OK, so my last post was a downer. If you’ve lived longer than 30 years, you now know life is littered with such moments. Should you have lived that long with nothing but sunshine and lollipops, buckle up. Crap happens even to the best of us. Sometimes though there are people that will find the silver lining in the most desperate situations. If you are lucky, that person will be standing next to you during your darkest hour.
“I think you need to look at this as an opportunity.”
That was Vita in a small coffee shop right after it was confirmed I had breast cancer. If you can imagine caring yet stern eyes that bore directly into your soul, then you are imagining Vita’s eyes. It was those eyes that settled my shrieking soul while digesting the news over a cup of tea. Breast cancer, the words stuck in my throat dry and choking, and there she was telling me it was an opportunity. Vita is my best friend from college and has known me for thirty years. Two years prior she had a double mastectomy as had her mother 25 years before that. Such history gives them the wisdom to stay calm and seek out the best doctor specific to the case. Vita is also the master of silver linings. Most people that knew my story told me to cry. Vita’s family told me to care for my health but plan on rising up afterwards stronger. In one low moment after our coffee shop conversation, I called Vita and instead of offering me sweet comforting thoughts she lashed out at me.
“If all you are is a pair of breasts I don’t want to know you. I thought you were far more than that. If you aren’t, then you should consider this friendship over.”
I burst out into laughter over that speech. The raw truth adjusting my attitude and making me feel so much better. I have actually said those words to other friends who needed to be reminded of their worth.
I am so much more than a pair of breasts.
My mother was dying at the time of my diagnosis and surgery’s. My sisters and I are very close and we were losing the most important woman in our lives. Lisa and Colleen came with me to some medical appointments and they were there for my surgeries but my mother needed attention too. Hard decisions had to be made for her care and it was Lisa who offered to make them. On the very day and hour that I was diagnosed with cancer, my niece Madeleine was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Our world was shattering with heartbreak. That’s when Vita stepped in with observations so razor sharp that my fears were excised with precision the moment they were formed. Most of what she said made me laugh like a loon or gave me the strength needed at that moment. That is, after the initial verbal sting of her words wore off.
“You know, I’ve never been impressed with the type of men your breasts have attracted. You have amazing legs and I think it’s a good thing we let them shine a bit. I for one am looking forward to seeing what they attract now that the rest is being toned down a bit.”
She came with me to many of my appointments and even sat with me as I headed into my surgeries. We’d be sitting in the camel colored chairs waiting for hours. I’d start looking out into space falling deeper into a deer in the headlights mode and suddenly she’d say
“Your breasts were lovely when we were in college but I think now is a good time for a refresh. You’re almost fifty and they couldn’t possibly look that good. Just think, you’re getting free plastic surgery and I’m sure the results will be amazing.”
It’s not that she ignored all that was happening in my life. She was just helping me survive it and turning my surgery into a “redecorating” project was something I could cling to. When Vita was diagnosed her doctor called her and I will paraphrase what she told Vita.
“A year from now you won’t believe all that you have gone through. You will be fine though and it will be a memory.”
Vita agreed that she had never seen a life implode so completely as mine had. I ran into an old boyfriend flush with excitement as he told me about his new love. All Vita could say when I tearfully retold the encounter was, “Well the hits just keep coming.” As for work, Vita said to tell them nothing.
“Your coworkers and customers can’t think of you as anything less than the strong business woman you are. If your competitors learn of your illness, they will wish you well and take your business. Only tell them if you have to.”
I knew she was right and told just a few who could keep secrets and spared them all the details. Few know even now the full story. I worked that year harder than I have ever worked and cried at night harder than I have ever cried. I can relate the emotional and physical pain only to what I imagine walking through the hot coals of hell barefoot would be like. It is a very lonesome and horrifying walk no matter how many people surround you. The strength comes and once it arrives it never goes away. It’s patience that is the challenge. Still, I had Vita, my sisters and a small circle of friends who rallied me and never let me sulk.
In just a few short months, it will be three years since my diagnosis. Vita’s doctor was right. I cannot believe what I went through and it is all now just a memory. Admittedly, a memory that makes me shudder at times and then laugh at other times. I am still digesting my past but not letting it define my future. Yes, my body is different and I’m actually very pleased with what I look like. I’m excited as I think of the future as I have plans that are taking shape as I write. Change sometimes is a slow measured affair.
I’m writing this now for someone who may not have a Vita to keep her attitude adjusted. Someone who needs to be reminded to make her decisions mindfully but not get lost in the fear they may evoke. You are more than a pair of breasts so do what is best for your health.