Her seeing eye started to water.
“I don’t get it, Mom. What do you mean you chose to have your surgery?”
I have to remind myself, at times, that her seeing eye is the entrance to her soul. First, her eyelid starts to twitch. Then, a glassy sheen comes across her pupil. And, shortly after, a hint of water. She holds back the tears with all of her might.
Her special eye tells me nothing. There is no response, no tell-tale lid fluttering. The glassy sheen, fresh from a good scrubbing with Johnson’s No Tears shampoo and a washcloth, is always there.
“That’s right, Joli. The doctor called and said Mama didn’t have cancer. Isn’t that great?”
I’m careful how I word my sentences when we talk about the good-and-bad of Cancer.
“So, I don’t get it, Mom. You didn’t have cancer but you had surgery to take off your breasts? You chose to do that?” Her final words stretched out like molasses on a warm day.
We’ve talked about this so many times. She has heard me tell the story repeatedly at the college cancer classes at which we co-present. She has heard about the reduction of risk, the genetic test that confirmed my BRCA status, and has been on this Marathon B4 Mastectomy ride for almost a year. She knows that my sister, Mary, had cancer. She knows my sister Grace — her Tita Grace — did not have cancer but had her breasts removed. When explaining my upcoming surgery to her, the phrase “you know, just like Tita Grace” followed nearly every sentence.
“You seem upset, Joli. Would you like to say more about how you’re feeling?” My voice quivered.
I slowly reached my arms towards her, moving them past the point of my mastectomy comfort. With sutured chest muscles and 16 inches of stitches across my chest, I feel every fiber of my muscles burn as I walk my finger tips into the palms of her hands, catching a glimpse of the paper cut on her pinky and the remnants of chipped nail polish from a manicure at Halloween.
I know where she’s going with this already.
“Yes, Joli. Mama had a choice. I had a choice whether I wanted to get cancer or to remove my breasts. If I got cancer, I’d have to go through chemo and fight for my life. If I removed my breasts, I’d only be weak for a little while and but won’t get cancer in my boobies. It was a good choice, Joli. I’m glad I did it.”
Here it comes. There was no way around this one.
I saw sadness turn to anger in her seeing eye. I held on, wanting to switch my focus to her special eye — the eye that wouldn’t show me her pain, her heartache and her soul.
“That’s not fair,” she started. “I didn’t get to choose.”
I could feel it, too. I felt my eyelid twitch, the glassy sheen come across both of my eyes, and the tears well up. We are more similar than we admit.
“You’re right, Joli. I’m so sorry. You didn’t get to choose whether or not to remove your eye.”
She looked away. She was getting mad.
“It was the best choice, Joli. But, this surgery — this mastectomy — this wasn’t the first time I had to choose something, Joli. It wasn’t the first time I got to make the best choice about cancer.”
She paved the way. Because of Joli, the choice was easy.
On November 18, 2010, I lost my breasts.
On August 18, 2005, I saved my child.
Peace, love, and perspective,