Saturday, August 27, 2011

The kindness of strangers

Breast cancer's a funny thing. Like any traumatic life event, it can make you feel so alone . . . I've talked about this before. You feel like no one could ever understand your anguish, contemplate the terrible choices you're asked to make, feel the terror of facing your own mortality.

But the cancer experience also has the amazing power to bring you closer to people and to connect you with others. It can restore your faith in humanity, while simultaneously calling into question your faith in your body, your deity, your reason for living. Life's a tricky bitch. Cancer's even trickier.

Being a connection-seeker, as soon as I was re-diagnosed, I jumped back on the message boards at the Young Survival Coalition (and as an aside, I'm please to announce they've redefined "young" to be under 45 . . . so I still make the cut) and also at I sought out women who had had the surgery I was contemplating, posted to forums, and personally messaged a couple of people who had chosen saline implants.

One woman and I have been private-messaging back and forth consistently now for 2 months. She had the same surgery I'm going to have, with saline implants, and she's 3 months out now. She has spent inordinate time emailing me with support, exquisite detail and compassion about her reasons for choosing the procedure, how it went, what the recovery has been like, how her transition back to work has been, and most recently tonight, how things look after three months. And let me assure you, tonight I needed an email from her more than ever.

You see, yesterday I saw my plastic surgeon again, with courage screwed up to tell her I'd chosen saline implants. She was incredibly discouraging about my choice. She told me the cosmetic result would be "much worse" than if I chose silicone. She didn't sugar coat it. Didn't even offer up her best wishes for it turning out OK. She was clinical, and in her clinical opinion, the cosmetic results will be inferior. Period. And despite the fact that I'd been very certain of myself prior to our meeting, I came home deflated and worried. I did more research. I cried to and discussed the pros and cons at length with DI. And then I finally took an Ativan and went to bed.

But before I crashed, I also emailed this board-buddy of mine. And you know what she did? She took, my gosh, probably 1/2 hour for me tonight and detailed every lump, bump and gorgeous detail of her new foobs for me. She feels great about them. They. Are. Fine. Are they a substitute for the real thing? Perfect? No. But as she reminded me - after mastectomy, there is no substitute. There are only reasonable facsimiles. You've gotta choose your poison. And after reading her email, I am reassured that saline is the poison for me.

But aside from that reassurance she gifted me, she filled me up with a warmth that can only come from someone - a virtual stranger thousands of miles away, whom I will likely never meet in person - taking time out of her own stressful life to counsel a woman in the tortured throes of making a life-altering decision.

And that, my friends, is an affirmation of the goodness of people. I'm holding her with me next time I'm battling fellow Massholes in Boston rush-hour traffic, 'cause man, she's making me feel like a better person already. I mean, what do you say to someone who does something like that for you?

All I can think of is, thanks.



Monday, August 15, 2011

The non-update update

Sigh. It's pouring. It's my last week of child-free-ness 'til September 7th. I have buckets of new clothes to go through - gotta decide what stays, what goes back. And all I really feel like doing is curling up with a good book . . . or, maybe, having a double mastectomy.

You read that right. I feel like having a BMX (not a bike, people, that's a bilateral mastectomy). I've gotten to the stage where I'm READY and RARING TO GO for this thing. I have 5 weeks left to wait, but if they called me this afternoon and said "you know, Mrs. Isenberg, we'd like to bring you in on Friday" I'd say "let me check my itinerary . . . um . . . alright!" 'cause I'm over anticipating, planning and preparing. I'm over worrying about any little thing that might go wrong. I just need to live this thing and see what happens for me, you know?

It happened during Cancer Round I, too. It's an official stage in the cancer game. Then it was chemo that I was really dreaded. I had the B-movie chemo experience in my head, and had read too much on the 'net. I was getting the "red devil" pumped into my veins and I envisioned myself on the bathroom floor, the whole in-front-of-the-toilet kinda thing. For hours. Puking guts out. I was so nervous about it that I felt sick to my stomach just thinking about it. But I had a start date, December 12, 2001, and as the day drew near I got more and more anxious to play ball . . . just hook me up to that IV, dammit! And you know what? I never, ever puked. Zofran is my friend. I could feel bad things going on in my gut, and I was wiped, but I never, ever puked.

So let's play, Mr. Cancer. Let's rendezvous at my home-away-from-home, ye olde MGH. Let's see what you've done this time. Let's implant those sacks of water and rebuild the machine. Let's lay low, take precautions, play by the rules for a while. 'Cause you know what? Once I'm done with all this mishigas I'm going back to kickin' ass and takin' names. You've held me back for far too long, already, you bastard.



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shopping and other weirdness

Remember how I said I'm getting things done? Preparing mentally and physically? It's going OK. I literally spent the entire afternoon yesterday at the mall, on the hunt for button-front shirts. Why, you ask? Because after you get a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction via implants YOU CANNOT RAISE YOUR ARMS ABOVE YOUR HEAD FOR FOREVAH. Or at least that's what it seems like. In reality it's probably 6 weeks. So no cute little t-shirts and tanks for the Sarester. Nope. Relegated to buttoning and zipping for a while.

