Beyond the scars

Hey blog! I’m sorry I’ve been neglecting you. I haven’t felt too inspired to write lately. Most of my brain power has been focused on writing cover letters and going on interviews, which is actually quite mentally taxing, although necessary. But writing and talking about job stuff is kind of boring after awhile. I mean, as much as I love writing/talking about what a stellar employee and brilliant human being I am, it can be a bit draining. Sometimes I wish the whole “having cancer” thing could just give me a free pass, and serve as a kind of certificate of excellence – proof that I can “deal with stressful situations” and “overcome challenges.” I mean, any kind of workplace high pressure situation really now pales in comparison to the kind of stress and types of decisions I’ve had to make. Alas, cancer doesn’t get you a free pass, and I’m just the same as all you other cancer-free unemployed suckers out there. C’est la vie.

Other than spending my days in pursuit of the next job, there really isn’t too much else to report. It’s been over a month since my last cancer-related appointment, which I think is the longest I’ve gone since 2012. And I must say, I really am enjoying the break. It’s nice to see things on my calendar like “movie night” or “girls’ brunch” instead of “MRI” or “blood draw.” More and more, I am distancing myself from the cancer community and feeling like it was all some sort of drawn-out, psychotic dream. The potential for a normal existence, at least for the immediate future, really feels like a reality now. I wish I could just completely ignore and forget about it all, but the hot flashes and chest tightness and various other bodily defects stop me from doing so. I am living every day with all of the effects of trying REALLY hard to prevent my cancer from spreading, and although I have zero regrets about any of the choices I have made, it’s still a challenge to live with the many consequences of my so-called “battle.”

There’s an art exhibit in Toronto right now called the SCAR Project. You might have heard of it — photographs of young women with breast cancer, with their chests exposed, scars and all. I’ve seen a lot of press about the exhibit, especially since I’m wrapped up in this “young breast cancer community” so it’s impossible not to be aware of these types of things. The gallery is actually very close to where I live, so I thought of popping by one day while it’s here. It seems like something I should “support” since these are “my people.” Yet there’s also something keeping me away from it. I believe in the importance of these images, especially as contrast to all the “pinkifying” of breast cancer, where all we see is images of women who look healthy, and happy, and whole. Breast cancer, in my humble opinion, is extremely ugly and horrific, and I think we do the “cause” a great injustice when we try to cover that up.

However, right now, I’m kind of in a place where I’m trying to move past the harsh realities of breast cancer. I don’t know if I really need to stare at a bunch of images that remind me of what’s happened to me. I don’t need the reminder or the education — I get it every single time I look in the mirror and see gigantic scars. I am my own “real image” of a young woman with breast cancer. All I have to do is lift my shirt, and there I have it, my very own art exhibit. And for right now, I think that’s enough for me. I commend the women who posed for these photos and truly think they’re brave for doing so. But I think I’ll likely avoid checking out the images in person, at least for the time being. I don’t want to compare my scars to their scars or my reconstruction to theirs. I don’t want to feel any more anger or sadness than I already do about breast cancer and what it has done to me, and continues to do to way too many young women. I guess, in a sense, I’m taking shelter with the exact group that the SCAR Project is trying to oppose – the group that wants to ignore the ugliness of breast cancer and look away and pretend it doesn’t exist.

I guess for now, that’s just where I’m at. I want to pretend it doesn’t exist. I want to live in ignorance, just for a single second. I have spent so much time in the ugly, scary, dark world of breast cancer. I don’t wish to immerse myself in it anymore right now. I want a pretty, fuzzy, pink, happy image. I know it’s not real. I can’t un-know it. I know what lies beneath it all. But sometimes, we all need to allow ourselves to “make-believe” and pretend and imagine that everything is just fine and dandy and perfect and everything will be okay. And who knows. Maybe it will be.

 

Breast awareness

So many anniversaries lately. So many at this time last year, I was doing X, remember?

Today is yet another date that still stands out to me. October 19th. One year since I bid adieu to my breasts. One year since the cancer treatment really began.

There hasn’t been one day since then that I don’t think about my breasts. The current ones, the old ones, the cancer. Breast breasts breasts. My whole life, centered around some hanging, bouncy (albeit, no longer bouncy) body parts. Impossible to escape, especially now, during the month of October, BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH (or have you not noticed?).

I think about breasts every time I stretch my left arm to turn off my lamp beside my bed, when I feel the uncomfortable pull and remember that my arm does not move the way that it used to.

I think about breasts when I realize that none of my fancy dresses fit my body anymore because of the firm side-boob implant I have that prevents the left-side zipper from zipping.

I think about breasts when I hear them spoken about on television, in a movie, in a conversation. So much talk of breasts, everywhere you look. Breast-obsessed.

I think about breasts when I walk by a lingerie store in the mall, and think of all the bras that are still sitting in my drawer that I will never have any need for again. The comfy ones, the pretty ones, the lacy ones. Relics of the past, gathering dust, taking up room.

I think about breasts when I receive a tight embrace. A simple hug. When my ribs are squeezed just a bit too hard, still feeling bruised from the stretching, from the implants, from the surgery.

I think about breasts when I look in the mirror, every morning, every night. Every time I am in the shower, every time I get out of the shower. When I see two large red scars across my chest, when I am confronted with the reminder, oh hey, you had breast cancer… and you still might have breast cancer.

I think about breasts when I remember this day. Being injected with radioactive dye before my surgery. The pain I felt as the dye pushed into my veins. The tears that flowed as I realized what was to come next, and wondering, why me, why me, how is this happening, why me. I cried alone in the changing stall, while I slipped into my hospital gown. I don’t even remember staring at my breasts. There was no farewell. No last glimpse. No time to mourn.

I think about breasts when I remember being drawn on with magic marker, as my surgeon marked up the areas to be cut. I kissed my husband and said goodbye to my parents and lay down while someone rolled me into the elevator and down a hall. I cried and felt as though I was 5 years old, scared of what lay behind the doors. I didn’t let the doctors see me cry. I didn’t want to show the fear. There were so many people in that operating room. Surgeons, nurses, fellows, anesthesiologists. It almost felt like a party. Everyone there, to be with me. To save me.

I think about breasts when I remember the feel of my surgeon squeezing my hand as I waited for the drugs to wash over me, while the whole room stood by, waiting to remove a major part of my femininity. The body I once knew, no longer.

I think about breasts when it is October 19th. My own breast cancer awareness day. All mine.

I don’t need a pink ribbon, or pink toilet paper, or pink football players to remind me.

Believe me – I am aware.