I’m having surgery again. Dr. B. told me this could happen. Told me it probably would happen. When we talked about the pros and cons of a mastectomy versus a lumpectomy, one of the cons of the latter was that there’s a high probability I would need a second surgery. And I do. We’ll meet Thursday to discuss the need and the prep and get my second COVID test scheduled before having my second surgery.
I’m still glad I chose to keep my breast. I’m partial to it. It’s been part of me for a long, long time. I’ve had it for a long, long time. I have it. It’s mine.
I’ve been thinking about the word “have” often. When we talk about a disease, we say we “have” the disease. When we talk about a procedure, like surgery, we say we “have” the procedure.
We don’t say, I don’t say, that “it” has me.
There’s power in that phrasing. I have cancer. It doesn’t have me. Can I get rid of it just by saying I don’t want it any more? No. That would be like saying I have debt and then thinking it will disappear by saying I don’t want to have it. It doesn’t work that way.
I’m having surgery. It’s an axillary node dissection. Dr. B. will take out several lymph nodes from my side under my arm. They’ll be sent to a pathologist to find out if the cancer’s spread and if so, to how many nodes. If a lot of them are involved, it’s one treatment, and if few of them are, it’s another.
This surgery is something that’s being done to me, but I am choosing to have it done. Some people don’t. After the surgery, I might have chemotherapy and I will have radiation. Others choose not to do either of those, either. I never realized how much personal choice there is when it comes to treating something that’s both as common and as insidious as cancer.
I have cancer. That’s how I announced this disease to family, friends, and strangers. I said “I have cancer.” I didn’t say: “Cancer has me.”
That’s an important distinction and one I’ve needed to approach through a labyrinth of emotions. It is so very easy to succumb to the dread and to picture all of the “F CANCER” cries from people railing that yet another friend, family member, coworker has died. My maze began when I first heard the words at my ultrasound: “It’s not a death sentence any more.” Then I heard them again, and then another time. When you hear a phrase, even if it’s in the negative, your mind fixates on it. Death sentence. Death sentence. Death sentence.
I AM GOING TO LIVE.
From the beginning, as soon as they knew the lump in my breast was malignant, I’ve been told that my cancer – hormone receptive, HER2 negative, tiny – was favorable. It’s all relative, I suppose, and with that word “favorable” I imagined a three week start-to-finish blip. Diagnosis. Lumpectomy. Done. How much more favorable could you get?
That’s not how this works. I have cancer, and to not have cancer is not as simple as carving out one bad spot and claiming that it’s gone. We have to make sure, because I’m young. That’s what Dr. B. and Dr. S. and everybody keeps saying. I am young. I do kinda feel like the odometer turned over at fifty and the vehicle started falling apart, but in their eyes I’m a Honda. In my eyes, I’m going to live forever.
Not quite. I know now that I’m not invulnerable. I seem to be using an inordinate number of double negatives but I’m not about to say what that last double negative actually means because then it’d be just like saying “it’s not a death sentence” and then it’s in my head and I don’t want it there.
I’m not invulnerable.
I AM strong.
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. And again and again and again.
I am strong.
I am strong.
I am strong.
When I first decided that I would be an author, even though I didn’t believe it, I wrote a phrase on an index card. It began with “I am a powerful storyteller.” I don’t think I understood what that statement meant, but I secured it with a magnet next to my monitor and every morning, every day, I’d see that phrase and repeat it.
Soon, I became a storyteller.
Words have power. Intention has power.
I have cancer. It doesn’t have me. I’m going to have surgery because I will allow skilled, compassionate, and respectful doctors to provide the treatment I need. I will take care of myself.