Of all of the indelible moments in my life, being told that I had cancer stands out above all the rest. My wedding, giving birth to my two wonderful sons, the death of my father, they pale in comparison to the shift that took place in my doctor’s office on that Thursday afternoon. I mark all events as having occurred either before or after that Thursday afternoon. Colors changed. Smells and sounds, too. It’s more than simply being made aware of the end being closer. It’s about a betrayal of sorts. Betrayal from within. Knowing that something I ate or drank, a virus I contacted, medication that I may have taken (or even that my mother may have taken) has led to this terrible defect in my own cell division.
Frightened is not strong enough. Devastated. Not too mention that I am only forty-two and divorced on Thursday afternoon. And peaking sexually. For the first time in my life, I think I’m sexy. It’s in great part because of him. And what will he think when I’m missing a breast? I love my breasts. They were the first sign of my budding womanhood. Boys took notice since I developed early. I was both embarrassed and pleased. They nourished my two sons, and they are a big part of my sexuality.
I read all that I could about treatment. Unfortunately, my cancer was better treated by mastectomy than by lumpectomy and radiation. Making matters worse was the fact that I was never informed about immediate reconstruction. So I had to wait for six months in an uneven, lopsided, state of asymmetry. Now on the eve of reconstruction, I’m hopeful. And for that I’m grateful. I don’t know exactly what to expect. Dr. Glassman has made every attempt to explain the procedures to me along with what I can expect after the surgeries. And I sense that he is trying to subdue my expectations. To be honest, I don’t concentrate on much of what he is saying at times. I just want to keep my dream alive. The dream of feeling whole again. The dream of feeling sexy again.
Three operations. Six months later and I’m whole again. I love my reconstructed breast in the way I imagine a mother loves an adopted child. I don’t take it for granted. In my wildest dreams I didn’t think that it would turn out this well. In some ways I’ve begun to feel differently about having had cancer. I’m almost grateful. I know that sounds strange. Let me explain.
First, he stood by me. He was the friend and partner I always hoped he’d be. I might not have learned that without the cancer. Had he run, I would have understood. If he had, he was not my man. How fortunate to know that he is. I’ve always known that he was a good man, and now he knows and feels it, too. We’re closer for having run the gauntlet together. We’re closer for having dealt with death and deformity together. We’re closer. I hated paying for it with my breast. It could have been easier, I guess.
Second, I found my way in life, my work. I’ve been searching for something for a long time without really knowing it. Now, I’m working in a prominent and busy breast cancer clinic, working with women who are going through what I’ve been through. I feel useful and needed. I’m providing love and comfort and reassurance to others who have had this terrifying experience.
God, I know this is bizarre, but thank you for giving me cancer. I survived the test. I’m stronger in so many ways. I know he’s the love of my life. My work fulfills me. And… I’m sexy again.