Bea’s skin puckers from the sutures that are still holding onto her newly formed chest. She’s excited to wear the t-shirt, when she’s done with all her hospital stays that says, “these ones are fake cause the real ones tried to kill me.” Her green eyes dance around her pale face as she smiles, holding strong, holding fast to the fact she knows she’s going to make it through her final and fourth surgery.
Her parents moved from Colorado to Germany to help her when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. After a double masectomy and hysterectomy she declared she would be back to work the next week. I shook my head, “Bea, it’s gonna take longer than that.”
I didn’t want my words to ring true. I didn’t want my instinctual hold to all things real to break her bubble. The bubble that makes Bea, Bea. Her infectious vibe fills everyone around her. I feel like a sarcastic biznatch when I’m around her. (Maybe that’s because I am a sarcastic biznatch). I want to believe in everything Bea believes in. But, I can’t because I’m not Bea and I haven’t trod where she has.
When Bea called me up, every two weeks since her first surgery to let me know she was back in the hospital, I felt terrible for her. Unthinkable, because she’s a nurse. Because Bea is indomitable. I joked with her when she was discharged a month ago with the first surgery that I was happy she was getting out of “jail” but sad that I couldn’t just take a five minute walk to go sit and socialise with her. I couldn’t be of service to someone else and get that ebullient feeling of “doing good” that I always felt as a child bandaging my fellow classmates wounds in elementary school.
This last stay sobered me to the reality of cancer, something I have never experienced. Two of Bea’s siblings died of cancer (one in childhood, the other in his late twenties). I could see the look on her Mum’s face when Bea was readmitted. And this last time, I tried to distract her from the sadness that now encased Bea’s aura. Sadness hung on her every word. There was no wishing it away. She was starting to give up. I felt a strange relief that Bea, was indeed, human. But, I also wanted to somehow distract her. To not be myself, the forever pragmatist. I felt the need to do a merry dance, sing a catchy tune. Anything that might take away the pain of not knowing what was coming next.
Over the course of the last five days, I’ve seen the various stages of healing that take place when one has multiple surgeries of their mammary glands. It isn’t pretty. (I don’t know how women actually elect to get breast augmentation). It is horrifically painful. Bea hasn’t had just one major surgery, but three in the period of four weeks. One wound is open but healing. The other wound is completely stitched up. There is the constant battle with gravity and her body, praying that everything will stay together and that the stitches won’t pull open and that she won’t become infected again.
When I was driving her home from the hospital today and we took in the Bavarian landscape, I couldn’t help ask her. “If men had to go through what we women have to go through, would they actually elect to stay alive?”
I have to ask this, because I have endometriosis, which affects almost every aspect of my life, lately and is a completely unpredictable disease that they can’t just cut out of me or radiate (wouldn’t that be nice)? But, I also don’t have to worry that it will kill me, because it won’t. I couldn’t help wondering though, if men had to endure these large scars and invasions into their bodies and reproductive organs (as I do know many men do with testicular cancer) would they be as calm as Bea? Or accepting as I have tried to be, of the limits of medical science?
I can’t help wondering if women are asked to do more with our bodies and endure more just because it’s expected? I’m not talking about inherent gender biases, but the fact that just because I’m a woman I’m expected to be okay with having twelve dozen people poking and proding and taping and untaping my real and not real breasts? Or, having all sorts of hormonal experiments, diets, surgeries in the name of trying to diagnose my endometriosis and control it? Would a man bleed from his nether-regions for six months straight and just pass it off as “man problems?”
I am surrounded by some of the most compassionate and kind men I know. I cannot blame them for the world being as it is, or for women’s bodies being as they are. However, I sometimes wonder if there isn’t another way.
I am an idealist at heart. Like Bea, I want to believe that the world can be better than it is. I want to believe that a positive attitude can clear the cobwebs away (and it can, from time to time). I can’t help but feel my heart breaking when those around me suffer. What can I say that will magically take the pain away? How can I comfort and heal the downtrodden?
I dedicate this to Bea, for inspiring me to keep working beyond my body’s limits (if only in my mind when I can’t really move at all). She is a jewel, a treasure, and a woman of mighty strength. God bless Bea. She has made me brave for what’s ahead.