Monday, November 17, 2014


As I continue to recover from breast cancer surgery, I realized that my relationship with cancer will be an ongoing one. I have further treatment to come and continued monitoring for many years. But how to describe this complicated relationship? I have been searching for the right word. A few that I've considered:

  • Fear - My tendency with fear is to hide under the bed and wait for whatever is scaring me to go away. This is not a good strategy for maintaining health. We all know people who avoid doctors and tests because they are afraid of what they might find. So fear is not the right word.
  • Hate - It's easy to be angry and hateful about cancer. I've seen it ravage the bodies of people I love. Some of them didn't survive. But hate is a heavy burden to carry. To me it also implies malice and intent. Those little cells were once a normal part of my body. For a variety of reasons, they broke bad. I don't think they were out to get me. If I did hate them, I forgive them now. They are gone.
In talking to my husband about this, we came up with a new word: Respect. I respect cancer. I respect its power. It is an adversary worthy of my due diligence.

I respect cancer enough to have routine regular screenings, one of which resulted in my diagnosis. I respect cancer enough to find out as much as I can about it and its treatment. I respect cancer enough to seek out the best medical professionals to help me fight it. I respect cancer enough to carefully follow post-operative care instructions and recommendations for ongoing treatment. I respect cancer enough to research diet and lifestyle changes that can help me keep it at bay. I respect cancer enough that I will do whatever I can with my life to help those who are coping with it and to see it eradicated.

So, I have a new mantra I repeat in my head. They are the words of the incomparable Otis Redding that have been immortalized by the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin.

Take care, TCB"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Baring the Scars and Bearing the Scars

Nothing prepares you for the first time you look at your mastectomy incisions.


No amount of preparation and looking at photos of other surgeries. No amount of love and support from your spouse and family. No amount of emotional strength (you think) you have.

When I took my first shower after surgery last week, I finally had the courage to look in the mirror. I saw myself as torn apart. Ripped. Ruined. And I cried. I gave myself permission to mourn the way my body used to look. But in the midst of the tears came another image.

The new smoothness of my chest reminded me of the days when I wore undershirts and camis. I remembered the cute little sundresses my mom dressed me in. There were no worries of bra straps slipping or too much cleavage showing. I could almost feel the golden California sunshine of my 1960s childhood.

It's not that I want my body to look like a little girl's - I'm having reconstruction done. But that fleeting image reminded me of two important things:  1) that beauty comes in many different forms and 2) my body has been constantly changing since the day I was born.

I recall when I was pregnant with my son. My body dazzled me almost daily with the changes it made to grow a little human boy. I am no less astounded by my body's ability to be up and walking mere hours after major surgery and that my use of my arms is coming back so swiftly. It is now working hard to scar over the incisions and heal. Amazing! Among the strongest parts of our bodies are the scars.

I am fortunate that the surgery went well. The sentinel nodes were clear and the margins were clean.

I have since spent more time with those incisions. They are healing well. I don't feel as troubled by them, and I know the scars will continue to fade. I have begun the process of reconstruction with a wonderful plastic surgeon. He told me from the start that I won't be the same. All I want is a little piece of "me" back. I don't think I want to fill out a D cup again. A little extra perkiness would be nice.

So, cheers to change. As my husband and I gazed at the new topography of my body he said,. "This is what healthy looks like."