Monthly Archives: February 2014

Happy(?) World Cancer Day!

Wow, it’s been a while since I updated this thing! Remember me, guys? Guys…?

I’m posting today for a couple of reasons. First, I never told you guys how my exchange surgery went. (Spoiler alert: Easiest thing ever.) And second, it’s World Cancer Day.

First: The surgery. What an absolute breeze.  By now I’m something of an expert at surgery if I do say so myself, and does it make me a drug addict if I admit that I was a little – JUST A LITTLE – psyched because I knew I was gonna get Versed? Whatever. Versed forever.

I opted for round silicone implants, 360ccs. I know that because I got a sweet boobie ID card that I now have to keep in my wallet, I guess in case I get into some kind of accident and a sexy firefighter needs to give me chest compressions or something. To be honest, having fake boobs is not as weird as I thought it’d be. It’s a bit awkward explaining it to new doctors or putting “breast implants” on my medical forms, but overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with my new pair. In fact, I recently went to the gynecologist, and when she looked at my chest she literally exclaimed, “Wow! Who did this? This looks amazing.” I KNOW, RIGHT? Better than the old set. Not even kidding.

Anyway, the surgery itself was no big thang. And I’m not just saying that from the perspective of a person who has a surgery or two. This was Surgery 101: Intro to Being Slightly Uncomfortable for a Couple of Hours. This was seriously beginner surgery. The green circle bunny slope of surgery. It was really a pretty minor thing, and truthfully, I felt so immediately better having the hard, unnatural tissue expanders out of my body that I barely registered any kind of pain over the relief I felt. Unlike when I hung out in the hospital being barfy and disoriented and extravasating extremely painful medication into my veins for three days after my mastectomy, this time I chilled in the bed for about an hour before I was up and about, chugging cranberry juice and on my way home.

So, cons of the surgery: Mild discomfort, weird surgical bra, no running for six weeks.

Versus pros of the surgery: VERSED, amazing boobs, cranberry juice. Also Versed. And Versed.

Side note, I was pleasantly surprised to find that at the end of six weeks I had not lost significant running ability. I mean, I’m slower, and I doubt I could pound out 13.1 without a walking respite or two, but I can still crush a 5k without a problem. I logged five miles last weekend in the cold and snow and loved every second of it.

Getting the exchange surgery was a major milestone in my treatment, because it was the last major and frightening ordeal I had to face. Now, on the other side of it, I’m looking at a long time – hopefully years and years and years – without having to go under general anesthesia or get sliced up by anyone.

Most of the emotions I feel regarding this are what you’d expect: elation, namely. But there’s also an undercurrent of fear. Because soon, I’m going to be on my own. A check-up every six months, more or less like the rest of the world. No more constant monitoring. No more reassurance from drug treatments and examinations that at least I’m doing something, anything, to keep this monster at bay. Just me, alone, trying to go back to living my life like I didn’t almost accidentally kill myself by unleashing a colony of mutant cells into my body – a colony that could mutiny again without warning at any second.

I suppose that segues pretty nicely into the second part of this post, which has to do with World Cancer Day. You may have seen the Chevy ad celebrating the “road to recovery” during the Super Bowl, which, by the way, I called about two seconds into it. As soon as I saw a sad, tragic-looking chick with short hair, I blurted out, “GUYS, GUYS, THIS IS GONNA BE ABOUT CANCER.” And everyone was like, Michelle, this is clearly a truck ad. And then it was BOTH. Guys, I know my cancer tropes now. You gotta trust me on this stuff. I can see that tearjerker jam coming from a mile away. I guess that’s the only superpower I got from all the insane chemotherapy drugs – a sixth sense for emotional cancer ploys.

As I mentioned when I wrote about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, all of these cancer-centric ribbons and days and campaigns and whatnot always leave me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I love that they get people talking, debunking myths, remembering that even after chemo, after our hair grows back, a lot of us are still dealing with fallout. (I even helped to create a campaign of my own back in October, called Mamming, to talk about breast cancer in a new way – and the experience was very helpful for me in reaching out to a younger audience about what it’s like to go through procedures, like mammograms, that put you face-to-face with the fragility of your life.) But – unfairly – they also inspire in me a deep, hot, uncontrollable rage, which I recognize is actually just leftover rage at the entire situation. I don’t spend much time thinking about cancer (because when I do, I need to take like eight Ativan), so getting it shoved in my face catapults me back to a time when my anger at the world, at my body, at myself, at everything was so supernova white-hot that it spills out of the past and drowns the future in a sea of fury and fear.

Actually, there’s a scene in the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars film – based on the popular book by John Greene, about two teenage cancer survivors who fall in love – where one character asks the other, “Are you angry?” And she replies, “So angry.” I haven’t read this book (it’s been recommended to me a number of times, but I wasn’t in an emotional place where I felt ready to face young adult cancerhood that head-on yet), but watching that scene made me want to pick it up. When we about cancer, we talk about sadness, we talk about fear, but we don’t talk a lot about anger. And I was angry.

(Skip to 1:53 for the anger, but the whole trailer is gold.)

Personally, I didn’t deal with cancer by being sad. I’m not trying to imply that I didn’t cry. You guys, I cried. I cried a river. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything but cry for the first week after I was diagnosed, and it was the kind of crying that makes the neighbors call the police – wailing, screaming, uncontrollable sobbing. But the woman in the Chevy ad shedding a single tear while staring morosely out the window? Not my experience. I shaved my head to a 2 Chainz song. Then I did shots.

I’m glad, though, that World Cancer Day inspires a narrative around cancer. I hope it inspires whatever kind of narrative you need to cope with cancer, whatever that may be – sadness, anger, fear, fury, humor, or all of the above. (I think it’s usually all of the above; it was for me.) It’s a scary thing. It’s a mysterious thing. It happens to people with no warning, and survival is, basically, a crapshoot. And it’s lonely.

It’s so strange, because every time I went in for treatment, I was surrounded by a dozen other people going through the same experience. And yet, the gulf that separated me from them was so enormous, so insurmountable that it felt absolutely unbreachable. Despite the factual knowledge that what I was going through is actually dismayingly common, having cancer was the most intensely lonely experience of my life. And, perhaps paradoxically given what I’ve written above, there’s a part of me that is so grateful to the deluge of campaigns and races and t-shirts and other cancer awareness bric-a-brac because it reminds you that, however alone you feel, you aren’t. You aren’t the first. You won’t be the last. There are so many others who understand, who can connect, who can help.

In writing this blog, I’ve hoped to demystify the experience of cancer, to take away some of the awe and fear and confusion I see in people when I talk about my experience. It was unpleasant, but unpleasant things happen to us all, and I don’t want to be defined as a cancer victim. That is only one small part of my story. I plan to write – figuratively and literally – so much more.