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After going through this, I believe you have to be a particularly crazy and hard-assed individual to get a boob job. Reconstruction was not as painful as the mastectomy, but I was again set back to not being able to put on my pants, which comes with its own set of problems.
Even when I couldn’t walk by myself, I refused to go to the bathroom in front of Z. Sometimes pulling my pants up was a 30-minute feat, but I still maintain that it was worth it. My engagement was tainted with feelings that I didn’t want, but I refused to put “pee-shy” on the list. Just refused. Z has seen bloody pus squirt out of my armpit, but by God, he has not seen me pee.
Now that I’m dressing myself, showering, and using the bathroom without hesitating, it’s time to assess the collateral damage.
Things are jiggling that didn’t used to jiggle. Like, I’ve had some chunk before, and I’ve actually lost a lot of weight since my diagnosis. But after four months of sitting on my ass and eating Indian food, the chunk is now just everywhere. I have no muscle definition. Did you know you can have cellulite on your arms? I didn’t even know that could happen. All of the definition I once had from biking and wearing heels? Gone. Jiggly. I don’t even want to talk about what happened to my butt.
(I maintained some ab definition, but I attribute that to all of the vomiting. Yummy.)
At my follow-up visit after my reconstruction, my doctor told me that I can do yoga in six weeks, but I can start jogging now if I wear a really good bra.
“Yeah, I’m not going to do that.” I jogged more than once, and every time I wondered why people still do it. Fuck jogging. Plus I can’t fathom bouncing my new equipment around. That just sounds like total agony.
This is not what wedding-shape looks like. Well, not in my mind. None of my clothes fit me because I’ve shrunk, but pre-cancer Cassie would say I can’t go out in public like this.
But what do I do? Bitch about it? Pay someone to airbrush me? Tell the Hootons to photograph me from space so I look tiny? Cancel the wedding and cry into my Cheetos?
No, I stand back, and for the first time in my life, say “This is what I have to work with, and Bitch, I’m going to rock it.”
I didn’t expect cancer to give me a lesson in confidence, but I can’t deny that it did. Your body is amazing. Look what it can do. You’re here to talk about it. Now shut the fuck up and strut.
“My boss couldn’t remember what they were called so she called them red-haired whores.”
Making the details of my life public is a risk, one I take knowing that strangers are going to know things about me that I forget I’ve written. Knowing that my family will see that I’m not very wholesome sometimes. Knowing that all of the words I publish lead to a caricature of myself that isn’t always true.
(Except the whole “Buy me booze” thing. That part is true. Keep doing that.)
I knew and experienced this long before I started blogging about cancer, so I wasn’t surprised by the wide spectrum of reactions. The majority of messages I’ve received on the topic have been overwhelmingly thoughtful and kind. I’m touched by the outpour of support and encouragement. I have been moved to tears on so many occasions by the kindness of strangers, and really, people who cared a lot more than I realized.
Most people are essentially good, but this blog is not about them.
This blog is about the other end of the spectrum.
I present to you a collection of the stupidest quotes and reactions people have given to me in the past month, because if you’re stupid enough to say it, I’m going to make fun of you.
“I broke my arm once. I know it’s not the same as cancer, but I get what you’re going through. It’s tough.”*
“You don’t have like, cancer-cancer. You’re not going to lose your hair or anything, right?”*
“Wow. You’re so young. You probably didn’t even know you were poisoning yourself your whole life.”*
Inappropriate boobless jokes from strangers that are so bad I don’t even want to repeat them.
“Wow! You don’t even look sick!”* (Jesus Christ, people, stop saying this to me.)
My mom is a medical professional. Here, [list of remedies that make absolutely no sense]. Because someone I know is a doctor, nurse, or phlebotomist, I obviously have the authority to prescribe these things to you.
“So are you going to die from this?”*
GASP! Complete shock that some aspects of my life are taking a backseat to my healing.
And the award for the most thoughtless thing you could possibly say to someone:
“Does your fiancé care that you’re losing a breast? Why even get a reconstruction if he doesn’t care?”*
I get it, we’re human. Hopefully, next time someone is facing a difficult situation, and these people don’t know what to say, they’ll just send money and STFU.
*indicates a direct quote
T: You should do something like ‘All proceeds from the wedding go to cancer research’ or something.
T: You’re right. Let’s not get too hasty here.
When doctors and nurses tell you that something will be “uncomfortable,” they mean that it’s really going to hurt.
When they tell you it’s going to be “pretty uncomfortable,” they’re explaining graphic, bloody, searing pain, the likes of which you have never experienced, enough so to make you contemplate never having children, so that they never have to experience it either.
Telling you that something is uncomfortable is like asking you if Mr. Pibb is okay, and the only reasonable response is “No. It’s fucking not.”
Uncomfortable is how you feel on a long flight. Unreasonably scarred and forever traumatized is how you feel after major medical procedures. Just to clarify.
As women, we have a high tolerance for pain. And for making polite conversation while people put their faces into our wobbly bits. Meanwhile our legs are spread as wide open as eagles’ wings (read: spread eagle) and we’re wondering whether we have time to stop by the coffee shop on our way back to work. We have periods and cramps and pap smears and mammograms and at the end of every well-woman exam we have the balls to smile and thank the medical professionals for scraping out our innards (without anesthesia) like ripe avocados on Superbowl Sunday.
If a headache is bad enough that a woman complains, it’s probably a headache that would bring her husband to his knees in agony.
Today I’m getting my boob-drain removed so I can heal a little before my next surgery, and my PA will tell me to take a deep breath, because this is going to be “pretty uncomfortable.”
And, topless in front of a room full of strangers who always seem to be taking notes, I will tell her that it’s going to be “pretty uncomfortable” when I slap her in the face for being a liar.
