I’ll start with the “more.” Thursday I went to see my surgeon to have the seromas (fluid sacs) aspirated. He was running late because of an emergency surgery, so it was almost five o’clock when I saw him. The nurse had all of his aspiration implements set up.
When the doc came in, he looked tired. Little did he (or I) know what he was in for. He thought he’d be doing one quick aspiration on the node-removal site. He was a little surprised when I told him there were two seromas. He started with the one in my breast, located where he had cut out the tumor. That big syringe you see there was what he used to draw off the fluid. It really didn’t hurt because he numbed the area, plus that area is already numb from the surgery. He was very quiet until he commented when he got the fourth syringe full. I knew then that we were getting into unique territory. He kept drawing off fluid, and he mentioned that I might need a drain if this area fills right back up. I think that’s when I started to get faint. I really don’t want a drain. I started seeing stars and my ears started to buzz. The nurse got some wet paper towels for my forehead and neck and was assisting the doc at the same time. We kept her on her toes. When the doc finally squeezed out the last of the fluid, he told me that that was the most fluid he’d ever gotten from a woman’s breast. It was about 400 ml. Six and a half syringes’ worth. I was a record-breaker.
No wonder I’d been achy and hadn’t felt well! I took a break after he aspirated the breast seroma so that I could recover some before he tackled the one at the node site. He saw the rest of his patients for the day and came back in. This seroma turned out to be a piece of cake in comparison to the first one. He only drew 50 ml from it.
I hadn’t taken anyone with me because I had no idea what I was in for. I’ve had aspirations and biopsies, and none of them were a big deal. Until this time. But I made it through okay and drove myself home.
The next morning I called and talked with my radiation oncologist to fill him in on the previous evening. He first suggested that I come in on Wednesday for the new radiation plan, but as we continued to talk on Friday morning, we discussed whether I need to pursue radiation at all. I told him I felt that radiation was redundant redundancy anyhow. My nodes were clear, the margins were clear, and I’ve had another round of chemo, Taxotere, on top of the first round of the AC chemo. Radiation is just another roll of the dice to try to prevent recurrence. I’ll talk with my surgeon on Tuesday and my radiation oncologist again after that to get their opinions, but I’m wondering if I want to continue radiation. I know that the cancer is gone. I don’t have a fear of its returning. I’m trying to remain open to where the path may lead. Perhaps it’s not through radiation.
The “less” in the title of this post is a list of positives. I’m less tired each day, less achy since the seroma drainage. My eyes are watering less, and it’s mostly my left eye that lets a few tears seep out during the day. I’m less down, am feeling less self pity. I had all kinds of chemo side effects, but they’re so “less” that they’re almost all gone. My tongue is less sensitive, and that means I can taste more.
All of those “lesses” are making me feel more healthy, more strong, more alert and able, more like myself — the self I was before cancer. Though a much wiser self. One that is more comfortable with pain and uncertainty, more grateful, more appreciative, more present, more me, the me of my original face (as the Buddhists say). I’m letting go of my false self (as we say in centering prayer). I’m letting go of fear. I’m letting go of worries. I’m letting go of resentments. I’m letting go, just letting go. The more I’ve learned and experienced, the less I need – at least the less I need of what I once thought was important.
To celebrate the less and more, I took a short, slow walk in the Chickamauga Battlefield today. The slowness allowed me to notice what I’ve overlooked when I’ve been walking – on a mission – in the battlefield so many times in the past. I was on a mission for fitness, to get my cardiovascular system going, pumping my blood and oxygen. And I might have seen these tiny flowers in the spring, but I never really looked at them.
Pretty, aren’t they? They, along with dead leaves and new grass, are growing on the death sites of Confederate and Union soldiers who were killed in battle right here in this field. I always feel hopeful when I walk in the battlefield on a spring day, when lots of people are out picnicking, riding bikes, walking, flying kites – enjoying a spring day on the site of a major Civil War battle where approximately 38,000 men died. Here was the site of so much death and destruction and great pain, yet here we are in the same place 149 years later, enjoying peaceful, recreational activities.
Even the monuments to the battle are pretty. Because I was taking a slow walk, I noticed this seal. If you look past the war images in the foreground, you’ll see the natural world, the one that survived the battle, in the background. Meadows and rolling hills, mountains, and the rays of the sun. Many people use battle images for dealing with cancer. We “fight” it, our cancer “battle.” I’m at the end, at the point where my emphasis is shifting from the images on the foreground to those in the background. It’s time to wander through those meadows, to look at those mountains, and to appreciate the sun and the light. It’s time to enjoy the peaceful, “re-creational” park activities. No, I won’t forget the difficulties and pain. I will embrace all I’ve learned from them. But it’s almost time to put them down and take a stroll through the meadow. That’s what I did today. And I foresee more meadow strolls soon. Very soon.