If you haven’t seen the 1976 film Network, in which Peter Finch plays a beloved network newscaster who looses his marbles, live, on the air, you should. You should because the screenplay is one of Paddy Chayefsky’s best and that is saying something. You should also see it because then what I am about to say will make sense.
I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE. AAAAUUUUGGGHHHHhhhhhhhhh!!!!!! Hell! Fuck! Shit! Damn! Damnshitfuck! Fuck, fuck, fuckety, fuckfuck! Hellfire, shitdamn! AAUUUUGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!
I’m so damn angry, mad, incensed, full of impotent rage. I have a shit-awful disease and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it. In the past almost three years now, breast cancer has forced some truly Sophie’s Choice-choices on me. And I’ve made them. And now, here I sit, I’m still alive. I’m in pieces, lots and lots of pieces. My plastic surgeon has done her level best to put all of my pieces back together but despite her very skilled care, my body has not cooperated. My body will not cooperate.
As part of my treatment, I underwent a heavy dose of radiation, twenty-eight treatments. The radiation did what it was supposed to, killing the small amount of cells left behind after chemotherapy and a bi-lateral mastectomy and even better, it put a knife in the heart of those bastard metastatic spots that had been hanging on to my spine.
When you go in for an x-ray, there is a reason the tech goes behind a screen before pushing the little button that lights you up. Radiation is not kind to the human body. It is not kind to human tissue. I finished radiation treatment a year and a half ago and the radiadated tissue where my left breast used to be continues to degrade. And that means our first attempt at making me a new breast has failed.
I met with my surgeon to discuss my options. All my options suck. They all suck a lot. If I want even a sub-normative female form, it is going to cost me a lot of my own muscle and tissue and about six months of my life and a whole mess of pain. And that is if there are no complications. I have yet to have any phase of this shit show not have complications. Even for a cancer patient, I’m a difficult case. I’m high-risk for heart attack and stroke. I’ve already dealt with one hospital-acquired infection. I have practically no immune system left.
All my options suck and I am so very tired. I am so very, very, tired of having to decide which of the fucked up options I have would be the most survivable and least awful.
I’m angry and I have nowhere for my anger to go. There isn’t a person or a thing or a group or even an idea for me to direct my anger toward. My anger is just there. I am angry and sad and pissed off and frustrated and irate but mostly angry and sad.
I spent most of yesterday laying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, feeling all my feelings, alternately hugging my dog and listening to Robert Johnson or yelling strings of obscenities at the dragons in my head. I feel so powerless. I puncuated the yelling with displays of frustration, flopping around, kicking my mattress, throwing a pillow. My dog is so used to this kind of thing now, she doesn’t even lift up her head.
I don’t think of life in terms of fairness. We all have some portion of misery. We all have some portion of joy. We all do what we can to lessen the former and increase the latter. But a lot of what happens, it just happens. It simply is. Cancer simply is. Depression is. Addiction is. Anger and bigotry and love and acceptance are. There is no rhyme or reason to their apportionment. We get what we get and it is up to us to make something of it, or not.
I’m angry I have cancer but I don’t ask why I have it. I ask why does it have to be so hard. Why so difficult? Why so many trade-offs? Why so much less than and why not a little more than enough? Financial ruin and terminal illness? Depression and busted heart? Crappy childhood and bad boyfriends? No orgasms and no breasts? It all seems a bit excessive.
I’m not content with the way I look naked. The area where my breasts used to be is now a mess of lumps and scars and scar tissue, a sad little bunch of busted hope, all right there for anyone to see. I want to be content with my naked body because I want to fall in love and I want to have sex and I want to enjoy the sex and the love and being comfortable with my body is one of the things that makes all of that easier.
I’m not so much worried about what someone else would think about my body, that imaginary putative significant other, but that I won’t be able to get over my own fear, my own sense of lacking, to have a relationship, to open up to the possibilities that love could bring. Can I get happy in this skin I’m in? Can I be okay enough with my body that I could stand someone looking away? Can I put together my own Humpty Dumpty bits?
Is the pay-off, a normative female form, worth the price? Is it worth that much time? Is it worth putting everything on hold and spending most of the next six months in bed? Can I put my body and my mind through that again, knowing what I know about the suck that is surgery and recovery?
I spent a few hours this week making my plan for the year. It is a whole thing I do, a process, and I haven’t done it for the past couple of years because my plan for three years now has bee simple: survive. I made my plan, made a list of everything I could think of, small and large, I want to do and then I worked out how to make each thing happen. None of the things I want to do requires a set of pretty boobs, even a set of ugly tits. Lots that I want to do would have to be put off while I recover.
I think I’m going to pass on surgery, for now. I have spent way too long recovering. I am ready to live my life, make some noise, give some love and get some in return. I want to take back my body, take back my life. I’m going to love the skin I’m in.