Getting ahold of an actual doctor is as difficult as getting Jesus to respond to a text message. It’s like trying to get ahold of someone at the VA.
No, it’s like ripping out all of your fingernails and making a hot-glued Christmas ornament out of them while trying to do long division in your head.
No one knows what the hell is going on, and if you’re working with multiple doctors (in my case, I have a cancer doctor and a cosmetic surgeon), no one has the right papers, no one remembers who you are, and you have to repeatedly tell everyone, “No, Cassie, not Kathy. I’m the 25-year-old who had the mastectomy.”
“OHHHH! CASSIE! That’s right. How are you FEELING!?!”
I’m feeling vengeful, thanks for asking.
OR, they start to weep. I have had multiple medical professionals weep at me because “You’re just so young,” and (sobbing) “Is there anything I can do? Here, do you want drugs?”
Yep. Yes I do.
Many of you know that I am not always a patient person. I have a short fuse for disorganized office rigmarole. I have been in administrative roles before, and they are seriously effortless jobs. All you have to do, literally, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO, is stay organized, and minimize your facebook when your boss walks by. I want to scream at these people, “YOU HAVE ONE JOB. DO YOUR ONLY FUCKING JOB. “
But I don’t. I realize that these office assistants, nurses, and physician’s assistants, (and other people who answered the phone for some reason) are human, and they are what stand between me, the patient, and the appropriate treatment. They are the liaisons, and if they don’t like me, or are getting annoyed with me, they can send me to voicemail purgatory.
So I plaster on my fake beauty-queen smile and talk through my teeth. I know the name of every receptionist in Omaha, even though they never seem to remember mine. I laugh, I make jokes, I ask them how they’re doing, and I hope that all of this effort actually gets me somewhere.
Sometimes, it does.
If you take nothing else from my experience, remember these two virtues: Patience and persistence. It’s your health, and though it’s a stark reality, it’s ultimately your responsibility to make sure no one drops the ball.
And I’m out. I just got a text from Je…
Jeremy. It was from Jeremy.
“I wish they had a cigarette for cancer people.”
“They do. It’s called pot.”
Boob surgery smells bad. Well, I smell bad. But there’s a very distinct, funky-human odor that comes from having been operated on. Showering is a nightmare because of all the contraptions wired to you and the searing pain from water tapping your boo-boo. Plus, when you have your breast lopped off, it’s difficult to raise your arm to shave. So I’m a hairy, smelly jungle woman with half a pair of tater-tots.
That’s something no one talks about, but I just want you to know. Surgery literally stinks, and part of the “feeling bad” part is feeling bad about your appearance. And just… hygiene. You have to really learn to let that go. And I don’t mean “Oh, I went camping for a few days and smell like campfire.” I mean goopy, drippy, disgusting human. Like, actually make yourself faint (true story) kind of gross.
I’ve always been a bit of a germaphobe. I take a deep breath before pushing buttons on the ATM. I don’t want to do it. Tell me that I have a malignant tumor, and you’re basically telling me that my somewhat neurotic fear of being dirty/catching something has now quadrupled into Bubble-Boy proportions.
Although, if you put me in a bubble at this point, I would probably asphyxiate from my own pollution. I’m a one-boobed smog factory.
So, if you see me around in the next few weeks, and I’m wearing heels, perfume, and full makeup, it’s because I want to look better than I feel. Or smell. There is no right way to cope with a serious diagnosis. I choose lipstick.
You know what I did when I first heard the news that it was malignant?
Well, first I held it together in front of my doctor, and said something like, “Ok, I was prepared for that,” which was a lie. As soon as I got to the car I started bawling, then I apologized to Z for always crying. He shook his head with one of those “there, there,” expressions and asked me what I wanted to do. “I want to go to JCPenney’s and call my mom.” So, in usual graceful form, Z took me to Penney’s so I could be around clothes while I updated my family.
A lot of people call me things like “strong.” They tell me how tough I am and how gracefully I’m handling all of this. They tell me how positive I am and how inspirational it is to see me “fighting” so aggressively. That I’m coming out on top. That this will make my relationship stronger. That I have a good attitude and they’re proud of me.
Even if I don’t believe them, I will accept those compliments.
So no one can smell me.
You ever take a workout class, and the instructor says, “One more, almost there!” like 9 times? That’s how 2012 felt to me. Replace the squats with major life changes, saying “one more” so many times that change became the constant.
In 2012, I became engaged (which my 19-year-old self would not believe). I quit the job I thought I always wanted. I gained ten pounds, then lost it again. I hiked mountains. I read on the beach. We moved houses, a lot. I dyed a piece of my hair blue (and it proceeded to break and fall out. I tried). We sold almost all of our belongings and left home. We have owned four different cars this year (just two now, thankfully). I got to see some of my best friends all over the country. I had major surgery (and gained some seriously badass scars). I ate things that I can’t pronounce. I met some amazing people who have taught me incredible things. Boredom became a rare, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable feeling that I no longer knew how to deal with.
What I learned from all of this change is that my body, my mind, and my relationships can withstand more tests than I ever thought possible. I feel like I crammed a lot of life into 2012, and 2013 met me at the end of class to say, “Good. Now do it again.”
And I intend to.
A wise friend of mine said, “We’re all stronger than we even know.”
That’s the message I’d like you to take into your new year.
Throw caution to the wind, or your bra onto a chandelier. Either way, you will land on your feet.
“I didn’t get the job. I was just way too honest. I told them I fainted in high school.”
“Why did you tell them that?!”
“Well they asked me what my weaknesses were…”
“And you said , ‘staying conscious’ ?”