And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
You know, it ain’t easy to find a moment of happiness when you find yourself, a year after finishing treatment for breast cancer, with a drain sticking out of your breast.
I thought I had the flu. Bone-rattling chills, body aches, fever. But then 24 hours later, I woke up with a breast that looked like a stop sign and was giving off more heat than my space heater. And pain? Holy cow.
On September 25, 2017, I finished radiation for breast cancer. What remained was long-term oral chemotherapy – swallowing a pill every day for the next five to ten years. So…the crisis was over. And then, on September 21st 2018, after a trip to Urgent Care, the ER, and the surgeon, I ended up with a drain, removing an infection from the surgical site where the tumor used to be. Turns out that the space left behind doesn’t fill in for years – and sometimes, it fills with fluid, and if there’s bacteria in the body, it travels there, and bam. Infection.
So it’s been a shaky week. A week of memories and flashbacks, of feeling like I’m going backward instead of forward. Compounding this is the anniversary of the launch of my novel, In Grace’s Time dovetailing with the release of Today’s Moment of Happiness Despite The News; A Year of Spontaneous Essays. Grace’s launch: 9/26/17. Today’s Moment’s release date: 9/27/18. When Grace came out, I was too sick and exhausted to enjoy it. I had to cancel appearances and a midwest book tour. With Today’s Moment, I swore I was going to get that time and enjoyment back.
And now, there’s a drain waving like a red flag.
In and out of the surgeon’s office and the Breast Care Center this week, I was walloped with reminders. Last Friday, as I waited to see if I was going to have to have the drain, a woman came from the examining area. She was rail thin and wore a stocking cap. And she was beaming. Her mother stood to meet her and the woman exclaimed, “They got it! They got it all! The surgery worked!” and the two burst into tears. So did the woman sitting across from me in the waiting room. And so did I. Group hug. Congratulations all around. The woman said she was going to go home and eat cake.
On Monday, I returned to the Breast Care Center because the protective wrap they covered the drain with where it entered my skin was peeling back. They very gently put a new one on for me. As I walked toward the elevators, another woman came around the corner. She was wearing a v-neck shirt, and I could see, from the redness of her skin and the apparatus poking out, that she’d just received her port for chemotherapy. Her eyes were full. She looked at me and I looked at her. I lifted my shirt, just a little so she could see the tubing for the drain, and then I held my arms out. She fell into them and sobbed on my shoulder. I couldn’t say it would be okay. I couldn’t say it would be all right. But I did say, “It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge after challenge. And you’re going to have help and support the whole way.” And then we parted.
Today, I went in for another ultrasound, to make sure that everything is healing. A young woman sat near me in the waiting room, looking at her phone. She didn’t wear a stocking cap, and her skull was just the most elegant smooth curve. When I sat down, I think I sighed. She looked up at me. Huge brown eyes. And then they filled. She held her fist out to me, and I bumped her with mine. We didn’t say a word.
I am part of a club I never wanted to join. And I am surrounded with grace, with strength, with compassion, with support. This week’s moment of happiness, #1.
During the ultrasound, I asked the technician and the radiologist if they thought the drain would be gone by October 18th, the day of the Today’s Moment launch. I explained that if the drain was still going to be there, I’d have to get a new outfit. The one I chose would not cover the tubing. After the radiologist assured me that he thought it would be gone, the technician said, “Anyway, with your personality, I’m sure you could find a way to make it work. Some bling. Wrap it in a feather boa.” And the radiologist said, “Bedazzle it!”
I added that maybe I should just appear topless and wrap a pasty or tassel around it – though it’s coming from the side and not the front.
For a moment, this week’s moment #2, we laughed. And then they both hugged me.
This club I’m in. This club that reaches out and fist-bumps, hugs, smiles, wipes away tears, without even asking, without a word. I am lifted up. And I do everything in my power to lift right back. I’m still here to do it.
This week’s moment #3.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.