On the Mend…. Just in Time for Round 3

The night we got back from the Grand Canyon, I was covered in red dust, and I attempted to wash the dirt gathered above my eyes, only to discover that it was not Imagedirt but my eyebrows returning. My eyebrows were finally growing back! Two weeks later, there is no confusing them for dirt. I also have eyelashes again, along with hair on my other various body parts (some of which I would happily do without). The hair on top of my head has been growing for a couple of months so that I assume people not in-the-know no longer see me as a cancer patient. Instead, I am simply an aging woman with a full head of gray.

It’s been weeks since my son has cringed when I go hatless.

And more recently, he and Sophie both have stopped carefully, tenderly, wonderfully making certain that they don’t accidentally sip out of my glass or use my towel for fear of exposing my chemo-suppressed immune system to their germs.

In other words, so much is changing. I am on the mend.

But here’s the thing. A few days after my surgery, when I asked Harrison how he was doing about my breast cancer and whether he wanted to talk about anything, he said, “I feel pretty good. I mean, it’s almost over!” And at the time, I thought, “It’s almost over, my children aren’t worried anymore!”

But it turns out it isn’t almost over.

Yesterday I got the news that I will, indeed, need radiation, which means:

  • For the first 6 weeks of summer, instead of spending lazy mornings with my kids, I’ll be hauling myself to the hospital Monday through Friday for treatment. (Or if I choose the lazy mornings, I can forgo an afternoon outing with kids for an afternoon outing to radiation.)
  • I won’t be spending those two weeks in July at the beach with my family.
  • I can’t expose my upper (radiated) body to the sun. How does that work in east-coast summer?
  • And then there’s the fact that rather than being over and done with this breast cancer “journey” in the next several weeks, I’m looking at another 6-8 months at least, because I can’t continue with reconstruction until 3-6 months after I finish radiation. (Here’s where I start up again with the self-judgment for choosing reconstruction. Am I being vain instead of sane?)
  • To make matters worse, finishing reconstruction might mean (worst case scenario, but still a 30% chance) another major surgery: if the radiation damages my reconstructed breast, and I decide I still want a reconstructed breast, I’d need to start again. Starting again would mean going to Boston for an even more major surgery this time (here’s where I start to reconsider reconstruction altogether, which would lead me down another path lined with challenging implications); a surgery that would use my own body tissue, and hence affect multiple body sites, to build a new breast from scratch.

I knew this was likely. And yet, since I was diagnosed in October and told by the radiation oncologist that we wouldn’t know until after my surgery whether I’d need radiation, I’ve been holding out (so much) hope that surgery would be the end of treatment for me. That come summer, I’d be celebrating, not gearing up for my next round in the ring.

I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself tonight. I hate feeling sorry for myself. It’s a more pathetic-feeling flavor than “sad.”

And when I think about Harrison’s “It’s almost over,” my heart just aches for him. Maybe it still can be almost over for him and Sophie. Maybe this next round can fall on me without it also falling on them.

The two of them (turning-7-next-week-Sophie, and half-way-to-10-Harrison) are as happy as ever, and sometimes, I am struck by how amazing that is. Amazing that someone as unhappy as I was as a kid managed to grow up and make this incredibly blissful life for myself, and two incredibly blissful kids. Amazing that we’re making it through my breast cancer with that bliss intact—and maybe even blossoming.

Soon enough, that bliss will overpower the feeling sorry for myself. But damn, right now things sure do feel sucky.

11 thoughts on “On the Mend…. Just in Time for Round 3

  1. I remember after my prostate surgery the surgeon thought he had it all- but no, that turned out not to be the case and I had 5 or was it 6 weeks of radiation. I used to meditate as I lay alone with the robotic “ray gun” moving over me… Thinking of you all Love, Stirlin

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. So sad to hear this news, so frustrated on your behalf, and yet . . . so happy to read the word ‘blissful’ in your post.

    Harrison’s words. So sweet. And your journey is not over but he will continue to see how you and your husband are handling it, and that is a gift to him. (Don’t misunderstand – I don’t mean the whole “cancer is a gift” thing. You may or may not believe that, but who am I to say?) But truly, it will affect him in positive ways to see this dealing-with-the-tough-shit-that-comes-along modeled so beautifully, even in all its sucktastic-ness.

    Idea for when you feel like thinking about it: Help me with the technical stuff to launch my blog and I’ll design cards for you, if you think you’ll still want ‘em for thank you notes.

    xo L.

    louisa wimberger owner / designer weehah greeting cards and invitations grown in charlottesville . now in northampton http://www.weehah.com 413.341.3558 (studio)



    1. Thank you, Louisa. And thank you for reminding me of the “bliss” amidst the muck in my post!
      I would love to do an exchange with you– and would love to have a reason to spend more time with you!


  3. Well, in the first place, stop castigating yourself by wondering if you’re vain, not sane. Every woman has to make her own decisions about this stuff, and those decisions have to fit her, not some abstract standard or somebody else’s opinion. If reconstruction felt right for you at the time, then it was a sane decision.

    It’s a little strange that the doctors would not have advised waiting until after you all knew whether radiation would be required. This was a piece of information that you needed at the time of the mastectomy surgery to make an informed decision.

