WTF, breast cancer. Are you joking? Universe, now you are really screwing with me. Really? Seven years ago this month, I lost my husband. Now, 7 years later this month I get the news…breast cancer.
Wow, the games I have played with the Universe since becoming a widow. Belief one…the worst thing that could possibly happen would be to lose a spouse–well no, the worst would be to lose a child. Okay, so I lost not only a spouse, I lost a beloved dog, a bunch of friends, family members and colleagues. I was one tear-assed angry widow…In August 2005 I got my karmic card punched…I was now free. I get to pass go. I get to collect $200. There was a cloak of invincibility around me and the people I loved. I survived, thrived and made it through. Hell, at times I felt like I even got the golden ring…Hey, I did. I found a new partner who loved and embraced me and my kids. A partner who tolerated my emotional chaos and physical messes. A partner who understood and met my hurt and anger at the people who vanished because they couldn’t handle the gut-busting pain that was part of my daily life. My partner, who embraced my lack of attention to detail, my obliviousness to my environment. My partner, who didn’t expect me to be polite or appropriate in the face of being nuked by emotional napalm which was so freely lobbed by those I trusted, but those who wanted me to play nice in an emotional war zone.
Grief is messy, if real…not smooth…not predictable.
Grief literature confirms that widows/widowers frequently have a health crisis following the death of a spouse. Often, that crisis occurs within 3 to 4 years following the loss. Yup, I did that. I got pneumonia–a wicked case of pneumonia. Spent close to 3 weeks in the hospital filled up with lots of antibiotic cocktails…couldn’t walk, couldn’t really talk without coughing. Carried home an IV machine and had IV meds delivered every 8 hours by my Sweet Bill. In the meantime the pressure to “get better” was enhanced by my oldest daughter’s upcoming dream wedding in Lanai, Hawaii.
Pulled off “Mom of the Bride”…recovered from pneumonia…routine set in. Yearly dental check ups…yearly mammograms…you know the drill.
Hate mammograms. Religiously get them. Hate the technician, except when I get the young, sassy one who is as comfortable heaving my boobs around as I am. But, no, for the 2012 mammogram I got a Nurse Ratched type. Should have known…this did not bode well.
Mammogram done. Off to a wonderful trip with my third daughter and her groovy husband. Big Sur country, no phones, sleeping in the redwoods, eating green food and Esalen bread. Feasting and dreaming of a future of reading and writing and evolving into all that we can be.
Got home. Reality bit. No postcard from the hospital. Nope, instead a self-addressed stamped envelope. Bad news. All women know that the envelope means a call back. And not the good theatrical call back; the bad, oh shit, kind a call back. Boobs will be smushed again.
SO, back I went. Serious radiologist, super well trained. He knew his script. He knew how to show empathy. He knew the words to use. He was trained and well practiced. 80% benign, 20% questionable…all early detection, all treatable…nothing to really worry about, but something to follow up on. You need to go to a larger hospital where they have the right equipment.
Drive for 1 1/2 hours to a modern day “torture chamber.” A stereotactic machine(a marvel really). Lying 10 feet up in the air on my stomach, with my boob hanging down into the air above the radiologist’s head. “We will numb the area, computer generate the area to be biopsied, extract samples then repeat the mammogram. You will feel some pressure.” Memories of my proper but sassy grandma giving me permission to say “damn” when I got a shot of antibiotics as a 6-year-old came flooding back. However, this time I evolved to saying MF and the lab tech and the doc applauded. They were good folks.
I knew then something was not right. But the waiting began…4 days, maybe more.
Monday morning going to Safeway to buy flowers and a card for my primary care doc and his nurse as a bribe to call me when the results are in. I am nothing if not manipulative when I want what I want. And I wanted to KNOW. I have plans. I have a killer talk to give at Camp Widow in San Diego in a week. I also got a drop dead gorgeous dress to wear to the festivities. Going to San Diego, getting to spend the evening with Bill and two good long-term friends. All of that so fragile, so temporal, so elusive. I needed to know.
Phone rings. Ductal in situ (the good kind of breast cancer or pseudo breast cancer–as if there is a good kind). Treatment, lumpectomy and radiation…and this is your life. WAIT a minute THIS is not supposed to happen to me. I got screwed majorly once by the universe–and now twice? Really?
And then broadcasting the news on Facebook to friends, NOT wanting to manage the terror by myself. Not being able to bear the quiet fear that I would cease to exist. If I shared the pain with others, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt so bad. Perhaps their outrage would balance my terror. Perhaps they too would howl at the moon and scream, “This is not fair!” Perhaps I would not be so alone, so lonely.
So now the decisions begin. Eat whole grains and greens, juice, meditate, walk, run, yoga…oxygenate your body, stay away from toxic people and places. Care for yourself. Take supplements. The radiation will fry your skin. Journal…and suddenly, I feel the transformation beginning…I am morphing into CANCER WOMAN. Does that bottle contain BPA? Have I had my Miso soup today? Wait, was that organic lettuce….And my sense of self begins to shrink. Was that SPLENDA you put in that tea? I look longingly at “I am Really Not A Waitress” OPI nail polish and think, “Oh, shit…not organic.” AND, what about the well water we drink? Is the well water safe? And yes, I love onion rings, but will that onion ring kill me? And, my beloved wine….and suddenly my life takes on this sense of “preciousness” this sense of caution, this sense of living in a Bell Jar. I may live forever, but is that living? Or rather, is that living for BETH? The Beth that will try anything once. The Beth that chewed tobacco and hated it, but HAD to try it? The Beth that loves eating greasy pizza dipped in ranch. The Beth that at times MUST.HAVE.McDonalds Diet Coke. Shoot me now, people, because THAT is who I am. Not all of who I am But the free spirit, slightly naughty, very irreverent…. The me I so desperately love. The part of me I refuse to lose.
I have never been on a diet for more than 3 hours and 20 minutes, because if I can’t, I want. Tell me not to, and that’s what I want to do.
So tomorrow I go in all grown up and ready to face my doctor. Having been a psychologist for 20 years, I’m not scared or intimidated by the docs at all. Quite the contrary. And, I am going to say, I want to live, I want to be healthy. I want to dance and sing and be silly and one day go on an African Safari with my 4 grandchildren. I want that more than I want a regime that will shrink me. That will make me less me.
I am pissed and I am terrified. And, once again I am mad that my husband, Rob, died. I spoke to my dearest advisor today. And she said, do you know that many woman contract breast cancer 7 years following a trauma? Rob died in 2005. You do the math. Am I mad and scared and afraid my identity will be taken from me? You bet.