EIGHT YEARS AND STILL IN REMISSION (YAY) – Marilyn Armstrong

Eight years ago today I had a bilateral mastectomy for cancer. I had malignant tumors in both breasts. Two different kinds of cancer. Which, I was told, is extremely rare. One in a million.

I’m always that one in a million.

The much better news was that both tumors were small and non-aggressive, as cancer goes. I also had the wits to find the best cancer doctor in Boston and the only plastic surgeon who was sure she could manage to create breasts for me. I’d had five (six?) previous abdominal surgeries, so there wasn’t any undamaged skin for her to work with … so she literally salvaged the skin from my breasts and reused it over the implants.

Recently – Photo: Garry Armstrong

I had four surgeons working on me at the same time because there were two breasts to be removed, followed by two “new ones” to be implanted. I was a total mess when I came out of surgery … but I had breasts. I didn’t have to go through the horrible stage where suddenly, you’re a woman with no breasts. I remember how much my mother hated losing first one, then the other breast. How they made her feel “unwomanly.”

It’s a surgery that changes you.

Mind you I had been told conclusively by at least three previous plastic surgeons that it was impossible. It couldn’t be done. That was when a friend (a doctor type friend) stepped in and introduced me to the good surgeons. The head honcho and her lead plastic surgeon. So I got them and their top assistants because they didn’t want to extend the surgery any longer than necessary and this way, they could work on both sides of me at the same time.

And that’s what they did.

That surgery changed me in a lot of ways I haven’t even begun to address despite the eight years that have passed. The heart surgery — a mere three years later — didn’t change me as much as losing both breasts.

It’s hard to explain how important breasts are to a woman. It doesn’t make any logical sense. Unless you are nursing — and I was way past the nursing phase of my life — they are secondary sexual characteristics. Yet from early on, one’s breasts define femininity. Size, shape, all of that stuff. The fake ones look more or less normal under clothing … but they don’t feel real.

Also, I have no nipples. I could have gotten pretend nipples, but it would have involved more surgery and more weeks of recovery. I realized fake nipples weren’t going to make me feel more female. They would feel as fake as the implanted breasts.

Make no mistake: I’m glad to have the fake breasts. I can look in the mirror and see a woman even though she has significant replacement parts.

I have to wonder about women who have breast surgery for “cosmetic” purposes. This is serious surgery. To do it voluntarily?

So, eight years later, I’m alive. My body changed enormously after that surgery. I went from being extremely thin to quite plump, probably because of the drugs they kept giving me to suppress production of estrogen. The drugs made me terribly sick and eventually, the oncologist suggested I stop taking them, that they were making me miserable and I had no quality of life left. I asked what percentage of difference not taking the drugs would make … and he said “less than 10%.”

I stopped taking them.

I still wonder if those drugs had something to do with how my heart disintegrated immediately thereafter. I can’t prove it, but still … those were some powerful drugs.

Climb every mountain – Photo: Ben Taylor

Meanwhile, it is eight years and there’s no sign of anything (new) wrong. It doesn’t mean I can’t get cancer somewhere else, mind you. It just takes one random floating cell to take root somewhere, but so far, so good.

Where cancer is concerned, that’s as good as any of us can ever say. You are never cured … just remitted. For now.

SUBLIME TO RIDICULOUS IN ONE EASY STEP

Daily Prompt: Linger

Right now, my entire life is one long linger. I am waiting for the other shoe, figuratively speaking, to drop. Waiting to be repaired. To be hurt, then to recover. I may not show the stress such waiting causes in any outward display (other than bad temper), but my dreams tell a story. Anxious dreams, wake-up-screaming dreams. All have one theme in common — events that are out-of-control.

Clearly, I read too much fantasy. The other night, I dreamed my real self was murdered by killing my shadow wraith which was roaming somewhere far distant from my flesh and blood self. I remember being surprised: I didn’t know you could shoot a wraith and have the attached body die. Dream and learn, eh? That isn’t Freudian — that’s literary.

75-Ghost-NK-081

Last night was more mundane, closer to home. A friend of my daughter’s who seemed to have moved in (her friends never want to go home) realized her clothing was dirty, so she decided to wash it. By hand. Then leave the piles of soggy garments all over the house.

I was in the process of trying to corral the wet laundry before it destroyed the floors … and I woke up realizing, hey, it’s laundry day again.

Laundry

Caught as I am between chapters of my life, I find myself making strange (hilarious?) discoveries. Apparently when the plastic surgeon rebuilt my breasts (implants) following the double mastectomy a couple of years back, she used muscles as part of the construction. Factory-original breasts have no muscles. There are muscles on the chest wall and off to the sides, but real breasts are not designed for men to ogle but to feed babies. Milk production. Way back in the long-lost past, I had (for a few months) “working breasts.”

That was more than 45 years ago. Last night I discovered I can make my breasts do all kinds of things. I discovered those newly arranged muscles! Together and independently, the muscles work and since I’m healed from that surgery (finally, just in time for the next one), I can control them. Cool.

Fake breasts

This was a startling discovery. I stood in front of my mirror making my breasts dance and salute for quite a while. Then I came out of the bedroom and showed Garry who laughed, but for some reason, did not think making a video to post on YouTube (it might go viral!) of my new talent was a good idea. Spoil sport.

This is what happens when you are on a long intermission between life and life. You linger.

Of course, I’d make every attempt to linger anyhow. The single thing I really don’t want to end is my life. I want to live. Life is the ultimate event and I want to keep it going.

I’m lingering with enthusiasm and verve.

More Lingering:

  1. My pre-game Pre-Game | The Bohemian Rock Star’s “Untitled Project”
  2. Daily prompt: Linger | The Wandering Poet
  3. A Love Affair With Southern Italy | AS I PLEASE
  4. Home Sweet Home | Views Splash!
  5. Step by step | Le Drake Noir
  6. Daily Prompt: Linger | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  7. Linger Longer… | Hope* the happy hugger
  8. Never fly solo | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  9. If ever | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  10. Love for lingering, drumming | Journey of a Culture Carrier
  11. Lingering longer | Sue’s Trifles
  12. The Trouble with Lingering | Wise Woman in Training
  13. Daily Prompt: Linger « cognitive reflection
  14. I see stars | littlegirlstory
  15. Linger At The Beach | Lisa’s Kansa Muse
  16. Lingering, all day today | sixty, single and surviving
  17. Linger | forgottenmeadows
  18. Not Wanting this Moment to End. Daily Prompt | Angela McCauley
  19. Linger | The Library Lady and Rosie Bear
  20. Daily Prompt: Linger | CHRONICLES OF AN ANGLO SWISS