November 18

The alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m.  but I need not have set it at all as I had been wide awake praying for sleep since ten o’clock the night before when I crawled into bed, Ambien on board.  It was the pre-Facebook, pre-Words With Friends, pre-iPhone era, so my options were limited.  I knew I needed to rest, to prepare, to go in strong, but there was just no damn way I was going to sleep.

I was due to arrive at 6:30 a.m., thirty minutes prior to my procedure.  I took a shower, washed and pulled through the curls of my hair, styling it to within an inch of its life, but (and this is notable) stopped short of applying any makeup…even my beloved mascara.  There would be no need for it where I was going, and, in fact, it would only become a smeared mess which could well have been the thing that put me over the edge.

My mother arrived promptly at 6:15 a.m.[i] to get the boys off to their respective schools – Georgie[ii]  to daycare, Harrison to his first grade classroom.   It felt sneaky leaving before they were awake, but I couldn’t bear to say goodbye, so we split as they were just starting to stir awake.  It was better for everyone.  Well, for me, anyway.

As we got in the car, I noted to myself that the fact that I had not slept for weeks did not seem to be impacting my energy level.  In fact, I felt as though jumping directly out of my skin was a very real possibility.  I popped a Xanax, took a deep breath and settled in for the ten minute drive to the hospital.  It was time for me to actually have the bi-lateral mastectomies that we had been discussing for weeks.

There are parts of the day and following weeks that are so vividly etched in my mind that they could have happened this morning: walking into the pre-op area, not nearly as looped from the Xanax as I would have like to be and being warmly welcomed by the team of nurses that were going to take care of me; my surgeon, marking my breasts and commenting that I had great tissue..but I was quite sure, positive in fact, that I heard him say “great tits”; and chatting with the orderlies about how my surgeon just told me I had great tits.  And then, not a single memory until nine hours later when I woke up, thrashing not from pain or anxiety, but from the cuffs around my ankles which were keeping my circulation going and, of note, driving me out of my fucking mind; sweating and not being able to lift my arms to secure a ponytail; wanting my glasses so I could see, but learning that they were already in the room that I would occupy once I was deemed stable enough to be transported from recovery.  And the little mounds that my doctor (yeah, the one who liked my tits[iii]) made sure to create so that when I awoke there would be something, anything where my breasts used to be.

The two days I spent in the hospital are a blur.  My one recollection is the walk I took around the hall with my father who was, at the time, dying of lung cancer.  It was the first time ever that I was actually walking more slowly than he.  We were shaky, tentative and scared.

That was ten years ago: November 18, 2004.  It was the Thursday before Thanksgiving which has become a holiday which threatens to knock me down every year, but has yet to succeed.  In that time so much has changed that it is nearly impossible to believe.  In 2004 my two sons were approaching respective birthdays: George would be three, Harrison ten.  I now have a nearly 13-year-old named Jessie and a soon-to-be 20 year-old who is far more man than boy.  My father is gone…for close to nine years now.  I am no longer married, no longer live in the home in which I raised my children and no longer have two sons.  Those ten years were my forties.  And now, with my, gulp, choke, egad, 50th birthday on the horizon I feel so many different things, but mostly grateful.

ten

Not only am I alive, but I have cancer in my rear view mirror and the scars to prove it.  I have met so many incredible people along the way – my team of doctors, the oncologist and the plastic surgeon (who I affectionately refer to as the one who took ‘em off and the one who put ‘em back on), my nurse who was considerate enough to go through a divorce at the exact same time as me and has become my friend and the people who have been with me through every single upheaval that has defined my forties.

Today is a big deal for me.  I never quite know how it is going to go down.  I have had November 18th s that have been marked by shopping sprees, crying jags, malaise and euphoria – and sometimes all of the above.  I do not know what today will bring.  I do know it is an anniversary I will never ignore, forget or not appreciate for what it has given me.

[i] If you know my mother, you know this is notable.  The “promptly” part, that is.

[ii] Name choice intended

[iii]  He did NOT say I had great tits (which I did) but to this day, every time I see him I remind him just so I can see him blush.

 

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22 thoughts on “November 18

  1. Julie, first off, let me say Happy 10th Anniversary!!! Way to go, and as the old slogan goes, “You’ve come a long way baby.” I am so happy for you and your health and pray alongside you that you continue onwards with healthy cancer free anniversaries.

