Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The View from the Other Side

On the train Friday afternoon, escaping the walled fortress where I work, a coworker asked if I had any plans for the weekend. I started telling him that I was going to go visit a friend in the hospital who'd just had a PBM that morning and then I was attending a benefit for an organization that supports high-risk women... and then I stopped and said, "God, it's all about boobs this weekend. It's always only all about boobs anymore." (To wit: I found myself in the last few days overusing the phrase, "Not to make everything about my boobs but..." while discussing 1) my job, 2) our house hunt, and 3) where to eat dinner. None of these things have anything to do with my boobs. But yet, suddenly, they do.)

It was a very boobie weekend. A boobie week, indeed. It started with my new BRCA friend S's boob voyage party on Monday night. We dined on fluffy cupcakes with buttermilk nipples, donned pink feather boas, and feted S -- who wore a tiara, a comical floral plastic bikini top, and a remarkably courageous smile. Part of why S and I clicked so instantaneously is that we're both outspoken, proactive women who've decided to make our experiences as previvors public; I'm writing this blog, she's making a documentary. The film crew was there Monday night, and I fear what they captured me doing (picking my nose? picking my butt?) or saying (I'm not known for having much of a filter). Before we left, my other new friend S, who had a mastectomy and reconstruction with the same doctors both S and I are using five weeks ago, showed me her new boobs, which looked fabulous. I was standing in S's mom Z's bedroom, surrounded by a half a dozen women who have had the surgery and reconstruction, and I looked at S and said "You and I are the only ones in this room with our real tits." And she said, "And after this week, you'll be the only one."

And now, I'm the only one. S had surgery on Friday morning. From what I understand, she had some difficulty coming out of anesthesia and spent longer in recovery than normal, but by the time I saw her Saturday afternoon, she was in good spirits, numbed by morphine, and surrounded by friends and family. Visiting S in the hospital was a bit of a reconnaissance mission for me; she was operated on by the same doctors I'll be using at the same facility I've selected, so spending time with her was like peering into my future. I hadn't been in a hospital room in ages (Decades, maybe, even. Since my Grandmother's stroke? Could it have been that long?) and things have changed in the interim: flat screen TVs with Direct TV, updated fixtures, room service that delivers chocolate ice cream. S's private room was cozy -- crowded by bizarre, clunky chairs that fold flat for overnight guests -- and filled with flowers. S is a wisp of a thing, but I was struck by how small she looked in her big hospital bed, like a little girl playing dress up. She was hooked up to seemingly dozens of machines and drips and monitors, wires emerging from her chest, a fanny pack around her waist, from beneath the covers. Nurses flitted in and out, noting levels, taking blood, helping her to the bathroom.

I spent about two hours with S, and though, ostensibly, I was there to comfort her, S actually was the one who put me at ease. Just seeing her alive -- talking, smiling, being -- gave me a visual reference for what comes after surgery: the good part, where, sure you are bandaged and bruised and clicking the morphine pump and a little testy with your mom and greasy around the nose and uncomfortable in your strange pink pajamas, but you are on the other side of the anxiety, the fear, and on your way to recovery and a life without the oppressive fear of developing a deadly disease. Despite all the wires, the IVs, the discomfort, the numbness, I envied S because she was over the hurdle.

I sent flowers to S, and the card I wrote said something about her new "girls." The florist couldn't deliver them on Friday (S was still in recovery and not yet assigned to a room), so a woman called to tell me they'd be delivered on Saturday. She read the card. "Oh, I see. She'll be in maternity." I said, "Uh, no." She said, "The card, it says she's having girls." I laughed. "Oh, yeah, um, not that kind of girls." Pause. Florist: "Ooohh. Those kind of girls. She's doing something to make herself feel better." I wanted to correct to her, to tell the florist it wasn't cosmetic, this wasn't just a superfluous operation to enhance her knockers. I wanted to tell her how brave S is, and how difficult a decision it's been for her (and me and every other woman who finds herself facing impossible choices). But then I thought about what she'd said. She was doing this to make herself feel better, though not in the way the florist meant. After this surgery, she would feel better knowing that her chances of developing breast cancer had plummeted from 90% to less than 5%. So I said, "Yeah, to make herself feel better."

On Sunday, G and I attended a high tea at the Drake given by the organization Bright Pink. We sat at a table sponsored by my plastic surgeon, surrounded by women who'd had their boobs removed and reconstructed by that very skilled man. And everyone was so happy. They wore low cut dresses. They showed off their cleavage. They were on the other side, just like S. One day, someday soon, I will join them. And then maybe everything won't be about my boobs anymore.


  1. I would LOVE to hear, sometime, the story about how your boobs affected the recent restaurant decision.

    This is a great post; your attitude, espeically in the last graph, is making me smile big and wish we could hang out this weekend, or any weekend. Best wishes to your friend S.

  2. Sooz -- You asked for it, here it goes: Dinner? Hmmm... where should we go? How about Lulu's? Yummers! Wait, I'll probably have something with tofu there. Tofu might be bad (because soy may or may not be bad for boobs). But I love tofu so much. (Looking at boobs, dreaming about tofu). F it. Lulu's it is! -- scene --

  3. love your blog. candid...wow, so real. it made me cry and smile just reading this one entry. others don't get it..being a Bracaoholic myself...it is all about boobs and wilted flowers [pic a fallopian tube w/ ovaries]. i hope the pbm goes well-

  4. Dear Steph,
    Your writing really, really moves me and also makes me laugh. You are so cool. I am confident that you will reach a day when it is not always about your boobs... but it may be about others' boobs as you continue to support those who are beginning the journey you are navigating so beautifully.
    Loving hugs, ZGK

  5. Oh Steph, this post was FAB! I really admire your easy writing style...it's wonderful to read.

    And with my own surgery impending, altho slightly different circumstances, I could totally relate to wanting to be over the hurdle, to be in the healing phase and not that awful anticipatory state.

    Oh, lol, and I can sooooo relate to the tofu dilemna! Me too :)

  6. Hi Steph,

    I absolutely LOVE the idea of a boob voyage party. I just started planning my own PBM and I think that I will have one too! Why not?

    Your blog is so wonderful and hopeful. It's just what I needed today.


  7. Dear Steph,

    Thanks so much for featuring my greasy nose and pink pajamas in your story! 10 days out of surgery and I feel 100% better every day! Your writing is witty, honest, and fun, esp considering the topic! See you soon! -Sivan

  8. Hey Stephanie,

    Glad your FORCE family is giving you the support you need. It's why we launched it 3 years back. You have a gift for writing...my late mother was also a talented writer with a HUGE sense of humor. She wrote a humor column back in the 80s for our suburban paper. I think I just may dig them out for you...You are a sister to us, a champion, a pioneer and your strength and poise in all of this will carry you through to the other side, smiling.

    Hugs & Kisses,
    Chicago FORCE Outreach Coordinator