You can wrap it in pink feather boas and bring out tiaras, talk about saving second base and going bra-less to boost awareness, or make jokes about feeling up your own self all you want. Breast cancer is an ugly bastard. It is hard. It is painful. It is disfiguring. It is debilitating and it is deadly.
More than two years out from my diagnosis and I have still not completed all the surgery required for my treatment, despite the five surgeries I’ve already been through. And, to be honest, I’m not sure I’m going to do the rest of the surgery. I’m not sure the pain is worth the pay-off. Despite having some of the most talented plastic surgeons in the country, there is only so much that can be done. My body is never, ever going to fulfill any idea of what a female form should be. My breasts are gone. Nothing can be done about that.
The forms I have now, the implants, are there to help me maintain a ruse, so other people can identify me as ‘girl’. I can pass. But at home, when I undress, when I confront the image in the mirror, there is no running from the reality. A horrible violence has been committed to my person. As much as I want to believe the next surgery will be the one that makes everything okay again, deep down, I know it won’t. There are some scars not even time can erase.
Much of the language around cancer and cancer patients makes me uncomfortable. I’m not battling cancer. I’m not alive because I was stronger than my classmate who died this summer, six months after she was diagnosed with the same disease as I. God is not showing favor by sparing me while others die. No, no, no, a thousand times no. I’m alive because the genetics of my tumor responded well to treatment. I’m alive because my baseline health was decent enough to withstand the last two years of hellish treatment. I’m alive because modern medical science is a beautiful, miraculous thing. It is luck and science, science and luck.
I’m not brave. I’m blissfully ignorant. I was so ignorant about how difficult and long and horrible and awful treatment would be, I actually thought I would be entirely finished in the early spring of 2012. Haha. Ha. haHa.
If anyone had told me in July of 2011 just exactly what was about to happen to me, how long it was going to happen and what things would be like from here on out, I’m not sure I could have done it, even would have done it. I’m not sure I would have believed you. How could doctors and medicine and such do all of that to you, on purpose, and everyone be okay with it? Call it treatment? If I took out all references to oncology and simply described what my previous two and half years have been like, one would assume I was describing my time as a prisoner of war, locked away in some hellish prison, tortured day in and day out.
I seem to be out of the woods, for now. I continue to be an outlier in the medical literature. I continue not dying. My immune system is shot, bone marrow struggling. My limbs are weak and pained and resolutely refuse to function the way they did before. My sense of safety is gone. There is no security. There is no peace. Still, with each day I am able to put between me and all of the bad, bad things, I feel stronger. I feel better. I feel like I will be able to make something out of all of this…this stuff…this shit…these lumps and this pain and these scars and everything else. I can do this. I can piece this together. I can create some kind of thing, some kind of life, on the same ground cancer tried to burn down. I think. I hope.