The following two-part story was sent to me by US author and friend Barb Grengs. I read it only a day or two after my breast cancer diagnosis and despite still reeling from the shock, burst out laughing several times over Barb's wickedly funny descriptions. She has given permission for me to share the story with you here - enjoy!Part 1
No, this is not a memoir about my ex-husband. Let's just get this straight at the outset.My recent divorce was just beginning to settle when I got the unsettling news about the cancer. Not to worry; I blamed this on the ex as well. We all know that stress can cause cancer, right! I knew of several friends who had "lost" a husband (mine was lost in England with his mistress) and then discovered cancer. It was like the cancer was waiting for a cozy spot to settle while my immune system was looking the other way. Well, the cancer did find a nice cozy place to settle: my right breast.
When the doctor called with the "news," I thought, "Oh sh*t," but said, "What's the next step, Doc?" It's important not to offend or alienate the guys and gals wearing the suits, especially when they have control of certain body parts. I made an appointment with the surgeon. Just a pointer here: take someone who is not emotionally attached to the appendage/organ being removed. Another positive about being single; my ex really thought I had a nice "set." I wouldn't have to worry about disrupting his quality world since I'd been deleted.
The Doc, my friend, my daughter, and I talked options; it's important to know what's on the menu. The lump was quite large (3.5 cm., the size of a golf ball) and my boob was quite small (smaller than a baseball). My higher math skills raced to the challenge: baseball minus golf ball = ping pong ball. Thus, I nixed the lumpectomy. I wanted to avoid the tanning booth (radiation), and I wanted to make sure the dreaded "C" was gone and since my boob would be obliterated anyway, I decided on the mastectomy.
I have since read that when the diagnosis is made there are two types of women: the one who researches incessantly on the internet and the one who says, "Get rid of the damn thing." Needless to say, I fell into the second category, mainly because I am a computer retard and by the time I figured out the net, the cancer would have spread to my adenoids.
After the consultation, my friend, my daughter, and I went to dinner to chat about THE DECISION. On the way to the restaurant, my daughter and I started joking around about chemo, turbans, boobs, and her father, when out of the blue, my kid says, "Mom, if you were a game, you'd be Uno, and if I were a game, I'd be Yahtzee." With that comment, she threw open her coat and displayed a neat pair of 40's. I nearly drove off the road which would have eliminated the need for surgery entirely.
We then went on to joking about a One-Stop Cancer Shop for the stylish, specializing in funky wigs, scarves and turbans for those having a "no hair day" and a specialized boob buffet so picking out that perfect prosthesis would be a snap.
My first inclination for a quick and easy replacement boob was to put bird seed in a ziploc and attach it with duct tape. Just a quick sidebar here. I haven't been on the DATING SCENE for 27 years, and needless to say, I was out of the loop. The first guy who had the nerve to ask me out was a bird watcher. Our date was to go to Southern Minnesota where the eagles were hanging out. He even suggested that we might "get lucky" and see a hooded merganser. I quickly ran to my bird book and checked out the merganser section and found both the hooded and red-breasted merganser. I figured if he showed me his hooded merganser, I'd show my red-breasted merganser. The bird seed might come in handy.
Now back to picking out a prosthesis. The thought of velcro is another possibility, but that would mean another surgery. In fact, velcro attached organs might change the face of cosmetic surgery forever. Imagine what you could do with interchangeable buns, boobs, and lips--what great Halloween costumes. My daughter has since suggested pudding and then snack time would be taken care of. But the most impressive recommendation came from the Cancer Lady who visited me in the hospital. She insisted on Nordstrom's as the creme de la creme of prosthetics. So my daughter and I drove to the Megamall to check out hotsy totsy boobies. Little did I know that this process was second only to picking out your wedding dress, and we all know how important that is. A very snooty woman, a Prosthetics Specialist, said I needed an appointment and she was booked for the next two weeks. Well, la-de-dah. Back to the bird seed.
The surgery itself wasn't that bad given the extremes of a breech birth or a lobotomy. I personally enjoyed the "grenades." Let me explain. Sewed neatly to my right side and armpit were two separate plastic tubes that led to two plastic bottles used to collect gunk the color of Hawaiian punch which I will never drink again. Several times each day I had to "bleed" the lines, record the quantity and color of the gunk. My daughter would stand outside the bathroom door and squeal "gross," making that a multi-syllable word as only young people can. It was close to Christmas and I couldn't help but wonder what Martha Stewart would make of the "grenades": add a few sequins and a pinch of marzipan and you've got a centerpiece that squirts.
I was not to escape hospital incarceration until two criteria were met: I had to learn how to empty and clean the "grenades", a task that any "idiot could learn to do in five minutes" or so sayeth my wiseth asseth surgeon, he who owneth both of his boobs. Task number two was to listen to a wonderful volunteer from the Cancer Society. This woman was a hoot! She opened up whole new worlds for me. She'd had a double mastectomy three years before and talked about picking her prostheses. Quickly scanning her chest, she stated she had on her weekend boobs; evidently these were more casual, perhaps made of flannel or denim. They were softly understated. And then she quickly added, she also had PARTY boobs. I could only imagine Dolly Parton tits bursting forth from a sequined party dress. These boobs would glisten and glitter; these boobs would croon, "Whatta ya say, Big Boy, your place or mine." My ex would pay!
