It’s not the paper cut I get tearing open the letter even before my front door clicks closed.
It’s not the deep breath I take before unfolding the carefully creased tri-fold letter on rough white paper.
After all, I know what it’s going to say:
“Dear Ms. Talusan, I am pleased to inform you that your latest CA125 results are within the normal range. Please call our offices to set up your next appointment for six months. Thank you, Mass General Cancer Center.”
For the past five years, the tests to determine whether or not I am developing ovarian cancer — a silent, often deadly sentence — have all come back normal. Though I carry a 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer, I don’t tend to worry about this barrel of my genetic revolver.
What I fear the most, after carefully folding the letter back into the shredded envelope, is the moment that I rip the rough, white paper up into tiny shreds and throw it away. I wonder, by irreverently tearing up this good news and throwing it into my Costco metal wastebasket that I bought on clearance, or seeing the letter — that holds the news so many women wish they were receiving — co-mingle with this morning’s coffee grinds or the remains of a breakfast not eaten, if I am taking this all a bit too casually.
Having my mastectomy was the best thing I could have ever done in my life. I no longer walk around with the overwhelming fear of developing breast cancer. I have come to peace with my new breasts, am regaining lots of strength and flexibility, and am starting to embrace the “new normal.” Though, in a rush to feel normal, the decision to hoist myself by my arms and whirl around on a pole at my friend Julie’s bachelorette party was definitely not the best post-mastectomy move …. Note to self: leave the dancing to the professionals.
Call it superstition, call it a sixth sense, call it paranoia. I’m beginning to think the casual nature of the ovarian cancer part of my journey is beckoning me to start making some serious choices. No clever website, no ambitious marathons, no catchy phrases or cute iron-on logo t-shirts. Now freed from the worry of breast cancer, I’m starting to feel the anxiety of every little pain and every little tenderness in my lower half. Sexy, ain’t it?
Inspired by the Marathon B4 Mastectomy journey, one of my students, Cortney, decided to train for a 1/2 marathon. I’ve seen Cortney running during the worst winter we’ve had in a long time. I’ve driven by Cortney as she dodged 8-foot snow banks, barely missed cars backing out of blind driveways, planned each foot strike on slippery roads, and tried to maintain body heat in below freezing temperatures. I’ve seen Cortney, hours after her morning run, feeling both tired and inspired. Yet, just 1 week before her half marathon, I received an email from Cortney saying she wanted to quit. She wasn’t ready. She was terrified, frustrated, and thinks she’ll never finish in one piece.
Funny thing is, removing my breasts — actually coming out of the surgical marathon in less than one piece — has made me feel whole. There were so many times, both on the lonesome road and months leading up to surgery, that I wanted to quit. I was frustrated. Scared. Unsure if what I was about to do would result in anything positive. And, then I did it. I ran it. I removed it. And, it was done. And I was better for it.
Cortney will be just fine next week in her first half marathon. Though Marathon B4 Mastectomy inspired Cortney to enter the race, it’s her same struggle that reminds me to show up at the starting line. It’s not the shredded envelope, nor the tri-folded white paper, nor the test results that my CA125 is in normal range that keep me from accepting that I still have a race to run.
It’s the fear of not showing up.
Peace, love, and moving past the fear,