The Return of Brave

It was innocent enough.  An email from my son’s tee ball coach outlining the upcoming game schedule.  So, why did I suddenly feel so anxious?  Why was a dark cloud descending on my good mood?

Obviously, this wasn’t about tee ball.  Rather, what it represented…to me.

A happy spring, standing on the sideline watching my oldest son take part in his first real team activity.  Days stretching toward summer.  A Disney vacation looming large on the horizon.  All marred by cancer’s unwelcome arrival.  This week, two years ago.

The team schedule reminded me how life as I knew it was abruptly shattered and it was there on that field, where I fought to hold it together.  Memories, thought to be put away, flooded toward me.

The week that was, two years ago started with a routine mammogram and ultrasound on a Monday morning.  By late Friday afternoon, it was a done deal.  A diagnosis of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  The savage I tried to outrun for 25 years, when my mom was first diagnosed, had finally caught me.

My son had a late afternoon game, the same day I had a core needle biopsy. Unsure if I’d feel up to the game, I asked my husband if this was the start of missing out on activities, like tee ball.  Like my boy’s preschool graduation. Like their lives.

He said that wasn’t going to happen, but I knew he couldn’t really promise such things.  No one could.

Milestones, came to mind.  Some special, many ordinary…that my mother missed.  Her absence was palpable on so many occasions.  It is a loss I feel to this day and impossible to grasp happening to my children.

Physically uncomfortable, burdened with trepidation and uncertainty, I went to my son’s game and I remember, as if it were yesterday, standing on the third base line contemplating…wondering how it would all play out.

Two years later, my youngest, otherwise known as Brave, is playing tee ball for the first time.  In the past, he stood with me watching his brother knock the ball halfway across the field, effortlessly fly around the bases and rush to his friends behind home plate.

When spring arrived this year and finally old enough, Brave enthusiastically signed up to play while imagining his prowess with the bat and envisioning his lightning speed.  He saw his chance to be cheered at the plate, like his big brother before him.  But what my little man doesn’t understand is that it’s easy for his brother.  He plays with his best friends.  He has a built in support system with him at all times.

Without that, things are much harder.   As the ski lessons this past winter, tee ball this spring, wouldn’t come easy.  As standing on the sideline, cheering as if all is right in our world, wouldn’t come easy to me.

In spite of Brave’s excitement, he lingered behind his daddy’s leg (#10) on opening day unsure of his place among the team filled with unfamiliar faces. We wondered if he’d even venture to play, but as he’s known to do, he took it slow. Emerging from his haven behind dad’s leg, he joined his team.

He refused to bat at first, leaving me to wonder if fear would override his joy of playing, remove all chance of seeing what spring has to offer.

He had to bat at some point.  He just had too.  It mattered more than he even knows.  It mattered to me.  Yes, this is a boy, not yet five years old, but I couldn’t let fear win.  Not here, on this field or anywhere.

Luckily, fear shoots only a short flame inside my brave boy, and in the second inning, he stomped it out and boldly stepped up to the plate.  Swung the bat with all his might…and missed.  Then he missed again, but whacked it clear toward second base on his next swing and raced to first base, where he stood with a giant smile.  He liked the view from first base.  No fear here.

Pride swelled.  My little man had once again found the courage to forge ahead and not because he didn’t have a choice, but because his desire to succeed at something he loved was stronger than his worries.  As it should be.

He inspires me as I stand on the same bit of field exactly two years later.

Perhaps, it is the same field and the same spot, but this is a different boy.  A boy who pushes fear out of his way, digs deep and swings.   Maybe, I can push away the memories that find me here.  The ones that carry my struggle, the road I’ve traveled, the questions that have been answered and those that still remain.

My brave boy proves this truly is a new day for us, a different place in time and a pretty nice spot to watch a game.

A Little Rant

When the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup for the first time in over 50 years in 1994, some friends and I thought it would be fun to attend the celebration parade in lower Manhattan.

Turns out, I never saw the parade, just the sea of people surrounding me and as we started the slow trek back uptown the crowd separated me from my friends.  I stopped in the midst of hundreds of moving people to look around. You can say I stopped going with the flow.

Big mistake.

The rushing crowd pushed me against a brick building where I couldn’t move in any direction.  The tight pack of excited Ranger fans seem unbreakable.  I was pressed harder and harder into the wall and images of people trampled at rock concerts flashed before me.

