Monday, January 18, 2010

Profundity Out of the Mouths of Husbands

Ian and I were sitting in the car last night in the driveway, finishing a conversation about breast cancer. In my therapy session last Thursday, I had talked about not finding my identity in being a cancer patient. How I don't buy into the Culture of Breast Cancer, with its pink ribbons, its stuffed bears, its endless support groups and young survivors' groups and media attention. I know that all of these things make the experience more bearable for many, possibly most, women with breast cancer. But for me, I've never wanted to put that much of my self—my time, my soul, my spirit—into being a patient. I have said it before, and, I believe, represented it as well through my many interests—there is a lot more to me than this situation.

Also, as I wrote about last year, I really don't like the almost universally accepted metaphor that describes cancer as a battlefield. And cancer patients as fighters in a war, fighters who win to become survivors, or lose to become victims. In a war, one side or the other is going to lose. Wars are violent, heartbreaking, terrifying. Perhaps those things are inherent in having cancer . . . but perhaps they are not. Perhaps we have just learned to interpret our experiences that way, and perhaps we have the capacity to learn a different course.

My therapist asked me how I did define my experience, if not in the usual way, and I told her about the Life Tapestry. I don't know if this was my idea or my mother's, but I love this image:

My life—any life—is a tapestry of events, skills, feelings, emotions. In my tapestry, I have rich, beautiful scenes of travel, of study, of exercise and achievement, of love and friendship. And running through it, I have an acid green-yellow thread of cancer. In large amounts, this bile-color is not beautiful. But woven, as it is, through the rest of the tapestry, it is beautiful. It adds depth and mystery, and allows the designs and pictures to be more visible, clearer. Experiences are enhanced, highlighted, by this sour edge that keeps the tapestry from becoming cloying, too sweet—boring, even. It's the pinch of bitterness that makes the dish exquisitely gourmet, and not simply tasty.

Ian nodded in agreement—he has heard this image before—and then he said, "Well, there's a difference anyway between cancer and other diseases or medical problems—cancer is you. It isn't an infection by an alien source—it is YOUR BODY misbehaving. And so if you think about having to go to war, you're going to war with yourself—you're fighting yourself. And how effective or healthy can that really be?"

Holy shit. He is absolutely right.

Friday, January 15, 2010


This is the first real haircut I've had in almost two years! Theresa, my stylist who's seen me through ten years of regrowth, is obviously very skilled. Thanks, Theresa!

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Saturday, January 9, 2010


Today I went to Olympus Spa to celebrate the birthday of a relatively new friend, who's only lived in Seattle for about two years now. I always wear my contact lenses when I'm at Olympus, because otherwise I couldn't really identify my own hands, let alone recognize the subtleties of my friends' facial features in the middle of a large, wet room full of women uniformly naked except for the matching pink and white striped bathing caps. One might think that it would be more appropriate to not be able to see well at a spa where everyone is naked, but with my contacts in I can see at a glance if I know someone or not. With them out, I'd look a lot more like I was staring at strangers. For my friends, if we're out of the pools, I'm actually a pretty good landmark now with only one boob. I have yet to see another woman there who's had a mastectomy and left it—I did, once, see someone who had had reconstructive surgery. It took me a moment or two and a couple glances to figure out why she looked weird—no nipples.

Anyway, I can't wear my contact lenses regularly at the moment, because of the troubles with my right eye and the drops and whatnot (I forewent my morning drop today), but I do put up with the slightly-greater-than-normal dry right eye and pull them out for occasional events, such as snorkeling last summer in Mexico, skiing (my goal is to go at least twice this year, and remember to take all my gear both times), and trips to the spa.

They were actually pretty comfortable today—much better than last summer in Mexico, when the drops I was using were different—so I kept them on for the return home and spent some time playing in the yard with the dogs and doing normal weekend tasks around the house. I finally decided to give my eyes a rest and take them out, and as soon as I had my glasses back on, I noticed a bunch of the teeny visual annoyances I've been attributing simply to the pocket of fluid still under my cornea or, more disturbingly, degeneration in my optic nerve or new activity in the lesions still in my brain.

I'd barely even noticed the distortion with my contacts on, let alone anything else.

What this says to me is that, even though my clarity of vision is pretty darn good in these same glasses that I've had for two or three years now, there might have been some slight changes to my astigmatism that my contacts, soft and sticky and visually comprehensive, ameliorate in a way that my glasses, hard and framed in my peripheral vision and, let's face it, frequently covered with dog licks that have attracted all manner of dust, simply can't make up for. And so my focus shift is slower looking from close to far and back; the world has a slight, slight, curve to it and an almost ignorable distance; I can't identify more than color or motion out of the corners of my eyes; and if the glasses begin to sit slightly teetered, my perception is thrown off without any really obvious cue to my awareness—that is, I don't necessarily know to fix them.

And so, my initial response when I noticed this, was to be relieved that all these little disturbances aren't actually symptoms of damaged optic nerves, but outgrown glasses. Unfortunately, there's not much that can (or rather, should) be done about this right now—my right eye is changing slowly, but quickly enough that measuring for new glasses doesn't make any sense. Sigh. But, it helps to have yet another bit of information that I'm doing okay. Very well, really.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Free Clinic

For Christmas this year I received a blood pressure cuff. Add it to my oxymeter and the 200 syringes and 25 doses of Neupogen that I still have and I can go into practice! Anyone need a doctor?