My Boobs Have an Expiration Date

I am two days away from my last chemo, and about five weeks away from my big surgery. I am looking up at the steepest hill of this race, but finally getting a glimpse of the finish line.

And all of a sudden I’m realizing that my boobs have an expiration date.

When I was in middle school I hated my boobs – mostly, because they didn’t exist   They just weren’t there. The boys joked around calling me “Melissa-flat-as-wood” (Wood was my maiden name).

And then in high school – I was awed by them. They arrived overnight, they were two perfect circles — and they were big. Whoa. What was I to do with these things? Naturally, I shoved them into tight bodysuits (can you believe those were a thing?? Didn’t they snap at the crotch?), and admired the way they popped over the tops of sundresses and swimsuits.

In college, birth control made them even bigger. In full disclosure –they were pretty impressive. I had to wear two sports bras for long runs, and had a hard time finding bras that fit. They bounced under tight dresses while I danced, and the tops of them browned in the sun as I lifeguarded.

If I’m being honest — sometimes they made me feel powerful. Sometimes they made me feel sexy. Sometimes they made me feel noticed. Sometimes they distracted from my wit and intellect. Like when a professor told me I would get a teaching job because I looked good in dress.

If I’m being really honest—they came out completely one drunken night in New Orleans.

And then I became a mother.

And they made me feel magical. They grew bigger than I believed possible, and filled with milk. They fed my babies. They silenced the crying in the middle of the night, and nourished my boys. They popped out in public while nursing, and filled up bottles as I pumped at work. They sustained life. I remember thinking to myself, that even if there was a natural disaster with no electricity, or food – I would be able to feed my babies. Nothing can explain that feeling.

And then in the years after nursing –they lost their circle shape. I joke with my friends about them being giant skin tabs, that turn into triangles when I bend down in the shower. One sports bra does the job, and if I am lying on my back without a bra, they slip down into my armpits. (Okay — that might be a slight exaggeration.)

After finding out about my plans to have a double-mastectomy, many people have commented on how lucky I am to get “new, perky boobs.” I guess that’s one way to look at it.

The thing is – I like my saggy triangles. They are mine. They have a story. They were underneath the pink tank top I was wearing the night I met Joel. They’ve bounced over finish lines, climbed mountains, and swam in rivers, lakes, and oceans. They fed my babies.

I was planning on growing old with them. Joel said he will miss them too, but also pointed out that they tried to kill me. Which is true.

I guess that makes it easier to say goodbye. We’ve had a good run.

If all goes well, five weeks from now I will be waking up from surgery with new boobs. Ones that aren’t made of me. They will be unwrapped, and placed inside the spaces left from carving out the cancer.  I wonder how I will feel seeing them for the first time. I wonder what they will feel like on the outside, and on the inside.

One thing is for sure- they will cross new finish lines, get brown in the sun, and bounce around as I dance my way through the rest of my long, long life.

Signs of Spring

You know those moments when you just get it?  Like for a moment everything makes sense, and you know that you are in the exact right place – at exactly the right time?

You might get goosebumps, or the sensation of awe. Like when you stand at the edge of an ocean, the foot of a mountain, or gaze up at a sea of stars.

It is almost like life slows down, and you can see it from a different view.

The feeling isn’t one of happiness, but wholeness.  Completeness, understanding, peace.

It doesn’t always happen when things are good, or perfect . . . just when they are right – and sometimes those moments occur even when you are suffering.  You understand that this suffering has purpose.  You can feel yourself evolving into something more than you once were.  You feel connected to the universe.  Like you are a puzzle piece that fits.

As I was preparing to go to chemo # 5 (the second time), I felt compelled to open my journal, not to write anything– but to read something.  It opened up to this – – a poem I wrote in early March 2005:

Waiting for Spring

perhaps, this is the hardest part

the anticipation of a warmer breeze

close my eyes and pretend to hear

tiny roots of green

forcing their way through frozen ground

the stillness

the breath just before dawn

knowing that with a flip of the calendar page

the crisp brown of winter will fade

and a deep green will invade the shadows

this prelude

to spring.

Now, while it is not an awarding winning poem by any means, it was exactly what I needed to read, to hear, to feel.  I thanked the Melissa of 2005.  I remember writing the poem after my last break-up before Joel and I got together.  I was so sad, but had the feeling that something incredible was going to happen.  Is it strange that I feel that way now?  Like I am on the crest of a wave.

I’m not delusional. I know there is still suffering on the horizon.  I know I haven’t even reached the deepest water, or the highest peak.  But maybe I have.  Because today, today I feel peaceful — even in my suffering.  Today I noticed all the sprouts of spring.  The right songs came on the radio at the right time, and I had that feeling.  The puzzle piece feeling.  I fit.  Right here. Right now.  I am where I belong.

Lazy Blood.

I prepared again yesterday to face the beast of chemo #5.  And my sister-in-law Julie drove back down to help take care of me during the chemo-aftermath.

When they accessed my port to do a blood  draw- I made the nurses pray over it — telling them they better ensure a high white blood cell count.

After waiting for what seemed like forever, my oncologist walked into the waiting room shaking his head, “your blood is being lazy.  Your counts are still at 800.”  (They need to be at 1,000 for treatment.) (I have been fighting a dental infection that is not helping the cause).

He went on to explain, but my mind went fuzzy.  Basically chemo #5 was cancelled.  Not postponed, not delayed another week — just canceled. I would still receive the two targeted drug therapies for my specific form of cancer, but not have the chemo drugs.  I would still have my last round on April 1st.  He assured me that my white blood cells would be up by then.  He assured me that this was a safe plan because I have an early stage cancer, and have been so receptive to the targeted therapies (the tumor can no longer be felt in my breast).

