I took the photo above after a post-surgery follow up appointment this last Tuesday.
This quiet little chapel at the cancer hospital was the perfect place to hide and pull myself back together. It was so quiet in there. The silence seemed to press against my ears. The only sound was a clock ticking on the wall.
I sat on a cushioned bench against the back wall watching the sunlight stream gently through the windows overlooking a tiny garden. The rows of chairs before me sat empty.
Nooks are cut out of the wall I leaned my back against. In the nooks were Bibles, mostly, but this is a non-denominational place. Copies of the Quran and The Book of Mormon nestled up against the Bibles.
Out there, in the world, the Bible and the Quran’ don’t play well together. In here, they cozy up next to each other on the same shelf. The mingling seems appropriate here. It’s like the creators of the chapel were saying, “Come on in. Cancer doesn’t give a shit what religion you are.”
I went in there because I’d just received some really shitty news. Not epically shitty. Not ‘new diagnosis’ shitty. Just shitty enough to ruin the rest of my week.
I went to my follow up appointment very badly wanting the surgical drain to come out. The drain is uncomfortable. It shifts when I lean forward. I can’t sleep on my side. The stitches itch and pull. It gets caught on stuff. And then there’s the rash that’s developed near the drain site. It is itchy and miserable and driving me insane.
My surgeon and his PA asked me what I thought of my reconstructed breasts. After saying my left breast (the one that underwent a lift) was healing nicely, my surgeon said, “So what do you think? It looks great! Someone call Hugh Hefner!”
I laughed, but it hurt. God, it hurt.
I know he was just trying to keep the conversation light, make me laugh. He’s not an insensitive guy and either is his PA. But the thought that anyone would want to see . . . this . . .? It’s laughable.
And as for the ‘what do you think’ question, what was I supposed to say? “I love them!” . . . ?
No, I don’t love them. But they are what they are. My surgeon and his PA seemed disappointed that I wasn’t thrilled, but how could I be thrilled? I never wanted breast augmentation. I just wanted to feel whole again no matter what they looked like.
Perhaps it was too soon for the ‘how do you like them’ discussion. Give that six months, maybe.
The rash, it turns out, is the easiest problem to solve. The surgeon said the rash is just an allergic reaction to band aid adhesive and I could use an over the counter hydrocortisone cream and anti-fungal cream mix to treat it.
The drain, however . . . That’s a harder problem to fix.
I showed my surgeon my drain log. I record the amount of fluid the drain puts out every day in my bullet journal. The drain has to be below 25 mL a day for two days before it can come out.
First piece of shit-tastic news: The drain is still putting out too much fluid to come out.
Apparently radiated skin drains for a long time after surgery. My surgeon said having a surgical drain for six weeks after reconstructive surgery is not unheard of.
Yaaay for radiation side effects.
Second piece of shit-tastic news: My surgeon said if the drain comes out now at these fluid output levels, the result could be (his words) “reconstruction jeopardizing.” More specifically, and driving the point home, he said, “We could lose it”.
We. Could lose it.
I could lose it.
I could lose my right breast.
Because radiated skin doesn’t. fucking. heal.
Third piece of shit-tastic news: After telling me too much fluid might cause me to lose my reconstructed breast, he then said, “The drain comes out at six weeks no matter what.” Six weeks is the tipping point where the drain is equal parts helping my body and becoming useless. At some point my body should take over and start absorbing the fluid.
After the drain comes out my body will either:
a) absorb the fluid (I’m hoping for this) or
b) form a pocket of fluid (called a seroma) that could either
a) be drained (which sounds exceptionally painful) or
b) cause me to lose my reconstructed breast.
Lovely, right? Just. Fucking. Love-ly.
It was at this point in the conversation when I started negotiating with myself.
You are not going to cry.
You are not going to cry.
Okay, you are going to cry, but you’re going to wait until you get in the car.
You’re going to wait until they leave the room.
Fuck it. Just cry.
And I did. I cried. No, more than that. I ugly-cried.
I must have looked pretty pitiful sitting there on the exam table in my hospital issued white exam robe because my surgeon handed me a box of tissues then gave me a hug saying, “You’re almost there.”
I was just so crushingly disappointed that my body was still draining too much and now I was scared of losing my reconstructed breast. I wanted so badly to just be done with all this. To just fucking move on.
When my surgeon and his PA left the exam room I sat there with the box of tissues wiping my nose and leaking tears until I couldn’t stand being in the exam room any longer. I walked to the bathroom with my head down, not looking anyone in the eye.
I washed my hands and face hoping to wipe away the worst of it. One look in the mirror told me I wasn’t fooling anyone. My face was still puffy and my eyes were bloodshot.
I cleaned up as best I could then headed down the elevator and towards the valet to get my car. I only got as far as the hospital’s main lobby before I lost it and started bawling again. I found a chair along one wall and sent Justin a text telling him what had happened.
He promised wine later.
I listened to one of the hospital volunteers playing the piano in the corner. He or she played beautifully, switching from Amazing Grace to some other tune I associate with Josh Grobin but can never remember the name of. I sat there tears leaking down my face and wiping my nose with a paper towel from the bathroom until I got tired of people carefully not looking at me. Tears aren’t exactly uncommon in a cancer hospital, but they aren’t comfortable either. Especially if you’re the one shedding them.
I didn’t trust myself to drive yet so I gathered my belongings and wandered down a side hallway to see what the chapel looked like. It was quiet and away from the busy-ness of the lobby. It was the perfect place to pull myself together.
I sat there just listening to the clock tick. Mostly I had the place to myself. A woman came in and sat for a few minutes. She smiled at me before taking a chair and bowing her head. I tried not to sniffle too loudly while she prayed. After she left I grabbed a box of tissues discretely tucked into a book nook and pulled out my journal to write everything down.
Eventually I felt better.
I’m not very good at religion. The chapel was just a quiet place to sit and not be stared at. Although, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel better just being in there. Maybe it was the silence. A deeply spiritual friend of mine would smile knowingly and say, “That’s not all it is.”
Except this isn’t a novel or a movie. This isn’t the part in the story where the cancer patient hears the voice of God and everything is magically okay. This is real life. This is my life. No one spoke to me, and I don’t know if I’m going to be okay. And I am still so tired of cancer hurting me.
I want to run. I want to do a push up. I want to sleep on my fucking side. I want a normal goddamn life where I don’t think about cancer or how it’s taken chunks out of me every fucking day.
I am grateful for that little room with its ticking clock and soft sunlight. It was there when I needed it.
Fuck you, cancer. Fuck you hard in the face.