The one 'present' I never expected, but can't wait to be rid of
When you reach a certain age, birthday gifts rarely come colorfully wrapped with a pretty bow. They're usually not a surprise and frequently require storage or display somewhere.
Like a food processor; or decorated juice can pencil holder.
But this year's birthday brought something I'm still not sure what to do with — breast cancer.
In reality, the diagnosis was a "gift" — stage 1, contained and curable. Getting to the finish line is an endurance test hardly designed for sissies, but I owe my positive prognosis to early detection and years of faithful screenings.
Prior to my foray into the maze of oncology services, I didn't even have a primary care physician. I took a daily multi-vitamin, extra Vitamin C and a calcium supplement. A sinus infection every other year meant a trip to an express clinic for antibiotics. And a perpetual inquiry if I wanted to sign up for My Chart.
"Why?" I always asked. "It's the most boring reading on the planet."
Living with cancer is an ongoing learning experience. "Good" days and "bad" days are defined by energy levels and emotions. You learn quickly that, just like mom always said, body heat does indeed escape from your head without a hat. And food consumption isn't so much satisfying hunger but a necessity, whether it sounds goods or not.
But there are also personal victories to be celebrated in the midst of all this. Along with some humor, if you look.
Before my diagnosis, I'd never had surgery. My only two hospitalizations sent me home with babies, neither birth requiring anesthesia. The morning of my chemo port placement, I reacted to my first general anesthetic by informing my surgeon, the anesthesiologist, DH and every nurse within earshot in the surgical day unit, "I never took drugs in high school." To make sure no one missed it, I repeated myself. Then I asked DH if he was recording me.
It's a sure bet DH will have his phone on record the next time around.
Losing my hair was hard emotionally. Vain as it may be, few women would disagree when I say our hair is part of who we are. I refused to watch as my hair stylist buzz cut what little hair was left about a month ago. Still, I took heart in the fact that the smartest thing I did was buy fake hair before I lost my own. The style and color are so close to Anne pre-cancer that my reflection in the mirror instills an immediate sense of normalcy.
My real hair is extremely thick. Who knew Dumbo ears were hidden by that blonde spike all these years? And the 45 minute ritual involving the shower, blow dryer and hair product has been reduced to five minutes and a quick shake of the fake hair. I can beat DH out the door in the morning these days. He still uses hair spray.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. So many of us — 1 in 8 women — have been touched by this disease or know someone who is battling their way through it. Breast cancer is preventable and curable if caught early. Be more than just aware — get a mammogram.
Anne Endicott is special-sections editor for The Outlook, Sandy Post and Estacada News.