In 1998 when I had breast cancer my sister Anne came to visit on Labor Day weekend. I had just begun chemo and all of my hair was coming out in gigantic clumps. It felt awful and I decided it was time for the remaining hair to go. Anne shaved my head. I remember sitting in the bathtub afterward, soaking in Mr. Bubble and crying. It was the weekend of my 37th birthday.
As horrible as that memory is, a wonderful new tradition was born that Labor Day. My mother, sister, brother and I now get together every Labor Day weekend for a visit. My nearly 80-year old Mom just boarded a plane for her return flight to New York. My sister went home to Denver yesterday. It is a big expense and not always convenient, but every year they come. Only my brother gets off easy since he lives just down the road.
At my house Mom and Anne get fresh flowers in their rooms along with a favorite box of candy or dried fruit. My husband Jim chauffers us around, pours fabulous wines from his cellar and is in charge of birthday desserts. This year we had some mind-boggling macaroons. Last year, a Valrhona chocolate cake, the year before, gourmet cupcakes. These small traditions are precious to me.
Fun with the iPad camera
This year is a bittersweet birthday. I’ve been through the worst of the BRCA surgeries and although I’m still a work in progress, I’m ready to move on. My sister Anne’s turn is next and we did spend some time during our visit talking about the nitty-gritty details. Not fun, but helpful for us both. As a previvor, my sister’s choices are different from mine. I hope that she will always be a previvor and never a survivor so we can have many more Labor Day reunions.
That is what I wished for this birthday weekend.
Anne and Mom watch me get birthday face paint.
Once a crab, always a crab.
Being cranky is not one of my finer attributes, but like my crappy BRCA genes, it is part of me. Following my initial mastectomy/reconstruction surgery the plastic surgeon counseled my husband and mother that I would likely be very irritable over the course of the next 48 hours. Jim and Mom broke into uncontrolled laughter. The surgeon, who has never seen crabby Lee in action was mystified by their reaction. Me irritable? Baby, I was born to be a crab.
It has been eleven days since Stage II breast revisions and BSO surgery and while I’m so pleased not be a total wreck like I was last time, I’m peeved to be caught in no man’s land, somewhere between sick and well.
James is in Salt Lake City today. Lucky man. The cats are the only critters in my orbit and like all cats, they do not give a rat’s ass about human problems unless it interferes with their food.
I guess my biggest gripe is not that I’m still fatigued and need frequent naps. Nor is is it the pain level, which no longer requires my friend Vicodin. I even drove for the first time yesterday and that was no problem. No, my biggest complaint is the stupid Spanx. I HATE SPANX!
Not to disparage this fine product. It is helping my liposuctioned, bruised, scarred midsection heal nicely. Two weeks the doctor said. I’m counting the minutes until I can be rid of these things. Twenty-four hours a day is a long time to wear any garment, particularly one that squashes one’s guts. Shapewear is meant to be worn for an evening under something slinky, not ’round the clock. So what is so horrid about a pancake flat tummy and a nicely lifted fanny?
Let’s just call it digestive disturbances of a volcanic nature and leave it at that. No wonder I’m crabby.
There are three lazy cats in my household who sleep around the clock. They each have their preferred spots. The old geezer cat likes sunshine or anywhere warm. The girl cat prefers hidey-holes away from the boys. The young male likes plenty of elbow room. He’s a rather large fellow. I believe I am turning into a cat since I have slept more than the Three Musketeers these last few days. Boy am I tired.
On Thursday it will be off to the plastic surgeon’s office. I plan to do nothing more strenuous than a short walk or two until then. Things are healing well and compared to my last adventure in surgery, I feel great. Just pooped. Only 39 more days until the Oregon Ducks football season gets underway. I must get my rest.
Miss Bubble is not amused.
48 Hours was one of Eddie Murphy’s funniest movies. It’s also the name of a long-running TV show and the exact amount of time before my next surgery. Yes, I am feeling a bit crazy and that is to be expected. Last time I disappeared down the surgery wormhole it took a long time to surface again. The closer it gets, the busier I get. Who says avoidance is not a good thing?
Yesterday’s distractions included cleaning the oven, laundry, shopping and some dark chocolate covered almonds from Trader Joe’s. 73% dark Belgian chocolate is good for the soul if not the skinny jeans. James is on a road trip to the Midwest and this gives me license to watch weird stuff at night on Netflix that would put him to sleep. Another good time killer.