There’s great strength in many moving as one.

With all I had, I managed to inch my way into the crowd and once we hit the corner, people splintered off and I was free of the masses.  Finally, in an open space I took a second and looked around wondering what that was all about. It felt like I’d been in a fight I didn’t see coming.

That’s a wordy way of describing how I felt after reading comments left for Peggy Orenstein on her LA Times op-ed piece regarding high school students wearing boobie bracelets.  It was also how I felt when blogger, Uneasy Pink was crucified sharing her opinions about this issue both on Huffington Post and the Facebook page of the organization I’d rather not name.

I’m left with a sense of disbelief.  It’s not that people can’t have differing opinions.  I don’t care about that.  It’s fine, all points of view are welcome, but what I don’t get and what ties my stomach in knots are the personal insults people are making in lieu of anything worthwhile.

It starts with the typical “lighten up,” and “you’re taking it too seriously.”  My irritation increases as I read accusations of “angry” and “bitter.”  And worsens when I see breast cancer survivors called a “prude” or even better, this clever one, “a boob.”  I can only imagine how proud the guy who thought that up must be.

Well, perhaps we are those things and yes, we may be taking it too seriously. You know why?  Breast cancer kills.  It’s incurable and it’s not pretty, or sexy or fun or littered with laughs as it destroys our bodies and steals our lives.

Why is taking a stance against dumbing down breast cancer such a negative and why does it generate such cruelty by people opposing that view?  It’s surprising to find us in the minority here.  Speaking out has us going against the flow, only to get trampled.

Are we easy targets?  We, cancer girls?

No one is saying our opinion is the only one, the right one or everyone must agree with us because we have cancer.  The goal should be a meaningful dialogue, but I can’t stop thinking the mean girls (and boys) are waiting for us in the school yard when the bell rings and no matter how we try to spin it, explain it, discuss and defend our perspective to this crowd, the hits just keep coming.

Hit us with informed criticism.  Something, anything based in reality or recognized by research, but please, please stop bullying us for our convictions.  Yes, cancer is personal and emotional, which is why we feel the way we do, but we’re not blasting anyone in a derogatory manner, calling out stinging, hurtful names.

We’re trying to explain our position.  For us it’s serious business.  The business of eradicating breast cancer, with a little respect for those that deal with it everyday and in memory of those we lost to it.  When that’s accomplished, I’m pretty sure we’ll all be able to lighten up.

In the meantime, it’s hard enough living with it.  We shouldn’t have to be insulted for it, too.

Lost for Words

I recently saw my plastic surgeon to discuss nipple areola complex reconstruction and pigmentation. (Tattoos!)  But, I’m using the word “discuss” theoretically since I am unable to carry on a conversation with the man without blushing, stammering and drawing complete blanks whenever he asks a question.

It’s so bad, I have to remind myself that in life outside his office, stringing together an entire sentence isn’t a problem.  Spitting out a slew of coherent words isn’t a problem — Anywhere else.

But here, in these moments — it is.

Here, where it matters.  Look what we’re talking about, after all.

Some irrelevant words may tumble out.  Questions, I should ask get lost in the sheer urgency to move onto something less miserable.  Something other than this unfinished business.  This personal stuff I never imagined talking about.

Why is it so hard?  I want reconstruction done.  I want to see the end result. See if it’s as good as I hear it to be.  I’m ready.

I know these last remaining procedures will never bring back what’s been taken.  I’m under no illusions about that.  The scars are a daily, visible reminder that I don’t need, but I’m not hoping to cover evidence in order to avoid it, as if some pigment could do that, anyway.  I remember just fine and quite often without the mirror.  Without the reflection staring back.

I’m moving forward, not because “it’s what people do,” or because my surgeons like to see their work complete. It’s about finishing what I started, crossing some imaginary line, breaking the tape.  After nearly two years, it certainly feels like a marathon and I don’t mean the cancer.  That doesn’t have a finish line.  Just the reconstruction.

It’s interesting waiting alone in the exam room among the pamphlets and brochures selling new noses, eyelids, facelifts, liposuction and the ironic, breast augmentation and reduction.  It is painfully clear I’m not here for any of that and I won’t judge those that are.  I don’t know their reasons for coming here as they don’t know mine, but seeing a plastic surgeon never entered my mind before cancer.

