We recently re-did our bathroom, and naturally, all of the junk that has been accumulating under the cabinet sink, on the storage shelf above the toilet, in the medicine cabinet behind the mirror that snaps closed with two magnets, and in the green, quilted Vera Bradley make up bag hanging on the back of the door got emptied into one big container. Old medicines. Orphaned bandaids. Tiny tubes of half-used travel sized toothpastes. Stray Q-Tips. Hotel shampoos. The expensive moisturizer that I received as a Christmas gift years ago. Random attachments to curling irons, hair dryers, and clippers that no longer exist.
They were all scooped up and put into this chest just to get things out of the way.
As random as those batches of stray items were, there were also ones that held so many memories. Joli’s first glasses — so small I almost mistook them for belonging to one of her dolls — that she wore after the doctors removed her eye. Sterilized eye patches that we purchased just in case her prosthetic ever fell out. A sealed pregnancy test that came in the 2-pack when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. Alcohol swabs used to clean the drainage tubs after my mastectomy. I even found a sample packet of ointment that the nurses sent me home with when I was breastfeeding my youngest child.
The years of items I found also, yes, meant that I hadn’t cleaned out those cabinets. Instead, I tossed things in there in an out of sight, out of mind fashion. It was a place where items went in but never actually made it out again.
That chest was a place time forgot.
There are stretches of time when I forget I am BRCA positive: that I have a genetic disposition to breast and ovarian cancer. Every day, however, I have physical reminders of my mastectomy. The long, pink scars stretched across my chest like the stitchings of a football. The injections I receive into my sides to flatten scarring left after a bad infection. The relative stillness of my implants that are held behind skin with no nerve endings.
After long stretches driving or typing away at my computer, my body reminds me that I have endured more battles than those physical scars can tell. By day’s end, I feel my shoulders round forward as my muscles curl me into a fetal position. I pull back, fighting against the tendency to shrink and be rendered invisible. Even three years later, I refuse to let my body’s battle make me small.
In the hustle and bustle of the day, I have forgotten that in just 2 months from today, I will be once again at the hospital to have another surgery. The removal of my ovaries will stop the hands of my biological clock ticking towards cancer. Every day that I have my ovaries and breasts is another day that cancer tries to rob me of my life, sneaking up on me and waiting for someone to open the lid just a little bit.
In just two months, my 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer will be reduced to less than 1%. Though the surgical procedure will only take 15 minutes — and likely give me relief of not worrying about cancer — my body will believe it is aging, moving 15-20 years prematurely into menopause, forcing me to monitor age related outcomes like osteoporosis, and make my newest accessory a small, paper, fold-up fan (or in Tagalog, a paypay) to alleviate hot flashes.
I have timed my surgery just 1 week after I turn in my qualifying paper for my doctoral program, not wanting to risk any of the “foggy brain” that friends have described. So, I’ll turn my 60-page paper, a precursor to my dissertation, in to my department chair and then begin preparing myself for surgery.
Just three years ago today, November 18, I was heading to the hospital for my bilateral mastectomy — a surgery I had the luxury of preparing for over the course of 11 months. This time around, however, I haven’t given surgery much thought. It’s somewhere in a dark, hidden place kept company by those remnants of orphaned bandaids, expired alcohol swabs, and half-empty bottles of ibuprofen.
Soon, I’ll have to figure out what to keep and what to throw. I’ll place some things back into our new bathroom, behind the new cabinet just above the toilet, and tuck away our belongings back under the sink.
With the remodel, our bathroom is actually a lot lighter. Unlike in our old, dark bathroom, when I open up the cabinets now, every area is illuminated and each item is visible and clear. There is just enough space for just enough place. And the doors swing wide open.
And there is no room to hide.
Peace, love, and beginning new journeys,