Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Breast Friends

I've wanted to write for a while about BRCA and friendship, about how my diagnosis has strengthened some bonds and weakened others. For the most part, since I received news of my BRCA status in April, I've been astonished and humbled by the overwhelming support I've received from so many people in so many corners of my life: friends have offered to drive me to appointments, accompany me to tests, take me away on vacations. Getting diagnosed as a BRCA carrier has been a seminal event in my life, and so many of my friends have recognized its magnitude and responded to it with incredible generosity and empathy. But on the other hand, I've had some folks turn tail and head for the hills: they have stopped calling, said terribly insensitive things, and left me feeling alone and abandoned. But luckily, the supporters far outnumber those in the compassion fail camp, and I take comfort in their love.

This weekend, I was reminded again of how many fantastic people I have in my life and how much their love and support during this incredibly tumultuous time means to me. Last month, my dear friend N, who lives in DC, suggested we take my boobs on a girls vacation this summer. We looked into various options -- yoga retreat in Mexico, spas in the Southwest -- but we couldn't coordinate a date or time, and plans fell through. That was the end of it, or so I thought. Turns out my dear husband and N cooked up a plan, totally unbeknownst to me, to bring her to Chicago for the weekend to surprise me. When she showed up on my doorstep on Friday night with G, who had gone to pick up the takeout we order every week, I was so shocked it took me hours to believe that she wasn't a mirage. It was the most surprising surprise of my life.

It was an amazing weekend -- a celebration of friendship, womanhood, and resilience. We spent the afternoon at the Bliss spa at the W downtown, where we got massages (and unintentional hilarity ensued: it turns out that when N booked the hotel, she mentioned that she was treating her friend, i.e. me, who had recently found out she had the breast cancer gene and was preparing for surgery, to a weekend on the town. This somehow got translated in the reservation system as a "friend with cancer," so when we showed up for our massages, my masseur very politely asked what kind of cancer I had. It was an awkward moment -- a lot of "Huh? What? Wait, no. I don't have... um, I have a gene..." until he said, "Oh, my mother and sister are both carriers of the breast cancer gene, too." And it's a small, and strange, world after all, folks). We lounged around in hotel robes, sipped Veuve at the bar, got hit on by men with spiky hair, and treated ourselves to ample food and drink. I can't remember the last time I felt so good.

Sure, life will go on after I have a mastectomy (indeed, that's the whole point, isn't it? To avoid breast cancer and all it's attendant unpleasantness), and I'll have reconstructed ta-tas to take to that yoga retreat in Mexico some day, but my natural boobs and all of the anxiety and stress they are causing me are on a farewell tour right now, and I'm so thankful that G and N arranged for her to jump on the bus this weekend. This has been the hardest few months of my life (and looking at my calendar, it doesn't look like it's going to get any better any time soon) and this totally unexpected act of compassion and friendship was exactly what I needed to cheer me up. I'm so lucky to have people like N and G in my life; they are the breastest of my breast friends.


  1. I'm so glad you had a wonderful time like that! It will give you warm memories and something pleasant amidst all the confusion and angst.

    Perhaps on the order of a little TMI, but my husband and I recently spent some time at a hotel (while my mom watched the kids) so we could have some alone time...a sort of early farewell to my body as it is now. We didn't dwell on it, but in the near future when I am going thru whatever it is I am to endure I will have that memory to hold on to.

    These things are important, and I'm so glad you had some fun, you deserve it :)

  2. What a wonderful thing your dh and friend did!!!!! Hugs!!