The new me

Published by pam on Sun, 09/23/2012 - 5:46pm


The fear monster, the one that has been haunting me for the last seven months, disappeared for all of about three days.  The clean scan banished him, but he didn't stay banished for long.  The fear returned when my back began to ache.  


It's a back ache, the kind everyone gets when they walk too much in bad shoes carrying heavy stuff up hills.  I remind myself that if there was something growing in my back, the scan would seen it.  Worrying is crazy.  


It's crazy.


But that doesn't make it stop.  


I tell myself I'm cancer-free.  Over and over, I say it to myself.  I say it, I sing it, I shout it.  All in my head, of course.  I might be crazy, but I'm not crazy.  Unfortunately, telling myself I am cancer free over and over again only has so much power.  To keep the fear monster away, to keep it from whispering nightmare scenarios and bad outcomes, I have found myself doing rather strange things. What kinds of things, you ask?   It's embarrassing, really.  And a bit scary.  


I feel like an addict as I write this, as though I am confessing a secret life. But here goes:


   My name is Pam and I am shallow.  


Yes, to control the nagging and constant fear that my cancer will return, I have been filling the space in my head with stuff.  Not words or big ideas, but actual stuff.  Pretty stuff.  The kind of stuff you find in stores that smell good and promise a better life through Prada.   


First, there were the boots.  I wanted to do something to mark the end of chemo and a clean scan.  I assumed my family and I would go out to a once-in-a-lifetime dinner.  We would dress up, eat some place totally out of character for us.  We would revel in each amazing bite.  But here's what happened when we started to plan the evening: everyone argued.  They all had something different in mind.  And, to get their way, they used me as a weapon. THAT'S NOT WHAT MOM/PAM WOULD WANT, people said.  As if I wasn't sitting right there.  As if I couldn't speak up for myself.  I realized whatever I decision was made would pit one family member against another.  And, inevitably, whoever ended up on the short end of the restaurant stick would sulk.  Marc would sulk most of all, since the restaurant I had in mind was pricy.  


All so we could go out to dinner.  It was nuts.  


We'd all be just as happy with homemade chile.  And no one would argue.


So, I decided what I really wanted was a new pair of boots.  


A totally kick-ass pair of boots. 


The kind of boots that make you feel tough.  Like nothing can take you.


Not even cancer.


And that's what I did.  I went shopping.  I tried on boots.  A lot of boots.  Many, many pairs of boots.  I made friends with the sales girls.  I told other customers - complete strangers - what I was doing and why.  I let them help me decide.  I celebrated in a completely shallow way.  With a credit card.


And my family had chile for dinner.  


But it didn't stop there.  After the boots, I bought  clothes (insert audible gasp here).  Not a lot of clothes, you understand.  Not by most people's standards, anyway.  But a lot for me.  


It started when I realized that through radiation I wouldn't be able to wear a bra, hence there would be no breast forms.  My concave chest would be on display for six and half weeks.  Now, I'm a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl and since I'm pretty thin, I don't shy away from fitted shirts.  Fitted shirts look fine on my little A-cup body.  But on my four inch thick chest?  Not so much.  Fitted t-shirts without the bra and breast forms make me look like a twelve year-old boy.  Or an anorexic middle aged woman.  Or, as I pointed out in an earlier post, an Eileen Fisher model (assuming the latter two aren't the same thing).  The truth of the clothing situation hadn't really hit me until I met someone who recently finished radiation.  She hunched, as many mastectomy patients do.  And even though it was quite warm outside, she wore a thick sweater.   Both were an attempt to camouflage her bra-free, single-breasted chest.  To the untrained eye, the camouflage might have worked, but to me, a member of the tribe, it accentuated her vulnerability.  It made her seem tired.


Tired.  From what I've been told, happens to radiation patients.  It will most likely happen to me.  Again.


But if there's one thing I've learned about myself throughout this process, it's this: I'm a fighter. I decided right then and there, I would do this on my own terms and if didn't want to be treated like a victim, I couldn't look like one.  There would be no frumpy sweaters.  No hunched shoulders.   I might have to go into radiation every day for the next six and a half weeks.  I might get fried and blistered and tired, but damn it, I was going to look good doing it.  


Hence, the clothes.  


Shirts mostly.  Four of them.  And two pairs of leggings.


And the boots.


The scary part?  The part I'm REALLY hesitant to admit...


It's working.  Every day before radiation, I primp myself like a doll.  I walk up the hill to the hospital and I look people in the eye, and I think of myself as strong, as a person who doesn't have cancer, as a person who has a full life and pretty clothes.  With each step I reclaim a piece of myself and my life.  And each time the fear monster gets too close, each time I feel him breathing down my neck, I give him a good shove.  No one pushes around a girl in kick-ass boots.


Shallow, I know.  I could have done it without the clothes.  Without the boots.


But somehow I couldn't.  


So, there it is.  The awful truth.  Even though I like to think that I'm driven by ideas and good conversation, by things that matter, I have jumped into the shallow end of the pool.  


And you know, I'm not one bit sorry.



I will take you to a fancy restaurant to celebrate when radition is done. You inspire me !!!!!!xoxo

And a dinner isn't necessary, your kindness and friendship is already a wonderful  gift.  The walks are a real treat and I always come home with new ideas and a smile on my face.  What could be better than that.

Love that you bought fabulous boots- a strong foundation.  Have been thinking of you. Have been glad that your days have been filled with sunshine.  Perfect for all those long walks.  Wish I lived close and could walk with you.  But I am looking forward to lunch.  I will e-mail to see what your schedule is like.  Think about where you would like to go.  xxoo

Your words are profound, sister. It is interesting to acknowledge what we need. You are very strong. And a great writer! Thanks for sharing.

Hi Pam,
I am still thinking of you-watching from a far (and stopping here on your blog to check in every now and then.)  We have  been very lousy socializers--for various reasons--but, that's a bad excuse.  The ladies missed you this summer at Lisa's gathering--it was a whirlwind trip with a house full of a variety of all kinds of women--your absence (and your laugh!) was noticeably missing.
I am glad you have some new kick-ass boots and some clothes to say F-U to cancer.  Sorry we have been MIA all these months--I hope you will forgive us for being such shitty friends.
Hugs to you.