Friday, November 8, 2013

A Flash Mob (Part One)

I have never been one who likes to make a scene. When Brian proposed to me on the steps of the art museum on Bowdoin's quad, I even hoped that the two girls sitting on the grass a few hundred yards away didn't notice us. I just wanted us to have our moment, alone, without any special attention. Brian and I have never talked about that part of his proposal, but I know him enough to know that he felt the same way.

My family members aren't ones who like to make a scene either, but they most certainly are ones who like to celebrate things that deserve to be celebrated. So four weeks ago, as my last treatment quickly approached, it dawned on me that they may have something planned, maybe even something that would result in a scene with me center stage.

At the time, I wasn't in the mood for celebration. I was ambivalent about ending treatment; terrified about being let loose into a world that somehow gave me cancer, and without any more chemotherapy or Herceptin to fight it. So through an email to my immediate family, I came clean.

The week before my last treatment day, I told them that I just wanted to keep it simple. I didn't want anyone taking off work to join Brian, my mom, and I at Dana-Farber. I just wanted to walk in and out of my infusion as quietly and peacefully as possible. I knew that there were patients in that infusion suite who may never have the sort of "I did it," celebration that I was blessed to have. Yawkey 9 serves sarcoma patients as well as breast cancer patients and some other types of cancers, and I knew that my prognosis was much better than many others treated on that floor. I didn't want anyone to feel like I was rubbing that in, even if inadvertently. 

Little did I know, however, that for the past six months, my family, lead of course by my mom's heroic efforts, had planned something big. They had planned a trip to Disney World for ten of us; a trip to the place that I had written about way back in August 2012, as the place we would go when I was cancer free. They had planned an awesome celebration and they had planned to tell me right after my last infusion.

My family joked with me after the fact that my email really threw them for a loop. Nevertheless, they understood where I was coming from and quickly adjusted. The celebration they had been planned for the infusion floor was moved to a private conference room in the Volunteer Services corner of Dana-Farber. After my infusion, my mom and Brian lead me to that area with a fake reason why we needed to go there. When I walked in and saw my whole family assembled -- even the kids who Brian and I had dropped off at school just a few hours before, and my sister from Washington, D.C., as well as my Aunt Helen and cousin Kirsten from New Jersey, I was in complete shock. Completely awesome shock.

Today as my mom and I sat on the plane en route to Orlando, we got talking about that day just over three weeks earlier. My mom mentioned that she thought that people in the infusion suite would have loved to have seen us celebrate the end of my treatment; that something like that could have given someone hope that he or she too, will reach a successful end of treatment.

Of course, my mom is probably right. Perhaps (mostly due my innate default-to-far-too-serious mode) I inadvertently nixed a chance for my family to liven up the infusion floor on Yawkey 9 and bring a smile to the faces of other patients that day. I never thought about it that way, probably because I really don't like to make a scene in public starring myself as a main character.

* * *

Yesterday I woke up at 5am, went to bed at midnight, and barely had a minute to go to the bathroom in between. Nevertheless, three different times throughout the crazy day, I sat mesmerized by a six minute YouTube video that seemed to appear almost everywhere I turned. I generally have a one minute attention span for YouTube, so those 18 minutes already tell you something about what they meant to me.

You probably already know the video that I'm talking about. Heck, you may have even expected a blog about it. While I hate being predictable, I admit my surrender to the expected today.

The video is linked below -- a beautiful young doctor who, prior to her double mastectomy, broke out in dance to Beyonce with her surgery team. If this woman doesn't get a lunch date with Beyonce after this, I don't know who should. Heck, if I were a rock star, I'd invite her to be one of my back up dancers. 

Those 18 minutes of Dr. Cohan and her team dancing held a complex blend of so many different emotions for me yesterday; even more so than any other regularly complex 18 minutes lately. First and foremost, I was fascinated by the setting. I never saw the inside of the operating room before my surgery. The nurses had taken my glasses prior to rolling me down the hall to the O.R. so I couldn't see a darn thing. Plus, I was already so drugged up that if I had tried to get up and dance, I'd have face-planted into the table with the surgical tools. So as Dr. Cohan danced on my first view of the video, I couldn't help but look around that room and imagine myself on that bed. As if I were a detective solving a mystery, I peaked into every corner of the camera's frame to see what may have surrounded me in those five hours that I will never remember.

