I don’t know how I had gotten invited to the party but there I stood at the door knowing no one in the room. It took me a few moments to realize that everyone I met was missing a body part. A nose, a leg, an arm; the missing pieces were endless as it seemed were the guests invited. I smiled, held a glass of wine and began to socialize. Suddenly the crowd parted and who should appear but my mother. She glided over to me and said, “Mae, I threw this party for you. Everyone is missing a piece of themselves – like you.” I remember smiling at her and hours later as you may have guessed by now, I awoke feeling quite happy. It was a dream and a good one. I didn’t feel so alone. In fact, I felt loved.
Monday my sneaking suspicion that my right arm had a hint of Lymphedema was confirmed. Helena, my therapist, measured my arms and said, “It’s really mild.” I knew all the flying and one heavy bag was stressing the poor limb out. We arranged for an arm sleeve and glove. I decided on black, as it looks more like a sports injury and in my head it registers as “cooler”. I should wear it when flying or on long walks when my arm tends to swell.
“You’re range of motion is better than the last time I saw you,” Helena had said while measuring how far my arm could go this way and that. “ It really is a mild case.” We both knew no matter how you arranged the facts; it wasn’t the best news. “ I came to see you because I thought this was the case. I can only move forward from here.” We both smiled and reviewed the exercises. Pilates and Yoga are both good for it as long as they don’t cause pain. I will also pack lighter.
I had an appointment with my Oncologist that afternoon. She was in an aggressive mood. I didn’t go on Tamoxifen after my mastectomy because my mother’s sarcoma put me at greater risk for uterine cancer. The percentage of risk was not worth the percentage of advantage the drug offered. Now that my own uterus is gone, she wants me to go on Anastrozole to shut down all estrogen production. Percentage rates of metastatic reoccurrence bantered about the room. It would be my decision.
I left with a sheet of paper describing possible side effects and a pounding headache. I hadn’t expected this discussion. Vita said, “make a list of questions and approach this with logic and little emotion. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages with your doctor.” I’m researching and making the list now.
That night I went to bed and felt so very much alone. I just lay there and cried serving up a pity party for one. I wanted the thought of cancer to be gone, I wanted a happily ever after with a chuckle looking back at the hard parts. I wanted a comforting hug and a solid answer. I had only questions and fear. In the dark, it occurred to me that if any one of the men in my past had been in that bed with me…. I still would have been very much alone if not even more alone. “They would have made this about themselves,” I thought. I don’t attract selfless men. I sighed.
My mother once told me, “Facing your own death is a solitary exercise. No one can help you with that.” I had thought her a bit cold when she said it to me. It was over the summer when my cancer had been discovered. Sitting in my bed now, I knew she was right. It is all a solitary journey and there is no choice but to forge ahead. For reasons I’m not sure of, that soothed me enough to fall asleep …. and that’s when the party began.