IT’S NOT FINE
I tend to speak to people about my double mastectomy three and a half months out like I just got over the flu. It is likely a survival skill learned from my grandparents who grew up in the depression. You just plow ahead, leaving the trail behind you as you forge on.
“Enough with the crying already,” I can hear my grandmother saying. This was after I let her know that I cried the whole day of my thirty first birthday only four months after my only sibling died of cancer when he was only 25. This comment like so many others is yet another bad thing to say to someone who is grieving. There are stacks of bad quotes, commentary, and “helpful” intentions that are simply not helpful. But for the most part, people mean well. I have said many of them myself and I often cringe with my self-righteous comments BC (‘before cancer’ if this needs defining).
Because I happen to own a company that not only employs over twenty women, but also the main customer base is primarily women, it is not surprising that I have many opportunities to discuss my experience, after all, good or bad, I am an open book. I have actually always been an open book, but the cancer experience has given me a green light go attitude different from before cancer. I am often struck by how many women have had the same diagnosis. There is an immediate knowing that happens between us. Like an Alanon meeting, we don’t have to sugarcoat the conversation to help people who haven’t had the experience by minimizing its awfulness.
For my own personal experience, the second time around, once I went through it was easier than the first time. The first time was so overwhelming. It was all so new. Lots of reading, personal research, discussions with doctors, second opinions, genetic testing, (do I or don’t I?), surgery decisions, (lumpectomy or mastectomy?), decisions about preventative surgery, (keep your ovaries, remove them?) and the endless reading about nutrition and diet that is so confusing, you at some point just don’t give a fuck and eat the damn sugar. This was all at my first rodeo three years ago when “we caught it early, you are so lucky,” turned into “Fuck, you have the BRCA2 gene” and now the ‘we caught it early’ became a big RUH-ROH.
I am always fascinated by my own personal ability to compartmentalize stressful situations. I like this trait in myself, life survivor skills, my new favorite word is GRIT. I have grit. I love this part of my personality, perhaps it was from all of my early years of walking on eggshells in my subtle, sort of functional on the surface alcoholic house. My early life was never really sure about what sort of Ann (aka my mother) I would be getting so I tiptoed around her trying not to trigger any potential volatility. I am sure many children of alcoholic parents have had this experience and our grown up version of this experience has lots of common character traits. Some awful traits like a neediness for love in a way that requires lots of therapy to function, spending habits that require a discipline and skill set we simply do not have and many other dysfunctional behaviors that fortunately through life long work have become more reasonable and functional. The good traits though are also many. The love of service and care of other human beings has been one of the strongest characteristics of my business model. And GRIT. Grit, balls, fire, chutzpah, whatever you want to call it, I am confident in these descriptors of myself and this is what has propelled my success in both business and life. I intuitively have it because surely if I didn’t, I would likely be curled up in a ball somewhere begging for more heroine and another bottle of vodka.
So when Round 2 happened this past March, (what is it with March birthday diagnosis, this was the second time with this diagnosis around my birthday) I already had all of my information from the last time so I just needed to focus on one element-the mastectomy. When I read my previous writings, I am struck by how bummed I was about the notion of having my breasts removed, seriously I think I was more bummed about that than a second cancer diagnosis. I am cracking up as I write this. This is fucked up. Especially now that I have the wisdom of retrospect, the mastectomy was pretty much an awesome experience considering. My upper body is so rocking right now that there are times like this morning when I woke up on my side and I actually had to remind myself that this upper body was not my original. Progress.
So yesterday as I was speaking to one of our clients about this mastectomy experience and we were comparing our notes, another client waiting for her service overheard our conversation. When her service was finished and we started to talk at the end of it, she ended our conversation kindly saying, “I hope your health issues are ok.” I quickly replied as I usually do, “Thank you, it’s fine, all good.” She responded with, “No, it’s NOT fine, don’t say that.” Her words actually stopped me in my track. I realized I think for the first time in my neat little check shit off my list world I inhabit that she was right. IT is NOT fine. I may be fine, but the big IT, is not. I had fucking cancer two times, my son has an appointment for genetic testing so we can be sure he doesn’t live the path of my brother’s sad diagnosis, my aunt’s who is BRCA2 positive is right now recovering from her second round of cancer in a totally different spot that round number one and I need to stop minimizing the IT. I surely don’t have to wallow in pity as that will never be my style, but I can at least acknowledge that IT is NOT fine. This is ok to say. I love the random nuggets I receive when I give myself permission to open my ears, close my mouth and just listen. These are often the greatest gifts and I am thankful this new client yesterday courageously and with lots of care in her eyes said this aloud.