I’ve spent so much time with medical professionals lately that if I were to try and describe any specific moment to you, I think I might get lost in the telling, frankly. I’m okay with that; it’s dull conversation, really, in general.
Sam’s strokes and my MS have been instructive and helpful; I can tell you that I’m not the same person that I was in my early 30s during medical processes and procedures. I run my own show, which I take is something a little different than the norm based on the reactions I receive. “You certainly do make your own medical decisions,” a nurse practitioner tells me at my pre-op appointment. “Who will be bringing you to and from your surgery?” she asks, with a slight emphasis on the word “will,” at which point I begin to realize that there may have been something unusual in my coming to all of these appointments solo.
I haven’t been trying to do this alone, really; in truth, I really appreciate having that drive, a good forty-five minutes to an hour in either direction. It’s time to clear my mind, settle, think, prepare. I arrive early, take walks, and then meditate in small dark rooms, waiting for techs, nurses, doctors. And yes, sometimes it is selfish; this way, I’m not worried about or responsible for anyone else’s feelings in the immediate moment. I did my second mammogram and ultrasound solo to give myself that small bump of time to process, and I think that’s fair.
The oophorectomy is over and done, and outside of some extended shoulder discomfort, it was pretty unremarkable. I was expecting some sort of distinct transition into menopause, which doesn’t seem to have happened yet outside of one minor hot flash. I think there was so much stress placed on the difference between medically induced menopause vs natural menopause that I thought there’d be a much more noticeable jump, when instead I just feel like myself, except a little more tired, which I mostly ascribe to being in the healing process. I’m slightly disappointed, between me and thee; I’d looked forward to entering this liminal state, the adult answer to puberty, bridging into a new stage. It’s kind of anti-climactic so far, but who knows- I really, really shouldn’t complain, obviously.
There have been meetings with breast surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, patient liaisons, etc, in the last few weeks and the mastectomy question is still up for debate; more so after this year’s mammograms and ultrasounds, but only a little. It feels somewhat less urgent to make that decision after the oophorectomy—- as though I’ve taken a deep breath and cleared my head, like there’s room now, somehow.
There aren’t any good choices here- no option that I’ll be 100% thrilled and over the moon with- and so it comes down to making the choice I like best. It’s a bit like driving the Mass Pike late at night when you’re wicked hungry, if you’re unlucky enough to know what I mean. I know I have to eat something from Burger King, they’re the only thing on site that’s open at this hour, my blood sugar is crashing and the only way I’m going to make it home is to eat, damnit. Do I risk a burger, one of those dicey salads, or just load up on shakes?
Damn, that’s an upsettingly accurate metaphor.
It’s been an interesting experience, and I’m only partially into it. Into it? Through it? It’s still happening, really. I guess that means this is an interesting experience. People say very, very strange things. Beautiful things, horrible things, weird things. People keep saying these things to me that are really just terrible statements on gender that they really can’t hear and it’s doing my head in, badly, because they’re also doing it while they’re trying to express love/ compassion/ empathy. Honestly, that’s been one of the hardest things about this entire experience: other people. Is that awful? That’s probably awful. I don’t know. I don’t think I care, either. It’s okay to feel our feelings.
A lot of the people close to us have asked how Sam is doing with all this, and that’s completely legit: cancer was a huge subject in our house before BRCA came up, and the answer is yes, this has been very upsetting for him. Anyone who has been on the other side of their partner experiencing any sort of medical issue- major or minor- can probably understand how frustrating and frightening it is to worry about your partner’s health. Sam and I are both sort of the opinion that while being sick sucks, there’s a special sort of hell reserved for the person on the other side, the one who isn’t in the body being worked on- you just don’t have that first-hand knowledge of what’s happening. It’s scary. And while I’m not sick, tacking BRCA on to his wife one year after Sam lost his mother to cancer is just a hell of a lot for any one person.
So that question, from people close to us, it’s fine, and makes sense-it fits, in context. That guy is holding up really well to one hell of a lot. I’ve heard a different version of that question, though, not from medical professionals but from well-intentioned strangers and acquaintances— the version that is asking “How well does your husband/ father/ male friend/ men in your life handle talking about this kind of thing” etc, meaning are they okay talking about breast/ ovarian cancers, can they handle these conversations, are they capable of supporting you and listening to this material and information. There’s this undercurrent of “heteronormative MEN + LADYPARTS= SEX OR HORROR” that’s like a brick wall- folks really can’t get past it.
On the one hand, I guess I get it: we’ve created this culture where it’s somehow acceptable for men to be weird about buying tampons for their partners or children.
On the other hand, get out of my face with that nonsense, seriously.
I’m not going to make this cutesy, culturally accessible, or sexualize it so that emotionally stunted people will be able to manage, swallow, or care about what’s happening- no “save the tatas” bullshit here- and I know that the men in my life are smart, kind, whole people who see me as a fully human being. Yes, they can talk about this.
These are men, not monsters or semi-sentient bears: if there’s information they need to understand what’s happening to me we can review that, it’s cool and it’s not going to be some super-weird thing. (Let’s be honest: I remember there’s a Cowper’s gland in most dudes, but I’d need to use Google to tell you exactly what it does, and that’s okay.) This insistence that somehow we can’t talk to one another is grossly reductive, and the idea that people coded male will fall apart at the mention of anything female is just insulting. I roll with some pretty tough folks- male, female, and otherwise: trust me, they can handle me talking about my breasts every so often.
We aren’t getting into the weirdness I’ve heard on implants here today- that’s a conversation for probably a month or so from now, it’s far too much to process. I will say that my doctors refer to them as prosthetics, and that’s been really helpful lately. I can internalize that a lot more easily. (Heh. “Internalize”. I GOT DAD JOKES Y’ALL.)
So things are getting back to mostly normal, as you can tell- I’m perturbed by the world, so clearly my energy levels are on the rise, but I’m working again, teaching art, color theory, dyeing and knitting to kids (and a few adults!) in a homeschool co-op in town, and taking on a large eco-printing project, too, that I’m eager to talk about. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about genealogy; I’ve been helping some friends out here and there, and I came into some amazing documents of my grandmother’s this summer, plus all these lovely hours in cemeteries these last few months. All that, along with this BRCA nonsense, have come together into what’s looking to be a really lovely larger project for next month- I’ll have something to say about that in my next post, once I’m finished editing some photos.
My Postman Sam just got home from his route, though- did I mention he’s with the USPS? He left insurance for the only thing more reliable, and much more satisfying; instead of sending me annoyed texts on his lunch breaks, now he sends me pictures of turkey families crossing the road. It’s adorable, and pretty much exactly what we came here for, although I hadn’t put “turkey families” specifically on the list. I need to pull a silk off the stove, pop it in the freezer, and get another one prepped before we get dinner going, so time to cut this short while it’s already way too long.
What’s on your list of things to get done this weekend, all? I’m meeting someone to look at antique cast iron, hitting the flea market, and finally grinding down that last small pan. Here’s hoping it works!