that morning, i waltzed into my surgeon's office wearing real clothing, jewelry, makeup and a smile. i was determined to make sure everyone took notice of how well i was doing. fighting. surviving. living. five days out of surgery and pridefully i wanted this man to look at me and say, "wow!" must my pride always rear its ugly head? must i always be in pursuit of high marks...good grades...and words of praise? am i really going to turn something like my illness, my recovery and my health into some kind of twisted competition? but that was exactly where i was headed yesterday morning. things changed however. things do.
initially dr. woods did seem a bit surprised, and even pleased, with how well i was doing. how good things looked. how big my smile. but i watched his expression shift as i began to recount for him my self-decided milestones. all of a sudden this renowned doctor's countenance darkened. his eyebrows furrowed. his mouth frowned. and i could visibly see his seriousness as he decided to put me in my place. "jody, let's talk about the risk factors here. jody, let's talk about just what will happen if you don't take it easy. extremely easy. jody, let's talk about why your situation is a bit riskier than the normal recovery."
when he had visited me in the hospital, post surgery, he had kindly reiterated the fact that i would have to be gentle with myself. he breezed over my boundaries and made sure i understood how very little i should do once home. he spelled it out in a lovely, but fuzzy, visit with my husband and me in room 246. but after our opening discussion in his office yesterday he realized he was dealing with someone who might be slightly in need of more direction. he would need to be firmer. louder. clearer. no more mr. nice guy. it wasn't that i was attempting to be flippant, reckless or cavalier in any way. i have a deep and decided respect for the medical profession and their recommendations. but i am walking a tenuous line here. this line which on one side tells me to have a fighting spirit and a positive attitude and a dig-deep mentality and which on the other side uses words such as prudent, easy, careful, cautious. i am telling you, it didn't take breast cancer for me to realize i am sometimes quite challenged with this balance. and the bottom line is i am headstrong and stubborn and hate to be dependent on others for anything. yes, pride. always pride.
so there i sat on this doctor's examining table, feeling greatly exposed and, honestly, a little sheepish. he wasn't messing around and he was doing everything he could to make sure i understood this. i had not only had a bilateral mastectomy five days earlier, but in the same day of surgery i was reconstructed. so my body is literally recovering from two types of major surgery. recovering in two different directions. on one hand we have the trauma of amputation and on the other hand we have the tenderness of rebuilding. there are lots of stitches and sutures and pressure. and it all needs to be perfectly in place and well protected. this is not a time to prove anything to anyone. this is not a time to show my athletic prowess or my positive outlook. this is a time to be careful. now before you think i was doing pull ups or playing a tennis match, i assure you nothing of the sort was taking place. but i was probably skirting the edge a little, as i am known to do. when the scolding ceased, i slunk out of his office outfitted in a cloud of uncomfortable sobriety. my tail absolutely between my legs. and suddenly my jewelry and lipstick felt a bit foolish.
from that appointment we went directly to meet with the genetic counselor. so if my cheery discussion with dr. woods hadn't completely grabbed hold of my attention, the next discussion of my DNA and my genetic mutations certainly sealed the deal. my friend, meritt, and my sister, jess, and i sat across the desk from the counselor and had a great big, lovely conversation about genes and mutations and statistics and probabilities and results. for my biology-brained-science-teaching sister, this was somewhat fascinating. she sat there, on the edge of her seat, taking notes and asking questions and absorbing all of it. i won't say she had a glimmer in her eye and i won't say she was completely in her element...but she was close. if this hadn't been her sister and her own family history we were talking about, i am sure i could have described her as enthusiastic. i listened to the dialogue between jess and our genetic guru and i had to pinch myself a time or two to stay with them. to keep tracking. but it was hard. i kept thinking about lunch and my next dose of pain medication. the horizontal blinds in the office were hurting my eyes and what i really wanted to do was eat some kind of casserole, take a couple percocet and lay down my head - carefully, of course. instead i was asked to swish my mouth with scope three times and leave samples of my DNA (spit) in a plastic vial placed before me. this sample was to be overnighted to salt lake city and tested to see if i carry the gene for BRCA1 or BRCA2. why is this such a big deal? well, if that mutation is indeed positive, this cancer becomes no longer just about me. as a mother of four biological children and as a sister to a few siblings, i am struggling with all of this. i signed some papers and shook some hands and left feeling weighted by the wait for yet another test result. it occurred to me as i exited her office that in two weeks i will have information about my genes, my oncotype, my chemotherapy and my longterm treatment....all at once. all within a few days of each other. and before we even located our SUV in the parking deck my mood grew darker still.
i climbed (ever so carefully) back into the car to head home. my sister drove. my friend fastened my seatbelt, held my purse, positioned a pillow, handed me my phone.... i was capable only of closing my eyes. that was my big achievement for the moment. eyelid lowering. i felt kind of lowered myself. still in need of that casserole, those pain meds and that nap, i wanted to curl up in the front seat and cry. i could feel the wash of self pity begin to slither itself over me. i could hear the voice of The Angry One start stirring up within me. "why you? why this? why now?" his hissing voice loud in my ear, "this is no fair. you deserve better. where is your God, jody? why is He doing this to you?" my body was now in full blown hurt. my defenses dull. i could feel my stitches and my swelling and my disappointment. i could feel the bruising of my tissues and my ego. i was sore all over and i wasn't sure anything was going to touch it. comfort. sooth. at least not today.
self pity. it is there - always hovering over me. i can sometimes reach out and touch the bubble suspended just above my head. i can even poke it. but carefully. it might easily pop and easily pour and easily leave me swimming in its dark. it does that. we've all felt its slithering surface urging us deeper into our wallow. and it is sneaky. always sneaky.
the day went on much the same way. i won't recount for you each moment of hard. but once we decide on hard or stressed or unfair or challenging or difficult....it does not disappoint. it comes. it comes readily. heavily. i came home from those appointments not quite the same woman. and i slunk around my thursday with a little less sass. my family could tell. but that night as i lay in bed. pillows propping arms. tubes protected. bandages tight. i began to pray. and as i prayed i became more and more aware of my mis-steps throughout this day. i became aware of how The Angry One, The Evil One was lurking and looking for his way in. for his foothold. i became aware of how quickly he was ready to pour over me the ointment of self pity. to drown me. just say the word. he needs no encouragement. he is always ready to hiss and slither and seduce and drown. eager to do so.
i think it was at this point that i was certain the battle had truly begun. i had thought it began on the day of diagnosis. and if not that day, then surely, last saturday, on the day of surgery. but no... as i lay there in bed it became clear: this is my true battle. and this hissing serpent my true enemy. satan doesn't want victory over my body. he wants my mind. my soul. my spirit. his main objective isn't my body crushed with cancer. his desire is my spirit crushed with cancer. i can lay here in all my post-surgical trauma and feel the tentacles of pain...but these tentacles are temporary. i know this. but i also know satan wants to use them as a place to put his sharp foot. his claws. to begin his dig. and this is the battle. and it has, indeed, begun.
and so yesterday was hard. but even in this hard Jesus spoke clearly. He pricked my mind and prodded my spirit. He woke me from my fuzzy state of pride and pain and medication and mess and He reminded me in the lateness of night for my need to be ready. to be on guard. to be aware. to be prepared. this battle is not gentle and the stakes are high. body...health...life...yes. but mostly mind...spirit...soul.
"O Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, who shields my head
in the day of battle --- do not grant the wicked their desires, O Lord."
~ psalm 140:7