Uplift

I received a wonderful book from a total stranger after my mastectomy called Uplift by Barbara Delinsky. Wow, how many different ideas can one girl cram into a single sentence? There’s 7 right there.

The book is a compilation of survivor stories from members of the pink ribbon club around the country. Delinksy, a BC survivor herself, wrote the book she wished she’d had while dealing with her mom’s death from BC and her own BC battle.

Her mom was diagnosed with BC in the late 1940s, when a diagnosis was the same as a death sentence. Barbara was 6 years old when her mom was diagnosed, and 8 when her mom died of this wretched disease. I was 36 when my mom died, and it was by far the worst thing that’s ever happened, the hardest thing I’ve ever endured. Fighting cancer is a piece of cake compared to missing my mom. That said, I can’t even imagine how devastating that loss would be to a young child. While I miss my mom every day and get royally ticked at the fact that she and my kids are both missing out on each other’s company, I’m grateful to have had her for 36 years instead of just 8.

The BC battle has changed significantly since Delinksy’s mother was diagnosed and perished. She says that although she was 8 when her mom died, she was in her teens before she learned that her mom had breast cancer, and it was years before her dad could say cancer, and even longer before he could say breast.

One of the women featured in Uplift, Elinor Farber, lost her mom to BC, too, and said when her mom was diagnosed 45 years ago, there were no mammograms, and mastectomies were just short of a butchering. Farber reports that her mom lived more than 30 years after her surgery, but never once spoke of her condition. “Mom endured everything without the support of friends and neighbors, who were not told. My sister and I were both told of my mom’s condition in hushed tones, and we were sworn to secrecy.”

We’ve come a long way.

I for one know with absolute certainty that this “cancer journey” would be hell without the support of friends & neighbors. I said it all summer and I’ll say it again: It truly does take a village, and I’ve got the best village around.

The 5th anniversary edition of Uplift, which is the one I received, features a foreward by Delinsky and some follow-up information on some of the survivors whose stories were featured in previous editions of the book.

Uplift is said to contain all the helpful advice that only the women who have already been there can give, and it’s true. The book is divided into chapters according to category, like radiation, so it’s easy to pick & choose, read a little on exactly what you’re looking for and skip what doesn’t apply to you. I especially liked that last part. I’m always in a hurry and have a lot to do every day, so I don’t want to waste time flipping through a book to find the information I’m looking for. I didn’t need to read the chapter on dealing with cancer and the workplace, for instance. My workplace is in my home, and there was no “boss” to tell the terrible news when I was diagnosed, because that boss is me. There were no co-workers to talk to and sucker into taking over my job while I was out on medical leave because, well, I run a one-woman shop here. No co-workers. And no suckering either because I have the kinds of friends who just show up to take over my “job.” These kick-ass friends stepped in and vacuumed my house, walked my dogs, brought food (delicious food), hauled my kids to school & activities, folded my laundry, dropped off & picked up prescriptions, and drove me to & from the doctor’s office. Sometimes margaritas and champagne were involved, but that was purely medicinal, of course.

Uplift shows the world how real women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer have faced their fears, survived their illness, and bravely gotten on with life and love, career and family. And because she’s filthy rich from all her best-sellers, she’s able to donate all of the proceeds of this wonderful book to BC research. So if you know a woman who’s been diagnosed, go buy her this book. If she already has it, buy it anyway for her to give to her doctor, to put in the waiting room.

I received my copy in the mail from one of Trevor’s dad’s colleagues, a woman I’ve never met but who was kind enough to think of me and pass along this super-useful book. I’ve since bought it for my friend who’s going through the “cancer journey” and passed the link on to a new friend, Paul, whose wife has just been diagnosed.

Paul writes a blog about Bonnie’s “cancer journey” and has mentioned Uplift in his blog a couple of times. He recently posted this about Delinsky. Seems he emailed her to tell her how much he and Bonnie are enjoying the book, and he was tickled when she emailed him back with a very nice note. Go read his blog; it’s good. Plenty of BC blogs written by the women in the trenches (me! me!), but I haven’t seen any written by the men who walk that “journey” alongside these women. I love that Paul writes so openly and eloquently about Bonnie’s “journey” while still seeming so calm and steady. No rants from his blog; ya gotta come back here for that. He pens some original poetry (short and topical), and writes often about wine. Two of my favorite subjects, poetry and wine.

Delinsky  must be pretty busy with her correspondence, because she responded to me, too. In the back of the book, she asks for survivor stories, and once I was able to haul my carcass to the computer after all the mess I was involved in this summer, I emailed her a few tidbits from my “cancer journey.” Then I promptly forgot all about it.

Imagine my surprise when I got this in the mail shortly after submitting my little stories:

A signed letter from Barbara Delinsky herself. Wow!

How cool is that?

I don’t remember exactly what I wrote to her, since I was probably in a vicodin-induced fog at that point, so I scrounged around on the ol’ hard drive to see if I could find the original document. I found it, but rather than bore y’all with it right now, I’m going to save it for the next edition of Uplift. When my name and story appears in print, I’ll let ya know.

