After months of over-sharing on the CarePages, I think that a startling number of you have become familiar with All Things Lee. But maybe a new site warrants a one-time explanation of how someone who kind of loathes the whole idea of blogging ended up doing just that? When Nancy urged me to write a synopsis for the faraway editor, I was able to sum up the experience with my usual, AP English, five paragraph style (Mrs. Byrne would be so proud of me).
With a devoted husband, adorable children, steadfast friends, and prayer circling Episcopalians, I don’t know anyone who marinates more happily in Love than this formerly blonde girl. How boring: mom with Cancer has fantastically supportive network. But my story is more than mooning over my near perfect children and prince charmy husband. This blog is also about my Taiwanese in-laws, deep love of champagne, shameless vanity, and blossoming Faith. As a former physician and immunologist, I’ve confronted the scientific, technical, and emotional aspects of mastectomy and breast reconstruction from both sides of the operating table and found that in the end, no matter what you know, it’s all about prayer and hair.
I was a forty-year-old stay-at-home-despite-a-bunch-of-diplomas mom when I responsibly scheduled that first (and last) screening mammogram and came home with Cancer: the invasive, drastic surgery, go bald kind. In my past life as a surgical resident, I’d looked at oodles of mammograms and assisted an attending physician on many lumpectomies, lymph node biopsies, and mastectomies. Coincidentally, my darling husband, Bernie, is a plastic surgeon, and his practice focuses almost exclusively on reconstructive breast surgery. Bernie does exactly this for a living, and has treated over a thousand women like me. Bernie is not only a surgically skilled perfectionist, he is also widely published in this field, associate editor of a major plastic surgery journal, co-founder of the largest DIEP flap center in New England, and currently the Acting Chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery at his hospital. For the pair of us, this was very familiar territory; and we largely ignored the made-for-the-movies irony of a premier breast cancer surgeon’s wife getting breast cancer. But even a well-connected, unusually well informed couple can be quite pedestrian in the scared shitless department. However, we had the warm blanket of knowledge, and complete trust in the people who are caring for me. Nearly all of the experts in this field are Bernie’s colleagues, they are our friends. Unfortunately this not only robbed me a healthy bit of denial, but also meant I had to stand naked and scared in front of people I’ve known for years.
In the teary panic that followed my diagnosis, and the following days awaiting results from scans and biopsies, Bernie sanctioned and my friends established the CarePages (http://www.carepages.com/carepages/BrittLeeCarepage). This was intended to keep well-wishers in the loop, and away from the phone and my front door. It was such a good idea… and I wanted no part of it. I insisted it should be left wide open to anyone who wanted to join it because, ewww, email INVITES to ask otherwise happy people to share in my current terror? Blech. Also, I’d never post anything, you know, PERSONAL. But what began as a simple site to announce test results and casserole preferences to a handful of mommies and cousins evolved into a real blogging (ewww) sort of thing. Very quickly it became vital for me to compose these little essays to assuage the fear of my family and friends, and to make some sense of the “why me?” of it all. Also, there was another story that kept leaking into those 3am postings: my life as a dutiful daughter-in-law in my husband’s Taiwanese family. Their wacky superstitions, foods, advice, and energy audits were even more magical, ridiculous, helpful, and hilarious once Cancer entered the picture. I also kept writing because aside from the pink books that told me I wouldn’t die, I couldn’t stand what I was reading.
As I organize these essays into some sort of readable story, I realize that I’m a bit of a Jesus girl. Although I was a relative newcomer to our Church, I found myself on a handful of committees and had just wrapped up co-chairing our annual fundraising event when I got the bad news. These faithful people, some who I had only ever met briefly, mobilized an army of parishioners whose prayers I swear I could feel. The support of my Church community has been my crutch. Even better than VIP status at the hospital as Mrs. Dr. Bernie Lee was the knowledge that my fellow parishioners were out there, sending me cosmic healing messages of Love. The God I’ve come to know is an ever-present, ever-loving gift. My prayers still smack of kid-who-wants-a-pony, but at least now, as a result of this ordeal, I feel like there’s a deeper conversation happening.
East Meets Breast: wife of Taiwanese plastic surgeon gets breast cancer, hilarity ensues, God appears. Ultimately, though, it’s a love story… a love story between two people who just happen to know a good deal about breast cancer and its treatment. And though I have chronicled the fallout of this diagnosis on my family and small children, I hope that I did that with love and a greater deal of humor than the dry and terrifying cancer blogs I cruised to find survival stories. If they are like me, women struggling with the terror of breast cancer are eating these up like salted caramels. All of us are looking for stories with better endings. Or barring that, just stories that are better stories.
I still haven’t decided if all of the CarePages entries should be shuttled over to provide the background for East Meets Breast. I’ll probably leave them behind and sally forth with stories of The Aftermath: short hair styling, strapless dress fears, meditation with A-Gong, and very soon, A Road Trip With Steve Safran!