Year of the Dog

A friend invites me to her annual Chinese New Year party. I look forward to it every time, this year being no exception despite my numerous surgeries and Cancer treatments. In fact, a party sounds like a welcome relief from rounds of radiation therapy, restricted diets and worrying. She and her husband are wonderful hosts, the kind who mingle throughout the party making sure everyone is cozy. Every year I meet interesting new people.

Imagine my surprise when on the very day of the party, I don’t feel like going. Trouble begins when I realize I don’t have anything “nice” to wear. Since my lumpectomies I wear shapeless clothes, with long sleeves – layers of them – so no one can easily spot the lopsided remaining half-breast. Party clothes are designed for normal humans, not shredded specimens.

I’ve always had such regular features: two arms, two legs, two eyes, two boobs – and now? I’ve gained weight from a habit of stress eating and lost space where the other half of my bosom used to sit. A large size radiation burn covers the left side of my body from sternum to my waist, fanning out under my arm. In sleeveless clothes my armpit is visibly black as soot.

Party? Unexpectedly I realize I’ll be more comfortable at home far from the madding crowd. Making an excuse is easy enough for the seasoned Cancer patient. All I have to say is I don’t feel well, apologetically. She won’t take offense. The problem is, I live in a very small house. My roommate/partner/primary support system throughout my Cancer treatment is working from the home office on a very large project. I suspect staying home (to cry) will be majorly distracting. I don’t even want anyone to ask me what’s wrong. The answer would sound so whiney-baby, self-conscious, ridiculous – leaving the premises strikes me as far easier than trying to explain why I am hiding.

I carefully apply my makeup. There’s something about foundation that reminds me of wearing a mask. I don’t wear cosmetics often. Whenever I do, face paint reminds me of being in theater or working in TV, not something to be worn in the every day course of life. I like how it makes me feel like I am playing a character. I don’t have to be myself. I want the makeup to  protect, create a buffer between me and everyone else. It does not.

As a comprise I decide I’ll head out – to somewhere, anywhere, probably not my friend’s house. Perhaps I will drown my sorrows at a coffee-house or explore some harmless entertainment to cheer myself up. I drive about half way to my friend’s house. Half way there I ask myself, “Why not go all the way?” Presently the idea of spending money on a diversion seems silly when I’ve been invited to a special event by a very kind friend. I continue on.

I get lost in the dark looking for her house. The extra 15 minutes of searching encourages me to give up in despair. But why drive 50 minutes just to drive 50 more? I roll down the window, listening for the house with party sounds. Turns out – I’ve stopped right at the bottom of their driveway, lol. I think the Universe wants me to attend this party. Or maybe it’s the bidding of my subconscious self.

I’m a firm believer in feeling my feelings, sensing sensations, emoting emotions and all that jazz. Allowing for the passthrough generally makes sorrow more tolerable. Tonight is no exception. I have a good time despite noticing that yes, I am under-dressed. I wore my favorite blue North Face sweatshirt over a favorite black Breast Cancer pink-ribbon emblemed long-sleeve, over an assortment of black hemp and cotton tee-shirts and camisoles. The end result is a sort of gothic H R Puffinstuff. The other women are resplendent in silky Chinese year-of-the-dog type tunics and tops. My bad.

Note to self, if I want to feel cheerful, forego the blight colors.

In the morning I take a stab at primary series. My body re-members the familiar positions. I take the sun salutations, the forward folds and a triangle in each direction. The next day I add two more poses. The next day two more. The balance poses present challenge since I tore my tendon running. The daily habit is bringing back a sense of self I’ve been sorely missing during my foray into treatment. As much as I didn’t want to move, want to curl up and burrow, as much as I want to avoid – the doing of it unglues me. Doing a little bit more and a little bit more is  refreshing.

Granted this kind of yoga is probably more rightly described as movement therapy. But I can see why some people view it as divine. I say be careful  when you talk about the healing powers of yoga. After all, if Cancer could be cured by diet and exercise then none of us athletes should ever succumb. But that ain’t right. Read Runner’s World. Plenty of people, fit and fabulous, find themselves face to face with the Emperor of all Maladies. Cancer strikes without rhyme or reason. Although some forms are genetic – far too many are not. So don’t get too comfortable. Don’t get too smug. I know I did. I thought my cigarette puffing, opioid addicted ex-husband was far more likely than me to contract Cancer. I am wrong of course. He may have been more likely but I’m the one with radiation burns emblazoned on my chest.

The next step in treatment is the most controversial. I’ve been hesitant to share my decision. My Cancer is estrogen driven, not one but two doctors have suggested hormone blocking therapy. The side effects of having no estrogen are masculine indeed. Big. Scary. Hair raising. The specific drug causes bone thinning and an increased risk of osteoporosis. The next step is bone density test for purposes of creating a baseline. Taking the bone density test does not commit me to further treatment. In addition to thin, weak bones, the loss of estrogen will dry me up, evaporate sex drive. I know, I know, there’s a section of the audience wondering “Why in the hell are you worried about your sex drive at your age? ? “

It’s not like I’m a cougar. I just wonder on the limits of how much of me has to get peeled off before the me that remains is no longer me? “I’ve lost so much,” I say to my physician.

“You’re going to be more,” he responds in kind.

Now y’all play nice!

Sat Nam



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