Ok, that’s kind of mean, and I for one hate surprises and having to wait to get to the good stuff, so I’ll give you a sneak peek. Some of you may remember this story from my Caring Bridge page. I guarantee it will make you laugh. If it doesn’t, there is something seriously wrong with you.

For the “What was…what did…what is…?” category for which Delinsky solicited stories, I offered this:

The funniest thing that happened to me during all this was a conversation with my 8-year-old daughter, Macy, 2 weeks after my bilateral mastectomy. We were walking to my son’s baseball game and, while she knew I’d had surgery for breast cancer, I don’t think she ever connected breast cancer and mastectomy with losing my breasts. As we were walking she asked if something happened to my chi-chi’s. I said, “Yes, they cut them off. That’s what the surgery was for.” She said, “Well, are they going to fix them? Because they’re not looking so good!” I laughed about that for a week.

That was at the end of May, and I’m still laughing about it.



Healer

The body is a miracle, the way it heals. A factory of survival and self-repair.  As soon as flesh is cut, cells spontaneously begin to divide and knit themselves into a protective scar. A million new organic bonds bridge the broken space, with no judgment passed on the method of injury.

Wow. That’s pretty prose.  I wish I had written it.

I’d love to claim it as my own, but that would be wrong, and Lord knows I need the great karma wheel to turn my way. I can’t afford to tempt the gods of fate, as they seem to like toying with me.

Carol Cassella wrote that prose. If you’re a fiction fan and don’t know her work, I encourage you to get her books sooner rather than later. Whether you run to the bookstore or download onto your e-reader, get on it. You won’t be sorry. She’s an anesthesiologist-turned-author whose first book, Oxygen, is one of my all-time favorites. Her second book, Healer, wasn’t quite as good but I gobbled it up in hopes that it would be.  I liked her right off the bat, because she’s a Texas native and a Duke graduate. A girl after my own heart. She’s also the mother of two sets of twins (!) and how she got anything done, much less wrote 2 bestsellers, is a mystery to me.

I read Healer this summer, while I was trying to heal. I was struck by the passage above, and loved how dramatically it introduces the book. From the very first sentence, I was hooked. While I certainly didn’t set out to turn this blog into a space for book reviews, sometimes things happen that way, and I’m an equal-opportunity blogger, so there we are.

As a physician, Cassella understands the intricacies and magic of the human body. As an author, she’s able to capture that and express it so that someone like me, an impatient patient, can read it and say, yeah, that’s right–the body is a miracle!

I needed that reminder. I was so focused on wanting my healing to occur faster, I didn’t realize that the fact that it was happening at all was amazing.

Equally amazing is the education this experience (e.g., the “cancer journey”) has provided. I’ve learned a bunch of lessons I never wanted to learn, such as how utterly unfair life can be. I’ve acquired skills I never thought I could and hope to never have to use again. Anything involving packing a wound or administering IV drugs at home falls into that category.

I’ve certainly learned a new vocabulary. Not just the new definition of “normal,” either. Things like nosocomial (originating in a hospital, as in a nosocomial infection). Like debridement (removal of foreign material or dead tissue from a wound in order to promote healing). Like aromatase inhibitors (drugs like Tamoxifen that lower estrogen levels in the body by blocking aromatase, an enzyme that converts other hormones into estrogen). Like oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries).

I’ve learned how to get a good night’s sleep in a noisy hospital. I’ve learned the difference between DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) and invasive breast cancer, and that they’re both plenty scary.  I’ve learned that an injection can leave a bruise for close to 3 months. I’ve learned that the practice of medicine is both a science and an art. And I’ve completely forgotten what it feels like to wear a bra.


The power of a great book

I’m completely entranced by my latest book club book, a super fun story that has me itching to find out what happens next. Not in a suspenseful, dramatic sort of way, but more in the way of great character development that makes the characters seem like real people.

I thought I might get some reading time in while sitting with my aunt at the hospital today, but we chattered and blabbed the whole time instead. After running my errands and doing a few chores, I had about 20 minutes before Macy came home from school, so I raced to the car to fetch my Kindle and get to reading.

I was engrossed enough that when Macy barreled through the door it startled me a little. She wanted to run to the mailbox to see if her latest order from amazon.com had arrived. She too has been bitten by the reading bug and has devoured a new series of books. Her eager anticipation paid off and she was rewarded by the sight of a cardboard box in the mailbox.

Before long Payton was home, too, and barely got his backpack off his shoulder before announcing he was going straight to his room to stretch out on his bed and read. He started a new series just after Christmas, and I am thrilled that it’s something other than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Nothing against the Wimpy Kid or author Jeff Kinney — I think he has a cute product — but I like to see Payton reading something a bit more substantial. 

Both of my kids are sucked into great books, and I couldn’t be happier. My mom, the former English teacher, would be equally tickled to see her progeny so captivated by literature.

My house is so quiet it’s a little unnerving — no thumping feet up and down the stairs, no phone ringing, no door slamming, no Nickelodeon laughtrack or video game sound effects. It’s pretty great.