Blessings, Beauty, Breast and Breast Cancer
Francine L. Baldwin-Billingslea
I stepped out of the shower, grabbed the towel to dry off, stopped and looked in the mirror at my 32 B size breasts for a moment and laughed. When I was younger, I always wished for bigger, more voluptuous breasts, however, rolled-up socks stuffed in my bra always gave me the effect I was looking for. Now, at the age of 49, they were sagging, ugly little bumps. I had stopped the stuffing years and years ago, now I just wished they were erect the way they were when I was younger. Some of us are never satisfied. I stopped my staring, laughing and wishing, and hurriedly dried and dressed, I was running late for my eleven oíclock mammogram appointment. How I dreaded this yearly routine and I just didnít feel up to all the yanking, pulling and pressing today, especially since my self diagnosis of arthritis was acting up in my left shoulder and arm.
As the technician yanked, pulled and pressed my right side into position, I told her about the arthritis on the left and asked her to be careful; she chuckled as she assured me that she would try to do her best. The look I gave her let her know there was nothing to chuckle about, I had arthritis, it was hurting me, and this was a serious matter. With the right side completed, I turned so she could position me for the left, as she yanked, pulled and pressed; intense, unexpected pains began to dance up and down my arm, across my shoulder, chest and upper back that brought tears to my eyes and me...almost to my knees. I silently cursed her, the mammogram machine and her profession as she ran into her little room and yelled out her instructions, ďHOLD STILL, DONíT BREATHE, O.K, RELAX!Ē When she released me from the machineís grip, I almost collapsed. As I slowly and painfully walked into the dressing area, she reminded me not to get dressed until further notice. I cursed again.
I sat in the cold, dimly lit area holding my worn-out, open-front gown together, and cried. About forty-five minutes passed before the technician came back with the news that the left side had to be done again. You can imagine what came out of my mouth, and this time I didnít care if she heard, by the looks of her smile, I donít think she did, if so, I was more than ready to blame my attitude and bad choice of words on the pain without an apology. This time, the dancing pain was more intense if that could be possible, instead of cursing, I began to pray. Then a sonogram was ordered, after that, a biopsy was scheduled. In a matter of days, I came to realize that I had much more than arthritis, if I had it at all. Now, for the first time since all this madness began, I couldnít help but to tearfully and fearfully wonder what was going on inside of my body. The size and lack of firmness of my sagging little bumps no longer mattered, the dancing pain hadnít stopped since the mammogram, and I was consumed and overwhelmed with it.
A week later, I was told that I had a tumor and that I would hear the results from the tests in three-four days. After two days of worrying, crying, praying and a complete melt-down, the doctor called with the diagnosis of breast cancer. Those words, ďThe tumor is malignant, you have breast cancer,Ē rang over and over in my ears. The shocking news draped me in such fear and uncertainties that were so heavy, I couldnít move, I couldnít think, I couldnít talk, I couldnít cry. I just stood there holding the phone until I heard, ďIf youíd like to make a call, please hang up and dial again.Ē When I finally found the strength to lie down, I laid there for hours in such a state of mental and emotional agony that I canít even begin to explain. The doctor called back a few hours later, he had set up an appointment with a surgeon for later that evening, still in a daze, I went. Less than a week later, I was recovering from a lumpectomy and the additional surprise that the stage II cancer had spread into my lymph nodes. I was told that I was lucky the cancer was found when it was. They say lucky, I say blessed. Three weeks later, I was in the Oncologistīs office receiving my first round of chemotherapy treatment. Now, the real battle was to begin.
Everything was happening so fast and the reality of it all really hadnít sunk in until I received my first round of Adriamycin. That stuff makes you so sick; youíll call your worst enemy if you thought they would help you. My chemo treatments were every twenty-one days and in the first week, all I could do was toss, turn, cry and throw-up, the next three or four days, Iíd lay around trying to eat and regain my strength, and by the time I felt like anything worth while, it was time for another round. Shortly after the second treatment, I began to lose my hair. With the loss came more depression, anger, moodiness, and a totally new and raw me. I stayed fatigued, dehydrated, nauseous, constipated and didnít have much of an appetite and when I did, I couldnít eat or enjoy the food because my taste buds were going haywire and I had developed mouth sores. I quickly became pale, bloated, completely hairless, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, no hair, no where and had dark circles around my eyes. I called it my ďUncle FesterĒ look, simply because, I looked like him. Sometimes, I had to laugh at my new appearance to keep from crying. There was a time when others considered me to be a person of beauty, if not on the outside, on the inside. Those days seemed long gone, now I acted just like I looked - ugly, and my disposition was even uglier.
