Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Breast Cancer. Loss. Life.

In an effort to keep this blog from becoming too focused on cancer and surgery and all their accompanying emotional and physical after effects, I’ve been making it a point to write a few non-cancer posts in recent days. I guess if I had begun this as a cancer blog, I wouldn’t have second thoughts about writing on that subject because that would be the blog’s main purpose.

However. There are a few of you wonderful Smithellaneous folks who have been checking in with me by e-mail to see if I really am as okay as my posts seem to indicate, or if my cheerier writing is merely camouflaging ongoing difficulties and continuing cancer stresses.

I guess the answer to that question is that I truly am doing well, all things considered. I don’t think that I have burst into tears for no reason for four or five days now, so that’s good progress. Steve can attest to the fact that it was getting to be quite interesting there for awhile. He and I would be talking about nothing much in particular and then, all of a sudden, I would just burst out crying.

In fact, a couple weeks ago I took Sarah in for her 6-month dental check up and when the dentist came out to tell me how things had gone, I actually found myself tearing up while he talked with me. I’m sure he went back to his notes and wrote, “Patient was delightful. Patient’s mother? Not so much. She seemed to get emotional over a discussion of flossing habits and wisdom teeth.”

But I think tears after surgery and after a loss of the sort I experienced should be considered pretty par for the course. Grief is grief, regardless of whether you’ve lost a family member, a beloved pet, a cherished friend, a job, a marriage, or a body part. (Obviously there are many degrees involved, but all of those experiences have grief in common.)

As an example: Last week I was near Goodwill so I stopped in for a few minutes. When I got to the dressing room with my little stack of shirts, it suddenly occurred to me that the last time I had been at that particular store, in that particular dressing room, I’d had The Girls with me.

This time, though? The Girls hadn’t made the trip. The Girls were gone.

That was something worth crying over.

I read another breast cancer survivor’s story and she wrote that after the surgery, it was like loved ones had disappeared, they had just been taken from her life. Suddenly, they were . . . gone. No funeral, no burial, no closure.

Go to sleep. They’re there. Wake up. They’re gone. Just gone.

So yes, it is a strange and sad season of life, in many ways. But in other ways, I’ve noticed a subtle, ongoing shift in my attitude.

During the first couple weeks after surgery, I would look at the surgical area and shudder and think, “This all just looks so sad and pitiful and ugly and violent.” I undressed and re-dressed as quickly as possible in an attempt to try and make it all go away. Out of sight, out of mind. Make it stop. Make it not be what it is. (Isn’t denial a wonderful thing?)

However, over the past week or two, my mindset has begun to change. I now look at the surgical area and what is left of my “original equipment’ (and thankfully, with a skin sparing mastectomy, I do have some of “me” remaining), and the words “ugly” and “damaged” no longer come to mind.

Instead, I feel like I am looking down and remembering brave and beautiful comrades in a war that we fought and won together. The scars I see there represent healing and a total cure and I find myself being grateful that cancer-infested loveliness has been replaced by cancer-free unloveliness that affords me every chance of living long enough to hold my grandbabies. And grow to become a very old and very thankful lady.

It’s so much about attitude. And reality. And accepting the fact that grief happens. And grief is part of the journey. And that if you don’t grieve, you’ll never get over the loss. And that there is, indeed, loss involved. Huge loss. Scary and sad loss. Tear producing, grief inducing loss.

But this loss brings life. And I like life. And life is good.

So I’m good with that.

13 Had Something To Say (Just click here!):

MaryH said...

Becky, beautiful, beautiful post. I am so thankful that you are moving throught the grief and are seeing all the good that your future holds. I am so thankful that you are cancer free. What a huge blessing. You have traveled an extremely difficult and hurtful path but you have done it with such grace and honesty. You have taught us all much. Thank you.

Pam D said...

What a journey, Becky. So many, many rough spots, and yet, the view they afford is one that not many get to see. Glimpses of hope, and grace, as joy and sorrow walk hand in hand. I read an entry in "Streams in the Desert" that talked about how we each have a part to sing in the heavenly choir, and how our experiences here on earth shape our "voices" and the notes we will sing. You may be a soprano here, but you may well carry the bass notes in Heaven, and you will do it in a way that no angel can. It is so wonderful to see my prayers answered, for God to heal not only those physical scars but the heart ones as well. He is good... all the time. {{{hugs}}}

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering the same thing about how you have really been doing, so glad to see you are healing and working your way through what has been a very tough time. I think you would be a wonderful counseler, you really have a gift for understanding, encouraging and communicating! Tomorrow morning I take my youngest daughter to the airport to head to Florida then New Zealand for the rest of the summer, she won't be back until mid August, shortly before college starts again. Take care -

Jean C

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your upfront honesty. You are an amzing and beautiful woman and I'm so pleased to be an internet friend.

Connie F-G

Anonymous said...

(((Hugs))) You have such a great way of putting things. Thanks for letting us know how your're doing. I'll be praying for you as make your way through the grief.

Kris H

Sue G said...

I remember at 14 watching my mother face her first radical mastectomy complete with numerous lymph glands under her armpit. Nine years later she traded her ovaries and uterus in for more years of life. And several years later she had the second mastectomy.

It was oh so many years ago, so long ago that things were quite different and so were the routes taken to save lives after a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully today, the prognosis for breast cancer survival is so much better...and your particular prognosis is the best.

I will never forget watching my mom exchange pieces of herself in return for time. It struck such a deep chord in me at 14 and then at 23 and again at 25. I couldn't imagine having to make such a decision.

And now, years later, I have myself exchanged a kidney, an adrenal gland, a thyroid, parts of another kidney, 1/4 of my quad muscle, my ovaries...oh, the list goes on and on. All for time.

And I have learned what motivated my mom to give up pieces of herself. I have learned what motivated my mom to show up and try again and again.

Life. Simple and With all its ups and downs, with all its richness and receding hairlines. Life. With all that it entails and all that it demands. Life is good.

Life is very, very good.

To life! (Le chaim!)

Anonymous said...

Eloquently written, Becky. As the daughter of a survivor, and as a nurse lactation consultant, I think about breasts a lot. I see a lot. I see them while they are working, so to speak. :-) And yes, I even touch a lot of breasts. And being a realist, I think about whether I will someday face this loss as well. Thank you for recording your journey and sharing the reality.

Anonymous said...

Becky, so good to hear from you about you! Maybe this isn't a "cancer" blog...but it is a blog about you and the Smithies and wonderful to always hear how God brings you through to new or changing places and perspectives! I find you to be a true woman of valour and am always encouraged by you to push forward!


Anonymous said...

although cancer might not have been an original (thank goodness) reason for having a blog, it obviously needs its blogging space on your blog.

it is good to know how you are really faring!

mrs pam

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