She then gave me my very first prosthesis, something I could wear home from the hospital, as if I cared. I was worried about finding a home for the two "grenades" bulging from my sweatshirt. The booby was tastefully hidden in a brown fabric bag along with numerous pamphlets from the Cancer Society. She started to giggle when I opened the bag because she had obviously misjudged my size. This boob, stuffed to the max with fiberfill, could have, when alive, fed an entire African village. Man, this puppy was huge.I could hardly wait to get home to dog, cats, and kid, home to cat hair, dog toys, empty pop cans, and my own bed.
My dog nearly wiggled himself to death when he saw me. With "grenades" dangling, I loved my puppy, sighing in contentment knowing that my relationship with my dog far exceeded my relationship with my ex. My dog was a nifty replacement: far less maintenance and I could kennel him at night. The first thing the dog did was rummage through my hospital gear including the discreet brown fabric bag. Without hesitation, he rooted around and came up with MONGO BOOB! He ran around, mouth stuffed with fiberfill, shaking it furiously, making sure it was dead. I have since resurrected the saliva stained boob, sewed the opening shut so the fiberfill won't escape, and given it to the dog. "Go fetch the boob, boy," fills those awkward conversational lulls that often accompany first dates.
If I ever am fortunate enough to have a second date, I've created the perfect line: when he stares at my "boy" side, I'll just smile coyly and say, "Breast reduction surgery gone bad." Who knows, I might get lucky and experience a merganser sighting.Part 2: Boobless in St Paul
My remaining breast went to Boob Heaven Friday June 25th at noon. It was a relatively quiet ceremony with only a few close friends attending. At the request of the newly departed, flowers and memorials were minimal. The chaplain said a few words of encouragement before I said goodbye to a very special part of my body.
I opted for the surgery because I wanted peace of mind. Being fifty-five and single, I saw no need to keep the breast since I hadn't planned on breast feeding my grandchildren nor was I planning a career as a geriatric stripper.
Back in January, only a month after I had the first mastectomy, I had a mammogram on my left breast. The radiologist called and wanted to do further x-rays because he saw a "suspicious" thickening. Immediately my daughter and I panicked and we both spent several sleepless nights anticipating the worst. The worrying was for naught and the doctors assured me there was no cancer in the left breast. I was to continue taking the tamoxifen and have another mammogram in six months.
My motto, "Better living through drugs" served me well when I consider this past year, but the tamoxifen was not a drug I enjoyed taking. Hot flashes returned with a vengeance and I dressed in so many layers I actually started to look like a matronly street person. My students would laugh as I stripped, while I assured them that in time they, too, would experience menopausal moments.
I had three choices according to my oncologist: stop taking the drug and risk breast cancer in the left breast, take drugs to counteract the drugs, or have a prophylactic mastectomy. So I took control of my body and with the support of my oncologist, my surgeon, and my daughter, opted to have the breast removed. As of June 25th, I am nearly l00% certain to be breast cancer free for the remainder of my life.
The hospital stay was shortened to one night since the surgery was less radical. It's a damn good thing I ran out of breasts because the next surgery would probably have been a drive through or a do it yourself job.
The stay was not without some points of interest namely the woman in the adjacent room. She had just had a mastectomy and was very angry and scared. She was yelling at her family and the nurses; it was hard to listen to for several reasons. One, I knew exactly how she was feeling and two, I knew that she was alienating those very people she needed. When she was walking in the hall, I decided to have a chat with her.
During the course of our conversation, she asked several questions about the pinching, stinging pain she was feeling. I knew that would continue several weeks/months after the surgery because it was a sign of nerve regeneration. She asked me what I was most afraid of and without batting an eye, I said, "Chemo." Puking is not my idea of recreation.
She agreed and I told her what had helped me. When I found out about the cancer surgery, I decided to tell my high school seniors what was happening to me. I didn't want rumors circulating and I didn't want to disappear from their lives for several weeks without explanation. I also told them of my fears and after class, a young woman came up to me and said, "Mrs. Grengs, you don't have to be afraid of chemo. I've had it twice and it isn't as bad as you might think."
That beautiful young woman became my hero; if she could undergo chemo at seventeen, so could I at fifty-five. Fortunately, my cancer did not require chemo because the cancerous tumor was encapsulated by a fibrous tumor and had not spread into the lymph nodes. I shared that with my "neighbor" as well. Maybe she would be as fortunate.
Her husband came by to thank me for listening to her and understanding what she was experiencing. My visits to the oncology ward have provided me with many life lessons, the most valuable being to stop whining and count my blessings.
When I got home, my animal friends were thrilled to see me. My huge long-haired male cat, saw the "grenade" dangling from my side, and assumed I'd been in the hospital for a permanent cat toy transplant. How thoughtful of me! He batted contentedly while purring on my lap. I felt pretty darned frisky and went out for pizza Saturday evening. If anyone stared at the juice bottle at my side, I tried to pass it off as a colorful pager.
All in all, I've been blessed with competent and humane medical staff and supportive family and friends. And I never have to be bothered with wearing a bra.
Furthermore, I can run without bouncing, bend over without anyone trying to look down my blouse, and swing a golf club unencumbered. My boobs will never sag and those tasteless jokes and cards about gravity and its effects will never apply to me. So eat your hearts out Baywatch babes. Boobless in St. Paul is ready to boogie.