The other day, I was thinking of all of the people that I know battling cancer right now, and it reminded me of one of the worst days I could ever imagine for a dear friend of mine. Tina, a girl I went to grade school with, a girl who has a full life with a husband, children, and a career, and a girl who used to have really amazing parties in grade school... said goodbye to her breasts. Thanks for that, cancer.
I vividly remember her status that day. It was a note that read, "11-8-12. Double Mastectomy. Stupid cancer," followed by a frowning smiley face. I'm not going to lie... I can usually keep my emotions in check pretty well, but this one broke me up.
I remember Tina's first status when she found out her diagnosis. We were all a mixture of crushed and determined to not let her get down, to build her up, to remind her that we need her around for a long time, and to kick cancer's you-know-what.
I then got really scared when she got really sick, when she had some horrendous experiences in a particular hospital, and when she had the unbelievable guts to reach and out and say, I've started treatment. I hate my doctor. It shouldn't be like this. Can anyone help me?
I immediately told her about my own oncologist, and how I would recommend him to anyone. Tina had the courage to call, he had the compassion to accept a new patient in mid-treatment, and I can thankfully say that his regimen, mixed with her sheer guts, have just about won this battle.
But her battle and my battle had similar consequences. It's always a horrendous experience when you are told you are going to lose a body part. I unfortunately know way too many people who have had this happen during treatment. I know people who have lost organs, limbs, and big sections of skin.
But there's a little extra slap in the face when reproductive parts are in the equation. I had the thought that I was not going to be a full man when I was told I was going to lose my left testicle. And women have told me that they feel less feminine, less maternal, less of a woman when faced with the realization of losing a breast, or worse, both.
It was at the moment when I was faced with my own surgery when I heard the one statement that got me through all of it. I had a dear friend named Traci with whom I worked at a radio station. I was telling her that I was about to lose "lefty" and I was devastated. Without missing a beat, she gave me this little nugget:
"You know, Danno, sometimes a guy just doesn't want a roommate."
And like that, all was right with the world. Traci and I shared a friendship where she could say that to me. Like so many things in my own struggle with cancer, once again, laughter got me through.
And it was this reason yesterday why I wrote what I did to Tina when I saw her humbling status:
"I'm not going to say chin up, because at this moment, it's not appropriate. I'm not going to say things will get better, because at this moment, you need to feel whatever you're going to feel. It's easy to say that breasts are nothing but meat on person, and sometimes meat spoils. But I understand your loss: they're your meat, they're your sweater muffins, they're your pointer sisters. I still miss my left testicle from time to time, even though it tried to kill me. All I can say is that we love you, we will be with you how you need us, and your living breathing cancer is going to be annihilated once and for all. God bless you, Tina. You rock hard."
Now I never did find out her reaction to this, and she could be thinking "you insensitive jerk," but I hope she takes it like I meant it. Tina, we love you. You are our sister. We'll laugh with you, we'll cry with you, and we want to be there when you pick out your replacement set. It's reminds me of going with my dad to pick out a new set of steel belted radial tires at the mall on a Saturday... but different.
I guess what this whole thing means is that body parts are just that: parts. Missing a testicle doesn't make me any less of a man than a mastectomy makes a woman any less of a woman, or the loss of a leg makes anyone less of a runner, or the loss of an organ makes anyone less human.
Parts are parts, and the only one that truly matters is the heart. Always remember that, and eventually, after our own personal and powerful times of grieving, everything is going to be okay.