A couple of weeks ago I sent out a twitter that said, simply, fuck cancer.
I added a brief end note to a post that same day explaining that someone close to us had been diagnosed.
That may be the understatement of the year.
Jared’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I didn’t mention the details anywhere online because she is a very private person. My father-in-law actually emailed me and asked me “not to talk about it too much” until they’d had some time to process it. I live 1400 miles away, so I think it’s safe to assume that he might have meant “Jesus, God, woman don’t talk about this on your Internet stuff.” I didn’t “talk about it too much”, of course.
But I’m talking about it now, because I need you to talk about it.
She lad a lumpectomy last week. The cancer was supposed to be small and non-invasive and easily removed with one surgery. Unfortunately, the lumpectomy revealed that the cancer – although still considered “non-invasive” – was more extensive than everyone had thought.
She has to have a mastectomy.
That’s about all she knows for sure right now. She’s been told to have at least one breast removed. She’s also been told she has other options. In fact, she’s been given several options with potential pros and cons for each. Unfortunately, no doctor or husband or son or cancer-free daughter-in-law can tell her which option to choose.
She can have a double mastectomy.
She can have reconstructive surgery at the same time she has the mastectomy. Of course, if she does that, she’ll need to wait several weeks in order to have the surgery because adding a plastic surgeon to the mix makes scheduling things a little more difficult.
She can have one breast removed on Thursday, getting rid of what they know is there as quickly as possible. And if she does that, she can schedule more surgeries several months down the road – more surgeries, more recovery, different types of surgeries and potential outcomes.
She can elect not to have reconstructive surgery at all. She’s been told to consider how her clothes would “hang”. Isn’t it strange how quickly our breasts become clothes hangers to the rest of the world? We spend decades being told that the size and shape and ability to defy gravity of our breasts signify beauty and youth and womanliness; and in the blink of an eye another woman is telling us to think about the way our clothes will hang. We’re supposed to be practical and make lists of pros and cons and decide if we should remove one breast or two and do it in six days or 4 weeks and live without breasts for hours or months or forever.
How the hell does a woman make that decision on her own?
And how in the hell does she make it with anyone else? How can someone else talk to her about her breasts as if they are simply body parts? How can we discuss a part of her that has defined, to a certain extent, who she is in terms of risk factors and procedures? How in the hell do anyone of us pretend to know what she is going through or offer her any kind of insight that can help?
We can’t. Not really. The doctor can give her the facts and those of us who love her can lend her a shoulder and an ear. But we can’t tell her what it will be like.
We can’t tell her how it feels to live without breasts. We can’t tell her what recovering from surgery is like or what reconstruction feels like or what the difference is between one God-made breast and one man-made breast. We can’t tell her what it’s like to look in the mirror and see something dangerous where something alluring used to be.
But maybe you can. Maybe you or someone you know has lived this nightmare or made these decisions. Maybe someone who can share would be willing to, even though you don’t know this woman or her husband or her children or her grandchildren.
I want to take this decision from her, and I can’t. I want to give her insight, and I can’t.
I’m asking you to if you can.
If you or someone you know can share your story, can tell her the things a doctor cannot, please leave them in the comments or email them to me so that I can pass them along to her. My email address is brittmariereints at gmail dot com. I will forward your emails to her and she may or may not contact you. She is, as I said, an extremely private person – but she doesn’t know anyone who has gone through this. I don’t know if she would feel comfortable talking to a stranger – even a stranger who shared their most private stories – but even just hearing them, and having the option to ask questions, might help.
This is all I can do for her.
If you can do more, please do.