Thursday, April 29, 2010


OK - I finally fell in love with my plastic surgeon. It was bound to happen. We just didn’t ‘get’ each other at first. And it certainly didn’t help when they showed me that “Silence of the Lambs” photo album of 'before' and 'after' mastectomy shots. When did things turn? Probably when I walked into his office, had my last drain yanked from my chest and saw that the “scars” were actually discreet lines that were already fading and if you looked down onto the top of the reconstructed breasts actually looked gorgeous. That’s what they do now (and have for some time). They reconstruct immediately so that when you look down after you come to from the anesthesia you see cleavage and nice cleavage at that. He also probably stopped seeing an emotional woman who was beyond despair and hostility at having to go under his knife. i was tired of hearing all of the statistics about how radiation messes up reconstruction - la dee da. I told him I was thinking of going to Barbados. It was a 40th birthday party for a friend. He gave me a high five - even though I could barely lift my right arm after they had taken 7 lymph nodes out and I was still in rehab learning how to relift my arms above my waist. I high fived him anyway. He said, “Go - go to Barbados!” Sounds fun. I said, “Are you sure I won’t get an infection?” He said, “Go have some fun.” I went for another set of photos in the Sears photo studio. This time I stood proudly. Dropped the hospital gown. Chest puffed out. He had filled them with 50 more cc’s and they had two band-aids across the middle and reminded me of the Get Well card that my Aunt Barb had sent that showed two bees saying “Boo” on the front. Inside it said, something about the “boo-bees” and how of course I don’t need them because I already have two new ones. In fact looking down they looked downright voluptuous. I bore my scars with pride - like a Masai warrior. I had been through the rite of passage. I was off pain killers and I thought I was heading to Barbados. Life is Good, as the label on my hat says.

That was the high.

But then reality set in. There were no direct flights and in fact much of the weekend was going to be mayhem and booze cruises - and since I don’t drink all I could picture was getting stuck in my hotel room half-way in or out of some bathing suit or outfit and being trapped because I couldn’t lift my sore arms.

And this has become the pattern of every day since. High. Low. High. Low. Tears. Manic energy. A few more tears. But why? You survived. Exactly. Survivor guilt. I can only compare it to how those lucky sods who stepped off of the Miracle on the Hudson flight captained by the invincible “Sully” Sullenberger felt in the days after their “miracle” occurred. I remember seeing one of the stewardesses who had been at the back of the plane, up to her knees in water. She had helped numerous passengers off the plane until she and Sullenberger emerged among the last. She was interviewed after the fact on '60 Minutes' and it was very clear that she had some form of post-traumatic stress. It was the same look that was in the eyes of the Wounded Warriors whom I met and interviewed. They should be happy to be alive - some were, some were faking it. Cheating death has its own psychology and I think I must be in the throes of it right now. And it didn’t hit me right away. I was numb to the original good news.

I pulled myself up and out the door to the kids’ school auction last Saturday night despite a roller coaster of a week. As I was getting dressed in my new Max Studio fare - and decided to throw off my red wigs and sport my pixie silver hairdo - and threw on a little extra blush - looking a bit and feeling a bit like Grace Jones in the metallic jacket with its collar up and some rock n’roll jewelry. I was grabbing my purse to head out the door with Greg when a little voice (from Annalise) piped in: “Bid on some hair, Mom!” She knew I was a sucker for school auctions. The first year I went around and put my name on the first line of every auction item assuming that would just be the starting bid to get the bidding rolling. Then to my horror the bids closed and I had dozens of bids that no one opted to bid up on: dinners at Thai restaurants, dog groomings, singing and yoga lessons that went unused. Greg was a little dismayed, as you might imagine. So this year, we decided on a limit and I wasn’t feeling very energetic - happy to just show up and smile. We hadn’t sold our raffle tickets. We hadn’t bought our tickets early so they were fifteen dollars more than if I had been organized, which I am not right now.

