Last Leap Year found me in the middle of a surgical shit show the likes I hope to never see again. My bilateral mastectomy had been two weeks earlier, on Valentine’s Day. Things had not gone well. In the two weeks since the surgery, I had two ‘corrections’, in my surgeon’s office with no anesthesia because I didn’t want to go back in the hospital. Two weeks post-surgery, I still had four drains – long, long, plastic tubes bundles inside my chest cavity.
I needed so much care, my mother had moved in with me. She took off work and cared for me full-time. And then, when she had to return to her job, she continued living with me, coming home after a day of work and cleaning my wounds and emptying my drains and giving me a sponge bath.
After all the cleaning and bandaging and draining, she would dress me in a clean pair of pajamas and help me into bed. She built a nest of pillows in various shapes and sizes to keep me safely propped up on my back, the only position I could sleep in. We would have a cup of tea and a cookie and make conversation. God knows what about. I took the last handful of pills for the night.
Then, I settled in and she would massage ointment into my arms and hands to alleviate the pain caused by chemotherapy. And then she would put a pair of tube socks over my hands and arms, to cover them, hold in the ointment and keep me from rubbing my eyes, like a baby. Momma would turn out the light and close the door, always walking out backwards, so she could see me as she shut it. I can’t imagine what she was thinking.
I know what I was thinking. I was thinking this was an awful lot of trouble to go through if I was going to be dead soon anyway. That’s what I was thinking. I was thinking about all the damage chemotherapy had done. I was thinking about whether or not I’d ever be able to walk steadily again or hold a gallon of milk or write my name. I was wondering if I had it in me to deal with that level of chronic pain for however much longer I would be alive.
I planned a trip to New York City for the spring. I wanted to go to an opera, I’d never seen one live. I wanted to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Broadway and sit in a cafe in Greenwich Village and see all my friends who lived there. One last time. I wanted one last time in the city I loved so much. So, I planned a trip for May to celebrate the end of my treatment.
The trip didn’t happen in May because everything took longer and I wasn’t finished until June, almost a year to the day from my diagnosis. Looking back, I can’t believe I thought I was in any shape to travel. But planning the trip gave me something to do, something to look forward to, after the lights went out and Momma closed my bedroom door.
Since then, I’ve been to New York three times. I can walk. I can write my name. I can pick up a gallon of milk. It doesn’t take handfuls of pills to get through my day. I’m writing a book. I’m planning a trip to London. Being alive today was not something I thought would happen. I’m not just alive but I’m doing pretty okay. I mean, I still have cancer. I still have chronic health issues that make life no fun. But on balance, I’m doing pretty okay. I’m getting by. It is all kind of a minor miracle.
I’m going to focus on the good, today. I’m not always successful at this kind of thing, the looking on the bright side stuff. I tend to want to throat punch people who say that kind of thing around me. But, I’m going to do it today, look for the good, look for the miraculous in my every day. Maybe if you try it with me, it will be easier if we do it together.