On June 14th, the Friday before surgery and during the Countdown to Mastectomy Monday, I announced I had a post-op goal to attend the 2013 Kaiser Santa Clara Seeds of Hope Cancer Survivors Day event on June 23rd.
The emotional roller coaster of Friday bled into Saturday and I spent much of the day in my head. My head is a really fun (or at least amusingly bizarre) place on most days but physical malaise and mental malaise are just a bad combo.
Add to the drama a poor night's sleep, no doubt fueled by my decision to finally stop pain medication stronger than Tylenol, and Sunday was bound to be a much better day by any one's standards.
Sunday morning at 11am, dressed in a shocking cantaloupe-colored front zip hoodie, wearing a modified sports bra over my lopsided chest, I went with my husband and daughter to the event. (My son went to a Giants game, better offer and all that!) Within minutes after check-in I ran into the interim leader of the breast cancer support group that I had attended days before surgery. I also ran into several women from the support group who showered me with support just for being up, dressed and out of the house less than a week after surgery.
I thought, "Damn, you people are easy to impress."
I SAID, "Thank you."
On the recommendation of the support group leader, we went to see Dr. David Sobel speak about "Healthy Pleasures: Living Beyond Cancer".
He spouted off a variety of combinations of how people view the attainment of happiness:
- "I'll just be happy when I lose that last 10 pounds."
- "I'll be happy when I get that promotion."
- "When I finish this project, I'll be happy."
And reminded the audience that the ONLY opportunity that you have, that we all have, to be happy in right NOW. As in NOW. Yep. Just NOW. And physically illustrated how happiness can pass you by while you wait for it.
Dr. Sobel is also a cancer survivor so his words acknowledged the roller coaster of emotions and the general shittiness that goes along with cancer treatment but the same set of rules apply regardless of what else is going on in your life.
You get one chance every second of your life to be happy. Your choice.
In an effort to help people realign their thinking to capture the most from each day, he broached the concept of gratitude.
"What are you grateful for?" he asked rhetorically.
And he suggested that beyond the blase and vague "family, friends, health, etc", each person write down three things they are grateful for within the last 24 hours.
Mine were easy, given the circumstances:
- I am grateful for my husband who held my hand as I looked at my incision for the very first time and who helped me wash my hair in the shower this morning when I couldn't quite do it.
- I am grateful for my two children who took it upon themselves to clean their rooms "Hefty Bag Style" on Saturday because they knew it would make me happy.
- I am grateful for my health because without it, I wouldn't be standing here celebrating just six days after a mastectomy.
The exercise was centering but I was already feeling grateful so, when he suggested we turn our slips in and he would draw four winners from the 400 or so present to receive signed copies of his book, I turned mine in and turned to leave to find the booths.
"C'mon," I nudged Brandon. "Let's go."
"Don't you want to stay for this part?" he asked.
"Not really. I never win anything anyway," I started before I realized that maybe sitting through some other people's grateful statements could be good for the soul.
"Okay," I sat back down.
The first woman called was grateful for her friends, her family, her health.
"Yep, didn't listen to directions," I whispered to my mate.
The second woman called was grateful for her family, her health and for some other thing I couldn't really understand.
The third woman was "Stacey Tin-eee-non-ov"
I sat there for a moment thinking about what was happening. I've been feeling like each time I dared ask or hope for something: clean biopsy, simple surgery, clean lymph nodes... the opposite was taking place. And now.
And now I was being called up in front of several hundred of my new peers (on the cancer plane), to spell out exactly the reasons why my heart and mind should harbor only happiness at this moment.
I took the microphone, looked out at the audience and got a little choked up.
"Hi, I'm Stacey and I had a mastectomy on Monday," I began, feeling much like the stereotypical, drop-in guest to a 12-step program.
Before I could continue, the audience just started clapping.
I spoke my three gratitudes loudly, with all the emotion with which I wrote them. And was launched immediately into what could only be construed as my own 15-minutes, turned four hours, of fame.
Women who'd lost breasts or parts of them commended my on my strength and recovery; women who were still visibly suffering the perils of chemotherapy assured me I was strong enough to deal with whatever else cancer could throw my direction; and women who were getting ready to go under the knife listened eagerly as I told them everything really would be okay, thanked me profusely and hugged me gently.
And suddenly I felt less possessed by this disease and absolutely empowered by my ability to not only only my own happiness but to help influence others in the finding of theirs.
We left the event and I was exhausted physically, energized mentally and fulfilled emotionally. And pleased as punch that I had touched the finish line on one of my first articulated post-op goals.