Here's the prompt I selected from today's writing retreat at Days of Deepening Friendship:
“The last time I felt a truly intense emotion was - - - and this is what I felt . . .”
Last night I came across a blog written and photographed by a young woman who has chronicled her experience of breast cancer since she embarked upon her chemo regimen. Apparently I didn't save the link, and I can't remember anything about how I found it, but I do remember the small flame of anger that it generated.
An appreciative anger, I would say. Appreciation for her laying it out there.
So often when people hear that a woman "had a mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction," they think, in an exceptionally brief thought, that she had a surgery and went home a couple of days later with breasts that look like they did before she was wheeled into the operating room.
This particular woman had what I had: mastectomy followed by implant reconstruction. She also had a lot of experiences which I have been spared: both breasts rather than one, chemo (hair gone), and radiation (skin burned).
What we share is the reality that this type of "immediate reconstruction" is a process that begins when the plastic surgeon follows the breast surgeon into the operating room, but continues for several months of procedures, at the end of which you look in the mirror to see a kind of lump with a scar where a breast once was. (You can have some additional procedures to make it look more breast-like but, as someone whose resistance to pain meds is legendary, I myself have steered as far from further contact with surgeons, plastic and other, as possible.)
I have no reason to feel anger. It's behind me, as far as I know. And ludicrous as it sounds, three surgeries and the removal of a major body part constitute getting off easy in the breast cancer world. I don't usually read anything having to do with breast cancer, and usually the most I have to say about breast cancer is that it was an experience that taught me what it means to eradicate stigma, and plunged me into suicide prevention work.
But I did feel anger last night. Anger for the women whose bodies are mangled in an effort to respond to a disease which no one really knows how to counteract. Anger at the doctors who minimize the pain involved and the dismay at the results. Anger for the women who die, and whose stories remain largely untold in the face of the optimism spread by pink everything. Anger at the press, which fuels the notion that reconstruction is as good as the real thing.
So, yeah. Last intense emotion. Anger.