless. By next morning I could shower and washed my mastopexy side. I lathered using the softest soap, daintily patting my nipple as if it were a fragile butterfly. Bathing relaxed me. Sutures dissolve. And they eventually fade. See (above) the mastectomy scar was disappearing. My whole left side was still numb – gotten more used to that. Liposuction (fat grafting) surgery was next, thus filling in my underarm pit.
Not being pessimistic, I was so hopeful and considered I’d be lucky to look normal again, enhanced by fake boobs. At first it felt like it was all just a cover up, I felt phonier. Till I looked in the mirror. Woah. I had real cleavage again. Oh, I got compliments and attention lavished on me now and then that my bosom looked ‘good as new’. Told I’m beautiful … I didn’t feel it. No “je ne sais quois” yet. But I knew it was all to really help me feel better because it’s a sensitive issue. I try not to be so hypersensitive. My sensuality began to reveal itself with renewed confidence to wear nice clothes I hadn’t had the courage to do in over two years. So that’s it. A fake boob. And not in the least bit sexy or even normal. But I could breathe. My marathon had plateaued, time to relax, rest and slowly get my strength back — healing time. Maybe even some snuggle-time? Uh… after three major surgeries in five months I was worn out. In good spirits, however my body felt like a pincushion — raw. My once nerves of steel had vaporized. All I wanted to do was retreat home. And cocoon. That god-awful tissue expander a good night’s sleep?
I resumed my life as best I could…
Yeahp my implants are FDA-approved, made of High-Strength Cohesive Silicone Gel with 15 years warranty. My final implant is ‘Sub glandular’.
If it weren’t to rebuild my body back to its before cancer state I would NOT recommend having breast augmentation done — just my two cents here. All I wanted was to be normal and without pain. Both breasts had been cut and both hurt like hell for weeks. OMG!
It hurt to sneeze after the mastopexy! Surprise! Blowing my nose became the epitome of grace, as if in the front church pew, very softly and with the delicacy of a butterfly or it too hurt like the dickens. Even with the hubbub of surgeries, follow up doctor visits, the complexities of plastic surgery symmetry, going from a flat chest with a red scar into beautiful new full boobies, over the months I’ve gotten more used to it. Some. Woah, my boobs have a warranty now!
SEE the docster in this YouTube interview ‘Dr. Korentager (Breast Reconstruction and Surgery: Options and New Technology)’ The University of Kansas Cancer Center about breast implants following a mastectomy.
August 13, 2014 : A wife doesn’t usually need to text her husband in the middle of the night; but the night following my fat graft surgery, I could not sleep. I felt angry and frustrated and ugly and had to vent. I texted him.
ME: Last night I couldn’t sleep from pain – I hadn’t done anything in the least bit strenuous, but my whole body ached badly. I got up from tossing in the covers, took a pain pill and I love you
HUBBY: Count your blessings, take some quiet time to hear God’s voice. I will never leave you or forsake you. Ask for strength, Stop to pray for u, wrap my arms around u.
And this morning he did, that’s why I married him, he loves me heart and soul. He calms me, tries to ease my pain. I thank God, he’s my husband – he knows my heart and spirit too.
Been a very long haul, trying to maintain a positive attitude … muscles are weak as I write this. Twelve months of being manipulated, undergone three major surgeries. My whole chest is very sore and tender. For months, I constantly braced myself against getting bumped. It was a long, miserable wait to withstand an affectionate hug from my husband. I melted in his arms again. I close my eyes…
Oh, it felt so good –
Recovering, I listened to music: Shakira’s, beautiful ‘Despedida Medley’ (Live from Paris) One of the most touching rock ballads – ‘nothing else matters’ recovering from breast cancer.