It was an odd place to sit, but I sat there anyway. I put my head back against the storm door, brought my knees to my chest, my face to the sun, and closed my eyes. I just sat there for a while, listening to the leaves dance across the gravel driveway in the November breeze. It was so beautiful, so consistent, that I actually opened my eyes once or twice just to make sure that the sound was not coming from some other source, perhaps a rain stick, like the one we had bought on a family trip to Africa so many years ago.
I had wanted to sit out on the back deck, but with the sun so low in the November sky, the house blocked the sun, and the back deck was shaded and cool. So, like a dog, seeking a sunny spot to catch a nap, I placed my butt on the stairs leading to the side door of my home—the one we call the “back door” even though, like the “front door”, it faces the street and the afternoon sun.
The heated, glass door against my back was like a hot water bottle, and I let the heat of the late morning sun warm my face, my healing chest, limbs. I hoped I could remain invisible for a few minutes. I hoped that no neighbors would walk down the street, no friends would come for a visit, no flower truck would come with a delivery, and that the mailman would not drive up with the mail. I needed a few moments of warmth and utter aloneness.
With my eyes closed, I recounted many of the conversations I had with the doctors this past week:
“Right now you are cancer free.”
“Your lymph node was about the size of a grape, and the cancer they found on it was very, very small- about the size of the area where the grape would meet the stem.”
“But I told everyone that there was NO cancer on the lymph node!”
“There were actually three areas of cancer, not two, so the mastectomy was absolutely the right decision.”
“Are you telling me that a mammogram, an ultra-sound and an MRI all completely missed a third, 1 centimeter spot of cancer on my breast?”
“Genome testing will tell us the risk of recurrence and whether chemo or radiation will be effective.”
“If it comes back, it could come back as bone cancer- or lung or liver.”
“If you have to have chemo, you will definitely lose your hair.”
“If there is a big enough piece to do the genome testing, we will know the results in a few weeks. The default is no chemo.”
“The hormone therapy reduced your cancer by 40% in 5 months. That is great news.”
Great news? A week ago, I thought there was no cancer on the lymph node. A week ago, I thought I had sacrificed a boob, and I was out of the woods. I thought it was over. I was done. Great news then would have been, “Hey, guess what? You took one boob for the team, and you’re done! Finish up your reconstruction, and get outta here!”
So I am learning, I guess the hard way, that with cancer, there is never much certainty. I know in my heart of hearts that I will get through this, but maybe not the “easy” way. Funny, before now, I never considered a unilateral mastectomy as the “easy” way out. I dreaded it. It was the worst of the worst. Now it doesn’t seem so bad. I don’t mind missing a boob.
I know now that “Great News” changes as time goes on, that it must be continually redefined.
I know now that there really is no such thing as Certainty (how can anyone ever trust that they are “home free” after a mammogram, ultra-sound or MRI?)
I know now I am not so special, I don’t always get off easy, and the key is to figure out a way to deal with the uncertainty– to develop strategies, find silver linings.
“How are you sleeping?” friends ask.
“About the same as ever,” I tell them.
The good news is, I haven’t slept well in years, well before the breast cancer. And now, when I wake up at 4:00AM and can’t get back to sleep? I will continue to have something to write about. See? Silver linings…