I suppose not everybody celebrates the anniversary of their mastectomy. We all have to deal with getting dealt shitty hands like cancer or ALS or breaking a foot or being broken up with… (Pain is pain. And the thing about pain is: “It demands to be felt.” ~TFIOS_/_) by playing whatever cards they’ve got in their hands or, if their lucky, up their sleeves. I don’t know why I always seem to luck out with a joker up my sleeve, but I bet the house it’s got something to do with the Dealer’s good pleasure. So if anybody thinks I’m out of line here, I totally blame the chemo or the “Vespa Incident” if I don’t exactly walk a straight line. Or color within them. #cancercard
So here’s the deal. My deal. Six years ago today I had my mastectomy #forgottowearredlipstickcuzidontwearredlipstick and what worked for me when I was playing that shitty hand, was to celebrate the hell out of it, and every tiny little beautiful thing I could conjure up, for a reason to celebrate. (P.S. for the record I wore yellow Burt’s Bees Lip Balm. #livestrong)
How about 2,191 reasons to celebrate/days I’ve gotten to BE ALIVE since getting the damn spots removed? #outdamnspot #winning
And that’s pretty much how I roll the dice. Oops. Switched metaphors, there. Sorry. Sometimes I get carried away.
Anyway, so in celebration of the number 2,191 days aka my 6 year cancerversary, I’ve been publishing a half dozen chapters from my breast cancer memoir: SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL on this, my space in cyberspace, as my cancer dates come up in the rear-view mirror of my calendar.
So without further ado…
And this is where I throw in a little plot twist to this post, to “see if you can dance”. I know this is where everybody’s expecting the chapter about that rainy day six years ago TODAY, when I got my “aerodynamic” superpowers; but instead, I thought I’d tell ya the one about the bra-burning I had with my girlfriends, the night before my mastectomy. Meanwhile, I’m off to a yoga/writing retreat in Ojai, Cali with my friend Jen Pastiloff. #betterdays (Thank you to the hubcap for the gift of this retreat for my cancerversary<3)
Man, I Feel Like a Woman
(Cue Shania Twain)
Sure, the optimist can say the cup is half full when it is half full, but what about when both “cups” are about to be empty?
So what did I do to mentally prepare myself to go in and have my breasts cut off?
It’s not like I think I can dance with the stars or anything, but I just tried putting one foot in front of the other. What I ended up with was some clumsily choreographed mash-up kind of a dance— something between a two-step and a waltz, with a little bit of a hip- hope groove just to shake things up.
Step 1: I went out with the girls and let my hair down. Literally. To the ground. As in, I got it cut off. Well, not all the way off. But I did get a new haircut. I was told that after my mastectomy it would be a while before I could raise my hands above my head, and since I am a quick thinker, I thought, “Whoa, I wonder how I’ll shampoo my hair?” Clip. Problem solved.
Honestly, I probably learned this idea from Matt when he was four years old and sitting at his desk one day, learning to read. I was doing math with Amanda, and I could hear Matt getting a little frustrated about something. I just assumed it was over blending consonants, and I was trying to wrap up with Amanda so I could give him my full attention. All of a sudden I heard a clip, and then, “That’s better.” I looked over and Matt’s bangs were blurring the letters on the page he was “reading” in his Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons book. Matt’s bright green preschool scissors were sitting on top of the pile of bangs like they were trying to make some kind of a point . . . which I got. Now it was my turn to try to blend in his new ’do.
It took me a while to get used to me with a boy cut. But it really shouldn’t have surprised me with the spy ops training I had done in my youth. Disguises 101. Duh.
That summer my hair was the longest it had been since I got tired of sitting on my hair in second grade and had it lopped off to my shoulders. I don’t think I’m blowing my own cover at this point, now that it’s a moot one, to hint that one of my aliases had to do with a certain little girl of fairy tale lore who hung out with bears. I can’t say how many bears there were because that is classified. Suffice it to say that my hair used to be down past my shoulders and it was dirty dishwater blonde. I know what they say about blondes and all, but I was about to be bald shortly. I didn’t feel like missing out on any fun. I didn’t feel like taking any chances. I just decided go with Shania on this one and exercise my “prerogative to have a little fun.” So I grabbed a few girlfriends and we turned a salon and a haircut into a party. I also definitely channeled a little Cindy Lauper, even if my true color would soon be shining through—like a cue ball.
