Oct 2, 2014

Everything's about to go pink

I don't write about, or talk about, having breast cancer that often. There's a simple reason why: It doesn't define me. That's not to say that it didn't affect me (or still doesn't).

I found out I had it in November of 2012--the day before Thanksgiving, to be exact. By May of 2013, I had gone through my last surgery. Over and done. Quick. I had 2 options: Remove my left breast (the one practically riddled with cancer), and go through radiation--hoping that it hadn't spread to my lymph nodes; or remove both breasts, no radiation, and hope that it didn't spread to my lymph nodes. Because of my age at the time, 38, the board at MD Anderson encouraged me to remove both breasts (there would have been a 45% chance that the cancer would have reoccurred). It didn't even occur to me or Chris that I should keep both.

On December 28, 2012, I underwent a double mastectomy. It hurt. A lot. If you know me at all, you also know I don't like to take pain meds. So I tried not to--Chris was pushing my morphine pump when I wasn't looking. After we came home, I still didn't take much. We have a stock of hydrocodone.

So why the blog post? Because I think "Breast Cancer Awareness" month is weird. It's strange to see pink stuff everywhere. It's strange to be constantly reminded that I had cancer every time I walk into a store. I'm going in to get milk, people. Believe me, i'm reminded that I had cancer every time I take off my shirt. And many times, even when i'm fully clothed. Imaging having a part of your body removed that you've had all your life, then it being replaced with a new one. It's...weird. It looks weird, it feels weird. No, my breasts didn't define me, but there were a part of me.

I hear of women going through a depression after having them removed. That didn't happen to me. I honestly had adopted the mindset of, "They're just boobs." That's not to say that I didn't have moments where I was upset. Not really sad, but just exhausted with the process. Particularly, for all those months when I had those horrid tissue-expanders in my chest. Lord, those things are awful. Every week, i'd go to the plastic surgeon, and he'd fill these balloons under my skin with saline. A little bit at a time, to stretch my skin for the implants. Those months, I felt ugly. My chest was uneven, hard as a rock, and oh-so-painful. Jenna wouldn't look at me; Clairey was intrigued, but honest enough to tell me that it was 'ugly.' But I already knew it was ugly.

Right after I had my last saline expansion, an amazing photographer took pictures of me. I wanted these pictures. I wanted to see what I looked like from the outside. And really, what those photos captured was more than that. Sure, you can see the raw scars, the oddly-shaped expanders...but my favorite picture doesn't show my chest at all. It's just my face and shoulders. In fact, I think it was an 'out take.' He was adjusting lighting and I was turning away. To me, I look peaceful. And accepting. And I like to think that's how I took the whole cancer diagnosis. Accepting. Non-blaming. And that's what I wish for any woman going through breast cancer. Peace. Acceptance. And the ability to kick its ass.

Photo credit: Brett Chisholm

So, this is 13...

Happy, happy birthday! I can't believe you're actually a teenager. Since the day you turned 10, you've been calling yourself a "pre-teen." And we'd constantly tell you, "Don't try to grow up too fast!" See? We told you that it wouldn't take any time at all.

Thankfully, although you're 13, you ARE 13--in every sense of the word. And this is a good thing, because you're still a kid. You don't want to wear a lot of makeup, you will still just pile your hair on your head and leave the house--in fact, I often have to ask, "Did you even brush your hair?!" It's all good. I would much rather be asking you to go upstairs and brush that mop of hair than telling you to go wash off eyeliner/lipstick/eyeshadow. Believe me. These are the things I love--you have all the time in the world to grow up. Please, don't rush it. You only get to be a kid for so long.

Much to the extreme happiness of me and the dad, you don't like the clothes that most girls your age like (thank you!). Shorts are always too short, shirts are always too tight/too cropped/too low, and skirts don't even make it into your closet. You will happily wear jeans and a sweatshirt any day of the week, if it's not just jean shorts and a t-shirt. I love you for this. I love that you simply do not care. You have a confidence about you that I wish all young women had--it's so strong and beautiful. (But, yes, I still want you to brush your hair.)

 At 13, you love Marvel Comics, Ninja Turtles, cheetahs, and the band 5 Seconds of Summer. You have your earbuds in 90% of the time, and you walk around, regardless of where we are, mouthing the words to whatever song is on at the time. It's hilarious. And you don't care. You have gone from a little girl with about 2 friends that would put up with your 'cheetah-talk,' to a young woman with a cacophony of friends who adore you because you are silly, quirky, loving, and have a kind heart. These are the friends that you will grow up with.

13 is such a weird age--you're still so very much a kid, but still so very much a young woman, too. I love driving in the car with you, holding your hand. I told you, just last week, that that simple act makes me so happy. When I was a young woman, grama used to hold my hand in the car all the time (she still does). It's such a perfect connection--it makes me happy and sad, all at once. Happy because when I found out I was having a baby girl, these are the times I just couldn't wait for. Sad because I'm now holding a hand that's larger than mine. Thank you for letting me hold your hand.

Also, thank you for letting me still love you and kiss on you in front of people. I hope you never grow out of that, because I won't. There's nothing in the world that can fix a rough day like you 'hanging' your limby-self on me. You just walk up, put your head on my shoulder, and lean into me. And you totally sit there while I cover your cheeks in kisses. I love you so, so much. More than you could ever fathom. I adore being your mom and I am so glad that you're my baby.

I really don't know what else to say. You are beautiful. I mean that in every aspect of the word. Jen, you are such an
amazing kid. You've accomplished so much in this short life, that I can't wait to see what the future holds for you. I am thankful for you every single minute, of every single day. I am so lucky to be your mom.

I love you all the spots,
Mommy xoxoxox