    I was fortunate in not needing radiation, but my mastectomy buddy, who went through her adventure at the same time I enjoyed mine, did have it. From what she said, it’s a da**ed nuisance, but it’s not the end of the world. If you don’t have to go to a job every day, traipsing to a hospital at least will not cost you in lost pay or risk of job loss. She experienced some discomfort toward the end, but shortly after it was over, she was shopping for prosthetics (we both elected to evade reconstruction — I’m going flat; she wants foobs).

    Different women respond differently to radiation treatment. If you had an implant, it may or may not damage the implant or affect the mastectomy scar in such a way as to cause problems. This is easier said than done, but…for what it’s worth, don’t borrow trouble. Just take one thing at a time and deal with it as it comes along.

    Get some soft, loose clothing that allows air to circulate. This should help keep you comfortable in the sticky East-Coast summer weather. Macy’s has a line of men’s T-shirts called “Alfani.” They come in all sorts of great colors. They’re very comfortable and pretty much perfect for covering up with minimal irritation, and because they’re cotton they’re pretty good in the heat. Lighter colors bounce off the sunlight; darker colors minimize the Boobless Wonder effect. You can find them online; in the store you may have to ask at the men’s department — in the store near me, they have the display rack hidden way at the back. For around the house and in casual settings, these may keep the sun off while keeping you comfortable. Be aware that they have two types: one is a traditional cotton men’s T-shirt and the other has some stretchy yarn in it that makes it tighter-fitting. For summer heat & humidity, looser is probably better.

    Also, if you have a Nordstrom’s Rack near you, they carry the regular Nordstrom’s brands at sharp discounts. Bobeau and Daniel Rainn are perfect for the boob-afflicted. Both lines have loose-fitting but amazingly cute tops that are airy, very comfortable, and effective at hiding your ongoing boob issues. You need to try them on, of course — some of them work better than others for the purpose.

    Even though I did not get radiation, my docs also were adamant that I should stay out of the sun. This is annoying, since I survive the Arizona summers skinny-dipping in my backyard pool. Oh well…


    1. Thank you for this bounty of helpful info!

      And thank you for your compassion–for understanding (especially as someone who chose not to reconstruct) that it is a difficult and personal decision, and that I shouldn’t castigate myself for going that route.

      Also, for the record, my plastic surgeon (Pranay Parikh at Baystate in Springfield) is more amazing than I ever thought possible in a surgeon, much less a plastic surgeon (I apologize if my prejudice offends any surgeons out there!) And he went over everything with me, multiple times, in person, via email, was always so readily available to answer questions and talk through concerns. So I knew going in what the risks were, and the reason I decided to try for an implant at the time of my mastectomy was because I knew I’d have a 70% of it turning out fine if I ended up needing radiation; and that if I didn’t do an implant before radiation, I’d never be able to try it because they aren’t possible after. It’s all so very confusing… and for the most part, totally crappy, ugh!


  4. Blessing of the Animals .. Faith Shearin

    At my daughter’s Catholic school there is a blessing of the animals at which the children line up with their fat hamsters and gauzy goldfish, their dogs so old

    they can barely climb the hill. They bring their cats with bald patches and their lizards sleeping in cages under a fake sun. In the line to the priest there are snakes

    with white eyes and birds without songs. There are ant farms and worms and rats with long, exposed tails. The children wait hours for their animals to be blessed: for the priest’s hand

    to hover over the weight they carry. They bring shoe boxes full of turtles, hairy spiders, frogs with dry skin. I like watching my daughter

    among the other children: her dog small in her arms, her gaze protective. Children believe in the power of animals, tucked into their feathers and shells; they believe

    in blessings: the sprinkle of holy water, each tiny unexplained life.

    Dear Jenny, Yes, children believe in blessings and rituals and I would love to sprinkle tap water (all water is holy as we’re recognizing here in dry California) on those dear six heads in your house of bliss, blessing each of you in this very moment. Love, Jan


  5. Hey Jenny! Glad you are among the living! I had a serious accident about 4 yrs ago and because of the ongoing pain and never-ending ‘cannots’ asked my friends to send me jokes (I was depressed), and among the best is the one I send on to you without editing, exactly as it came to me. Enjoy! Get Better! And one day come visit – the little boy (mine) you met in SF when I came back to the US to live is now 6’7″ and has a beard! Love, Deborah M in Santa Monica.

    JOKE (see below)

    A Jewish Grandmother loses her grandson at the beach when a tidal wave sweeps him away into the depths of the ocean.

    The Grandmother immediately bows to her knees in the sand and prays to God for the return of her grandson. “Please G_d, I have always been a good person, a good Jew and a loving Grandmother; please return my grandson to me.”

    Just as she finishes her prayer, a huge wave crashes back on the beach, returning the young boy to his Grandmother’s side.

    The Grandmother begins to cry and hug her grandson that she thought she would never see again. She is overcome with joy and gratitude.

    She looks once more at her grandson, then looks back at the sky and yells, “He had a hat!!!”


    1. Ha! To me, this is a reminder to count my blessings, cherish all I have, and maintain perspective so that I don’t get too greedy about things that don’t really matter in the scheme of things.


  6. I hate this for you, another round of your life revolving around treatment, especially with summer plans compromised. But I also know you (and your family) are resilient enough to weather this. Thinking of you lots and hope to see you soon!


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