Less Than 36 Hours Before My Bilateral Mastectomy at 36
Less than 36 hours. That’s how much time I have left with my body as a whole. When I was a child I used to play with this hourglass phone timer that my Grammy kept by her phone. It was in a black four-inch resin rectangle, and the sand inside was pink. I thought it was the coolest thing, and I always liked how I could manipulate the flow of sand by titling it in different ways. I wish I could tilt this — slow the sand, make it stop.
I distinctly remember several years ago, having heard something on the news about breast cancer and thinking, “I’d just cut them off and be done with it. They’re just boobs. I’ve never been that into mine anyway. Who cares?” What a fool. What a big, colossal fool. The things we think and say. I’ll never understand them. Things like, “Well now you’ll get to pick your size.” Or, “But now they’ll be nice and perky!” I get it. I’ve made jokes. Lots and lots of jokes. It’s how I cope. I’ve always been that way. Here’s the deal though — cancer, like anything else, belongs to the person who has it. The person can make all the jokes he or she wants to make. But very few others are allowed to go there. Maybe a close friend and/or relative. Maybe. And I don’t even know what to think or say if those comments weren’t meant as jokes. Actually, I probably do. Let me take a stab at it…
Taxidermy. That’s what reconstruction after a mastectomy is. That’s probably one of the most useful things my surgeon said to me in those first few appointments. It was the perfect word to describe what’s about to transpire. This isn’t a free boob job. It’s not something to celebrate, rejoice in, or even remotely feel excited about. Not for me. That’s not even close to how I feel about it. For me, it will be an attempt to gain back some sense of normalcy. To hide brutal physical and heal deep emotional scars. This isn’t augmentation. At 36 years old I’m losing the parts that fed my babies, the parts that help identify me as a woman, the parts that are pretty damn entertaining during sex. So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not excited about giving that up for the rest of my life in exchange for a set of numb-but-perky substitutes. They will feel like nothing. They’ll serve to fill out my shirts, and that’s about it. I’d rather keep my own, thanks.
This sounds angry. It is. I’m angry, overwhelmed and full of dread. I’m not nervous, worried or “ready to get it over with.” I know what’s ahead, and I don’t want it. Yes, I believe I’ll be fine, but that doesn’t make me accepting of the experience. “God will use this.” OK. That’s fine. Even better if He does. At least it won’t be all for nothing. Still, I don’t have to like it. “It could be worse.” Absolutely, without a doubt. I would choose this over a long list of much worse things. It’s still what it is, and I don’t have to like it. “Find peace with it.” OK. Check back with me in 10 years when I’m off the hormone blockers. Maybe I’ll have some peace then.
Perhaps I should apologize for the tone of this post, but I’m not going to. I promised I would be real, not just for readers, but so I will remember how the countdown feels. How the last few days and hours before surgery start to tighten their grip. I’ll remember when it’s, unfortunately, another woman’s turn, and I hope I can be there like so many have been there for me. Care packages, cards, calls, messages, babysitting, prayers… they’ve kept me going. My people have been praying for peace and comfort, and I feel it, even on a night like tonight when all I can picture is that pink sand funneling down and running out.
Getty image by kaipong.