Monday, February 4, 2008

Walking in Space

Now I know why they tell you not to drive for a few days after a breast cancer operation.
The dang seat belt crosses right over the left boob where the action took place. I found out this morning, the fifth day after my operation as I drove to church before the church bells were even ringing. It’s my weekly boost of spirit - giving a brief prayer and gospel service for the homeless during our community breakfast for about 150 (some days), and then reading the gospel in church at the nine o clock. I keep saying, well the bottom half is A-OK so there are no excuses. If the spine holds me up and I can walk, I do anything. It’s only one half of the upper half that is messing up this picture and I keep it under wraps in an easy bra. Actually when I started walking the river three days ago I forgot to put on a more supporting bra and so had to hold my breast against me during the walk. Why not? That’s the only bra that stops the jig.

This is the tough time, now. I call it walking in space. Or Float the Fog. Space boxes out time. Space has no definition. I was in the Ragni-Rado play Hair back in 1970. I had scouted singers for them and brought the first amateur production to Memphis for Keith Kennedy at Memphis State. One of the show songs was a slow motion dance called Walking in Space. Not getting anywhere fast. Lapse time. That time when you’ve jumped off the trapeze and are waiting for your legs to swing. When the three-pointer has been shot before the buzzer and you wait to see if it falls in the basket. A tense space. Here's how the song goes:" My body is walking in space, My soul is in orbit with God face to face."

Since Tuesday, all the friendly support calls and check-ins from the Women’s Center have ceased. I guess I’ve moved over into the hands of the surgeon. I don’t know what I really can do physically - why can’t I be treading the mill at the gym or working on the abs at Pilates - or even, a jaunty rally on the tennis court - if I don’t run for anything, which I’m slow to do anyway. Why not? I feel okay - and I’m eating too much watching all these super things - super bowls, super Tuesday, superstar hopefuls on American Idol.

I’ve got to be honest with you, the surgeon called Friday as I was laughing with my oldest daughter who had driven down from Nashville for a night. The doctor said the lymph node he removed showed no cancer. But, and here is the But that turns things around - he found pre-cancer cells around the tumor he removed. Now what does this mean? I couldn’t get a proper question to type out of my brain. Can’t radiation take care of that? Well, we don’t know. When can I see you - remember I’ve working toward this trip to Everest in April. He was encouraging and I’ll see him tomorrow (Monday) and hopefully the radiologists early this week and someone somewhere is going to say if we are going to go back in and cut the pre-cancer cells out, or if the radiation will cover the shed and get rid of the "beechos." Once again, the waiting game. I know I’m in the hands of the best surgeon in these parts, so I trust his judgement, and am thankful for his vigilance.
Photo: Masks at Bread and Puppet Theater Museum in Glover, Vt.

One of my best friends who went through all this a few years ago without telling anyone has given me some hope and comfort. She said that the same thing happened to her. Her lymph nodes were clean - therefore you have the same life expectancy. They found pre-cancerous cells around her tumor. She said there are three types - Most never turn into cancer, some do sometimes, and 3 per cent always do. Lately I have been doing worse than the NBA Grizzlies on percentages. (Now that is a depressing subject for us Memphis fans.) I was told only 5 per cent out of 150 biopsies are positive. Mine was. So I may not want to play with this 3 per cent, which means, cut it out and then get on with the six weeks of radiation. (Mon thru Fri each week.)

With or without breasts, I just want to get on with my life. I’m working on getting in the one hundred things I want to do before I die. (I’ve already done about 900 of the one thousand things touted in books) I get to get on with it as I deal with the body falling a part. I’ve had to stop hormones, which I kept taking because I felt good on them. But without them, I twitch and hack and blink my eyes because everything dries up and upgrades nerves. And then there’s vision. I finally adapted to gradual glasses rather than having to switch pairs for reading or distance or computer. And there’s tinitus in the ear like a constant hearing horizon, and the hands closing up problem which has a long name and is augmented by arthritic thumbs so I drop a lot of things. See? And neuropathy in the balls of my feet so you feel like you have socks on when you don’t. You wonder if your body is going to keep up with your will. At least I still have my knees, hips, teeth, heart, and more fat than I bargained for which I’m working to turn into muscle. Or at least was. Aging is not a hobby but a hassle. And miracle, expensive wrinkle creams don’t do diddlysquat after you have the wrinkles. Get real.

So I look at my boob in the mirror (careful not to get too close to see my wrinkled face) and it droops like a wounded flamingo and I say "what in the hell are you doing behind the scenes when I have given you good times on all fronts?" I wonder if this is payback because many times when I swing a forehand I hit my boob (the problem is more boob than chin, which I’ve also hit) with the handle of my tennis racket. Many times I’ve committed this atrocity. Is this the boob getting back?
Photo: Kate Campbell in concert at Center for Southern Folklore

Ok. I need to get positive. Don’t get me started on the quality of my kids and grandkids who make me proud every day, every minute. Don’t get me started on our amazing number one-ers the University of Memphis basketball team, don’t get me started on Memphis azaleas and daffodils which will start budding while I’m being nuked, or sitting on the back of a horse or in the footprints of Antarctica penguins, or the experience of a Kate Campbell concert or a Robert Hass poem or being in every kind of museum filled with great art - (the Rothko Chapel in Houston where his black paintings hang floor to ceiling in a octagonal cube being at the top of my list) and don’t get me started on the incredible privileges, friends, loves and one faith I’ve had all my 68 years. I have a million dreams and I’ve been on many mountain tops (considered holy by every religion because mountain tops are closest to God.). And I have always gone with God in my heart and I’ll continue to do that to the end. It’s all about the next adventure. "Walking in space we find the purpose of peace, the beauty of life, you can no longer hide."

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