I think about the women choosing to come here, seeking solutions to problems carried in their heads. Are they eager to see the doctor?  Excited by the possibilities?  Is communication easier with that patient than one brought in by cancer?

Patients like me, unable to answer my surgeon’s questions during our first, long ago consultation, because I didn’t have answers, just repetitive thoughts clouding my brain.

“I don’t want to be here.”

“I can’t say how it should look.  I never thought about it before.”

“I didn’t choose to come to you, like those others sitting in your waiting room.”

But, really…I did.

I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  I did choose. Does it compare to women without cancer choosing to redesign a body part?  No, but still a choice.  One more in the long line of decisions cancer forces us to make.

Now, even after so much: Expanders, fills, implants, revision surgery.  Nipple reconstruction and tattoos soon to come, it’s still difficult to accept being in this office, talking about this.

The plastic surgeon and the breast cancer patient travel a long road together. It is unlike any doctor/patient relationship I’ve ever known.

It’s very personal.  More so, than other doctors I’ve met along the way.  Their stuff is all clinical.  Facts, numbers…this is different and maybe that’s why I get hung up.

We give so much to this freaking cancer, that voicing my ideas, my private thoughts of how my body should look, is more than I want to share.

But, then I remember.  I did choose to be here and my surgeon can’t do his part if I hold back mine.  So, I’ll continue to blush and stammer my way through this.  The reconstruction so far does look pretty good, actually very good and the end is finally, finally in sight.

Cancer’s Rush

I found an unfamilar yellow post-it in the smallest pocket of my backpack.  The one I had with me on the day of my latest surgery.  On it was a name and two phone numbers.  Not my handwriting and I don’t remember putting it there.

This little piece of paper was proof that not everything has to be about me all the time, or least, it shouldn’t be.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed my blog lately, but crickets are chirping.  Not much happening.  I’ve been quiet.  Too quiet, I think.

It’s funny because when other bloggers write about long pauses in posting new content, I wonder why they’re so worked up.  I know I’ll always return to my favorite blogs no matter how long it takes for a new post to appear.  My reasons for liking someone don’t evaporate if they’re not feeding me enough.

Yet, I find myself with the same anxiety.  Almost a panic, really.  Afraid I’ll lose my readers.

So, here I am, more than a week from my last post — thinking.  Thinking so hard.

What can I write about?  It should be meaningful, personal.  What’s happening with my doctors, maybe?  Well, I have a visit with my plastic surgeon next week to finally talk “nips and tats.”  Other than that?


Then I found that post-it and here’s the thing.  Maybe cancer’s lifespan is like the tide.  Ebbs and flows.  As we stand on the shore viewing the horizon of our future, cancer comes in with such force, we’re nearly bowled over. Sometimes, we are knocked down, but we get up, wash off the sand and deal. Because that’s all we can do as the tide relentlessly gushes in.

Waves, different for all of us, but still powerful and scary.  One after the other.

Tests, appointments, surgeries, treatment, more surgeries, more tests.

In the swirl of the water, we wonder if we’ll ever see our lives again, find ourselves.  There’s much to blog about and without warning the sea calms, sparkling toward the horizon once again.  Life resumes.

I may be in the ebb of cancer’s rush.  I’ve done all I can at this point to beat it down.  This yellow post-it, along with bloggers such as ihatecancer prove others are still drowning in the waves.  They need help.

The post-it bears the name and phone number of a nurse I met the day I was having my ovaries removed.  That day…that was supposed to be all about me. She has breast cancer, not stage 1.  The details are fuzzy because she came to me while I was waking up, trying to shake the anesthesia.  We have the same oncologist.  She’s about my age.  She’s not interested in support groups, but would like someone to talk to.  She had declined chemo.  I don’t know why she did, but it worries me.

Finding the little piece of paper she placed in my backpack reminds me — This journey, at this time, may no longer be about me.

I’m calling her.  This stranger.  I can do that now, during this lull, this ebb of cancer I find myself in.  Knowing full well, as one who walks on the water’s edge, the tide will flow back in any time.  I can’t help thinking it’s inevitable, but while waiting, I’ll keep walking.  There’s a lot to do.