The other day during my dog walking duties, a large black SUV pulled up next to me. I run into lots of people in each of the neighborhoods in which I house/pet sit, so I was not alarmed—it’s usually someone who knows the dog I’m walking. I was shocked to look up to see the husband of a former co-worker, neither of whom I’ve seen in over 6 years. He’d aged a little so it took me a second or two to recognize him. Yet, he recognized me from behind (and I was wearing bulky layers, long coat covering my ass, so get your mind outta the gutter), from down the street.
Since I lost my hair in chemo, and it continues to come back soooo sllooowwwly, I’ve felt incognito. (Actually, I’d like to be incognito, for a number of reasons, but that is another post.) I hated my short, super-curly (like Gene Wilder or Tom Hiddleston curly) hair so much that when people who had not seen me in a while (and did not know about my cancer) would mention my short hair, I was quick to say I’d had chemo…like OMG you don’t think I’d have this hairstyle on purpose do you?!!
But I realize that I’ve changed so much mentally that I’m kind of surprised when people I associated with years prior to diagnoses know me. I guess I look close enough to how I looked before that I am recognizable, but me, the real me, has changed, all because in split second in 2010 I moved from the land of the well to Cancer Land. Even though I currently have NED, I am still a resident. As long as I have to keep my various oncology doctors in the contact list in my phone, I feel like I am under their care (especially since I still see them twice a year—two times too much). I look forward to the day I can delete oncologists from my phone’s contact list.
Got a design sketch proposal from a tattoo artist to cover my lumpectomy scar. A little background: I never got a tattoo in my college years (the 90s, when ALL twenty-somethings got them to express…er, individuality); I had problems committing to a picture I’d want on my body for the rest of my life (oh fuck it, let’s be real, I have problems with commitment in general). But now, I have numerous little blue dot tattoos that mapped me for radiation, and I have a substantial amount of tissue taken from my left breast, no nipple, and a 4 inch horizontal scar that even reconstruction will not hide. So I decided no reconstruction—I do not want a permanently erect nipple, and I’d have to get the areola tattooed on anyway. So why not do something else? So I’m getting the Red Hot Chili Peppers band logo put on there (I’ve been a fan for over 20 years without faltering, incredibly, so I guess I can make this commitment) with the words “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. The quote may or may not be from Churchill. I’d prefer it to be definitely his, but, so what, it’s a good quote that accurately sums stuff up for me. It is so much better than my other choices, both by humorist Dave Barry: “Scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid,” and my personal mantra: “What I look forward to is continued immaturity followed by death.”
So now, just gotta decide with the artist about the placement of the quote—around the logo, or through it? After 2 years of making health decisions that will affect my survivability and quality of life, I’m ok with this decision not having to be so momentous.
A little over two years ago, a few days before my 39th birthday, I was informed that I had breast cancer. My 50-year-old aunt had been diagnosed that summer, so when I had my annual gyno, I demanded my first mammogram, even though I was under the recommended age of 40. Got the mammo a week later, with nearly an immediate result: negative—the all clear. My relief was short lived. About 3 weeks later I noticed my nipple had turned in on itself (the tumor began directly under it, making it difficult to detect). So the mammo was that rare thing: a false negative. Ultimately, after many tests I learn this: Breast Cancer Stage 3, ER and PR negative, HER2 positive (an aggressive form of breast cancer but not as much as being negative in all 3), a very large tumor that had not yet metastasized, incredibly.
From October of 2010 to January 13, 2012, I spent most of my time in and out of medical facilities. Chemo first to shrink the tumor and make surgery less extensive, then surgery, then radiation, and I finished off with infusions of Herceptin (at $13,000+ per session) every 3 weeks until this past January. Oh and throw in quarterly echocardiograms, since Herceptin wants to wreck the heart. It sucked, but I did ok. No matter how nauseous I never barfed. Never needed blood transfusion for low blood count. My hair even started to come back when I was on the less toxic chemo, and the chemo obliterated the tumor—there was nothing discernible to remove in surgery, so they just took surrounding tissue and a few lymph nodes, and that was clear. I seem to do well with poison. Not sure what to do with that, but whatever.
So I reflect today on the suckage—and the good stuff, like my cancer buddies—of the past 2 years. And all cancer patients (or anyone facing mortality) are “obligated” to have “learned something” and share wisdom. I’m not really fond of that crap, but I will say this: I did learn to cut out anything in my life that made me miserable, and learned how easy it is to do that. I re-learned to demand what I want, to the point of being a malcontent (not too insufferable a malcontent I hope). I had lost my way in life before I got sick, but I am back on track…and now I “just gotta keep on livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.” (Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused)