Cancer road tripping: I might have to stop climbing trees

04/05/2018

Turns out, Saturdays are big for me. Two Saturdays back, I got my first chemo. This Saturday, I buzzed my hair. How does that feel? I don’t know. I’m confused about it. I keep telling myself, why should so much of my identity be linked with how I look, or the length of my hair. But it feels strange. Every time I look in the mirror, it takes me a second to recognise myself. In the last month and a half, I have gone from long hair to no hair. And that’s disorienting, more than anything else. I’m struggling to accept how I look.
But the one thing I’m clear about is, I will not wear wigs. Or scarves. Unless my scalp starts to cook in the sun! Also, A has got me some really cool caps. One makes me look like a rapper, and I can’t wait to wear it to my next chemo. The other is like a tea cosy for my head, and great for keeping your scalp from freezing in the AC. Till my new looks grows on me, I will think of myself as a actor, who’s got a really cool role for which she has to shave her head. And hopefully, soon enough I’ll find the best clothes, and the lipsticks that go with this buzz cut.
So now that you have an update on what’s happening with me, I’m going to backtrack to where I left off in my last column. I got my MRI done. And then waited for the results and my next appointment. Waiting, in this case, is a bit like a prison furlough. You know it isn’t going to last, and there’s a sword hanging on your head. Anyway, I used the time to cycle and go out as much as I could. While of course breaking the news to everyone. And, thinking about my options, when it came to the surgery.
I had decided I wouldn’t hide my cancer. It wasn’t exactly like the first trimester of a pregnancy! I would talk about it, I would write about it, I would tweet about it. In fact the more I did, the more I started to accept it in my head. Of course, talking about it, also meant in the first couple of weeks, my job was counselling and pacifying most people, whom I broke the news to. So my conversations would usually go like this. “Hello, I have something to tell you. Please don’t freak out, I’m absolutely okay. The thing is, I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Reactions would vary. From “Oh my god, how could this happen to you.” to “But you are such a fitness freak!” Or even “I am freaking out hearing this. This is terrible.” The first thing you realise from these reactions is, who are the people you will not be taking with you when you have your surgery or chemo. The second thing is, you feel like laughing. Because with breast cancer, if it is not in a later stage, there really is no outward symptom. No fever, no weakness, no nothing.
And you feel like turning around and telling most people, “Hello, I have cancer, and I am pretty calm. So I’m really not sure why YOU are freaking out.” The other thing you want to tell most people is, you choose fitness because you love it. You love saying hello to your ankles and your feet when you do yoga. You love how dancing gets all your happy hormones buzzing. You love the freedom of exploring your city on a cycle. And it’s not like a punishment you endured so you never fall ill.
Finally, that question, why you. There is no answer to that. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. In fact, at that time, I didn’t even know that I had a hormone related breast cancer. But what I did know was, this is a question I will not ask myself. It is not my fault that I got cancer, neither my body’s fault.
There is a medical reason this happened, and that reason will be addressed and fixed. In fact, two weeks later, just before my surgery, I was sitting at Mount Mary Church. I’m not particularly religious, but I love this place. You can feel the breeze, and the quiet and the sun on your back if you sit right at the end of the church. And a thought popped in my head. This cancer has come to teach me some stuff. All I have do is listen and understand. And it’ll go away in peace. I think from day one I felt that. This cancer was a friend. It was there to show me things, to make me trust my body. To make me speak to myself. Which is why that question of why me, never occurred to me.
The only question I kept tucked away at the back of my head was reconstruction. The first time the Onco Surgeon told me it was cancer, and there would be surgery, she mentioned, that in case of a full mastectomy, I could choose reconstruction. My first reaction was no. I was confident and didn’t have body issue problems (ha! look at me moping over losing my hair now!), and would deal with not having a breast. But in the weeks leading up to my surgery, I changed my mind. As I asked my current surgeon about it, I figured it is easiest to do the reconstruction along with the mastectomy. Which means one long very long surgery, but that’s okay. It’s not like I’m going to be awake through it.
But more importantly, I realised I would have a lot to deal with. The surgery, the recovery, the chemo. And not having one breast, it could hit me hard then. Also, the way they explained the reconstruction seemed simple. They could cut my breast and remove all the tissue etc from inside. Just leaving the skin flap. The plastic surgeon would then take tissue from my back, and use it to fill the flap, and shape the breast and then stitch it together. So it would still be my tissue, my skin, my breast.
I asked the surgeon if losing the tissue from my back would stop me from doing anything. He said climbing trees. So that was decided then!
I was quitting climbing trees and getting myself a new breast.

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