    As always your writing reminds me that each of us carry our dark, underbelly stories and anniversaries. These that are easier to bury and silence. I am so glad you haven’t buried your memories. The significance of your breast cancer and double mastectomy anniversary is so important to continue sharing with all of us. People generally don’t want to talk about hard anniversaries. People also don’t often want to hear about the hard anniversaries and parts of our lives. Continuing to speak your truth from that day and that time period, and how much
    has changed is brave and so important for your community of readers.
    I am quite sure that it reminds your readers both where you have come from, as well as to be outspoken about out own hard stories.

    On a personal note…

    It is important to me as your reader because I also have cancer. I have my late summer anniversary of losing my uterus, my ovaries, and other women parts that defined me. (In 8/2011) Ovarian cancer took those parts from me, and left me in surgical menopause. At 47, that was tough to wake up to. The darkness of those first days in the hospital are tough one’s to re-visit. The early recovery, the swallowing and speaking of having Ovarian cancer at 47 was the hardest work I have ever done.
    My girls were only a newly turned 8 years old.

    While I can’t celebrate an anniversary that has me clean from my cancer, I can celebrate that I am still alive, still parenting my two girls (11) and still being a productive member of society on most days.

    Thank you Julie for always telling things as they are, for being honest even when
    you could choose another route. Your story of parenting, of changing your life mid stream, of continuing to be a survivor is so helpful to me and I am sure for so many of your readers.

    I turned 50 a year ago. I am definitely not in my 40’s anymore, but there
    truly is a wisdom that comes with our experiences, those dark, difficult ones, and those fun and silly ones. We have had the honor of living through experiences that inform our wise selves. You will be absolutely great at -50-. Of this I am sure. Keep writing, and I will always keep reading. Happy anniversary!

    Fondly,

    Liz

  2. Julie, As always, I love your posts. Your strength, humor in life, and honesty are inspiring. I hope this day is a joyful one celebrating your wins this time.

    For me, each decade has only been better, so look forward to 50!
    Best,
    Beth

  3. To my hospital buddy. …this means my hip turned 10 too. Your comment about making your surgeon blush reminds me of when I met with my breat cancer surgeon and we were discussing the surgery. I asked him if I could have my Ob/GYN do a needed hysteroscopy at the time time because “I’d always fantasized about having 2 men working in me at once”. Little did I know he was a straight laced Christian fundamentalist. The blank stare (or perhaps one of horror) should have been my clue.
    Congratulations on making this milestone.

  4. To my hospital buddy-this means my hip is 10 yeasts old too!

    Your comment of making your surgeon blush reminds me of when I first met my breast cancer surgeon and we were discussing the impending operation. I asked him if we could have my OBGYN perform a needed hysteroscopy at the same time since I’d “always fantasized about having two men working on me at once”. Little did I know that he was a devout Christian fundamentalist. His blank stare, or perhaps it was one of horror, should have been my first clue.

    In any case, congratulations on reaching this milestone. I hope that it is the first of many many more to come.

  5. Beautiful piece, Julie. Mazel tov on reaching this milestone so powerfully. You’ve been through more than anyone ever should and you have totally rocked it. Nothing is taking you down, woman! Cyber hugs coming your way.

  6. Julie and Liz…the challenges may not be the same, but you both provide strength, encouragement and fuel a flickering flame, more than you could ever know. Thank you both for sharing so much of yourselves on this page, for laying bare your emotions and your lives. I’m wishing you both only the best going forward.

  7. As always, a great read….your honesty and humor in the midst of loss tips me over. I lost it at that tiny paragraph about you and your dad walking the hallway together. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Julie, your candor and humor are a grand reminder that all of us must recognize that life is a continual series of transitions – it never stops. The way we learn to navigate them is the measure of us. As we learn to accept that, the anxiety disappears – a little at least – and you do a great deal to help us understand that it’s all about acceptance – if with a certain amount of head shaking. Thanks for your blog. Joan Ellis

  9. Congratulations on your tenth-I,too, had a mastectomy in November & am celebrating my 13th year of being cancer free!!!!! How lucky we are. XO & keep writing cause your open and honest views are very validating to so many people.
    Harriet

  10. What a milestone, Julie…congratulations!! You are a strong woman!! I just had what I hope will be my last surgery on Thursday. I hope you are well. I miss seeing you
    XO carolyn

  11. I did hug you today. Had I read this post before, I would have hugged you even more. I’m sure the originals were nice tits. My aunt was undergoing some procedure that had her doc ask, “Are you comfortable?” to which she responded, “We make a living.” My high risk OB once told me, “You have not gained enough weight yet.” Each word made me swoon. I proposed.

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