So many thoughts and emotions are swimming through my head and my heart as I prepare for surgery on April 2nd, the least of which is that i just wrote “as I prepare for surgery.” Aiyuh, as my Chinese friends say, aizheng hen mafan! I’ve accepted the mafan of all this, though it’s throwing me for a loop.
I’ve been keeping list-upon-list of things I need to do to prepare myself, things I need to buy for my post-surgery life, things I won’t be able to do after the surgery, things I’m scared about, and, most importantly, things I’m grateful for. The lists help me focus and gives me some modicum of control over something I completely have no control over.
My top ten list looks something like this–today, anyway:
1. What if Libby hadn’t insisted we do those scans?
2. I am a person who is sick, who is carrying cancer in her body that has gone undetected for a long time. It is blowing my mind to put myself in the category of someone who is sick with Cancer/Áizhèng 癌症/Cancro. If I say cancer in Chinese or Italian it sounds so much better.
3. Hmmm, maybe instead of the lumpectomy I’ve chosen, I should go for the bilateral mastectomy. They’ll reconstruct my breasts by using my belly fat and I’ll get a twofer–perky breasts at age 61 and no belly fat! Hmmm, tempting…
4. How am I going to write? I’m having an axillary dissection in my right armpit which will limit my mobility for a while, and be painful. I’m right-handed. I won’t be able to sit at the computer and pound away. Anybody have a recommendation for some really good voice recognition software? I’m serious, if you know of a great one, please let me know.
5. I actually had to go buy bras that fasten in the front, that specifically are post-surgery sleep bras because my surgeon said I won’t be able to put anything over my head and I have to sleep in a bra for a while. Yuck.
6. Everything is different now. I see and hear things I would never have paid attention to before. While I was buying a bra, a large TV screen on the wall was playing an ad for Wacoal, the lingerie company. As I was browsing I heard the words breast cancer so I immediately turned my attention to the ad (something I never would have done before) just in time to hear the woman on the screen say, “Every 12 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the US.” Every 12 minutes.
7. I am beyond grateful for my friends. I have wonderful people in my life who have already helped me through this and who will continue to be there for me. I’m usually the one giving the help, not asking for it, but I am finding it easy to ask for help right now because of the amazing people I have in my life. When I gave my graduate reading at Antioch, I said in my thank you’s before I read my novel excerpt, that if it takes a village to raise a kid, it takes a community to raise a writer. Now I’m constantly thinking: what does it take to get someone through breast cancer? I don’t have one word right now, but the words sisterhood (and brotherhood), circle, clan, pack, world, fellowship and tribe come to mind. You know who you are, and I can’t do this without you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart/feichang de feichang de xie xie ni/grazie di cuore.
8. Maya Angelou’s incredible quote “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them,” has always rung true, always made me wake up, but never more than now. Through this whole process, I’ve gained clarity and I realize I’ve allowed some people in my life to only take and not give, allowed them to unconditionally get the best of my heart without being there for me. I’ve sadly had to jettison them from my world because I need people I can count on now as much as the people in my life have always counted on me.
9. Cancer/Áizhèng 癌症/Cancro can be quite convenient! When I don’t feel like doing something, don’t feel like going somewhere, or don’t feel like being with anyone, I just whine and say, “I can’t, I have cancer,” in a pathetic little voice:>). Fyi, it works the first time, but after that it loses its effectiveness.
10. What if Libby hadn’t insisted we do those scans? I begin and end every day with this mantra.
Thanks so much for reading. It’s helping me to write about this.