Gotta Date

Gotta date. Finally. To the prom. The total mastectomy prom. My date is Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 4pm at Fancy Hospital. A total mastectomy is not the same as a radical mastectomy. The latter is hardly done anymore. A radical is so total. Totally total. You are totaled. Like the way the ancient armies used to pour salt on their defeated enemy's territory. To make sure that nothing would grow. Insult to injury. Now in modern times the insult (chemo, radiation) won't start for a few weeks after. In the radical mastectomy, the surgeon would remove the pectoral muscles and the lymph nodes up to the collarbone. A total removes all breast tissue. Dr. Fancy will do a sentinel node biopsy, get the sample rushed to the lab, and if the report says it's malignant, she will take out the first level of lymph nodes. That surgery would add 2 hours to the already 2-hour-long surgery. The lymph-node surgery is what causes the most pain afterwards, the nurse said. The mastectomy itself usually doesn't cause a lot of pain. I talked to A, P's partner, who had a mastectomy without any digging around in her lymph nodes. She was fine almost right away, except she was sick from the anesthesia. She had it done *out patient.*
I will at least stay overnight. My doctor won't snip off the extra skin, saving it for the reconstruction to be done later by the Plastic Surgeon to the Stars. I feel calm about this decision to delay but I hope I won't regret it. P said that their friend B, who had node surgery, recovered very quickly from her mastectomy.

The nurse says I should make appointments with a medical oncologist (chemo) and a radiation oncologist, even though I probably won't need radiation; I can always cancel. P gave me the name of an oncologist that B liked a lot. I hesitate to tell the oncologist about the recommendation: Oh yeah, your name was given to me by a friend of B. She liked you very much. You know B, the gal who died...

Do I want a referral from the grave? I think that B had Stage IV cancer, though. A and B had their surgeries at about the same time, and A is doing well. As B was dying, and after she died, A and P thought about how capricious life is, and they mourned her passing, even as they felt lucky for themselves, for the moment.


1 comment:

Garry Cooper said...

We too often say that so-and-so died after a long battle with cancer. Have we all bought into the Dylan Thomas paradigm of raging against the dying of the light? Fight cancer if you want, but I prefer to explore and develop my relationship with it. No doubt about it, I would rather not be in this relationship, but it’s something like family: you don’t have a choice, there you and it are, and so you’re better off figuring out how to work with the hand you’ve been dealt, going with its advantages and benefits, digesting its disadvantages and miseries, and realizing that you can run but ultimately you can’t completely hide. As with family, it’s best to think carefully about how far you want to go attempting to deny or excise it. Even if you cut off parts of yourself and try to sever your relationship with it, you may not really escape. So it’s really a matter of balancing how high a price you want to pay for how much breathing room. Measuring time and quality of life against the price isn’t a battle; it’s a negotiation, the stuff of relationships. Better to say that so-and-so died after years of living with cancer.
Once you open yourself to metaphors other than fighting the enemy or destroying the invader, your fears, sorrows, hopes, decisions, plans, preoccupations, diversions, and even your moments of happiness shift. Some people see cancer not as an enemy who’s come to destroy, but as the body’s misguided attempt to live. At its most essential level, what’s life but the division and growth of cells? Cancer may be the body’s zest for life run amok—a natural process that took a wrong turn: kudzu overrunning manicured lawns and embracing the morning glories so tightly it accidentally strangles them, weeds growing in the sidewalk cracks and reaching for the sky until they eventually break apart the concrete. We know cancer well; in our doomed attempts to live forever, every one of us has occasionally tried to transcend time, to ignore or stop it, to not die. Some people, out of hatred, terror, sense of duty, self-preservation, or even excitement, have even killed to live.
Don’t like that metaphor? Here’s another. Millennia ago, when there were several billion fewer humans, the Fates kept careful track of each person’s life. Clotho spun the thread of each life, Lachesis decided at each birth how much time a person had to live; and Atropos cut the thread when it was someone’s time to die. With so few people in the world, they could keep neater ledgers: the minute you came to the end of your thread, Atropos snipped. But as the population grew, the Fates had to implement a different system to keep track. Even the Fates couldn’t be everywhere at once, and so they inserted a time-release cell into millions of people. Not nearly as precisely timed or cleanly executed as a snip of the scissors, but it gets the job done. Today, with diagnostic, surgical and medicinal advances, we can forestall the Fates a little longer. It’s up to you whether you want to see this as accepting the gods, defying them, contesting with them, or sneaking a little extra time and hoping they’re too busy to notice.
Here’s another. One afternoon, when he was running his collection route, a man stepped from underneath a stairwell and jammed a sawed-off shotgun into my father’s stomach. My father, who was the first to admit that he was not a brave man, grabbed the barrel of the rifle with both hands. He wasn’t attempting to slap or wrest it away; instead he was instinctually embracing that which was about to destroy him. The robber, amazed, let go of the rifle and ran away, leaving my bemused father holding the rifle against his own stomach.
Or, this. To look upon God is to die; He doesn’t know his own strength. His whisper deafens you. His light blinds you. His caress crushes you. He’s like a benevolent elephant who tries to tickle you with his toe. Cancer is His invitation, calling you home. Be kind to Him; He means well; it’s just that He knows not what He does.

Garry Cooper