what I’ve learned

I have a crazy memory. Details, dates, conversations and lastly, what I was wearing I can easily muster up without much effort. I’ve always down-played it, in part to to lessen its “oddness” or make me look less like a freaky stalker.

“No it was December. I know this. You were wearing those jeans with the holes in them and the boots that don’t fit you anymore, remember?”

I can only imagine it’s a scary feeling on the receiving end of this conversation.

But now, there are chunks of my life missing. My memories of my life the last 4-ish months. I’m not used to not remembering things and I’m also not used to forgetting entire conversations with people, or items at the top of my to-do list. Tasks that I’ve been dedicated to completing in a timely manner: thank you notes, returning phone calls, paying bills, buying milk, and showering daily have frequently been discarded or delayed. A ginormous piece of my brain has now shifted its focus from the daily demands of “administrivia” (thanks EJ), to the daily demands of my CJ. Doctors appointments, medications, prescriptions to call in, drug contra indications, food contra indications, what I can and cannot do for exercise, and blood tests now take over formerly-used space in my mind.

I’m a planner by birthright. My mom is a planner; her sister is a planner; my aunt is an actual event-planner – people hire her to plan things. Genius.  (My mom hand-draws a calendar for the 2 weeks we spend in Lake Tahoe every summer for menu-planning purposes: Monday is J’s famous ribs; Tuesday is dinner out; Wednesday is Wet Woodys at Gardwoods. She writes this calendar in ink.)

In early October, soon after my diagnosis, I started to get anxious. I needed the safety and security of a Plan to help me navigate the future. Surgery when? Reconstruction how long? Chemo yes or no? Further tests which ones? When my surgery date was nailed down, my friend E and I went through a planning exercise.

“Ok, if the surgery is November 14th, then this will start on this date. And this will happen on this date….carry the 1 …and end of January I will be done!” I triumphantly exclaimed!

“Better add 2 weeks as a buffer,” E suggested, “Just to be safe.” 

“Right,” I agreed. “Then Valentine’s Day. I will be done by Valentine’s day!” 

I don’t have to remind anyone that today is February 16, two days after Valentine’s Day and I’m nowhere near being finished.

And this is the biggest lesson I’ve learned: Learn to be patient and accept the unknown. 

I had no way of knowing back in October, that my surgery would go well, but that my left breast would not heal requiring an additional surgery 2 weeks later. I also could not have predicted that I’d develop a seroma which would land me in the hospital with an IV drip for 3 days over New Years, or that there’d be 2 delays with the 2 genetic tests we’d submitted, adding more “wait and see” time on my calendar. And that just now, in the 2nd week of February is when I actually was given the green light to move forward with the saline fills.

A few weeks before my surgery, I spoke with S on the phone who had undergone the same surgery in June. She kept saying to me that it took so much longer to fully recover than she’d originally expected and the whole time during and afterwards is a giant blur to her, even now.

“So you’re saying, I’ll be in bed for like 1 week?” I tentatively asked, trying to fill out my mental calendar.

“Longer. I’m saying that it’s a good month until you feel remotely like yourself.” 

Now looking back, I know she’s right. She may have underestimated it even. It’s hard to define what “feel like yourself” truly means and I’m sure it means different things to different people.

Which led me to the second lesson I learned: It’s OK if you’ve changed from this. 

Let’s be real – I don’t like change as much as the next guy. So the concept of being a different person, having a different viewpoint, or feeling unlike your normal familiar old self can be unsettling. But it happens. While I may be more tentative, frightened, reluctant, and reclusive, I might also be more open-minded, thirsty for knowledge, less critical, and more truthful.

On our wedding video 14 years ago, M’s parents were interviewed by the videographer. He asked them what the secret to being happily married for more than 30 years was and could they share their words of advice to us.

“You just do it,” my father-in-law said. 

“You just make a decision to do it,” my mother-in-law said.

And my CJ is no different. I just do it. I make a decision to do it. And I keep doing it every day. Because I have to. And because this is what is required of me – listen, learn, love and live – as intentionally as I can.

Sounds like a good recipe for marriage, no? 




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