Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Rearview Mirror

Bad eyesight -- really bad eyesight -- runs in my family. My Mom passed it down to me and to my sister, and some of the most embarrassing photos of us as kids are the ones with our terrible glasses. (Seriously, Mom, how did you let us out of the house like this?!?)

Me and Rachel, 1992.
Brian has always loved to make fun of how blind I am. His favorite trick in college was to steal my glasses and hide them while I wandered around feeling surfaces for where they could be. Often, he was wearing them. He got such a kick out of me looking straight at his blurry figure telling him what a jerk he was, all while my glasses sat just above his mean little grin.

* * * 

This morning when I woke up and put my glasses on, I could see. Halle-freaking-lujah because since my surgery, even with my glasses on or my contacts in, everything has been annoyingly blurry. Over the last few days, my ability to see long distances improved, but still, I couldn’t read anything up close unless I took my glasses off and moved the text an inch from my face.

At first, my blurry vision didn’t really bother me. I remembered that the same thing had happened after my first surgery and I had faith that it would improve in a few days. I wasn’t even aggravated when I wrote my last blog post on the night of my surgery. Hunched over in my healing chair, I typed with one hand while holding my small laptop up to my face with the other. I was sore, but satisfied that I found a way to work around it.

A day later, however, I had lost my patience. Not being able to write or read was definitely the worst part, but not being able to exercise or shower, pick up my kids, drive, or pretty much, do anything productive, turned me into a total grouch. 

The whole time I was in a bad mood, I knew how ridiculous I was being. I knew I should be thankful that I was already wanting to do all of these things, not inhibited by fear associated with cancer. I knew how lucky I was. But none of that seemed to help and eventually, I just let myself wallow in my own grouchiness. Since no one but me noticed, I figured it didn’t really matter.

Wednesday's reconstructive surgery was, in a physical sense, much easier than I thought it was going to be. I wasn't itchy or nauseous after the surgery and compared to the double mastectomy, the pain was amazingly bearable. In fact, I stopped taking the pain medication after just one day because I couldn’t stand how confused it made me. Now, just three days later, I don't even need Tylenol to keep the pain in check as long as I don’t rely on muscles that shouldn’t be relied on yet.

Emotionally, however, the last few days were harder than I had expected. I’ve tried to figure out why that is, and I’ve come up with this. 

I have been blessed with a very linear battle with cancer – diagnosis, surgery, recovery, treatment, recovery. I’ve taken huge steps forward with every move and those big steps forward fit my personality well. 

My reconstruction was certainly another huge step forward, but in the last few days, it didn’t always feel that way. Instead, these last few days felt like an unwanted flashback to a world that I had already moved far beyond. 

Obviously, I'll never forget the world of being a cancer patient, but as I've written about before, I've seen that the human mind has an incredible ability to adapt. In the past few months, I had adapted out of the world of intensive cancer treatment -- not so much forgotten about the crappy parts of it, but rather, replaced those concerns with much better ones (like, how are we going to get Annabel to wear her own clothes and not Teddy's?). 

After this surgery, however, I was reminded of some of those crappy parts. For example, I was reminded that medication makes my brain very fuzzy and that apparently, in that fuzzy state, I can carry on full conversations that I don't recall hours later. For a total control freak, that fuzziness means terrible uneasiness, too.

These last few days were, literally, very blurry, but they were a metaphoric blur, too. I had to really think about what day of the week it was and as I dozed in and out of short naps, I had to determine if my surgery had already happened or if I was still prepping for it. I had very bad and very vivid dreams, the worst one I've ever had, torturing me last night. With those dreams, with my surgeon's instructions to take it easy, and with my focus again on my own healing, I was thrust back into a world that I had been very happy to leave behind.

Way back on January 15th, an anonymous reader posted this comment on a blog post. I have thought about these words at least a thousand times since:

Your blog has been a new place with familiar feelings for me. I am an 8 year survivor of stage 3 (briefly bumped to stage 4... long story). We are informed by mortality rate pies that do not reflect the amazing progress we have made with this disease. When I was first diagnosed I asked a friend, a survivor, if there was ever a day, an hour, a moment, that she did not think about cancer. She was 10 years out and she said "months go by." I couldn't believe it. It took some time for that to be true. You will grow old. You don't have to be more grateful than anyone else for the privilege. Be proud of your brave fight and allow it to get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror.

You are so alive, your writing reflects that. I think the instinct is to try to appreciate each moment (bald, with mouth sores and nosebleeds... and the constant threat of your own mortality...hah). Allow for the greater possibility of your own survival. Live as if.... isn't that how it was before? Being wrong then didn't change that. The quality of your life returns when you can embrace the probability, just as you did before diagnosis, that you will be a grey haired old granny.
I have every confidence that you will prosper.
I am now, very recently...a granny.

This comment gave me such hope, at a time that I really needed a fresh dose of hope. You will grow old, she wrote. I can't begin to explain what those words meant to me, from a Stage 4 breast cancer survivor nonetheless.

This comment also made me think, for the very first time, that one day my mind could be free of the running cancer commentary that so burdened it; that one day, for a whole day, I wouldn't even think about the stupid disease. Just like this woman had said, I didn't believe it would ever really happen, but I felt such hope at the thought that maybe, it could.

If someone had asked me before my last surgery if I had yet put cancer in my rearview mirror, I would have said no. I would have told that someone that cancer's big a$$ was still planted in my passenger seat (and worse, that it refused to put its seatbelt on so the put-your-seatbelt-on alarm was still relentlessly dinging).

But my last few grouchy, blurry days made one thing a bit more clear. I had, in fact, started to drive away from cancer. Sure, it had a quick chance to rear its ugly head again, but that chance is over. Now, if I look back, I can once again see cancer getting smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror (and, in many good ways, clearer and clearer). If I look to the side, or to my back seat, I can see my family and friends still with me on this crazy ride. If I look down, I can see my new silicone implants. And if I look forward, I can see myself. Not only do I have hair, but...even's grey!

Dr. Chun's markings indicated her intent to move my boobs in and up in the upcoming surgery. I didn't really have an opinion on the matter, probably because my first Ativan in months had already taken me to a relaxed, happy place. Thanks, Dr. Chun! You're a total star. 

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