Drama Queen?!?! I'm a F*cking Super Hero Bitch!
By the middle of last month, I had HAD IT. It had been three years since I started my tour of duty in CancerLand. The only way Greg and I kept our sanity, is... we've always been convinced we'd be out the other side in two months. "Only two more months, Babe." In fact, I'm two months from being done as I write this. We weren't counting on the Chemo almost killing me, swelling my hands until my fingernails split and popped off. We didn't expect the Christmas Eve Infection that set us back a year. I didn't know Everyone Would Fall Away. At any rate, I had HAD IT. Then, at 8:15P on a Friday, the phone rang. Greg and I were already laying in bed watching TV, fighting to keep our eyes open. The combination of house remodel, surgery recovery, and owning our own business, means we wake up exhausted. I listened to the voice mail the next morning. It was Missy's boyfriend. "Hey, We're meeting Liz and Sam at 9:00 at Park for drinks and dinner. Hope you can meet us there." That was the last straw. I pulled out my laptop and started typing an email to my two oldest friends, Missy (grade school) and Liz (college). My fingers flew, and I hit Send even as Greg advised me to Save As Draft and give it a day.
Cut and Paste:
"If either of you had bothered to keep in touch you would know that I'm still bed-ridden with draining tubes and a wound in my stomach so deep that has to be packed full of gauze soaked in BLEACH solution 3 times a day. You know, just Fuck You Both. I have been stuck in bed since March 15. Flowers? No. Cards? No. Phone Call? No. Can I bring dinner? Take you to dr. appt.? Take your mind off of being in bed for SEVEN FUCKING WEEKS? Even KNOW I've been in bed for 7 weeks? I love you but, Where Are You? I have had my issues over the years and maybe I'm too much of an energy drain. I don't know. I do know that I feel like I have been abandoned by both of you to the point that a last minute dinner invitation is just pouring salt in the wound. And I have enough wounds right now thank you very much. Missy, I drove 9 hours for a 10 minute hospital visit when your son was born. Liz, It was Greg who watched the obituaries every day when your father-in-law was sick because he wanted to make sure Sam knew we cared about him. I have had an entire new Fabulous Wardrobe sent in for my Fabulous New Body and was sad that I didn't want to call either one of you. Boo."
They send emails reminding me they did call in the first days. Sorry, but those drug filled days are a blur. When I didn't call back, they thought I wanted space. They are busy, with children and complicated lives of their own. I send a "that's not good enough" message back.
A few days pass, and a ridiculously large bouquet, and a cheese basket, arrive from Missy. We talk, there are apologies on both sides and much love. Greg and I meet her, and her guy, for breakfast. She is Missy, my chosen childhood Sister, the buoy through the rough seas of youth, and all will always be forgiven.
Liz left a voice mail. "I just got your Fuck You Very Much email. I think you're in a funk." There is more to it than that, but I am blind with hurt and rage. "A Funk?!?" I scream to an empty house. "A Fucking Funk?" Back to the email. "Dear Liz Shove your Funk UP YOUR ASS!" Her response translates to: "I can't do this via email. I love you. You know I love you. I know, you know, I love you." I ignore this. She sends a card with a note that makes me laugh, and reminds me that you have to love Liz for Liz. We meet for dinner.
I can tell when I arrive that Liz is still back on her heels. I've touched a nerve, calling her out as a shitty friend. The conversation is friendly, but not comfortable. Half way through the bottle of wine she begins, (paraphrasing), "Fuck. You've had so many surgeries. How am I supposed to know which are the big ones and which are the little ones? It pisses me off that you're putting yourself through this. I have two other friends who have had double mastectomies and reconstruction in the last six months, and they are fine now. I think you have to consider the fact that maybe you Don't Want to Heal. Your self-esteem is so low, maybe you don't feel like you deserve to be healthy. Fuck! It just pisses me off because you have OPTIONS, but it seems like you're addicted to surgery. I feel like you're being a Drama Queen."
Processing....processing.... Am I hearing this right? She thinks I WANT THIS? Even on a subconscious level, the accusation is appalling. Drama Queen?!? I am speechless. Finally, I ask, "What options? What are you talking about?" "Come on! You can't tell me none of the surgeries weren't optional." "OK, Liz. Let's run them down. You tell me which surgeries were optional." "Go." Says Liz.
Surgery #1. Double Mastectomy. Liz grees that was not optional.
Surgery #2. Double Oophorectomy. My cancer fed on estrogen so the ovaries had to go too. (It's called Medical Menopause and it is a MOTHER FUCKER when you can't have hormone therapy.) Again, Liz concedes this to be necesary.
Surgery #3. Skin Expander Insertion. My breasts were DDD. There was so much skin available, reconstruction was expected to be a breeze. Liz says that while not technically necessary, she'll give me this one because she probably would have done the same thing.
Surgery #4. Expander Removal/Implant Insertion. She'll give me that one too.
Surgery #5. Christmas Morning Emergency Surgery due to breast pocket infection received in the hospital, during
Surgery #4. Left implant is removed. Not a lot of Option there. Surgery or Death.
Surgery #6. Expander insertion on the left side. Liz is iffy on this. Maybe I should have just stopped then. "OK. I've got one healthy breast implant on the right side, and the results look good. I'm flat on the other side, due to a freak hospital infection. What do I do? Be lopsided? No. To be even, either an implant has to go in, or an implant has to come out." Liz says she would have made the same decision at that point.
#7. Expander removed, implant inserted. Liz nods.
