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Drugs, Hugs, and Losing My Jugs: A Breast Cancer Journal - May 30, 2015 - My Favorite Pizza Place

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This is the thirteenth 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 least once a month we have dinner at my favorite pizza place on Atlantic Avenue. That makes us “regulars” in NYC restaurant culture because there are so many other excellent culinary feats at our fingertips, but we instead choose to continually return to the same damn place.

When friends and family visit from out of town, that’s always on the list of joints we bring them because the coal oven pizza is the shit. So it’s probably more likely that we eat there at least twice a month. And that doesn’t count the number of times we simply order their pizza for delivery.

After my diagnosis, Kyle’s company sent us a $250 gift card to this place. And, after my stint in the emergency room Monday, they sent us another $250 gift card. Obviously this makes me think I should find more ways to make people feel sorry for me. Then I could eat perfectly doughy margherita pizza forever.

Given the week we’ve had, no one was in the mood to cook dinner last night, so we grabbed a gift card and walked down the street to the restaurant. At this place the dining room is intimate and cozy. There are about six tables and they are situated right next to a big open kitchen, so you see all the action. The walls are brick and the ceiling is tin — two of my favorite things in NYC restaurants.

The staff is always the same and there’s one waiter who knows us. He’s an Italian guy with a big personality. He’s funny as hell and one of the reasons we enjoy eating there so much.

The last time we were there was a week after my mastectomy. Earlier that evening my breast surgeon called me to tell me my pathology report for my lymph nodes came back and they were clean. “You’re a solid stage 1a. We’ll talk more Monday when I see you, but I wanted you to have a peaceful, happy weekend,” she said.

Kyle was with me when she called. We were walking down Remsen Street, just off the subway on our way home from an appointment with my plastic surgeon. We stopped and hugged, both of us beyond relieved, since this was the news we had been waiting for and it was all good. To celebrate the good news and the fact my plastic surgeon had removed two of my four drains that afternoon, we went to my favorite joint.

That was when I still had my long blonde hair.

Last night was my first time there since cutting my hair. We showed up, sat down and as the waiter approached our table with menus, he stopped dead in his tracks and just stared at me. “What did you do to your hair?” he exclaimed. The people at the table next to us turned to look at me.

“I cut it,” I quietly said, self-consciously patting my head.

More loudly, next to me, Kyle said, “She cut it, man” in a way that indicated he should just shut the fuck up and leave well enough alone.

I stared at the menu and then started fidgeting with Penelope, trying to stay calm even though I knew before even coming the waiter would notice and say something. His awkward jokes were always so entertaining, but not now I was the focus.

I was able to calm down and we were talking about some funny story from my childhood when he approached the table to take our orders.

“Seriously, though, what’s going on here?” he joked. “You just woke up and decided to hack it all off?” Looking at Kyle, he said, “You OK with this, man?”

Again, people were looking. I felt my face turning red.

“I have cancer,” I said evenly, tears welling up in my eyes. Kyle’s arm instinctively wrapped around my shoulders.

“What?” the watier said, not because he didn’t hear me, but because he wasn’t expecting that answer.

“She’s got cancer,” Kyle repeated.

“Ah, shit,” he said. “Dammit. I always say the wrong things. I’m sorry.” And I could tell he felt like a real ass and he really was sorry.

“Well, now you know,” I said. “Next time you see me, I won’t have any hair.”

But he didn’t hear me. He was too absorbed in his own processing and busy mumbling to himself about how foolish he was.

I’m quite certain when we return to this place in another two weeks and I am bald, he will be shocked. But hopefully he will have learned his lesson about keeping his fucking mouth shut.

Jessica Sliwerski and Poppy in beanies
Poppy and me: My grandma sent Poppy and me new matching beanies.

All photos courtesy of Jessica Sliwerski

Originally published: October 13, 2017
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