Sunday, August 16, 2009
I Know I Said I Wouldn't Blog on Vacation, But... *
* ... this doesn't count because I'm posting it now that I'm home. So there.
We’re due to land in Chicago in about an hour, so that means I have roughly 60 minutes left of vacation. “Vacation,” as I use the term, is more a state of mind than it is a place; you could argue that my vacation ended when I passed through the security checkpoint at the San Jose airport early this morning—-crossing a threshold that separated me from leisure and funneling me through the banality of modern air travel, or even last night, when G and I checked into a Holiday Inn Express and ate dinner at the Denny’s across the street (what could be less exotic than that?). But the reason I flipped open my laptop, even though it’s gotten a little bumpy up here and I’m resisting the urge to grab G’s hand for safety, is that I want to write this now while I’m still in the mental mindset of vacation. And what I want to say is this: I feel really, really great. For the last ten days or so, I was once more the person I was before all this boob stuff came cascading over my life like a violent wave. I was able to relax, to sleep well (and wake early—-a true accomplishment), and to worry about nothing more strenuous than whether or not it was time to take a dip in the ocean or wait until I finished reading a chapter in my book before I cooled off in the pool.
I have to say this now because in an hour from now, I won’t feel as grateful for this, as aware of the restorative power of our sojourn, as I am right now. Because in an hour, I’m going to be waiting for my bags in the bowels of O’Hare International Airport and then I’ll be getting in a cab and telling the driver my address and then I’ll be putting my keys into the lock and entering my apartment and thumbing through a stack of mail on the dining room table and then I will be back to reality. I will no longer be on vacation. And along with the rigmarole of my daily life, I’ll go back to thinking about certain stresses and all that I’ve gained in these ten days will be lost. So that’s why I need to declare this now. For another sixty minutes, (well, 45 now) I’m more than my mutated genes or my decision to have surgery—-I’m free from those encumbrances.
(I call this phenomenon—-the sudden vanishing of that vacation high-—“the camp effect.” I first noticed it the summer before seventh grade, when I returned home from two weeks on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. I was away at camp for fourteen days and all of this astonishing stuff had happened to me-—I wore a bra for the first time (and had my bra strap snapped for the first time by a guy I had a crush on), the guy I had a crush on who I thought was so beautiful and unattainable actually turned out to like me back, I got good at swearing, I dealt with my fear of spiders. And then, I found myself back to where I’d been before all of that, staring at the same floral pattern on the bathroom wallpaper, hearing the familiar creaks of our house as it settled at night, wondering who I was and who were these strange beings called my parents, and being annoyed all over again at the very existence of my little brother—-and just like that, all that camp stuff, all that growing and experiencing and maturing was gone. I was me, all over again. That’s why I need to record this now, before the camp effect takes hold.)
This is not to say that during my vacation I did not think about boobs and all the unpleasant diseases they can fall victim to; in fact, I found myself sabotaged by them unexpectedly: a minor character in a novel I read over two gloriously days on the beach developed premenopausal breast cancer and later died of ovarian cancer, which, naturally, led me to diagnose her as being BRCA positive (she mentioned losing a mother to the disease, as well). I watched the way my breasts floated in the ocean, aware that they may behave differently (perhaps they will buoy me?) the next time I have the privilege of swimming in salt water. And my husband, especially, not in a gross or grabby way, or in a way I would feel uncomfortable describing in a public forum I know is visited by members of my family, seemed especially attentive to my bosom this trip, as if he were recording for posterity mental images of his wife in a bathing suit before.
But for the most part, my mind was quiet and I came to a kind of philosophical equilibrium: being BRCA positive is only as big a deal as I want it to be. My approach heretofore is to treat it like a very big deal (I’m reminded of my near compulsive need to tell people about my mutation when I first learned of it because the burden of knowledge was so great I needed to offload it on others, even those who didn’t want or need the baggage). And after this plane lands, it will still be a very big deal. But I hope I can take a bit of my vacation-induced calm back with me to real life and learn how to handle my very big deal in a less consuming manner. I’m not saying I’m canceling surgery or putting my BRCA status out of my mind; I’m hoping to stop treating this as a massively inconvenient intrusion into my life--one that brings with it unpleasant considerations of mortality and vitality--and just deal with it as life. A life that takes me to beautiful places, is filled with loving people, and will-—hopefully-—be filled with many more healthful years of both. And I can think of no more compelling reason to take the drastic measures I’m taking than to view it as a down payment on more vacations during which I get to watch my body—-strange and different though it will likely be—-float in the ocean and just be happy.