A Mastectomy It Is

My Nissan is parked at the unmarked northwest entrance of Tarrywile Park. The rains have finally come. They had been threatening for days, maybe a week.

I’m at that point where I’ve been away from home for so long I feel desperate for the familiar routine of a normal evening. All I want is to sleep in my own bed. But I don’t have a bed. I don’t have a home even though I’m kind of home-ish.

Driver’s seat pushed all the way back, Thai take-out on my lap and a Snapple iced tea in the cup holder for good measure. I’m doing the grown up version of a thing I did often as a kid. But rather than sit alone in my mother’s dark red Saturn, it’s me and the dogs in my dark red Rogue.

The sky is yellow and gray, the grass still bright green. A fire engine red tractor sits in the distance. Rain thunders onto the hood, the roof, streaming down the windshield. I’m motionless, staring out at the field, my favorite field, quietly letting everything pass through and out.



When I was a teenager I would scream and pound my fists on the steering wheel. Back then the world didn’t make sense. I hadn’t learned how to process it yet, couldn’t slow down enough to see what was going to happen. The anger and frustration needed to be released out through some sort of valve and sitting by this field in the pitch black of night after theatre rehearsal always did it.

It’s different now. Perspective changes as we grow.

Our visit to the surgical oncologist last week didn’t bother me. She was compassionate enough but mostly tough and confident to a degree that kept her within the bounds of a very business-like demeanor. The MRI and ultrasound showed almost no remaining detectable cancer (excellent news) but she was still strongly recommending the full double mastectomy over the simpler single breast lumpectomy.

Eri’s young age almost guarantees a nasty aggressive cancer with a high rate of recurrence. With Invasive Ductal Carcinoma the younger you are, the harder it is to beat. Complete removal of breast tissue is always the recommendation because one single cell accidentally left behind on the margin would reproduce itself and she’d be back at square one in no time.

The oncologist spoke with straightforward brevity. Even though the news was tough to swallow, it was all manageable.

But today with the plastic surgeon details were spelled out to such a specific and personal degree it all became very heavy. The plastic surgeon is softer. Professional and trustworthy but more sympathetic. She doesn’t talk about killing the bad evil cancer; she talks about artistically fixing your outsides to make you feel and look human again.

We went in with a long list of questions and came out in a mild state of shock. There’s no more hiding behind the hope that this might be simple and easy.

In a nutshell Ericka’s looking down the barrel of a four-hour surgery (provided there are no complications) followed by two days in the hospital. She’ll have two incisions, drains on each side, and 7-10 daily visits by a home nurse to change bandages. Four to six weeks of basic recovery will lead into six months of weekly doctor’s office visits to gradually inflate the implantation spacers. Radiation starts after the spacers are fully inflated and only after five weeks of basically being burned alive on a daily basis, will she be able to have her second surgery to remove the spacers and insert the actual silicone implants.

It will be a year before this is over.

So I’m crying a lot. A double lot. Eri has a full-time job, lives in a house with seven (sometimes nine) people and four cats, and shares a bedroom with her two youngest kids. Eri doesn’t have time to cry and even if she did she wouldn’t have the space to cry and even if she did she still would not cry.

But I get to cry whenever the hell I want and this is when I want. The field at Tarrywile can take it. It endured all my loud angry rage when I was a teenager and now it will embrace my quiet fear and restlessness.

I rub my eyes until they hurt hoping with enough pressure I can tourniquet the tears but they just keep coming. The level of pure suck on this is so colossally high.





3 thoughts on “A Mastectomy It Is”

  1. You are a wonderful friend Jen it has to make Ericka’s journey easier knowing you are with her all the way. You express with words beautifully we can all understand the horror of what Ericka is going through.


  2. Jen you continue to amaze me with your words. I am so thankful to all who sit beside Ericka in this horrific journey. I hope to see you all soon. All my love. Ericka will always be a warrior, but regardless of what you think she cries behind closed doors, don’t let that tough exterior fool you.


  3. I love your writing Jen. Your honest storytelling and they way you describe and convey your emotions comes through with elegant brevity. I understand you more through your writing then through our conversations! I really need to get a copy of that book you didn’t publish. You teased me with a quick glance of it, and now I feel like I need the whole thing (as selfish as that sounds). I hope all is well with you, and that your writing allows you to process all of this, and be strong and supportive for Erica.

    Wishing you the best always.


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