Liz had her drains removed today. She got her new breast last week. I know this and other details though I don’t know Liz and couldn’t pick her out in a crowd if my life depended on it. Her uncle is a close friend of mine and called me as I prepared for Easter. His voice was measured in a level tone but dripped of concern. His niece, just 31 years old, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Would you meet with her and help her?”
It was a simple request and yet there I was with a TO DO list that ran for miles and an energy level that stopped somewhere around the third item. I also knew Liz’s decision was far more important compared to the amount of chocolate I had on the table during Easter dinner. We were introduced by email and I told her I was never going to bemoan her situation with her, she had family to do that with. Instead, I was a resource for facts having lived through both operations and that she was welcome to ask me any question she wanted. I also warned her that I would not make her decision for her. Lumpectomy or Mastectomy. That was her quandary and as her mind raced with facts, figures and emotions I knew I could quell those that she should not be concerned with. I kept her focused on what she needed to remember and that was not beauty but cancer. I did that with a gentle tone as she is only 31 and this was a very big decision.
I knew all too well the state her mind was in and that of the family that surrounded her. I also knew the best role I could play for her was as a knowledgeable rock. Something or someone to mentally hang on to when the winds of fear lifted her off to thoughts of terror. I had been in her shoes and survived the decisions, fears and operations. My being alone was a comfort as it had been for me to know other women who had tread that path before me.
We spoke on the phone and I offered to have her feel my breast, something I have yet to let a date do. She declined but I knew if she needed to see it to make the idea tangible, I would let her. Liz recited percentages for survivorship and debated which hospital to go to. I listened and I’m not sure she even noticed that I didn’t weigh in on her decision. I, between meetings for work, sat in a hotel room letting the voice on the other end of the phone chew and spit out loud the words that clogged her mind. What I did tell her was, “Pay close attention to what your doctors tell you. Your cancer is like no one else so base your decision accordingly. Listen to your gut reaction when choosing a doctor and the operation you decide on. You’re building a team and you have to respect and completely believe in the doctors who are working on you. It is their advice that you should rely on and in the case of the plastic surgeon, she is the person who is repairing the body you will live in for the rest of your life. Choose her with the same amount of care that you would a seamstress if your couture dress was torn.” I also added, “If they tell you to have a mastectomy, you should do it. Even though the thought of it is unimaginable, the reality is life goes on and there is even happiness after a mastectomy. Lastly, you have to have patience. Recovery is not a quick affair and that is when you need your inner strength most of all.”
My friend told me he thought I frightened Liz. I might have but she keeps writing me and I keep answering her – solid as a rock.