Back in the late 1990s, I completed my Masters degree from New York University. After two full years of work-’til-you-drop internships and coursework, I walked into the center of Washington Square Park and sat with my cohort, all of us wearing long black gowns and distinguished purple hoods (cloth that rests over the shoulders). After the ceremony was over, my friend Marcella Runell and I began the 10 minute walk back to her apartment through the crowds of graduates, family, and Greenwich Village residents out enjoying the beautiful May weather. Halfway into the walk, in the middle of a crowded, hot, and busy New York City street, the heel on my dress shoe broke, leaving me with a 3-inch uneven gait. Still totally high off of the graduation endorphins, I began laughing, slightly embarrassed that I still needed to walk 6 more blocks with one shoe. Yet, without skipping a beat, Marcella bent down, took off one of her shoes, and continued to walk next to me.
“Missy, what the hell are you doing?” I yelled confused. After all, it’s not a common sight (or desire) to want to walk on New York City pavement barefoot.
“This way,” said Missy, “People will think we chose to take off one shoe on purpose. Like this is just the way it’s supposed to be.”
We continued to walk the next 6 blocks, holding a shoe in one hand and linking arms with the other. Sure, we looked a little odd, but we were in it together.
On the drive down to attend my new nephew’s baptism today, I became overwhelmed with tears. At first, I was doing the finger-in-the-corners-of-the-eye thing where you try to be super discrete about crying, delicately dabbing my eyes with the corner of my sleeve. But, soon enough, palm to face, I became occupied with keeping up with the tears, wiping away the makeup that took me so long to put on this morning. My husband, in the passenger seat, was busy working on his latest script and the kids had already fallen asleep from the lullaby of the car.
“Just so you know,” I turned to address my husband, “I can’t control these tears right now.”
Including that moment, I have only cried in front of my husband twice, regarding the surgery.
“Woah, what’s going on, Liza?” he said, surprised to have transitioned from writing about zombies to dealing with an overly emotional wife.
“I don’t know. I just can’t stop.”
I realized, this cry, This Cry, was something I just couldn’t hide.
Now that we (I mean, the collective WE) are getting closer to this surgery date, I have to admit that I’m afraid. Before, I’d been scared — nervous about what is to come but facing it all fearlessly and bravely. Lately, I’m just afraid. I’m afraid of what I’ll feel like as they wheel me into the operating room, what I’ll feel like when I wake up, and what I’ll feel like that first time I look at all the drains and stitches. And then, what it will look like having matching red scars across my chest. I know that life post-mastectomy is a relief, an emotional and mental relief from the fear of cancer. My post-mastectomy guides have all assured me of this. I keep thinking it’s like the experience of pregnancy — the months of expectant wait, the excitement, the “no turning back now” feeling. And, yet, weeks before the due date, there is worry about the pain, the logistics, the actual delivery — knowing that on the other side of the delivery is a beautiful new life and a beautiful new beginning.
After four long years of waiting, worrying, wondering, and watching, I can start a new life and a beautiful new beginning of a reduced risk of cancer. I wish there was a different way to do all this. I wish I didn’t have to undergo surgery, didn’t have to remove pieces of me to stay one step ahead of cancer, and didn’t have to be so different. Though my professional career has been about embracing the differences in all of us, this is one area where I wish I was just the same, just like everyone else.
For years, our family has been sleeping with pillows that are about as flat as paper. You know those pillows — probably ones you got rid of years ago! The advice from my post-mastectomy Sistahs, though, is that I need to get some big, soft, fluffy pillows to prop my back, arms and shoulders up. So, yes, family and distinguished overnight guests, after years of complaining that all we have are 10-year old flat pillows, I am finally buying some new pillows this week. (I can actually hear the cheering now!). Though, you just won’t be able to use them for a few weeks! 🙂
As the running girl countdown nears single digits, I’ve been really feeling so supported by all my friends, family, readers, mastectomy Sistahs, students, coworkers, and community. It’s hard to believe that so many of you have been with me on this MB4M journey since Day 1 — many of you have been on this cancer journey with my family for the past 5 years. Your support during this time has truly helped our family to breathe easier. And, though, eventually, I have to take that long walk — that final stretch — alone, I know that I have the best support from all of you. I’ve appreciated your cards, notes, prayers, and messages. I’ve appreciated all of the extra work friends have done to make sure that I don’t have to worry during recovery. And, I appreciate all the kindness people have shown to my family, especially towards my husband and kids, during this time.
I’ve especially benefited from all of the encouragement you’ve given me each day and the ways you feel this MB4M Journey has inspired your own lives — whether it was new running, life changing events, a new commitment to health, new outlook on life, a deeper appreciation for all that we have and a desire to seek further ways that we can give.
This journey hasn’t always been easy, and I know there will be more bumps to come.
To all of you, thank you for walking on this road with me — for taking off that shoe when I’ve felt particularly vulnerable, for walking with me arm-in-arm, and for helping me feel that this, this feeling of love, is exactly the way it’s supposed to be.
Peace, love, and in it together,