I wish sleeping was easier.Less than six hours last night. Been up since before 4AM.
Today, it’s off to treadmill land, more work around the house and lunch with a friend. Writing a single word other than this blog and a to-do list is just not happening. I will survey my nest and purchase anything else I think might be needed. Last weekend I bought Spanx to wear after surgery. Doctor’s orders. Shapewear they call it. I call it a high-tech girdle. Less onerous than what my mother’s generation wore, but the thought of a bruised belly being squashed twenty-three hours a day in a compression garment is not pleasant. Still, if it helps the lumps and bumps created by fat grafting settle better, I will be a good girl and do as I’m told.
My husband had never heard of Spanx. His dyslexia took over and renamed them. They will forever be known around here as Skankies. I hope we will be laughing about this when he has to help me put them on.
Spanx Girl Shorts aka “Skankies”
Good bras cost a bloody fortune. Proper fit is a lifelong problem for most women, from training bras to nursing bras to grandma bras. In the midst of this year of endless surgeries and an ever-changing personal landscape I have given up on bras for the moment. A few inexpensive wire-free boring things have done their job over the last few months. After my next round of surgery I expect to be stuck in compression garments for a while. Oh joy. While I’m squashed like a sausage into some petroleum-based fabric during the summer months I’m not even going to think about the B word. I will distract myself instead with something girly that I can enjoy. Panties.
Even the nicest pair of panties cost a fraction of a good bra. They come in every style, color and fabric. A massive hip-to-hip belly scar like mine can disappear under the right cut. An added bonus.
My latest panty acquisition is one of my favorite. It has nothing to do with lace, bows or the fact they came in a brown box in the mail from Nordstrom. They are my new treasure because my charming man bought them for me.
Fancy pants. Ooh la la.
Am I lucky girl or what?
Three weeks to go. I feel the need to clean everything in my house. Stay busy. Have some fun. No matter how hard the logical side of my brain works, the older more primal brain sneaks in and whispers in my ear to be afraid. Very afraid. With good reason. Surgery is scary stuff.
I seek to keep myself on an even keel with regular exercise and three square meals a day from scratch with no processed foods. Well, maybe some chocolate. And I gather my good luck charms. Here is a new addition:
T-shirt from Charles Smith Wines
While Riesling may not be among my favorite varietals, I do appreciate the talents of this very colorful winemaker. The T-shirt for his Kung Fu Girl Riesling somehow reminded me that I am one tough girl. I’m ready to kick my cancer risk in the ass. Just throw in a sock monkey or two and all will be well, no matter what the animal part of my brain has to say.
Cotty and the Duck Monkey
Miss Bubble, enjoying the "healing quilt" in between my surgeries
Statistics on cancer risks for those with defective BRCA genes are readily available, but teasing out numbers that assess any single individual’s risk is all but impossible. Science can provide a ballpark range, but there are many mitigating factors that can place one at the low end of the scale or all but guarantee that cancer will be headed your way.
The choice to select surgery as a means to manage cancer risk is insanely difficult for many people. Not for me. In some respects though, I do feel as if I’ve made a lousy bargain with the devil. I’m trading precious body parts for the hope of a normal lifespan. There are no guarantees, only a reduction in risk. I can still get breast or ovarian cancer even once all my girl parts are history. Other problems such as heart disease, osteoporosis and additional forms of cancer are very real possibilities when this “Year of Living Surgeries” is over. Apologies to that fabulous movie “The Year of Living Dangerously,” when Mel Gibson was just sexy, not crazy.
Are the BRCA surgeries worth it?
In my head is the idea for a novel based on this question. I hope it has a happy ending but I’m not going to wait around to see the results in my own life. In the short term I’ll write something else. Being worried about the future is not how I want to spend whatever time is left on my personal meter. Nor do I want to create a bucket list. Unless of course, it is what we call the “drink now bucket” around here. These are wines that have been aging in our cellar that need to be consumed before they pass prime drinking enjoyment.
In 1998 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and terrified that every tiny hiccup was a recurrence, my surgeon gave me a good piece of advice. “Go out and live your life” he said. That is what I’ve been doing for the past fourteen years.