“Oh shit, I skipped that Chapter.”
That was my first thought when the OB-GYN told me my second baby was upside down, and he’d have to be taken by C-section. I had skipped the chapter on Cesarean deliveries in What To Expect When You’re Expecting, because I simply couldn’t imagine having one- I was naïve, and perhaps a little smug. I was totally unprepared for having surgery to get my baby out.
Twenty-five years later, it’s happened again. I don’t think there is a What to Expect When You’re Aging, but if there were such a book, I would have paid close attention to the chapters on Insomnia, Joint Aches and Pains, Belly Fat, Hot Flashes, Parents Dying, Empty Nesting, and Encore Careers. But I would have skipped the Cancer Chapter. I definitely would have skipped the Cancer Chapter. I’m not sure I’m even ready to read it now.
Because most of the time, I still can’t believe I have it.
I sit in the oncology department, waiting for my July check up appointment. I have an overwhelming feeling that I don’t belong there. I feel good- very good, healthy, energetic, happy. How does this make sense? How can I get my mind around something that seems so foreign? How do I mentally prepare to wage war on something I don’t feel?
I am called in to get my vitals checked.
“How are you feeling?” the nurse asks
“Other than the cancer thing, I feel pretty remarkable,” I tell her.
“Your blood pressure is a lot lower than it was last time,” she informs me.
“Maybe I’m getting used to this,” I tell her.
But I’m not sure I will ever get used to this. I ask her if the nurse practitioner is on time today. I ask nonchalantly, but I assume my voice betrays me.
“No…but not too bad. About a half hour behind.”
In all honesty, I am getting used to the fact that my appointments will take a few hours longer than I think they should– I just leave the day open. I also appreciate that when I finally get into the room, I feel like I am the only patient the doctor has that day, unrushed, totally cared for- and if that is how they treat every patient, and it means that everyone must wait a little, so be it. Am I becoming a better, more understanding Patient?
I go back to take my place in the waiting room among the other cancer patients, those waiting for appointments on the left, those waiting for treatments on the right. I don’t engage with anyone, I don’t want to make small talk. I sit and do my work.
An hour goes by. I have to pee, but I don’t want to leave the waiting area to go to the bathroom for fear of losing my turn. I’m going to have to figure that one out, because I don’t want anyone going with me to these appointments. I feel strongly about that.
I am finally called in. I tell the nurse practitioner about how great I feel, how weird that is for me. She measures my tumor, tells me the Tamoxifen is doing its job, and I am good for another month. I tell her my fantasy—that the Tamoxifen will work so well that it will shrink the tumors in my breast to nothing, and I won’t have to have a mastectomy in October.
“That’s not going to happen.”
“That’s what the doctor said,” I told her.
“Well, I’m glad we are on the same page. Our goal is to cure you of the cancer, and you will need the mastectomy.”
So, I guess before the summer is out, I will have to read the Mastectomy chapter. No getting around that one.
And without even opening a book, I’ve already learned two things that everyone ought to know, even if they never read the Cancer chapter:
- After a mastectomy, there is no feeling in the breast. If you have surgery to sew the nipple back on (a difficult decision in itself because there may be cancer cells in there), there will be no feeling, and the nipple will stay erect.
- For god’s sake, it’s a “mastectomy”, not a “masectomy”- that’s not even a word.
Years ago, when I was worried about my little kids, my more mature and wise friend told me that the things you worry about probably won’t happen…it’s the things you don’t worry about—that take you totally for a loop—they’re the ones that really get you.
She was right. So I guess you skip Chapters at your own peril.
And perhaps that is what betterafter50.com is about—it’s the What To Expect When You’re Aging on line, with information, humor and entertainment all mixed in. And if that is true, I guess I’m writing the Cancer Chapter. I hope you read it, but never need it.