I began to fight with everything I had physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Those battles werenít easy and they were beginning to wear me down. Every time I turned around, I was in and out of the hospital for one thing or another. I started telling the nurses who were at the present time, my friends on a first name basis, to reserve my room, Iíll be back. The dehydration became so severe that I passed out several times and one time, I hit the floor so hard that my top teeth went through my bottom lip, jaggedly tearing it apart. I was rushed to the hospital where the doctor used the wrong sutures and they dissolved in a matter of days. During this time, my temperature was spiking and my blood pressure was dropping, and in-between my illness and the medication, I lay in and out of consciousness for days. My lip situation became insignificant; my life was now lying in the balance, although my lip was slow in healing and lay open oozing pus longer than I care to remember. I was one hideous sight! I felt so ugly and ashamed of myself until I didnít even want to look out of my window. At times, I looked at myself and thought, what was the use in fighting. I looked a mess and felt a mess, and with all hope gone, Iíd go to bed and literally cry myself to sleep. Then Iíd wake up re-energized and the battles along with hope and sheer determination would resume. This was a pattern that I couldnít seem to change. I was constantly up one minute and down the next. As hard as my loving support group tried, they didnít know how to deal with me, how could they when I didnít know how to deal with myself.
Blessed Ö I was, even in the midst of and in spite of. Beauty Ö a thing of the past. Breasts Ö I hated them. Breast cancer Ö why me?
I was angry and thatís putting it mildly. I felt sorry for myself and I hosted some awesome pity parties. I had to ask myself if I wanted to live or die and I hated the answer my heart and mind always gave. As harsh as this may sound, I wanted to die. I also wanted to live. I was confused, had I also gone a little bit crazy for wanting to die? Yes, I had breast cancer, but I needed to become determined that it wasnít going to have me. I had always been so blessed. Think of your blessings came from that small, inner voice from deep, down, within. Finally, I became obedient. I began to look for and find blessings and beauty where the average person couldnít . Like the old saying goes, when life throws you lemons, make lemonade, so I got busy.
The breast cancer war began in January ď03 and I fought major battles well into ď04. Iím now considered cancer-free, and every now and then, I have to fight a minor battle or two, but those battles have strengthened me and taught me about the true meaning of life, health, strength, beauty and of course, blessings.
Breast-their function is to produce milk for our young, theyíre also a sign of femininity and just to think, instead of being thankful that mine served their purpose, even with my cleavage, which is what most women want, I had, but was unsatisfied and ungrateful because of their size. Silly me!
Now, Iím just grateful to be alive and I have a different outlook and deeper appreciation for everything, everything that most people take for granted. Now when I step out of the shower, I still look at myself and laugh; I have so much hair now I donít know what to do with it. I look at my breast, especially the one that had cancer; itís scarred, lopsided and discolored. I look at my left arm, swollen with lymphedema, a result from having the cancerous lymph nodes removed. I look at my lip, the jagged scar can hardly be seen and I smile at how well it healed, and while Iím checking out the rest of my battle scars when Iím shaving, plucking and trimming, I look up and give a word of thanks, because Iím so thankful for my many blessings. Iím thankful for mammograms, sonograms and biopsies. Iím thankful for those yanking, pulling, pressing, pain causing technicians. Iím thankful for doctors and nurses. Iím thankful for Chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Iím thankful for my supportive loved ones. Iím thankful for the gift of life and last but not least, Iím thankful for my sagging, lopsided, scarred, discolored, beautiful and voluptuous breasts, which by the way, for some unknown reason have gotten much larger. Iíve learned to be thankful for ALL things, no matter how small. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and my husband and I think theyíre absolutely beautiful and I know without a shadow of any doubts, that I am blessed.