How cool was it that my stylist that day “happened” to have gone through this very similar chemotherapy ’do transition scene with her own mum, who was a sixteen-year breast cancer survivor, now seventy-five years old! Coincidence? Well, what would be the fun in that? I know this may be totally politically incorrect, but I just can’t help but believe it was a God moment.21 I like to play connect the dots between moments like these and imagine the outline of the hand of God that the big picture will reveal someday.
Step 2: I couldn’t really sidestep pre-op testing, even though it meant a few more needle sticks. One jab that hurt the most was when they told me I couldn’t have a glass of wine with my dinner the night before my surgery. That just seemed a little “over the top.” If it’s five o’clock anywhere, it’s definitely five o’clcok wherever I’m at the night before my mastectomy. I totally appealed that order, and after being forwarded so many times even I’d consider my message spam, I got permission for one measly glass of wine, from some nurse or best friend or second cousin of a nurse, who said she was tight with my anesthesiologist, who said it was okeydokey with him. Whew .
Step 3: The night before my mastectomy I went to another prayer meeting the Redheads’ youth pastor Alton had organized for three high-school students’ mothers, all of whom were in critical situations. Yott’s mother was waiting on a lung transplant. Theresa Maria’s mother was having brain surgery at the same time I was having my mastectomy. I was the only mum who was physically able to attend. I didn’t even know the other mothers at that point. But I prayed for them from that night forward, when we three were joined together and lifted up by our kids. To me, without this step, it would be like trying to dance with two left feet.
Step 4: (A little to the left now.) My tennis girlfriends and I let it all hang out and had a bra burning.
Which somehow seems “fitting” since the event fell on the same evening of Obama’s address at the Democratic National Convention. I’m not sure if it’s politically correct to say that, either. But then again we were burning bras, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already crossed the line plenty anyhow. I don’t mean to get out of line so much. It’s just that I never really learned to dance.
And have I mentioned that the bras I was burning were brand new ones I had just bought at Victoria’s—or is that a Secret? But seriously, I can’t remember the last time I had bought a bra prior to that. Although, now, I will always remember the last time I everbought one. (And good riddance, in a way—if you know what I mean.)
So I finally decide to buy new bras—a month before I get diagnosed with breast cancer and have to have an emergency double mastectomy. It literally took me five hours to get fitted and find the cup that was “just right.”
Timing is everything.
Dramatic irony happens. I like it when I can find a way to laugh about it. I’d way rather laugh about it than kick myself in the ass for buying expensive bras I’m just going to toss into a bonfire.
It wasn’t exactly a burning bush—more like a barbeque pit—but my girlfriends and I all tossed in bras. I threw in the brand-spanking new bra I had barely worn but couldn’t bear to return empty, as it were. My friend Heidi threw in a box of Band-Aids, which we all got a huge kick out of. They were BIG Band-Aids after all (wink, wink). It was truly one of those Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood types of moments, which I will never ever forget.
Step 5: And now, for the bow, thanks for the mammaries, I mean, memories. In other words, it was the Kodak moment—for my boobs, for posterity, for my hubby. Hey, every guy is a breast man, right? Well I thought Dave ought to have a postcard or two, so sue me, but I had my sister, who happens to be a professional photographer, take a few pictures.
Unfortunately, my computer crashed before I had the guts to get the pictures developed for him. We may never know, but we suspect that it wasn’t just my shirt that I was too sexy for—but the whole world. And especially my poor computer, which, after that particular upload was no longer PC.
Curtain Call: I packed my bags for the hospital, took a Valium, and then it was curtains for me. I went to sleep, resting in God, and woke up still there. Then we piled into our minivan, whose name is Yukon (after our favorite blend of Starbucks coffee, which sort of irked me in my de-caffeinated state) and headed off to the hospital.
What else was there to do? With the prospect of both “cups” soon to be empty, all I knew to do was to trust the One who was pouring. Somehow, He makes even empty cups overflow.