Tell Me What You Need

“Tell me what you need.”

Many people generously reached out after my diagnosis with this sentiment, and to be honest, I did not have an answer.

My standard line: “I don’t know yet. I’ve never had cancer before.”

And I absolutely did not mean that to be trite or rude; I simply think cancer is such an Earth shattering situation that you can’t know what you need until you are in the thick of it.

In no particular order, things that have been particularly helpful include:

  • Food. It is well known that I hate all domestic chores, including cooking, and two separate families prepared and brought over meals for us. Both were absolutely delicious. If left to my own devices, I would have probably had cereal for every meal, so this was a real step up.
  • Magazines.
  • A list of shows on streaming TV that I might like. I blew through everything on our DVR over the weekend and with time on my hands, I am open to a Netflix binge. A few friends sent ideas.
  • Book recommendations. I also received an Amazon gift card to buy more books from coworkers, and reading has been a great escape.
  • A fresh robe and slippers. There was a zero percent chance that I was not taking fancy slippers to the hospital with me.
  • A basket of luxuries. Ok, this sounds vague, but the people I work with gave me a large crate (also nice in and of itself) filled with things like lip balm, mints, hand lotion, fuzzy socks, colorful pens and a beautiful journal, plus a card signed with heartwarming messages.
  • Flowers. I have not left our house in five days and it is freezing outside. Flowers are a ray of sunshine.
  • A soft faux fur throw. This is seeing a lot of use!
  • Designer shoes. Oh, wow, these are so over the top fabulous. This is a wildly generous gift from a friend who knew that this would cheer me right up.
  • Prayers. Many people of various faiths have said that they are praying for me. I am humbled by this and covet the good thoughts going out into the Universe.

A few things that are specifically helpful after a mastectomy:

  • Pajamas that button up the front. Following surgery you cannot lift your arms above your head for a few weeks, so a front-opening top is necessary.
  • Mastectomy garments with drain pockets. Here is an example. I have already complained about these from a style standpoint, but they are really a requirement for this particular surgery. Most patients could use both camisoles and hoodies. I was fortunate enough to get both from generous friends. I have been wearing them every day.
  • Wedge pillow. I ordered this from Amazon. I received a lot of advice from post-mastectomy patients that side sleeping is out of the question and it is helpful to sleep on your back at an incline. Many post-op patients sleep in a recliner or adjustable bed. I have neither and decided to order this pillow. It has really helped me sleep. The one night I did not use it I woke up in a lot of pain and could not even move enough to get out of bed.
  • A ride. Or rides. There are several post-op appointments I need to attend and driving my Jeep Wrangler with its stick shift is not in the cards at the moment. A few people have offered to give me rides and I plan to take them up on the offer.
  • Babysitting. My daughter got invited to a sleepover and my nephew took my son skiing one day. They are affected by my diagnosis, too, and having something fun to distract them was a gift.
  • A blowout. The no-lifting-your-arms-above-your-head restriction also applies to hair washing. My stylist offered to wash and style my hair. Also helpful: dry shampoo.
  • A water bottle with a long re-usable straw. My T-Rex arms make it difficult to reach for a drink. Having a water bottle nearby that is easy to drink from is key. The one I am using most was a work freebie and has a wide silicone straw.

And finally: Acknowledging the elephant in the room with simple messages like “I’m sorry. Thinking of you” have also been sustaining me. A cancer diagnosis is a time of reckoning. People from all parts of my life have reached out and I know I am lucky to have this support. I am also glad to be alive in the time of texting; I would not relish repeating the same story over and over via telephone but being able to receive and respond to texts on my own time/terms has been wonderful.

Thank you to everyone for your love and support.

As a Patient: Before and After

Loss of control. 

Loss of dignity.

Fear.

Uncertainty.

Vulnerability. 

Being a patient can be excruciating.

Today it is my turn. 

Last month I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today I will undergo a bilateral mastectomy and hopefully begin the reconstruction and healing process.

I am not even close to a point of accepting this in a way that I see it as a lesson or gift, but I am here to learn.

What I am also ready to experience as a patient:

Perspective. 

Patience.

Understanding.

Grace.

Hope. 

If you are the type, I would welcome your best thoughts and prayers. 

P.S. The picture above is one I deliberately took before I learned of my cancer diagnosis. I knew the biopsy results would arrive that day, and I wanted to capture a moment that would embody Before, because I knew if the results came back as malignant, everything would be divided into Before and After. This was Before. Now is After.