On my first viewing of the video, despite my little peach pill, some heavy anxiety crept up on me. I couldn't help but wonder, Should the surgeons and nurses all be this relaxed before such an important procedure? Shouldn't everyone be more focused? Sure it all looked really fun, but I'll be honest -- if my airline pilots were dancing to Beyonce as they prepared for takeoff, I'm not certain I would get on that plane. Then again, I am most likely discounting professionals' ability to turn on and off different switches of their brains. I know that I do it at work and at home every single day and if I can do it, then others most certainly can, too.

Once I looked deep inside myself, I also consciously realized that the Dr. Cohan dancing clip also made me feel personally inadequate. I'm not proud of that reaction, just like I hate to admit that when I see a woman's tiny waist on TV, in a magazine, or even in real life, I sometimes feel the need to pinch my own stomach rolls. As I watched that video again, I found myself comparing my own state prior to my surgery -- drugged up and near blind -- to this beautiful, brave, and joyful woman. I am so un-fun, I thought, disappointed in myself.

Granted, I am often un-fun and far too serious. I make needless comparisons between myself and others and I'm really working to stop that. Nevertheless, I don't think all of that is relevant here. What is relevant here is something that I didn't realize until my third time watching that video -- that I was doing something to Dr. Cohan that I try so hard not to ever do to anyone. I had taken those six minutes of her life that she let me see and I had made it into her whole story. I had thought to myself, She mustn't even be scared! Look at her! It must be because she's a doctor.  

Maybe Dr. Cohan wasn't scared while she shook it out to Beyonce. But those six minutes are just a small sliver of a much bigger story, one that I know next to nothing about. And despite that we already think Dr. Cohan is a hero from her dancing YouTube video, I would bet that those six minutes only scratch the surface of her courage and her awesomeness.

As I write this, we are thousands of feet in the air somewhere about halfway between Boston and Orlando. Annabel hasn't spilled her Sprite yet (miraculous) and Teddy is three bags of Doritos deep (typical). My mom is beside me, proofreading Part One of my book, and my dad is dozing beside her. My brother and his girlfriend and my brother-in-law are all ear-phoned up in the row ahead of us and my sister is on a separate flight to meet us there. Brian is faking losses to Teddy in repeated games of Tic-tac-toe, and I am seated by the window, my seatbelt tightly fastened even though the seat belt sign is turned off.

Thanks to social media and our love of bravery in the face of terror, we all know that Dr. Cohan can dance. We also know that not long after that video was shot, a surgical team removed her breasts to save her from cancer. Does that surgery make her heroic? Maybe not. But what does make her heroic, at least in my mind, is that despite the fear and the angst that I am certain she felt before, during, and/or after those six minutes viewed by the world, she still decided to let loose; to remind cancer, even unintentionally, that while she fights, she will keep her spirit alive and continue to get her groove on.

The day before we left for Disney World to celebrate the end of my treatment year, Dr. Cohan gave me a precious gift. She reminded me that closure or no closure, clarity or confusion, fear or fearlessness, there's often a way to escape into a moment to find a magically good time. It can happen in the operating room before a double mastectomy or it can happen 14 months later. Upon descent into Orlando. 

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. I also had mixed feelings about that dance--happy for Dr Cohen that she did it her way, but a little sad that it had become this viral thing that sort of downplayed all the fear and difficulty that goes with fighting this beast, for her and everyone else. Of course it's a lot more fun to watch dancing than chemo nausea, radiation burns, and recurrence fears (obviously!), but, as you say, its a small slice of who this woman is and what she's going through.

    In a completely unrelated note, I saw this study in Johns Hopkin's bc journal, "Chronicling Cancer Experience Online Can Reduce Depressive Symptoms in Breast Cancer Patients really *does* save lives!