Springtime, 2005. I miraculously recovered from breast cancer just three years prior but I hadn’t dated anyone seriously. I must be ready now, I thought. I was beginning to think long-term again. I’ve done the stupid, immature, save-him, change-him, mother-him relationships and I was ready for something serious. I even began loving my smaller radiated breast. But, breast cancer came knocking again and this time both breasts would have to go.
Maybe you’ve been there: you’ve had breast conserving surgery but your breast is scarred; you’ve had edema after radiation, so your breast has shrunk and became leathery; you’ve had a uni-lateral mastectomy so now you’re a little uneven; or you’ve had bi-lateral mastectomy so his pectorals are now bigger than yours. Will a man sexually accept me as I am? Will he still love me with less breast, fewer breasts, or none at all?
Photo by bzhmatth's photostream
These kind of crippling thoughts clouded my decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. It was the second “new” breast cancer for me and I didn’t want to go for a third or a re-occurrence. So it would appear that I was still plagued with insecurity, but there was only one right thing to do and that was to have the surgery. Concurrently, I was dating someone for the first time since my cancer diagnosis at age 27. Although not marriage-material, it was still comforting to have him tell me how beautiful I am and that it wouldn’t matter if I did or didn’t have any breasts– a statement I gladly grasped onto. The surgery was successful; I was elated that a weight had lifted off my chest, figuratively. All I had to do was rest and heal. But, four days post-op, while I still had staples sealing my surgical incision and pools of blood and puss collecting in drains on both sides of my chest, he broke up with me. Why? I don’t know; just because. I cried and cried, I sank into a depression, and attributed it all to my lack of breasts. How wrong was I?!
First of all, not everything is about breasts. Wait, let me repeat that: not everything is about breasts! Secondly, he was clearly not for me if he could hurt me at such a vulnerable time (my mom still has a bounty on his head.) But, the critical mistake was how I handled and coped with the situation. Instead of letting go I foolishly held on to the relationship long after its natural life and my health paid the price.
In her blog, The happy children of unhappy endings, Terri Wingham talks about a Martha Beck Article Making Your Goodbyes Good, about how we should probably allow certain organic endings in our life to happen without attempting resuscitation or resurrection.
It took me five months to regain my strength after what should have been an easy break-up simply because I had allowed myself to sink so deeply. After that I vowed to let go of anyone venomous or anything poisonous in my life and I’ve done it! My prophylactic mastectomy (and hysterectomy in 2010) are not just proof that I’ve gotten good at cutting off body parts to ward-off disease, rather they are a testament to how much I am trying to hold onto dear life! Radical breakups have become a necessity in my life, just as much as the radical mastectomy and hysterectomy.
A month prior to my diagnosis in 2002, I had resigned from a job that I had spent years studying for and working at. Ironically it had been at a health club as a fitness coordinator and personal trainer, but something didn’t jive with my energy and I began to suffer to the point of anguish. For over a year I would tell my family over and over, “I hate this job. It’s going to make me sick!” At hindsight, the cancer was probably already present in the body for months or years but I can’t help but wonder whether it would have exploded when it did and as fast as it did had I promptly heeded the voice telling me to quit?
I am now at a similar juncture professionally. The company which I worked at for six years has new owners and a new administration and I do not mesh with their ways even though I always give them 100 percent. Fortunately, the decision is a no-brainer by now.
Easier said than done? You know better than anyone that life is short, so why not give your energy to what you love and whoever loves you. Let people and events serve their purpose. If it doesn’t seem like they had any, create a purpose for them.
Make them a springboard to your next higher adventure.
I would like to thank evil-boyfriend and creativity-suppressing-corporate-bureaucrat-boss for the lessons you’ve taught me. Life is pushing me in a different direction and it feels life-affirming swimming with the current.