I just re-read the e-mail I sent to myself and to my husband the night before I had surgery for breast cancer. My surgery was exactly a year ago tomorrow.
After writing and sending that e-mail, I remember sending it off and then going to bed. In the morning I had to wake up quite early and take a shower with an anti-bacterial soap.
I reported to the registration desk and said, “I submit myself to the care of the hospital.” I had rehearsed this over and over in my mind. It felt important to say this for some reason, but I had to practice it because I was so frightened. Maybe it was comforting to have an element of choice in the whole thing: I submit myself.
When I went into the surgery preparation area, one of the nurse assistants gave me a hospital gown and one of those poofy things to cover my head. Even though I had chosen a clean bandanna to wear, I still had to take it off and wear the hospital cap. I felt vulnerable and demeaned, being rolled through the hospital corridors with my bald head showing through the sheer poofy shower cap. (They were taking me for a radioactive injection that would light the way to my sentinel lymph node to test just that one for cancer — it’s a technique they use to determine whether they’ll leave your lymph nodes in or take the rest out.)
When I got back to the surgery prep area, the nurse came in and asked whether I wanted anything. I told her that I felt sad without my bandanna, and she promptly dug through my belongings and gave it to me, tossing aside the silly hospital hat.
She made me feel good. Not too much that happened after that made me feel good, but that nurse really reached out to me and helped me so much.
I still can’t bring myself to write about the specifics of the surgery I had. I am not sure why, but I just can’t. There is a strong part of me that wants to, in order to help the community of women who are going to have breast cancer surgery tomorrow and every day after that. I think I will write about it in time.
Here’s an excerpt of some of what I wrote exactly a year ago tonight:
“I’m actually not sure what else to write. I am sad, but I know that I have cancer. I keep trying to figure out a way to think myself out of it, but I can’t. Ever since I got the diagnosis six months ago, I have been waiting to have the cancer cut out of my body, and so I look forward to the surgery because there is a significant part of me that is scared to death. … I will do everything I can to fight the cancer returning or from reforming itself into a new cancer. I trust and believe that my body can heal and that it will heal and that it can and will fight cancer. I also believe that my body needs some help from Western medicine and technology, and I’ll take that too and add it to the arsenal. … Mostly, I feel lucky to have life-saving surgery. And that’s really the bottom line with all of this — I will have life-saving surgery tomorrow, and that’s really the most important thing.
Everything else is just frosting.”
Now, it’s a year later, and my family and I are embarking on a completely new journey. We’ve moved across the country in order to raise our darling girls near extended family. Already we’ve had wonderful gatherings with family and old friends. My girls run around outside in their little yard (we had an apartment before, and now we are renting a house) searching for worms, slugs, bunnies, bugs and birds. They live a few houses away from their cousin, who is just a year older than they are, and they have already had lots of fun times with him.
I had a dear friend tell me recently that the anniversaries during this, my first year out of treatment, would be difficult. She was right. They are difficult. But I’ve also had a chance to enjoy lots of frosting, and I’m so grateful.