Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy First Birthday to the New Girls/Happy Anniversary to Me

(The above photo represents the bulk of my memories of the first day after surgery: my morphine pump, and the warning attached to it. In the background is Snuggles, my bear, whom I've had since I was seven. Which makes him old enough to rent a car without having to pay extra for liability insurance.)

At this moment one year ago, I was far away in some dreamless place, silent, unconscious, immobile, while back on planet Earth, surgeons first removed and then reconstructed my breasts. Yesterday, as I was leaving work, exchanging pleasantries with my colleagues about our plans, someone asked, "So do you have anything exciting going on this weekend?" And I responded, "Actually, yes, I do. I'm celebrating an anniversary." And sort of left it at that. Because how do you explain to someone you don't know all that well that December 18 is just as important as my birthday, just as important as the day I met my husband (and the day I married him), as important as Christmas and New Years and every other holiday, too? Because December 18 wasn't just the day I had a mastectomy; it was the day I beat cancer. (No matter that I didn't have it yet. I did what I did so I never would. And that's still beating cancer.)

So what are the characteristics of this most unusual anniversary? First off, it's an exceedingly happy occasion. This is no funeral, people. Today, I'm celebrating health, and marveling at the extraordinary measures I was willing to go to protect it. Today, I don't mark the death of my breasts; today I honor their rebirth. Secondly, today, I will celebrate my body and its capacity for wonderful strength. As I woke up this morning, I stretched -- a glorious, full-bodied lengthening animated by pops and cracks and creeks -- and I remembered how confined I felt those first weeks after surgery, unable to move, afraid to tear something, sore and bruised and afraid of my body. So today I will go for a run; I don't know how far or how fast I'll go, but that's beside the point. I will celebrate my health by doing something good for it. Finally, I will treat myself well. What that means yet, I'm not quite sure: I'm still in my pajamas, working my way through my second cup of coffee (oh, where's my waiter when I need him? Refill soon, darling, please!), with a day full of possibility still ahead of me. Tonight we'll go out to dinner, a boobversary dinner, and toast the new rack. And then we'll head off to two parties, a birthday celebration and a holiday party. But between now and then: I imagine a cookie or two, perhaps some shopping. Maybe some pampering. I've got a busy day.

Believe it or not, I have mostly fond memories of my surgery (though less so of the immediate aftermath). I have, first off, never felt so loved; support and love and flowers and vegan desserts appeared from every corner. And though I was terrified in the months and weeks leading up to it, the day of surgery, I was calm. I remember feeling so lucky to have a husband to hold me and a mother to scratch my back through my thin hospital gown. I was comforted by the many people I knew were thinking of me and rooting for me and wishing me well. So today isn't just a happy day commemorating an unhappy day; it's a happy day in remembrance of a happy day.

And I have a lot of good memories: I remember the food I ate the night before surgery (mmmm... fake duck). I remember the cake my BFF from Texas ordered from the same vegan bakery our wedding cake cake from (mmm... peanut butter chocolate ). My dear friend A, appearing out of nowhere beside my bed, sitting with my husband as I drifted in and out of consciousness. The completely selfless Z and P who sat with my parents while I lay in surgery. The first shower. The fist glance. The fucking relief.

So today is a good day. Life has gone on, but it's important to acknowledge where I've been: I've gained as much in this process (confidence, certainty, clarity) as I've loss (boobs, but more importantly fear, too). And today's the day when it all started. So I'm unzipping my hoodie and staring down and saying to my hooters, "Happy first birthday, girls." And happy anniversary to me.


  1. This made me a little teary (in a good way, of course). Happy anniversary and have a fantastic day!

  2. This made me teary and smile all at once. I have a ways to go before my operation but it makes me happy to know you can come out on the other side that much better. I recently had a birthday and it was sad to know it was the last one my real breasts will ever have. But you made me feel better. Good for you and happy anniversary!

  3. It s natural to take stock on important milestones. I am so happy your gains have out weighed your losses. Enjoy your good health, happiness, "confidence, certainty, clarity" and the awareness that you are cherished by so many. Happy 1st birthday, girls! Enjoy the run, even if it is colder than a witch's tit out there, cause you won't be feeling the freeze! ;)

  4. You are a goddess Steph. You speak for so many in our community, thank you, thank you, thank you. I do hope it was a great boobversary! XO Heather

  5. A very belated Happy Boobaversary, Steph. Thank you for guiding me through my own journey, and for being a wonderful blogging sister. Strength and wisdom, friend.

    Love, Liza

  6. Thank you so much for this post. I will be getting my results tomorrow from my BRCA test. I've been so scared, making myself miserable, dreading what's to come...but after reading this post I feel a little bit of comfort, that no matter what my results are, I can continue living a happy, full life with my children, family and friends.

    Thank you.

  7. The happiest of anniversaries to you, dear Steph.

    Our paths have been so different, our experiences -- yours BRCA, mine BC...even right down to our sentiments at these milestones, we're different. This summer will be 2yrs since my mastectomy. I don't feel the same gratitude you do, understandably. Yet something about the way you lovingly wrote about your new "girls" resonated with me. It inspired me to at least TRY and find a way to feel appreciation for my own recon breast.

    You do that, you inspire.

    I've been away from blogosphere for a while, but am making the rounds now that I'm back. As always, I loved reading your post. I am deeply happy for you, it gives me great hope to read how well you are doing. I am not *quite* old enough, lol, yet feel somewhat motherly towards you.


  8. I wanted to share a site to a online medical news publisher that offers many articles on BRCA 1 and 2 as well as breast cancer.

  9. Thank you so much for this! My cousin and I both found out last month we are BRCA1 positive. Her surgery is Sept 9th and I am waiting to see the plastic surgeon before mine is set. I have a feeling of a new beginning now instead of the dread of loss. I thank you so much for your story! Happy Belated Anniversary!!!


  10. marvelous post, you are a great writer. You bring acoss so eloquently what it was all about!
    What a joy to be living without fear! Here is to Trust or Faith.Warm greetings, Mooniek

  11. Congrats! I only hope I do as well with stage 2 breast cancer. I just found out and I am scared to death. I am looking for support and here it is. Thanks for fighting.

  12. I just went through the same surgery and as I was reading your blog you spoke as to how I had/have been feeling. I go on Tuesday to the ongolist to see what my treatment will be. So thank you for your post and making me realize I'm not the only one going through this.
    Robin ~

  13. Just found your blog, thank you so much for your honest, funny and tear jerking posts. I just found out I am BRACA + and am going for my salpingo-oophorectomy this summer. At some point in the not too distant future, I will "say goodbye to (my)boobs." What a great resource this blog will be. Thank you again.

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