In the plastic surgeon’s office, something like a barber’s chair sat squared against a full-length mirror in an otherwise empty room. White. Sci-fi white. After motioning for me to stand, the surgeon attempted to gather a few inches of flesh at my stomach as a nurse stood behind him, looking unimpressed with a pen to a clipboard.
“You’re just so … bloody thin,” he said as he squinted in inspection.
Believe me, I know how annoying this sounds. When I logged onto Twitter later that day and asked if anyone had any ideas for “high calorie, nutrient-dense shakes for healthy weight gain,” six people immediately unfollowed me. Just keep in mind I’d spent sixteen weeks on chemo and turned vegan somewhere along the way.
Modern mastectomy with reconstruction is a very sci-fi thing in itself. All breast tissue is removed and then replaced with stomach tissue, and two surgeons work to “reconnect” all the little veins like splicing your cable TV to a rogue TV set. Voila! If you have stomach tissue to work with, that is.
One of my surgery concerns is that I’ll wake up and the surgeon will say, “Sorry! You only had enough fat for one boob!” This is in addition to my fear of waking up in a vacated hospital in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
So I made my own granola.
And bought some full-fat coconut milk as per Seth Pollins’ suggestion. Seth is a TNB contributor and recipe developer for Whole Foods, and he also wisely suggested avocados and organic nuts.
When Plan A wasn’t quite working, though, I moved from consuming good fats and loaded calories for every meal to consuming good fats and loaded calories every second of the day. With donuts and shakes thrown in for good measure. Mostly, the overachiever in me wants to prove I can do it. I want the surgeon to look down at my glorious, generous paunch on the day of the surgery and declare, “By golly, I didn’t think it could be done, but nobody tells this woman she can only have one boob!”
It’s like training for a marathon in reverse. And it feels pretty awful, actually. You know that feeling you got at your sixth birthday party when you ate an entire Swensen’s Hurricane all by yourself and vomited mint chocolate chip for three days straight and found Jesus? That’s how I feel right now. Like I’m gestating a chest-burster alien made out of pie dough.
As we sat watching The Walking Dead on Sunday, Joe reached over to poke my stomach and check progress.
“Stop fondling my boobs,” I said.
The weird thing is I haven’t sobbed about the prospect of having a mastectomy and reconstruction. I haven’t sobbed about the cancer recurrence. Plenty of other people have. Friends, family, students, colleagues. And I just look at them, thinking, Why are you crying? Don’t cry! I’m a magic badass unicorn. It’s going to be okay.
But yesterday as I sat in my office in my ongoing food coma reading the plastic surgeon’s booklet, I cracked just a little. The booklet suggested getting one’s hair cut right before surgery because the recovery period is so long. So I called my salon to schedule.
“Ohhhhhh,” she said. “I’m showing that you haven’t had your hair cut here in over a year.”
“Yeah. That’s probably right,” I said. Because, you know, I had no hair from about December to June.
“You’ll have to come in for a consultation first. Then we can make you an appointment.”
I was thinking I only had two weeks before surgery, and those two weeks were full of doctor visits and preop tests and course preparations to make before I left. I barely had time for one salon appointment. And I thought of saying as much, “I’m trying to fit this in before surgery,” but it wouldn’t come out of my mouth. At first, I wasn’t sure why. Instead, I said, “Well, I’ve talked about it with her before, and she knows what to do.”
“No. No. See, we don’t know how much new growth you have.”
It’s all new growth! I wanted to blurt out. And this was the point I started to cry in my office at work. Right there at work. Then I knew why. It was the realization that I’d had roughly four blissful months of being cancer-free, of being a healthy, normal person who exercised and ate well and went to movies and met Andrea in Austin for the day and played Cards Against Humanity with good friends late into the night and worked on a screenwriting team and swam with my girls and carried my attaché up the Rocky steps to my office building and grew a Mia Farrow pixie and didn’t have to ask for special accommodations or explain my history. It was the realization that four months hadn’t been long enough.
Remember how I told you I’d been reduced to two emotions and a need to express myself in gifs? That’s still a thing.
Which is to say, yesterday I was crying in my office and today I sat at the oncologist’s all smiles and cracking jokes just before my oncologist came in with the PET scan pathology report in her hands.
“I thought you’d like to hear good news for a change,” she said.
Like last time, there is no spread. Just the slightly less than a centimeter spot to the left of the cavity where the old tumor was.
“We’re going to be rid of this soon,” she assured me.
Which should buy me four cancer-free months and then some.