Saturday, January 15, 2011

Marsi White: Grace, Dignity and a Smile

This time last year, I had many decisions to make. Breast cancer was swiftly spreading amidst the healthy cells on the right side of my chest, each day, slowly surrounding them a little bit more. Though I could not feel any physical change, my nightmares included young, brave cells battling monsters, their body armor tattered and worn. Chemo had taken hold of every aspect of my life. I was four treatments in . . . and while I was still smiling, my skin was ashen and every ounce of my being was fatigued and sore.

Little did I know this would be the easy part.

My mastectomy trumped chemo. They were not able to complete a skin saving mastectomy on my right side, so everything had to go. Flatter than a pancake, I still smiled. I had no hair, but figured out how to wear scarves and hats to hide my battle wounds. I could handle it.

My eyebrows fell out shortly after my mastectomy. I still smiled like it was all part of a well-planned strategy. I always had trouble with those buggers anyway. Always. And with the birth of each of my children, my eyebrows took a vacation, too. I was used to it.

However, the day I lost my last eyelash, I crumbled. I cried a silent tear. I wondered if I would ever be well again. I wondered if I was being punished for being vain. I hoped I would be able to mask my sadness with a good coat of make-up. I cried alone, too afraid to let anyone know I was crying over eyelashes. I wanted to throw something. I wanted to crawl back in bed and give in to the darkness that plagued my heart and my mind. I did neither. Remembering that I am a mother and wife first, I took a breath and hid my sadness.

The decisions that plagued the weeks following were the most challenging of my life. After my surgery, I was cancer free. Chemo was complete. What would come next?

The options on the table were 1) whether or not to have radiation treatments and 2) whether or not to have a prophylactic mastectomy on my left side.

I wanted to run away. I wanted to win the lottery and buy a lifetime of health and wellness. I pretended the prank was short-lived and I was the joker that orchestrated it all. I did not want to face the fact that my cancer would never be "in remission."

Decisions. I had to make them. I had to decide what would buy my life the most time. Which decision would help me best on the craps table? Do I play the hard 6? Or do I play the line? And depending on how the line was interpreted, I was sure that I could go either way.

The reality was that an abnormal cell could be anywhere in my body and at any time decide to divide, as cells do, and metastasize. That was the gamble. Radiation and the prophylactic mastectomy were the best shots I had to rid my body of abnormality. They both had serious risks and traumatic side effects of their own. Not to mention, I had already put my body through a boot camp like no other. I was not sure what I had left.

I did have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. My brother and his wife were in charge of deciphering reports that talked about outcomes and life expectancy. That, I could not face. I could not live in the "what ifs."And words like “long-term outcomes” only served to frighten me in deepest crevices of my soul, leaving me shivering and unsure.

So, I thought and I thought. I listened. I rebelled in words and in my mind. I understood the recommendations. The implications on what I needed to do were fairly clear. However, when these decisions were on the table, it was not difficult to find another cancer survivor who made both options work.

For those of you who have been following my story, you know the decisions I made. I had six weeks of radiation treatment and a prophylactic mastectomy. And I did so with grace, dignity and a smile. In my heart of hearts, I knew that I would. I knew that my best chance of surviving stage four breast cancer was to use every weapon in my arsenal. And I did. And I won.

What you would not have read is my daily battle with myself to try to avoid radiation and the prophylactic mastectomy. That private talk show ran through my head at least once an hour. Life served more like the commercials on some days. Distracted and torn, fear was the show host and my future was the only guest.

On the other side now, I have no regrets. I still have some decisions to make. However, I am happy that my healthy cells have their armor back. It is still in need of a shine, but it is far from the tattered and worn state of last year.

Marsi lives in San Diego, CA with her husband, two children and dog. A private foundation grants writer by trade, Marsi explores her creative side by contributing to Writing Writer Writest. She is a breast cancer survivor and keeps a blog of her journey, entitled Nip-It.

1 comment:

  1. Such a great piece, Marsi. And I also wanted to say that that photo of you on Facebook -- the one where you have no hair at all (the black and white one of your back) -- is one of the most beautiful photos of anyone I have ever seen. You never needed those eyelashes to be beautiful. And your battle scars only make that all the more true.