I found some suitable items, but I've come to the conclusion that I'm not a huge button-front shirt fan. Too frumpy, too preppy, too boho, to BIG (although at first, big's gonna be my friend, so I've gotten a couple "boyfriend" shirts for that. Why not use an old shirt of DI's, you ask? 'Cause good ol' DI is nearly a foot taller than me and much broader chested. I look like a preschooler at dress-up time wearing his clothes. I'm already going to feel freakish immediately post-surgery, I don't want to add to it.)

What else have I gotten? Well, two camis that you can step into. They exist - and these are super-soft all-cotton and have pockets to hold your drains. Thow on a cute hoodie or an oversized shirt and shazam! you're presentable. I have gotten a velcro belt w/little pockets that attach for those times when I want to tote drains w/o a cami. In yesterday's mail arrived my "pink pockets" - adhesive-backed fabric pockets to put into garments to hold drains, and also my custom-made hospital gown (a thoughtful gift from a friend). I've also invested in a "shower shirt" so that I can bathe more comfortably in those weeks while I still have the drains. That thing is pure genius. And now DI won't have to fashion me a getup out of a trash bag and duct tape . . . the man is amazing at covering incision sites (Lord knows, he's had practice), but he's going to have enough on his plate, don't you think?

It's all so odd, running around town and traveling the interweb for tools to use when your breasts are removed . . . and then there's the more weirdness in the interaction with people that are more tangential to your life at a time like this. Or lack thereof. I haven't broached the subject with certain people - how to bring this up with your housekeeper? My painter? The carpenter who's building us a new bookcase - I wonder what he thought when I told him he wouldn't be allowed in my house for the last 2 weeks of September after I had "major surgery?" What'd the woman at J.Jill think when I bought 5 button-front shirts? Did she even notice? What did the librarian suppose when I checked out 4 mastectomy "mammoirs" this morning? And let's not ignore the fact that I flat-out lied to my former neighbor earlier today when I stopped to say hello: he asked me how everything was and I said "fine!" and smiled. Somehow, getting into the specifics of what's about to happen with a 65-year-old Greek undertaker just wasn't for me today. I'll burn for that one, I'm sure.

I'm in a funky netherworld . . . the pre-treatment netherworld that all cancer patients understand. You've got the blueprint for what's going to go down, but the specifics are sketchy. You're continuing about your business, and no one outside the inner circle is any the wiser. But you know what? It also feels kinda good in a way, and that's even weirder. For now, I'm "normal," and by getting my ducks in a row, I'm calming some of those pre-surgical fears . . . and that, my friends, is a very good thing.



Monday, August 1, 2011

Assembling the posse

So it's 7 weeks 'til showtime, guys 'n' gals. I'm acquiring zip up/button down tops and hammering out logistics left and right. I'm working out like a fiend and enjoying my last weeks of culinary freedom. In other words, I'm physically and mentally preparing myself for what's to come.

In that vein, the other day's post on my anxieties lead to lots of "c'mon! we want to help! let me help!" emails. I am so grateful for all the offers. You have no idea how much it means to me to have you guys out there, emailing and calling and planning ways to ease us through this time. There are so many unknowns, but having a willing and able posse of supporters makes me feel more secure that things'll get done while I'm prone for a while.

I've created a Community at Lotsa Helping Hands to facilitate this effort. For those of you unfamiliar with the site, it's a place where Dave and I can post tasks/meals/etc. that we need help with, and where you can find some way to help that suits you (if helping is feasible and suits you at all, that is). You need to join up because the information there is private, so here's what to do:

  1. Visit my Community at Lotsa Helping Hands
  2. Once you land, you'll need to fill in the right-hand side of the form which is a "request to join the community." Once you do this, Dave and I will get an email notification and we'll approve you.
  3. Once you're approved, you'll be automatically added to the Community and you'll be sent instructions on how to set a password and be invited to sign in.
  4. You're set! You can view the calendar and sign up for tasks.
Right now there are mostly meals on there. There's a lot more coming once we know things like Lilah's soccer schedule, etc. I won't be driving for a while, so there'll also be things like taking me for follow-ups with my docs (at least once per week for a while), or doing miscellaneous errands. And once I feel up to it, we'll open it up for visitors and later, for bustin' out and getting out of the house once in a while.

A word on meals. It's come to my attention that my love of food and cooking is creating some anxiety around prepping meals for me and the gang here. Let's think about this - you know, don't you, that I love Cheetos? Did you know that I also love Taco Bell? And Anna's burritos? Not high-brow in the least, people! And yes, I do also love farm-fresh veggies cooked in delightful ways and L'Espalier and I read Bon Appetit and other food porn. But what I'm getting at here is that it DOESN'T MATTER what you make. You are so lovely to cook for us. And keep this in mind: I'm so nerved up to be asking for help I'm going to need to medicate myself.

So let's do this together shall we? Gather hands. Deep breath. I'll let go of my fear of being helpless and you (if you have it) let go of your fear of cooking for someone obsessed with food. Phfeeeew. Better now?

And honestly, I'm more obsessed with breasts now, anyway . . . .