What’s this about Gratitude?

July 7, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I was called in to Dr. S’s office for what I was told would be a ‘routine checkup’ before radiation starts.

I’m sitting in the examination room wearing a pink paper gown, open to the front, waiting.  I’m looking around the room…bored, cold… and I notice that the walls are plastered with thank yous from patients to Dr. S.

“Thank you for saving my life!”

“I wouldn’t be here without you!”

“You are my hero!”

Every inch of the room is covered with gratitude from women who have had their breasts removed.

And I realize that I don’t feel this way.  I don’t think of Dr. S as my hero or savior or anything other than a surgeon who can be a bit pushy.  Why don’t I feel as much gratitude towards her as I do some of my other doctors or the people in my life that are taking care of me?

Any guilt I may feel about this is immediately alleviated the moment I see Dr. S and she whams me with an unexpected update.

“I’d like to do another surgery before radiation begins,” she says.

This would entail deflating my tissue expanders/implants and removing a crescent moon’s worth of skin from each side of my incision sites on both breasts. (I mean, they’re not really breasts anymore, but… you get what I’m sayin’.)  This would mean adding another month into my overall treatment plan and going through the expansion process all over again.

Ah… now I recall why I don’t feel overwhelming gratitude toward this woman.  Anytime I go in for a ‘routine checkup’ she blindsides me with new information.  And she’s always trying to take just a little bit more of me away; tossing it into her hazardous waste bucket.

“I also think we need to do radiation on your entire chest wall,” she says.

Aaaaand I start crying.  I’ve been wary of radiation treatment from the first moment it was mentioned, but had come to terms with having it done under my left arm where they found the open, cancerous lymph node.  But my entire chest?  My heart’s in there.  My lungs.  Not to mention the damage it could do to the skin, leaving my new and soon-to-be-perfect breasts looking ruddy and bruised forever.  I’m not okay with this.

After asking ‘why’ for the better part of an hour, I leave Dr. S’s office with no satisfactory answer.  Feeling like she is a surgeon who just wants to cut.  Feeling like I cannot trust her opinion as she seems to be working from some sort of hunch rather than fact-based science.  And feeling a little hopeless about the mess I’m living in the middle of.

I talk to my oncologist.  He explains that after my surgery, my pathology report came back with clear margins, showing that enough tissue was taken.  Since then, my tissue was sent to a second pathologist and this report did not show clear margins and that is why Dr. S wants to remove more skin… to be safe.  (Why Dr. S didn’t just tell me this, I will never know.  I guess she was too busy name dropping ‘world-renowned’ radiology oncologists and trying to make me feel less smart and less important than she is.) But Dr. P (my oncologist) doesn’t think this is necessary.  He also thinks that if I am truly opposed to having radiation done on my chest wall, I should keep searching for a radiology oncologist that is willing to treat just the underarm area.

I’ve had one consult thus far with a radiology oncologist.  Dr. G.  He agrees that the chest wall needs to be radiated.  “I’m shocked that you would place cosmetics above your chance of survival,” he says.

But the question becomes again… what am I fighting for?  Is a long life really worth it if I’m psychologically damaged every time I look down at myself?  Being unhappy with the way I look naked and knowing there is nothing I can do to take control and change it?  If I’m self-conscious anytime I wear a tank top or a swimsuit? I’m a very young woman with a long road of healthy sexual experiences in front of me. Cosmetic appearance is still an important factor.  And I am tired of the doctors that make me feel like I’m being a silly, stupid, superficial girl every time I bring it up.

And I already let them take both of my breasts in the first place.

And I’m tired of not being able to eat everything I want or sip whiskey or drink coffee or stick my face in cake if I want to.

I’m fighting and fighting and fighting… but I don’t want to survive this thing.  I want to be able to live.  And I’m not convinced it’s worth living without my mom’s pie, sugar cookies, wedding cake, pizza, milkshakes… oh, yeah… and a body I can live in peacefully.


Am I right to question the doctors and push for us to all stick to the original treatment plan?  Or am I simply throwing a fit because no one is telling me what I want to hear?  That I’m going to be alright.  That I will survive this.  That I will do more than survive this.  That I am Master Warrior Champion who is kicking Cancer’s ass so hard that there is no need to worry anymore.  No one’s saying that.  It’s terrifying.  So should I just do whatever they are telling me so that Cancer won’t come back to get me?  Or are they just playing on my fear to manipulate me into letting them do whatever they want, so I should keep fighting for what I feel is best for me?

I don’t know.  I don’t know anything.

I’m having another pathology report done at the office where my sister works.  If the margins come back clear, I will not have the surgery.  And I will have more consults with more radiology oncologists and make a decision within the next 2 weeks.

Good things:

Chemo is over.  My hair and eyebrows will grow back soon and I made it through without losing my fingernails.

My port has been removed.  (It was actually a pretty traumatic and very painful operation.  They didn’t put me under, they just numbed my chest.  It was supposed to take 10 minutes, it took over an hour.  “Your body’s really claimed this thing,” said the surgeon.  It was stuck.  She had to saw it out, pulling and pulling on the tube that led into my neck… which had not been numbed.  The lidocaine wore off before she was finished.  I could feel the needle by the time she got around to stitching me back up.  BUT… it’s gone!)

I was graciously given VIP passes to The Avett Brothers concert at Red Rocks, CO last weekend.  The band and crew have a great understanding of what it is to live through The Cancer Games.  I had an amazingly-life-changing-soul-renewing good time, shared with my MG.  Something that is definitely worth living for.

And I experienced, for the first time in The Cancer Games, two beautiful moments of tribute solidarity.

The first came when I went to see a play at MG’s theatre. One of the cast members came up to me before the show, having seen my port site.  She gently pulled back the collar of her costume revealing a faint scar beneath her collar bone.  “We share this,” she said. The second came at The Avetts show, when a gorgeous young woman sidled up to me and said, “That’s a beautiful scarf you’re wearing.”  “Thank you, it was my Grandmother’s,” I said as I turned to see that she was wearing one as well.  She squeezed my hand and asked, “How are you feeling today?”  “Today is a good day.  You?”  “It’s a good day for me, too,” she said.

And here’s where my gratitude lives.  Shown in the simplistic kindness of others.

End cancer chapter 11.


One Response to “What’s this about Gratitude?”

  1. Benjamin Greenstone Says:

    I was gonna leave you an uber-long comment, but decided to email it instead. You are a rocking rock-star, and also the Jonesborough Mulan (’cause you’re like Mulan, but from Tennessee).

    Keep rockin’ the world.

    Love you.

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