I’ve long made my peace with Sundays. Working as I do at home, when I’m not teaching, every day can turn into a work day. But in the last few years, Sundays have become a litany of pleasures, from my favorite radio program–Selected Shorts on NPR–at seven in the morning, followed by NPR’s Sunday Morning edition, followed by CBS Sunday Morning which lasts until 10:30, after which I might go get the New York Times with my friend Tom.
That old moodstone Luck can go from light to dark and back several times in a day. Being the one out of the seven women out in the real world to get invasive breast cancer isn’t a lucky lottery to win–but when I’m in the health care system, I feel positively fortunate. Many of the women I encounter are dealing with worse odds than mine. After four surgeries on the same breast, lord have mercy, it’s still there. How amazing is that? Scars transform it from just another copy into art.
Yesterday morning I was persuaded by the nurse, who measured both my arms and found them to be exactly the same, that I did not have lymphedema. This was followed by a long visit with the doctor who convinced me that my risk of getting lymphedema is something like three or four percent. So not only was I convinced on both counts–that I didn’t have it and that I likely wouldn’t get it–I was also impressed with my thoughtful, cutting-edge (so to speak), and careful treatment. So I agreed to get zapped after all. Today was Day 7 out of 33.
I was told that there’s only a one chance in ten that I’d get lymphedema, but here again, I’m not doing so well with the odds. I wonder what the odds are that I’d get invasive breast cancer (one in seven) AND suffer lymphedema (one in ten after surgery plus radiation)?
OTPION A: Having found a lump in my breast, I ignore it and pretend I’m okay. OPTION B: Having found a lump in my breast, I check it out, consult the appropriate health professionals, research my treatment options, and decide to refuse treatment. OPTION C: I go with Option B, except that I accept treatment. OPTION D: I kill myself.
I may not be getting endowed with special powers, but my jokes might be. Last week, I told my two young, patient techs that I’d just experienced a "wardrobe malfunction" in the hall. They knew exactly what I meant. The worn, faded, often tie-less gowns provided for us breast cancer patients were designed to tie in the back, but we are instructed to tie them in front and our breasts keep flopping out of them, sometimes in public places.
The wrasse family, which frequents coral reefs, including those off Florida, should be a main contender for the fish fashion award. The entire bunch boasts a smashingly varied wrasse wardrobe–even the parrotfish family, style stars as well, can’t quite compete. If I were designing for the Paris runways, I’d start with a Wrasse Collection.
Then, my right breast began to ache. It hurt inside, hurt to press my arm against it, not terribly painful but disturbing. I began painting, a distraction. I’ve decided to paint fish portraits because it’s kind of mindless and absorbing at the same time. There are so many fabulous fish that I will never run out of them, never have to think up a new idea for the day, and I’m at least doing something.
I had a hard time getting the colors in this portrait right. I did it in acrylic on a 15- x 22-inch sheet of gessoed 140-lb. watercolor paper. I’m not painting on that flimsy stuff any more. Watery paint kept gathering in the valleys of buckling paper. I’m beginning to prefer acid-free illustration board or 300-lb paper that will take almost anything. Canvas is good, too, but then I’m stuck with the format–I can’t crop out anything if the composition doesn’t work. And sometimes it’s fun to run some pastel over things, which I doubt would hold well on canvas.
I seem to be full of dread at the idea of being invisibly but effectively pinioned prone on a table by huge machines. I’ve been x-rayed more times in the last week than probably in my whole life. (And I was worried about dental x-rays?) But here’s the thing: I’m probably better off than anyone else I see coming and going at radiation oncology, although I probably ask more questions. I think all my doctors consider me a difficult patient.