Things go terribly wrong after I'm wheeled out of recovery. I'm in mind crushing pain and am overdosed on morphine. I am floating in and out of consciousness. I go into a morphine induced coma. They can't find a vein to give me the antidote to the morphine. My left arm is off limits to needles due to lymphnodes removal during Surgery #1. Tapping a vein in my right arm is tough in the best of circumstances. It is impossible when the nurse has forgotten to remove the fully inflated blood pressure cuff from my right bicep. "I'm having a heart attack." I tell Greg. They have pushed a button. Made an announcement. Shouted a code. Doctors are rushing in from everywhere. Greg is standing by my side holding my hand. My mother is crying in a corner. The doctors are in a circle, frantically flipping through a pamphlet. They can't find a vein. They start on my feet. "Not between my toes!" I scream. Jab. Jab. Jab. No luck. "Greg. Greg. I'm having a heart attack." "No you're not Baby. You're going to be okay. You're going to be okay. I love you." They punch the needle into a vein in my neck. The blood pressure cuff leaves a tribal tattoo looking bruise that lasts for months. I am rushed back in for....
Surgery #8. Hematoma removal. Also, surgeon notices implant is damaged and replaces it. Liz doesn't have much to say about that one.
Surgery #9. Nipples are skin-grafted on, and my "dog ears" are trimmed. "Dog ears" are the flaps of extra skin that have been hanging off my sides for fifteen months. (You know a male surgeon came up with that term.) Liz is shaking her head. This must come under optional. Technically, it was optional I guess. I didn't care about the nipples, the Barbie look was fine with both Greg and I by that time. The dog ears had to go though, for my mental and emotional health. So I say: Not Optional.
The results of Surgery Number Nine were Beyond Hideous. I could tell by the horrified look on Greg's face when the bandages came off, that something had gone Terribly Wrong. The left "breast" was offside. Way offside and uneven to the other one. And the nipples made me laugh out loud, after I got over the shock of realizing that's what they were supposed to be.
A brief aside about Nipples: Eventhough mine have been gone three years, I still have that "nipping out" feeling when there's a cold breeze, and automatically cross my arms in front of my chest. Phantom Nipples. After my first surgery, I had two fifty-cent size holes in my chest. Every day, when I stepped out of the shower, I had to press my hands up against my bruised skin, and push water out of those holes. It was the most dreaded part, of even my hardest days. The memory makes me shudder even now. I was so dissociated with my body, that I had been pushing water out of those holes every day for two months, when a comment from Greg made me throw up. His comment was innocuous, but so traumatic, I've forgotten what it was. Whatever he said, suddenly, in an instant, I realized the holes I was pushing water out of were WHERE MY NIPPLES USED TO BE. Beat. Pause. I am sorry Nipples, that I did not appreciate you when you were parts of me. I am grateful to you for helping me make a fat, happy, baby for the first four months of his life. Thank You.
Back at my Surgery Number Nine post-op visit, one my new "nipples" is huge, and pointing straight ahead. The other, is half its size, not quite round, and pointing across the room and up to my armpit. It looks like my chest has a bad case of Lazy Eye. Months of complications, heavy antibiotics, tests, and fluid drainings follow. (If I had a dime for every hour I've spent in waiting rooms... I could make a dent in my medical bills.) After several very bad weeks, I lost faith in my surgeon. I saw many doctors, with no answers. Finally, one of them found their balls, and referred me to a specialist out of my Health Network. I meet with one of the best breast surgeons in the country. He tells me the skin on the left breast is damaged and dying. It has to go. There is not enough healthy skin to patch me up after they remove the implant, even if I choose to stay flat on that side. A major skin graft is required.
"I'm going to ask you to do something embarrassing." says Super Breast Cancer Surgeon. I stand up, face the exam table, lean over, and grab the edge. He stands behind me, reaches around, and grabs two hands full of stomach fat. "Why did you choose implants instead of using stomach fat?" he asks. My God. "I didn't know that was an option." "An excellent option." says Super Breast Cancer Surgeon. We have to harvest the skin anyway, and you have the Perfect Stomach for it." (Did you catch that? Someone said I had the Perfect Stomach!) He asks me if I would be interested in removing the implant that's left, having a tummy tuck, and using the fat and skin from my stomach to make new, even, boobs. "See, that's optional!" Says Liz. Some of it, yes. But I had to have a major skin graft. Why not make the best of it? It's a Tummy Tuck!
Surgery #10. An Angel/Genius of a Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Jennifer Murphy, performs a thirteen hour Double TRAM Flap surgery. She harvests the skin carefully, painstakinly saving veins to connect at the transplant site. I emerge from ICU five days later with even, naturally shaped, breasts, created out of my previously hated stomach fat. This is my favorite body out of all of them. Dr. Murphy is My Hero. Greg's too.
I have one more surgery to go. I'm foregoing nipples, but Dr. Murphy wants to do some clean up work around all the major surgical sites. Nothing too invasive. Liz thinks I should wait at least five years before going under the knife again. I feel her love for me. I see her bafflement, and fear. She wants me to stop. Wait. Heal. Mostly, she doesn't want to imagine herself in a world without Options. There are always Options. Until there aren't. Just best guesses, crossed fingers, and silent prayers. I understand, Liz. I do. But I need to be done. I want to move on. I want to walk off of the CancerLand Battlefield a Victorious Warrior, and Never Look Back. Not Optional.
Drama Queen? I'm a Fucking Super Hero, Bitch!
follow me @ open.salon.com/blog/a_girl_named_michael
follow me @ open.salon.com/blog/a_girl_named_michael