That’s when she took her last gasp, never to be seen by this world again. Now she sits on a dusty, forgotten shelf in the back of a lab somewhere, among a countless sea of others. “Unremarkable,” that’s how they labeled her. I know she had never been a star or even particularly fabulous in her own right, but “unremarkable”? Such an undignified ending.
I’m talking about my non-cancerous right breast, of course. I had a doctor’s appointment today to have the stitches removed from my tissue expander incisions. Before I left, the doctor asked if I could provide a copy of my surgical pathology report from my double mastectomy one year ago this month. He wanted to get an idea of the size of my pre-cancer breasts to better gague how big my new implants should be.
“They were about a B-. I can tell you right now that we’re going bigger than that”, I offered with a grin. Although my 6 year-old insists that she wants my chest to look “just like it did before”, I explained delicately that after everything Mommy has been through, she was definitely going for better than “before”. There has to be a great prize at the bottom of this shitty cracker jack box. Worst cracker jacks I ever ate!
When I got home, I dug through my now “War and Peace” tome of medical records and located the “Surgical Pathology Report”. Of course I had to read it in detail before I faxed it. There it was, right in the second paragraph, “Right breast ischemic time 0820”, the beginning of the two and a half hour surgery. It made me kind of sad to look at it. They took her off of life support, and something in both of us died that day.
The report went on to include all kinds of ugly words, “tumor mass”, “multifocal invasive carcinoma”, “extensive ductal carcinoma in situ”, METASTATIC carcinoma to eight of sixteen lymph nodes”. I had put all of this away so neatly in my denial box over the past year, it was unsettling to dig it up and revisit it. I’m sure I was protecting myself. Had I really let the weight of these words hit me last year, I might have crumbled. Instead, I put on my armor and geared up for the fight of my life.
Now that there is a lull in the battle, I’m allowing myself to come to terms with the seriousness of my diagnosis. It feels a little surreal, like I’m reading someone else’s medical records and shuddering at the words on the page. That can’t be me. But it is. So I stop for just a moment, feeling the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat, and I honor what was lost. It was so much more than just a mane of blonde hair or a pair of breasts. It was a kind of innocence, a certainty that each morning I will wake up and my world will be ok. That’s what breast cancer steals from us.