Part of me celebrated. Yes! No chemo! No chemo! No lead in my veins pinning me to the couch.  No sluggish weight pulling me under. No sleepless nights full of heartburn, body aches, and racing thoughts. No chemo!

And part of me freaked. No chemo? What if the cancer cells regroup, and attack? No chemo? What if the tumor grows back? No chemo?

A friend of mine who is also walking this journey often reminds me that the mental part of this battle is more strenuous than the physical.  And that’s saying a lot, because the physical part is hell. And it’s the truth.

Fear is constantly waiting in the shadows to pounce, to pull me under, to drown me in doubt.  It strikes in moments of weakness, and leaves me breathless.

But faith is there, too.  It has flickers, and flashes of light.  And when I let it, those flickers turn to flames flooding the shadows with brightness.  It strikes in moments of weakness, and leaves me breathless.

It is hard to fight fear.  It is hard because there are a million and one things that could go wrong at any given moment.  When I gave birth to Alex six and a half years ago,  I also gave birth to an endless amount of worry.  Here was this precious little life, so fragile, so vulnerable.  I began to worry about all of things that might happen.  It didn’t help that I had a life threatening blood clot extending from my belly button to my knee.  My seamless life had ripped open.  Bad things could in fact happen to me.  And they had.

I started struggling with moments of panic and fear.  Was the clot moving? Was it in my lung? Would I have a stroke? Would I die and leave my son motherless? These were real concerns.  All of it was possible.

After 10 months of blood thinner shots twice a day in my stomach, the clot dissolved — and so did much of my anxiety.  Miraculous things could in fact happen to me.  And they had.

Since then, anxiety has popped its ugly head in and out of my life.  Joel joked that I was the queen of worst case scenarios, and would often say to me, “Melissa, just because it is possible, does not mean it is probable.”

A weird mole was skin cancer.  A tick bite was lyme disease. Two tiny cuts on my wrist — clearly a snake bite.  A deep ache in my leg was the return of the blood clot.  If Joel wasn’t home on time, he had obviously died in a car accident.

I spent a lot of mental energy trying to divorce anxiety.  I had made a lot of progress.

And then I found the lump.  And I talked myself off the cliff, it was not cancer, it was a cyst.

But it was cancer.

I am living one of my worst case scenarios.

And what I’ve learned is that my fear didn’t prepare for this journey, but my faith did.  What I want for myself is less worry, less fear, less anxiety, less imagining the worse case scenario.  I want to chose light.

This is the opposite of easy, and when you are physically worn down by months of fighting cancer, and you have only 800 white blood cells, and you have some stupid dental infection to top it off — it seems impossible not to chose fear.  To not imagine those jagged cancer particles reproducing and destroying all of my progress.

But I will not go there.  Not this time.  I will chose light.  I will imagine my healthy cells reproducing and creating new life.

Worst case scenarios serve no purpose. They are a waste of mental energy.  I simply do not have time for them any more.  I am walking through one of my worst case scenarios, and I am finding ways to make the journey feel purposeful, and transformative.

So. No chemo # 5.

I get to take a breath, a pause, a water break.  I will rest, and get rid of this infection. I will sit outside in the sunlight.  I will listen to good music, take warm baths, read books, visit with friends, love my children, share laughter with my husband, and envision all those healthy cells repopulating.

The brown of winter will fade,

The green of spring will invade,

And I

will not

be afraid.

The picture.

photo-5

Today we had a photo shoot.  A very talented photographer offered to donate her time and talent to capture this stage of our journey.  At first, I almost turned down her offer.  At first, I thought why would I want to get any pictures taken of me now?

And then, I said yes.  Because I vowed to myself that I would feel and do all of this. Whatever that means. And besides my boys (all three) are adorable.

She sent over this picture tonight.  I keep looking at it.  Who is that woman? Is that me? It still blows my mind.  I have cancer.  Dammit.  I have cancer.

But I’m in there alright.  I know those eyes, and that mole at the end of my nose.  Yep, that’s me.  Somehow the port doesn’t look so creepy, and my bald head doesn’t look so sad.  I mean, she kind of looks like “easy-breezy-cancer girl”.  And by “she” I mean “me”.

And that’s the crazy thing about pictures, and Facebook, and Instagram.  In this picture, I look brave, and strong, and happy. And I am — all of those things.  But sometimes, I’m not.  And luckily Joel hasn’t snapped a picture of me in the middle of one of my break downs.  And I have no desire to be photographed while hooked up to the chemo chair.  Those are pictures (if they existed) are the ones I don’t want to share on Facebook.  (I am too old for Instagram — right? If not, someone needs to give me a tutorial.) Pictures tell stories, but sometimes not the whole story.  That’s why this blog is so important for me.  If I weren’t writing it– and just posting pictures on Facebook, you might think I was breezing through this thing.

And- for the record (in case you haven’t read all of my other posts) – I’m not.

But — I am surviving it.  And I am seeing those slivers of spring.

Today I pushed my kids on the swings at the park (Actually I only pushed Andy, because Alex finally learned how to do it himself!).  I raced them down the slide, and played Spiderman tag.  I ate Indian food on the couch with my really cute husband, and watched both of my boys fall asleep cuddled up next to me.  Life doesn’t stop for cancer.

My chemo #5 was postponed because my white blood cell counts were too low.  I’ve decided the only thing worse than getting chemo– is not getting chemo on schedule.  My finish line just got further away.  But I also got a water break.

This picture tells part of my story.  The part about my strength.  The part about how while standing in the studio I was envisioning myself there a year from now with more cleavage and a pixie hair cut.  I can see myself on the other end of this. I’m gonna raise my boys.  The woman in that picture knows– without a doubt– that this cancer is temporary.  A fire to walk through. It will burn me, and leave me with scars, but it will not stop me.

My roots are too deep.