Bernie took a tamoxifen. No, this wasn’t an extreme act of endocrinologic solidarity by my prince charmy guy. Instead, when I consolidated my anti-Cancer, anti-reflux, and anti-headache pills into one tiny bottle, Bernie was none the wiser… and now has ever so slightly reduced his own chances of getting Breast Cancer. When I finally found my little container of mixed meds in Bernie’s briefcase, I knew the 1:3 risk of filling my husband with anti-estrogens was too great (and too funny) not to have happened.
I suppose I could fill the next three paragraphs with jokes about how smart, logical, unemotionally focused, and virile my estrogen-dampened husband has become. But truth is, (unharmed) Bernie and I found the whole pharma swap a funny end to a gloomy week. Though I had counted the calendar days to the anniversary of The Big Bummer News with dread, I hadn’t counted on how the One Year After Mutilating Surgery would feel. It crept up on me in little, devastating moments: Brodie’s un-knocked arrival into my bedroom, those fucking airport scanners, and Adam’s* birthday.
We went to Florida last week. Bernie and I use plastic surgery conventions in warm climes as a great excuse to recruit a teeny tiny Grandma and escape without children. Bernie and I flew south to attend talks by the best and brightest in reconstructive microsurgery, and to share shakers of poolside cocktails in the name of scientific communication. As I was packing for the trip, consolidating the medicines, and unearthing strapless beachwear from the back of the closet (and another life), Brodie burst into my room unaware of my half-out-of-formalwear dishabille. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but I worry that my altered and scarred body can create its own wounds on the psyche of a little boy who doesn’t deserve such a naked reminder of anything from last year.
Ultimately the bags were packed and Bernie and I were off to the airport to stand in lines, disrobing for strangers who make the world a safer place for our temporary shoelessness. I have a new-found hatred for the security detail. I wonder if other patients of the oft-scanned-for-Cancer ilk also have a mini panic attack in that damning tube. It’s also just embarrassing: what do these implants look like on the monitor? Can EVERYONE see them? Does the TSA agent make a connection between my short hair and those opaque circles… or just assume I’ve made some age-related adjustments? Add this to the List of Unfair Things: I don’t have the choice to keep my altered body a private matter, much less to get to Gate C without a reminder of everything from last year. Once we finally arrived, I dulled the post-traumatic stress with mojitos.
After a few days, we returned to our little boys, the wintery weather, and Adam’s birthday on the calendar. This exhumed a handful of year-old, Ativan-dulled memories of terror, sadness, and the hunt for a present worthy of a man willing to be a participant in our trauma—and taint his own cake-and-ice-cream celebrations for the rest of time. Adam’s birthday is the anniversary of my mastectomies. When I re-read the posts from a year ago, I hear a drug-addled girl with a lofty gratefulness. Apparently, it takes a year to get to Sadness: to mourn my body, my Peace, my life in a strapless dress.
Recently asked about the side effects of tamoxifen and other Cancer reminders, I confessed that I don’t always (ever) want to take this little pill. I get mad at it. I hang up angrily at the automated CVS reminders. I’m annoyed with the pharmacist who will ask me each and every month if I have any questions about a prescription with 60 refills. You bet, I have questions. But the answers can only be found in Church, or the kind company of my Bible study companions, or the collected messages from all of you who have been reading this nonsense from the scary beginning right up to its Sad-iversary, or in the eyes of sweet Bernie who has been waiting with open arms for the inevitable fallout for weeks.
My poor husband was all too aware of the date, and how I might spiral down into a wallowing, winy mess of a girl. Bernie chaperones his patients through these crappy milestones at work, and now… every January 17th… will soldier through with his own weepy wife at home. And although I do think it is important to recognize the anniversary, and respect the emotions it will always trigger… Bernie and I aren’t really wallowing types. We’re going honor the Sadness but we will Find the Funny! Bernie took a tamoxifen. Insert jokes here.
*Bernie’s colleague and my plastic surgeon