I drive into the local Tractor Supply parking lot, windows down, McDonald’s large nonfat latte in hand, and am one of a few cars and supply trucks here on this early morning. I pick my usual spot with the sun rising in the east, car heading north, and the perfect amount of sun shining on my right arm and leg. The warmth of the sun’s rays soothe me. They let me know that everything is going to be ok. A chorus of melodious birds sing in the background. The sound of carts being wheeled to trucks, doors slamming, and revving engines interrupt their songs. Someone is building something in the distance. The tap, tap, tap of the hammer and noisy planes overhead comfort me. They are the sounds of everyday life. They are the sounds of my childhood in the small Central Illinois town of Spring Valley.
Here I sit, in the middle of this small town, in the middle of my life, waiting. I have spent most of the last four years waiting: waiting for test results from my doctors, waiting for surgery, for my next surgery, for the drains to release the fluids from my swollen, stitched up breasts so that I may have them removed, waiting for my son at this place or that place, for my husband to come home from work so that I am able to take another pain pill because I need to be able to drive until he can take over. And now, some how, some way, it is all coming to an end. The finish line is so close I can see it, feel it, taste it. But then, what? What’s next for me?
I have come to believe that I am experiencing a kind of survivor’s guilt. I can’t remember much of the last four years because so many days were filled with pain, as well as pain medications. I took every pain pill that was prescribed to me. No more, no less. I couldn’t have done it without the meds. They were a huge part of the healing process. Now, I am continuing to work on the healing process on my own and it is lonely. I didn’t abuse the pain meds, but they did become a kind of friend. I knew that I could count on them for relief. They worked. Today, I have to work through the pain, loneliness, loss and accompanying sadness, without them. Some days are easier than others, but, I made it. I finished the marathon. The only thing is there was no celebration at the finish line. No last chapter, no “The end.” The breast cancer doctor stopped calling when I was turned over to the ovarian doctor, who stopped calling after I met with the radiation oncologist, who never called after I met with the genetics social worker. The plastics surgeon doctor and her nurses became like a kind of family to me. Appointment after appointment, year after year. Reconstruction can be a very lengthy and tumultuous experience. No one knows what they will find until they cut you open to see what’s inside, to see how the foundation that they have built is responding to the actual tissues. And, the right breast’s response to reconstruction can be entirely different than the left. Of course, symmetry is the goal. The residual numbing from the surgeries can be very bothersome at times. It is impossible to wear a bra most days because the pressure on my scars becomes intolerable. I have permanently erect nipples and the left one is slightly off center. My breasts are nonfunctioning, but they look good in clothes. They are the breasts of an athletic 18 year old. Sometimes, I forget that I have fake boobs and wonder what these things are on my chest.
And, then I remember: cancer. Oh, yeah, that.