A Week Later

I had my first grand day out today.  I slipped an old maxie skirt up to my rib cage, carefully tucking the tubes that lead to my drains into the folds of it,  pulled Gary’s Hawaiian shirt over the top of my special post surgical camisole, and covered my face in a heavy layer of sunscreen.  Stepping out in to the day,  wearing sunglasses for the first time in a week, there was this rush of joy wrapped around my lumpy getup as I climbed into the car.  We went through the bank drive through.  We stopped at a store and Gary handed me the car keys while he ran in.  I had to chuckle as I sat there.  We are such creatures of habit.  Handing the keys to our passenger as we run in is almost a universal act.  The sun reached in through the sunroof.  Its warm tendrils touching my checks.  Me in the passenger seat with my empty pain ball in a pouch with its tubes still neatly sewn into my abdomen, as useless as an appendix but still permanently attached until I visit the doctor on Tuesday.  The clock ticks down on the need for the three drains tidily clipped to my clothing.  Ever mindful of keeping my right arm low and rested, I stared at those keys in my hand.  I could do nothing with them.  I couldn’t even open the car door.  And yet they whispered of what is to be.  That soon, I will be able to do all of that.  Open the door, drive the car, look at my body without seeing all the medical accoutrements hanging off it.  But right at that moment, none of that mattered as much as the simple pleasure of me sitting in a car on a cool sunny morning.

When I moved to Salisbury, there was a shrine in the form of a recliner that belonged to Gary’s father in the corner of the living room.  I added to it the quilt that laid over Keith’s bed for his last days.  Thursday at 4:00 am, I woke up to the first real experience of pain I have ever had in my life.  Real pain.  The kind that stops you from wanting to move or breath or talk.  That pain ball had run out at the same time that I chose to cut back on the Oxycontin I was taking before bed.  So that afternoon, Gary moved the recliner out front and center of the living room.  I climbed in and rested. My head pressed into Keith’s quilt.  My feet propped up where his father’s once did.  Swallowed the pills and closed my eyes until the pain finally faded away.

So I seem to have gone from the ultimate pain to the ultimate pleasure in just 3 days.  How do I explain how I feel any more?  This once emotionally unflappable woman finds herself drifting from one moment of joy, or laughter, or lighthearted spirits to the next one full of fear, or anger, or sorrow.  My mother stayed with me in the hospital.  It was one of my greatest comforts and yet, I was like her toddler daughter all over again.  NO! I would say – I can do that myself! as I mentally stomped my feet and crossed my arms.  I couldn’t of course.  And when my son stopped in to visit, I tried so hard to make light of the state I was in and all I really wanted to do was pull him to me as if he was still my baby and hold him, for my own comfort.  Then when I arrived home, Gary found himself stuck with a girlfriend encouraging him to go out and have fun only to get hit with her whiny complaints about being home alone a short time later.

But in a strange way, I have walked this path before.  I’m just seeing it through my husband’s eyes now.  So many times, he’d do just as I am doing now.  Enjoying the rare warm winter daylight flowing into the sunroom as he rested on the couch.  Telling me to go out and catch that band I wanted to see only to text me with his complaints.  Refusing to let me cook dinner until I pulled a chair into the kitchen so he could sit there and instruct me.  Over and over again, Keith would ask our friends if I knew how much he loved me.  Yes, I always knew.  I know even more now.  I know it with every stroke of mom brushing my hair and each wash cloth she ran across my face.  I know it with each time I looked at Zach quietly strolling into the room.  I know it with each time Gary reaches out his arm to help me stand up, with each meal he cooks for me, each time he reminds me to rest that arm, take my medicine, take a nap.  It is a reciprocal unconditional love.  Its the kind of love you feel when someone hands you the car keys while they run in the store.




What Dreams May Come

It was not long after I had lost him that Keith came to me in a dream.  He was his normal healthy self, twinkle in the eye, remote in hand, kicked back on the couch with an arm reaching across the back in both directions.  The rain was pouring down and we were in the sun room, so all I could hear was the deafening pounding on the almost tin like roof.  He was talking to me.  From the look on his face, it was idle chatter.  A casual conversation.  Yet I couldn’t understand anything.  I couldn’t make out any of the words he was forming.  I could only hear the cadence and intonation, nothing more.  I could not shake the feeling that he was trying to tell me something important despite his casual demeanor.  I leaned in to understand and only felt more lost in what he wanted me to know.

He was not the first specter to visit me after leaving behind the land of the living.  My grandmother did as well. 22 years earlier.  She had a mastectomy when she was 48, just 3 years older than I am now.  As a young girl, I remember her letting me put her prosthetic breast in my little training bra.  We both giggled at the large bulge and I was fascinated by the realistic feel and look of it.  10 years later, her breast cancer had metastasized.  She died in the spring, shortly after I had discovered I was pregnant.   When my mother called to give me the news, I crumbled against the living room wall, crying and sobbing and fearful that feelings that strong may harm the new life growing inside.

And then she came to me in a dream.  She sat at her quilting frame, dressed perfectly in a bright red vest with a gold pin, healthy again, with her crown of dark curls framing her face as she leaned over, thimbled finger pushing her needle up and back.  She was chatting to me but never looked up, focused on the stitches.   I strained to hear her.  I couldn’t.  I knew it was important.  Something about my baby? Words of wisdom to get me through life?  She looked over at me and smiled, then returned to the quilt frame and the task at hand.

This Friday, I take a major step towards my transition from breast cancer patient to breast cancer survivor.  I will undergo my own mastectomy followed by reconstruction.  Gary and my mom will physically be there.  So many people I love will be there in spirit.   I will have two top surgeons working on this body to remove the poison and replace it with the healthy parts of me.  All I have to do is sleep.  Perhaps dream.  Will I finally hear what Keith and my grandmother tried to tell me before?  Will they visit me again?  Chat for a while?  I hope so.

Through all of Keith’s illness, my grief in his absense, my recovery, my rebirth, my new love, my new life, my career, my cancer, I try to remember one thing.  I am still me.  I’ve always been Cherish, despite each bump in the road and each twist to the plans.  Come Friday, my body will be changed and yet, there is this little part of me that knows what Keith and Grandma Blades were saying – you’ll be ok.  You have always been ok.  You will always be ok.  You have it in you to do this.  To do anything.  And we are here.  We have always been here.  Don’t look to our cancer for the answers.  This is your cancer.  This is your journey.  We will be there in your dreams and when you wake, you’ll be with those you love.

I am still scared.  But I am in the best hands.  Both in the operating room and at home.  I will heal.  I will survive.  I’ll meet all of you on the other side of this like the bionic woman.  Better and stronger than before, yet still just plain ol’ Cherish.