Friday, October 28, 2016

On Justified Worry

I’m going to be writing more personally for a bit. I have a lot to get off my chest.


I’m getting a double mastectomy today and an oophorectomy for good measure (which sounds to me like something Willy Wonka might do), because I have all the fancy genes that make a human body a ticking time bomb. They're mutated genes, but I'm still waiting to discover my superpowers. My sister had cancer by 40, and my mom died of it at 69. The many specialists I’ve seen over the past six months have offered differing opinions on reconstructive surgery, but they all agree on one thing: my girly bits have got to go. Like, yesterday. The geneticist explained it to me like this: "Most women have a 1 in 10 chance of getting breast cancer. You have a 9 in 10 chance." So here I go.

I’ve been actively distancing myself from my breasts for weeks - ignoring them when I look in the mirror the way you can scan a packed room for a friend and not once meet the eyes of the enemies sitting front and center. They’re dead to me. They’ve served their purpose - to solicit for mates and feed my young - and now they’re going to kill me if I don’t get rid of them.

I have to get up in about an hour - yikes, half an hour! - to drink two cups of apple juice, then have a shower with minimal soap, and then I'm off to the hospital with my requisite surgical camisole and legal will. I imagine the trip playing out like the end of In Cold Blood, in that beautifully written scene when the two murderers walk to their execution and the one falters and collapses a bit from the terror of it all. I’m like that any time I walk onto a plane. And I’m going to feel like that walking down the long, rain-drenched street to the hospital, pre-dawn, with my children on either side of me holding me up and half dragging me there.

Oh for crying out loud. It’s just day surgery!

I’m nauseous with worry though. I’m a worrier at the best of times, so when something is actually worry-worthy, I do it justice. My shoulders and neck are painfully tight, and I’ve got a bit of a headache from the tension, but I can’t take anything for it. I’ve read the instruction booklet they gave me over and over, making sure I don’t miss any tiny detail that could cost me my life.

The thing of it is, is that I’m perfectly healthy right now, and I’m undergoing surgery to prevent getting cancer. So, if I die on the table, that would just be the worst! To die preventing myself from dying?? It’s like when a tiny woman driving a car has a minor fender bender that would have had little impact, but then the airbag deploys and breaks her neck. It’s the worst sort of irony when safety precautions end up being deadly.

So I better not die.

It’s funny how one worry will take over another one. It’s handy, really. I've been so terrified of the surgery that I've barely mentioned it to anyone. It makes me weak in the knees to say it out loud. But now that I have a bit of a cold, I’m terrified that it will be postponed, and all my exquisite and thorough lesson planning for the 33 classes I'm going to miss will be for nought. I've been hyperaware of anything remotely resembling congestion. I can't do that all again. This is the one major downfall of teaching: making explicit, in writing, every idea and explanation in your head for each class and every possible contingency plan just in case, and then worrying that something could still go wrong and you'll come back to a disaster that's your responsibility to fix. But at least thinking about nasal mucus is keeping me from thinking about the surgery! Planning a trip for Christmas is another way I’ve managed the anxiety. It helps focus my attention towards a much bigger fear of air travel, with a whole lot more to do to make it happen than just showing up for some blood work and trying to stay healthy. It just goes to show you, it's always something. There's no end to what we could be worrying about. And climate change will take us all out in the end anyway!

I try to get all Epicurean about it. It's not happening to me right this minute, and it's ridiculous to lament something that's not actually happening to us right now, amiright? It really does soothe away the mini-panic attacks that wash over me from time to time whenever the reality of it hits like a brick, when I start to vibrate with fear. Epicurus brings me back into the present. And then Epictetus guides the rest of the journey. He's my go-to guy when life sucks, except his bit on death being an end to suffering doesn't quite work here - I'm not currently suffering at all! But this surgery isn't necessarily a bad thing, he'd say. It's a great learning experience that will provide me with a fantastic story to tell later! I'm one of the rare few who gets to go through this incredible adventure. I won the golden ticket!!

And, of course, this too shall pass, amiright?!

Want to read even more about it? Check these out.

Day 2 - And on Recovery in All its Glory
Day 3 - One of the Lucky Few?
Day 4 - Just a Flesh Wound
Day 5 - Now I'm Trendy, Dammit!
Day 8 - Preventing Ovarian Cancer Program Logistics
Day 9 - On Character
Day 15 - On Missing the Girls
Day 17 - A Genius Kvetching Ring
Day 19 - Back to Work Boobless
Day 42 - And the Saga Continues
Day 60 - On Cancer Doulas



The Mound of Sound said...

Be brave, Marie. It takes a lot of courage to take this decision and see it through. Most can't bring themselves to take their fate into their own hands even if it does mean preserving a future for themselves and those who care for them. The woman who used to cut my hair found herself in a very similar quandary. She rolled the dice. It was a horrible gamble that went wrong.

Good luck. Be brave. There'll be a lot of us thinking of you.


Marie Snyder said...

Thanks Mound! It all went really well, and now I get two weeks off to hang out around the house reading and writing and avoiding any heavy lifting!

Owen Gray said...

There are moments when everything we are and hope to be are tested, Marie. But we come through and discover resources we didn't know we had.

Best wishes. Keep looking on the sunny side.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Owen. It's also been a lesson on how much others will come through for you when needed.