Then we walked through the doors of the Harman Hall of the Shakespeare Theater - the new glass fronted theater on F Street and it was so glam and glitz and urban and fun that I felt like my old self. And then...I saw at the entrance the canvas photograph of individual portraits of Amelia’s 1st grade class - each one holding up their favorite thing - and suddenly I had to have it. I was “in it to win it.” I wanted to begin bidding but Greg hadn’t told me our number (331) and had disappeared to a safe part of the crowded reception - thinking I would socialize and forget about breaking the bank. No - I had to have it. Amelia’s sweet face with all of her classmates put me over the edge and suddenly I began bidding on all of the teacher offered items - “Principal for the Day” - I had won it for Amelia last year. This year it was Annalise’s turn. A limo ride with Ms. Gartrell with 6 friends to see the Washington monuments. The limo would pick them up from school. Amelia had been obsessed with limos since she first heard the theme song from Hannah Montana: “You get the limo out front...” She had always been so annoyed with my siblings for not getting married so that she could ride in a limo. This I had to have, but another mother was outbidding. I decided a little Mideastern negotiation was needed. I told her I would let her win it and we would split it for our two kids - each could bring 2 friends and it would be half-price! Collusion - price-fixing. Greed is good. Then there was the kayaking trip with Ms. Ramsey. I HAD to have it for Annalise - it was her favorite teacher, afterall. I thought I was in the running then some mother bid the top price - outmaneuvering all of us. That’s when Sarah Morgenthau stepped in and asked Ms. Ramsey to donate a second trip that we would bid top dollar for (for the school, of course) and Sarah and I would split it for our girls. Done. Chi-ching! Suddenly, the auction was closing down so I realized a new strategy - sometimes they closed areas but if there were no bids on the sheet - you could bid low and gather up all sorts of bargains. I did just that for a Waterford crystal candle. A jewelry box from India that I didn’t need. They will go straight to my gift closet. So if they end up wrapped for your birthday, please understand, it was for a good cause. I got home high as a kite. Some woman from the Fashion Chamber of Commerce stopped me and said - I have been eyeing you across the room all night - I LOVE your hair. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was the result of chemotherapy and decided to act like it was a fashion statement.

My eyelashes had grown back in the last 3 weeks and my eyeBROWS had gotten downright bushy so I had had to go to see Erwin Gomez - eyebrow shaper to the stars in our very own Georgetown. Erwin was so sweet and dear and had a gentle manner - his winning elfish smile made me burst into tears when he signaled for me to follow him back into his studio after the lady at the front desk of his chic Georgetown salon had brought me a green tea. I started to explain how my eyebrows had just returned after chemo and he hugged me and we both cried. I dabbed my tears, as he applied the wax. He told me about his own initiatives to help raise money for breast cancer because he said: “Without my ladies, I’m nothing.” I told him to call on me to help and he - sensing how fragile I was - said ‘take care of yourself first.” I hugged him and left. I was still crying.

My dear friend Anamarija had flown all the way from Singapore to help me for the past 3 weeks. She left her own sons and family to be here with me and to bring me tea and what can I say. What friends I have! I accepted only because I knew she would insist and secretly I really needed her. She moved in like a whirling dervish, full of Croatian energy and can do, don’t take no for an answer. She started cleaning out my closets. Took my drycleaning to the organic cleaners. She drove me to my doctor’s appointments. Andrea Wilson - whose house she is staying at - now answers the phone: “Ronald McDonald House.” Yes, the Wilsons have set up their very own Fisher House. And I am one wounded warrior. All of my strength seems to have vanished all of a sudden and I cry at the whiff of the overwhelming sense that I am ok - but yet I don’t yet feel ok and I am about to have my chest singed with radiation.

Anamarija makes me do my PT exercises - so that I can lift my arms again. She gets mad when I giggle. She is a stickler for form and reminds me of myself trying to teach Ginny Taylor to ski at Seven Springs when we were in 8th grade. I got so frustrated with her lack of improvement that I took her poles away and taught her with a bit of tough love. Anamarija and Andrea took me to Lulu Lemon to get some new exercise pants - the kind that make your butt look awesome. I finally learned the secret of all of those ladies who lunch and do Pilates from Joshua, my pilates coach. He said, “unless you have Lulu Lemon yoga pants, your butt just isn’t going to look like J Lo’s or Beyonce.” Andrea found me some wraparound tops since I can’t raise my arms. An elegant silver/gray wraparound sweater. She wanted to see my breasts - scars and all. At that point I was pretty proud of them and having lost all sense of decorum, consider showing them to anyone who might feign an interest. Andrea slipped into the Lulu Lemon changing room and I unwrapped the sweater and she burst into tears and said, “They are beautiful!” We hugged. I cried. I don’t know if she just felt sorry for me. But I still felt they were beautiful. I still felt like everytime I breathed I was lifting a concrete block off of my chest. I was off the pain killers and all of the nerve endings that had been cut were reconnecting and the pain was getting worse not better two weeks out.

My mom had taken my dog Izzy for the first two weeks as well - to her house - to lessen some of the craziness and chaos at our house. Luke kept walking around asking with inflection: “Dogu?” As in, has anyone seen my Dogu? When Anamarija arrived he would ask her, “Dogu??” as if she were Cruella de Ville. Finally, Izzy returned and the chaos of our house returned. Luke gets frustrated that I can’t lift him and bangs his head on the floor sometimes. Greg went back to work and sleeps during the day and I know Annalise is on my computer when I am not looking because Skype was newly loaded and the password had been changed to dolphinlover123. Amelia, my most sensitive soulmate through this journey, offers to bring me water in the morning and last night left a little “I love you” pillow on my bed. It’s a game Annalise and I used to play. We would place the pillow back and forth on each other’s beds when the other least expected it. It’s a felt handmade pillow one of the girls made in pre-school. Now I am going to pick myself back up, get in the shower, warm up my muscles and try to lift my arms above my head.