These Tits are the Shit

I wasn’t going to do it.

I wasn’t going to use the space I’ve been offered to talk about this.

I wasn’t going to write a post in October – the month designated for breast cancer awareness – about breast cancer.  I just wasn’t.

But, how can I not? How can I have experienced first-hand, the horror that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis just nine short months ago, and NOT use my voice to enlighten and educate? What is it they say? With great power, comes great responsibility?

I’ll be honest. I didn’t know Jack or Squat about breast cancer before it happened to me. That seems like such a silly thing to say because really, who does?

Despite what they say (and I promise you some idiot WILL say it) breast cancer is NOT the “best kind of cancer to have.” I know why they say it. It’s meant as a platitude, a metaphorical side-arm hug meant as comfort. Translated, it means: breast cancer is treatable, and even curable, IF…

Well fuck that.

This isn’t going to be THAT post. The rah-rah-shish-boom-bah post that embraces the Pink campaign, and accepts all that is encompassed by being a “survivor” of breast cancer. Nope, I’m going to tell you the unfortunate truth. And that is simply this: cancer is a DICK, in all its forms. None is better than another. You don’t survive it. You find within yourself an invincible fortitude and you fight – and that makes you a warrior.

First, before I begin my story, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my very profound gratitude and respect for the warriors who have come before me. The ones who fought valiantly against this very silent killer, and those still fighting. Notably the women who have come before, in whose arms I felt supported and in whose light I felt comforted on the eve of my bilateral mastectomy. Through the annals of time, countless women have lost their breasts and their lives to this disease. These women are deserved of our indelible reverence, and it is in their honor that I tell you what they couldn’t.

Because I’m under the age of 45 they call in early-onset. Although my grandmother’s sister, my mother’s sister and now me all have had it, they say I don’t carry the genetic marker. Because this isn’t my first rodeo with cancer, (a different type 20 years ago) my personal genetics mixed with all the environmental factors predispose the cells in my body to go rogue.

Come now, gather ‘round while I recount to my very best recollection of how the shit show began:

The nipple on my right breast was doing something strange. I noticed, of course. It was aesthetically very displeasing. I wondered at least a dozen times, silently, and also aloud, W.T.F.?  As we so often do, I self-diagnosed myself with some scar tissue (caused by a breast reduction 8 years prior) that must have been the cause. Scar tissue must be pulling on the tissue behind my nipple and THAT is what’s causing this minor retraction, which bugs me, but can definitely be dealt with at another time.

[FAST FORWARD SEVERAL, POSSIBLY 4, MONTHS]

Yeah, this is ugly. I should consult the interwebs at 11:00 p.m. about it. That seems legit.  Beep, bop, beep – OH SHIT. I have breast cancer.

Listen up people, and I mean listen GOOD. I do not know why this is not in the Pink campaign marketing pamphlet. Surely, as nipple retraction is quite literally a positive sign of having breast cancer, they could spend a few dollars and some ink telling us about it, eh?

Back to the story:

One mammogram and one ultrasound later, a guy who believes himself to be a medical PROFESSIONAL spits garbage formed into words into to my face: “You’re too young, but if you’re gonna’ have cancer, breast cancer is the best kind to have.”

[BLINK. BLINK.]

There is no way to use letters strung together as words to describe that moment. Even if the words are delivered properly, by someone with the appropriate credentials to be telling a woman this news, there are simply not words that accurately describe the impending doom that washes over you. Even if you were prepared, which I was.

From the moment of diagnosis, it begins – the download of information at phenomenal speed. There are doctors, doctors, doctors and more doctors. There are more tests, mammograms, MRIs, ultrasounds and biopsies. You will show your breasts to strangers like you are three Hurricanes in at Mardi Gras. You will recount your medical history over and over again. You will spend hours in medical offices listening intently to the myriad of “choices” you have before you. You will be made to believe they ARE choices. But if they are choices, they are hard ones; and they are choices that you would otherwise never have to make.

This story goes on for months and months, and I’m happy to tell it if anyone is interested, but the short guest post version is simple. For all cancer has asked me to give up, it has also allowed me to give in.

Give in to the help from friends and family – if there is something they can do, let them.

Give in to the love that surrounds me daily – and from the depths of my soul, be grateful for it.

Give in to the kindness that I feel from strangers – and return that kindness ten-fold.

Give in to my heart – love everyone no matter what. Speak that love genuinely and often.

Give in to the solitude – listen, and more importantly, hear what is going on around me without having to be a part of it.

Give in to the softness – of my heart, my soul and my body.

Give in to the notion of intimacy – platonic and romantic. Touch, kiss and allow those around me to feel what I feel for them.

Give in to the art of self-care – massages, pedicures, sleep, reading, watching hours of mindless TV – not because you can, but because you must.

Give in to the necessity of asking for what you need – someone wants to provide it for you. Trust me on this.

Give in to the inevitability of death – fearing death isn’t productive. Live well – all the days you can.

Give in to the strength and integrity of your character. Face hard things with dignity and grace.

But do not, I repeat – DO NOT, give in to the fear.

No longer obsessed with finding misplaced items or dreaming up worst-case scenarios has opened up a lot of time for me to do the things I love - writing (one of my first loves) and appreciating all the joy I find in loving people deeply. Mental illness of any kind can be difficult to navigate. Today I am better through the magic of chemistry and the many lovely friends I've found along the way. Be good to one another.

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