The phone rang, “July 28th”, she said. “Your surgery will be at 7:30 so you will need to arrive by 5:30; no food or drink 12 hours before.” What are seemingly routine words to some, have been the catalyst for many more sleepless nights and moments lost in thought over the last few days.
On July 28th at 7:30 am, I will undergo 5-6 hours of surgery where I will have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy followed by reconstruction. Many have said, “you don’t have to do this,” or “that’s such a radical decision” and even, “but you don’t have cancer.”
No, I don’t have cancer, yet. Over the past year my mother has battled (and won) her SECOND fight with breast cancer and my younger sister is currently undergoing treatment for the same. When my sister came to share her diagnosis with me, she asked only one thing of me, that I be genetically tested to determine if I was at risk. No, I don’t have cancer, but I am BRCA 2 positive and therefore have a greater than 80% likelihood of developing breast cancer before age 60.
No, I don’t have cancer, but I have traveled beside these women as they journey and watched with great pain knowing that there is no action I can take or item I can buy that will make this easier for them. Making this decision has not been an easy one, but knowing that the ones who love me most may never have to feel the pain of helplessness as you watch the “red devil” being administered, or have to hold back tears as you shave off the handfuls of hair that still remain, I HAVE to do this.
As I gradually share my story with others, I am almost always met with the response, “you are so strong, you will make it through this,” or “you are one of the strongest women I know…”. These words, always uttered with care and concern, have caused me to pause to define strength.
Strength is what is present when there is no other option and you still have to move forward. The sun rises and sets each day and there are responsibilities within those hours that must be attended to, no matter the circumstance. Strength is what we pray for to function “normally” within those hours. Strength is:
- the whispered conversations so you don’t have to tell your children what is happening quite yet;
- the panic that is pushed back every time the phone rings;
- the smile you see so the yawn from no sleep is masked;
- the wells of tears blotted away on the drive to work so your makeup doesn’t run and you appear like nothing is wrong;
- the same tears that fall silently so your family doesn’t see the pain with which you wrestle;
- the deep breath to keep the tears from falling at all;
- the ability to function after a sleepless night;
- the silence and moments lost in thought about what is to come;
- the fear for the moment that is to come when the bandages are pulled away and there is a void where there used to be the pieces of you that so distinctly made you a woman;
- the desire to hide from the world until you look and feel whole again;
- the struggle each day to believe that the soul defines beauty rather than the shell that contains it.
So, I begin and end each day with all the strength I can muster, knowing “this too shall pass”. However, I appreciate the friend who said, “be well, you mean a lot to many,” to remind me that I have the strength and care of those around me as my journey continues….