Tracks of my Tears
Posted October 8, 2009on:
Any physician will tell you that the only biological purpose for a woman’s breasts is to feed her babies. But breasts appear long before a girl is ready to become a mother, and whether or not she eventually gives birth, her breasts and how she presents them make all sorts of statements about her femininity, her self-esteem, her sexiness, and how society judges her attractiveness. Potential partners are very likely to include a woman’s breasts when judging her physical charm – perky and petite, full and voluptuous, or somewhere in the middle.
My relationship is not much different. I’ve always known that my husband, visually oriented gentleman that he is, was quite attracted to my breasts. Within days of my diagnosis one of my many concerns was whether he would still find me attractive without them. The night before surgery, at my urging, he took more pictures of them now marked with incision lines made earlier in the day by the plastic surgeon. Before falling asleep we gently bid them good-bye, caressing and kissing them as we tried to remember how they felt … how they would never feel again. And in those intimate moments he once again assured me that he loved and had married me, not my breasts.
Still, that night I dreamed I was at the hospital’s front door and he and my daughter were trying to coax and pull me in. Up until the last minute a part of me wanted to back out, to call a time-out, to ask for more time to re-consider my decision to surgically remove both of my breasts.
We arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, September 15, 2009. One of our friends who had promised she would wait and pray with my family was already there. My daughter arrived soon after. Once I had changed clothes and was lying on the gurney, days passed before I was able to stand and walk on my own. After a couple of hours of preparation, they wheeled me into the operating room, and that is literally the last thing I remember until I was fully awake again around 7 p.m. that evening.
Upon waking, my natural instinct was to put my hands to my chest for a chance to feel what the people standing around my bedside could see. Even without touching them, the pain was excruciating. I felt as if I had my 7-year-old granddaughter’s training bra on – OMG the stitches and ACE bandages were so tight. And besides that, I had four plastic drain tubes attached to my rib cage – one end of each tube surgically buried into my side, while the outside end had a plastic bulb hanging from it. Every move, but particularly those made on my left side where the cancer was found, was very difficult to make. I woke up in my hospital room to everyone’s smiling faces, but inside I felt weak, vulnerable, and totally out of control.
My mother, Florida, died suddenly 35 years ago when I was 15 years old. Beginning with Mother’s death, and living with the knowledge of my father’s obvious disregard, I’ve felt forced to accept the belief that in order to survive, I had to learn to live a strong, very independent, self-controlled adult life. Many other women have stepped into that void; loving, nurturing women whose presence makes the heart emptiness left by Mother’s absence less difficult to bear. I’ve gone through all sorts of life experiences with these women holding my hand – teenage wife and mother, graduation from college, divorce, became a grandmother, married again, finished grad school, suffered a heart attack, diagnosed with cancer – all without the benefit of Mother’s presence, encouragement, and comfort.
As a consequence of so much “courageous” living, for a very long time my life’s theme has been that I have only myself to depend upon. I’ve believed that I have to present myself to friends and family as some sort of Super Woman who can and does stand on my own two feet; a woman who doesn’t need other people to pay her bills, fix her meals, or take care of her. My reasoning: if I’m not always pleasant to be around, always smiling and optimistic, and always brave, those close to me will reject and leave me as Mother left in death, and my father left by choice.
So, here recently when I’ve felt incredibly sorry for myself, I’ve wept silently in the night trying not to wake my husband. When cancer makes me feel like a caged, damaged animal, I’ve hesitated to write in my blog because who wants to hear all about someone else’s pain and suffering?
Cancer, however, is teaching me that a certain maturity runs parallel to accepting benevolence gracefully. Growing up, I was taught that to ask for help was a sign of vulnerability, and to lose control was just plain foolishness. From numerous pulpits I was taught that to admit fear was a sign of faithlessness that real Christians aren’t fearful because real Christians are faithful enough to believe God will take care of whatever is troubling them.
Cancer is teaching me – again – that just as flowers require rain and darkness in order to bloom brightly in the blazing sunlight, we too in order to grow and become the women and men we were meant to become, also require seasons during which the nights are long and the days are gloomy. Cancer is teaching me that everything that happens to each of us is ultimately for some divine reason about which we may or may not ever realize in this life.
Cancer is teaching me that while I have run into people whose offers of help are nothing more than disguised reasons to make me feel beholding and needy, there are many more people in my life who are genuinely concerned about my health, about how my husband and family are, and how we are managing this current life’s challenge.
So, when my friend stopped by the house yesterday to simply and sincerely ask: “How are you doing” my response was to lay my head on her shoulder and to weep long and deeply from a place in my spirit I have repressed for far too long.
What a relief.