I’m sitting in my favorite chair that looks out to our backyard—one that is filled with 75’ cypress and pines and backs up to a 300-acre nature preserve—and am still stunned at all that has happened in the past six weeks. The photos show you what it is I see as I look out a window. My azaleas have budded, bloomed, faded, and now are back to being the green bushes they will be for most of the year. My pansies have finished blooming and lantana flowers have emerged and now are filling spaces around the pool with vibrant oranges and yellows. Old life; new life. I look around and see how quickly this yard has changed in the past six weeks and cannot help but think about how these visible changes mirror the changes in me.
Six weeks ago I had barely absorbed the word cancer before heading off for surgery exactly four weeks later that left me cancer free. I hear women say they are ten-year or fifteen-year or three-year cancer survivors and I wonder if I can say I am a one-month cancer survivor? Hardly seems worth mentioning. And yet…and yet that one month changed me and I am surviving—something. It was only last week that was I finally brave enough to look into a mirror. I’m scarred and changed and though my plastic surgeon assures me I will like the way I will eventually look, “eventually” is not a word I like right now, and I grimace each time I see what I have become. My girlfriend Suzanne reminds me that I now have the flat tummy of an 18-year-old and once all reconstruction is finished will have boobs that can once again enjoy Victoria’s Secrets. The problem is, I liked myself the way I was. I was probably one of a handful of women who looked in the mirror and liked herself. It was the body of a 52-year-old, and so it had its lumps and bumps, but it was mine. Mine. It had borne my children, nursed them, enjoyed too many evenings with friends that centered on good wine, hot bread, steamed crab legs, melted butter, and gooey brownies with ice cream (Blue Bell, says the Texan) for dessert. It wasn’t some model’s perfect body, but it was mine. And now, a part of it is gone and another part has shifted to another place and there are tugs that don’t feel right and scars that haven’t yet faded and there is still a drain attached inside me and as I look in the mirror, sometimes a glance and other times a stare, I know there is something I am surviving though I cannot yet give it words.
Mostly days are good. Mostly I find something that is worth if not a full-out laugh at least a smile. The other day, the plastic surgeon asked me which part of “patience” is hard for me. “The patient part,” I admitted. And we all laughed. A good laugh. One that made the incision across my abdomen hurt. He nodded and said he liked that I was honest. And then, he invited Brad out for a scotch, said he was quite sure Brad had earned it. Brad said he would go—anytime. I suggested it wasn’t quite right for my surgeon to like my husband more than he liked me, and neither guy seemed to mind my jealousy at their friendship. But then he redeemed himself when he held my hand and said, “I’m called a reconstructive surgeon because something got hurt. Stop thinking you aren’t supposed to grieve what you lost. I rebuild because something got taken, destroyed. You lost a part of yourself. It’s ok to grieve that loss.” I suppose others have said the same thing or something similar, but there was something gentle and caring and so very understanding that finally let loose tears that had needed to fall. An hour later, sitting calmly with one of his nurses who has come to mean much to me, life seemed better. I seemed better. Brad was still there. None of this has scared him away. And my surgeon still promises that given some time, I’ll look in a mirror and like what I see. And both remind me that I am, under all the bruises and scars, drains and bandages, cancer free. Both remind me that all that I knew before this happened, I still know. All that I was, I still am. And all that I might wish to become, I still can become. Cancer free. And with a Victoria’s Secret bra.
And so, I sit here in my favorite chair and look out to a spring that in some ways is already giving way to summer, and I think not only of myself but of all the people who have helped me through this season. And I think of students who sit in our classrooms with their own scars and bruises, their own visions of themselves that the world sometimes says is damaged and I think of the many, many teachers who reach out and tell them that the world is wrong, that they are ok, and that all will be better. Plastic surgeons reconstruct, take what has been hurt and make it better. So do teachers. Every day. Do you know what a gift that is to hand to someone, to promise them that with a little patience, hard work, and skill, tomorrow will be better? It’s a great gift, a great and healing gift. I look forward to tomorrow. I hope you do as well.
A PS: There’s an obvious lag between the last post on this site and this one. I shifted for a while to CarePages.com and posted updates there. Though I’m no longer posting updates on that site, there are some funny exchanges (see especially the ones from Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Bob Probst) that English teachers might enjoy.