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.




  1. It is so great that you found someone who had the same surgery. I was able to connect with a woman on the YSC boards who had the same option I chose and she was AMAZINGLY helpful. The reassurance was critical in my decision to move forward. And mind you, she gave me the whole truth with no sugar coating. You need someone who can be that for you and I'm glad you found her. Deep breath. It's going to be ok.

  2. Sarah, that's karma for you - you've put out so much goodness over the years, and it's coming back to you. Glad you're finding a helpful support system. (Though I did have to smile at your choice of the word "deflated." ;) )

  3. It is so true - the trials and frustrations and discouragement seem to mount and then there are blessings that come in and just blow you away.
    You are one of those blessings for me - so glad to know that you are receiving them too because you deserve that and so much more!!
    Your spirit and courage is amazing - and the one good side of all this has always been that I get to see the Spectacular Beauty and strength in other survivors!

  4. @Wendy - it's a relief! @Lindsay and @Tina - thanks, ladies. You sure know how to make a girl's day!

  5. I'm so glad you found someone who has been so supportive. As you know I found the boards incredibly supportive during my treatment and reconstruction. Whenever a doctor puts it all in all to clinical terms, I always find a kindred spirit that can put in in terms I can relate to. And I'm glad the decision is made. It's all forward and no looking behind now! Hugs,


  6. Tearing up here, Sarah. I agree with Lindsay F. - you are an incredibly kind and supportive person and good karma is all around you. I am grateful that you have a knowledgeable friend to support you in this awful decision you have to make. I know that you have serious concerns about what you put inside your body and am glad you found informed support for the direction you really want to take. You will always be beautiful inside and out to me.
    Lindsay P.

  7. This is a wonderful post, Sarah, with equally great comments. I, too, feel thankful that you've found someone to "take with you" in Masshole traffic, into the PS's office...really anywhere you need her. You do this for so many people, you are a source of strength, perspective and humor. As an aside and following your posts, it seems that saline is, indeed, the right poison of choice for you. Good for you for trusting *your* intuition after so much research. xox