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Drugs, Hugs and Losing My Jugs: A Breast Cancer Journal - July 12, 2015 - Summer of Cancer

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This is the twenty-seventh entry in a 31-day Breast Cancer Awareness Month exclusive series featuring the real journal entries of breast cancer survivor, Jessica Sliwerski. Read the previous entry here.

At the end of yoga, during savasana ( which is the last pose and meant for final relaxation), I close my eyes and go to my relaxing place. My relaxing place, which I also go to on particularly crowded, stressful subway rides or turbulent airplane flights, is Cardiff Beach in San Diego.

I think back to a time with Aunt Kerry about four years ago. The water was absolutely perfect that day and we spent hours boogie boarding and body surfing. I remember floating in the water, closing my eyes and having a sense of utter relaxation I rarely feel.

Water is soothing to me. When I was pregnant I started taking baths for the first time since childhood. The baths started because of the terrible hemorrhoids I developed. They continued after the hemorrhoids went away, as I found it so relaxing to lie in the lavender-scented water while binge watching episodes of “The Good Wife.” Even my baths after my mastectomy were enjoyable.

Since chemo started, I have not taken a bath. It is summer and it is sweltering outside and I do not want to take a warm bath right now. Right now, I want to swim in a pool or the ocean. I want that feeling I had four years ago at Cardiff.

This weekend, I finally went to the beach. Last week when I was getting fluids at the hospital I asked Ashley if I could either go swimming at the Brooklyn Bridge Park pop-up pool or the beach.

“What’s the pop-up pool?” she asked.

“It’s a public pool. It’s in Brooklyn Bridge Park. You get in line and they give you a wristband for a 45-minute time slot. They only let 60 people in at a time. After the 45 minutes is up, they usher everyone out and they check the water. There’s a fifteen minute break while they do this. Then they let the next group in.”

Ashley had a dubious look on her face as I was explaining the logistics of the pop-up pool.

“No, it’s nice. It’s really refreshing. You just can’t stare at the water too closely or you will see hair floating around. And that’s gross.”

“OK, no, you’re not going there. You cannot go to the pop up pool.”

“Understood. What about the beach?” I asked.

“I would be slightly more comfortable with the ocean,” she said. “It’s a bigger body of water…”

Given Ashley’s not-so-confident response, I did not bother to ask the doctor’s permission to swim in the ocean. I assumed it would be a big fat no because she has been the most adamantly opposed to swimming all along.

Kyle got a zip car and mom put together a picnic lunch. As I moved around the apartment getting everything else ready to go, mom kept asking me if I was ok enough to go to the beach.

“I’m fine,” I told her. “And I’ll rest when we’re at the beach,” I said.

Truth be told, I was still tired from chemo. My muscles hurt. And the night before I accidentally took a steroid instead of a sleeping pill, so instead of being able to fall asleep, I was totally wired ’til the wee hours of the morning. Since our kitchen counter now resembles a pharmacy and I was fumbling around in the dark for a pill, I’m not surprised I made this stupid mistake.

But I needed a beach day and so did Kyle, so no matter how crappy I was feeling, we were going to go to the beach.

“Ok,” mom said, beginning to pack her own beach bag. “Did you pack a brush or should I?” she asked, absentmindedly.

“A brush?” I asked.

“Yeah, you know, for after you get out of the ocean, so you can…”

“So I can what?” I asked, pointing to my bald head.

“Oh, right,” she said, laughing, and going back to packing her bag.

The other day my Aunt Kerry commented, “I don’t even notice it anymore.” It being my baldness. “I totally forget.”

I think most people who spend enough time with me also forget. Or at least get used to it. Or tell me they forget in an attempt to make me feel better. I also forget until I look in the mirror and am reminded and, even after all this time, shocked. I feel a momentary sense of defeat, followed by resignation and I often think to myself, “It is what it is.”

This happens at least a dozen times a day, which is about how many times I have to pee and while washing my hands I lack the self control to not look in the mirror.

At the beach, I wore SPF 50 all over my body, including my ass white head. I wore a big straw beach hat. I wore a light sweater over my bikini. I knew I needed to limit my sun exposure, but the sunshine felt so damn good, I couldn’t help but let my legs soak up a little bit of it.

Jessica Sliwerski beach photo with Poppy
Beach Photo of Penelope and Me: I know, I look so glam wearing a sweater at the beach. At least my giant hat will keep me from getting melanoma on my scalp…

Also, sitting solely in the shaded portion of our beach tent was too cold for me. The few times I took off my hat, I felt like the whole world was looking at me. In reality, I doubt anyone was paying attention. I didn’t see any other bald women at the beach and I wondered if they weren’t there because they, unlike me, listened to their doctors.

The best part of the day was the water. I waded into the ocean, letting the waves splash around me. I took off my straw hat and dunked my entire body beneath the water before popping up again and placing the hat back on my head. The feeling of the ocean on my skin, even my bald head, was glorious.

I was soothed by the water. I was refreshed. I held Penelope on the beach where the waves were gently breaking, dipping her feet in the water. She squealed with delight. I held her with her feet in the sand so she could feel the pull of the ocean. She jumped up and down, a joyful smile on her face. The waves splashed her and her little diaper and swimsuit were soaked, but she could care less. She absolutely loved the ocean. Just like her mommy.

We left the beach sandy and sun-kissed. I sat in the backseat of the car with a very sleepy Penelope thinking about what a great day it had been. My mom sat in the front seat going on about the way the ocean makes your skin feel and how going to the beach is messier than camping because of all the sand that gets stuck everywhere.

Feeling her hair, she then said, “Going to the beach makes my hair feel like straw.”

“I feel so sorry for you,” I said. We both laughed. The kind of laughing when something isn’t really funny, but no one wants to cry.

“I’m glad we went to the beach today. It felt good to do something normal,” I said when we got home.

My summer has largely been comprised of doctor appointments, infusions, and trying to tolerate chemo. There is Penelope and Kyle and family and friendship, but this is undeniably the summer of cancer and I desperately needed a day of normalcy.

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All photos courtesy of Jessica Sliwerski

Originally published: October 27, 2017
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