There is a phenomenon that happens post-surgery, when you’re back at home and cozy in your jammies, trying to heal and deal with your new self-image (whatever that may be, depending upon how severe your surgery). In the case of mastectomy, it presents itself as a layer of hiding. Make that multi-layers of hiding. And this hiding has little to do with whether or not you have started the reconstruction process.
The first layer of hiding is from myself — and any mirrors that may reflect back to me an image I’m not yet ready to behold. I steer clear of all reflective surfaces for the time being.
But wait, there's more: Post-cancer surgery offers up a third layer of hiding, wrapped in the form of friends and/or family — yup, the very people who are your lifeline, your safety net, your thread back to the jacket of normalcy you wore before cancer unraveled everything. They phone or text or email or drop by in an ebb and flow of checking in, checking up, and checking out. It’s all good — except when it’s not.
- The “checking in” part is great! I can handle that easy enough by text or email.
- The “checking up” chats I leave to my husband. Those require more verbal acuity than I have the energy to muster at the moment.
- It’s the “checking outs” that are the most difficult to decipher —and to deal with. I’m not talking about the “eyeball” type of checking out you might expect when people first glance at a newly deflated chest. (That is another post for another time.) I’m talking about complete checkouts of the unexpected and puzzling variety. As in: The calls that never come. The cards that are never mailed. The flowers that don't get delivered.
Don't get me wrong; I am grateful — very grateful — for the kindness shown to (and showered upon) me during these dark and dismal days. But allow me a moment if you will. Complete Checkouts are the people who can’t deal with your cancer — or your vulnerability. They don’t know what to say. They don't know what to do. And so they do nothing — mistakenly thinking that no contact is good contact — or at least better than awkward contact.
But they would be wrong. Because reaching out in whatever way is comfortable for you means so much to me! Aside from making me (and every person I know who has gone through the BC experience — and it happens to the majority of us) feel ignored and unloved during one of the most challenging times of my life (and let's not even draw the correlation between cancer and death, another subject that renders people silent), here's the really troubling part: Complete Checkouts turn out to be the people you least expect. And they are stealth.
And that, folks, is the dirty little secret of a cancer diagnosis.
Complete Checkouts can make a girl feel like doing a little checking out of her own. (Not in a “I want to die” kind of way, just in a “go away” kind of way.) So that's what I do. Within the plush folds of my velvety robe, I find my safe harbor and my escape. It’s my own Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I slip it on and slip back into the land of yesterday, when my boobs weren’t called foobs and I didn't look like a cross between Barbie and the game Operation.
Still healing and dealing and hiding over here. This could take a while.