Blooms and Bubbles began as CarePages, a website where nice people who knew I had breast cancer could get updates about my lymph nodes or review our family casserole preferences. Three years ago, in the short-haired aftermath, it became East Meets Breast: my best stories are those that involve the in-laws. Reaching the limit of their exasperation with the white girl poking fun at everything, this bloggy enterprise became Blooms and Bubbles in honor of my two devotions: the garden and too much Prosecco. My little stories work best as five paragraph snippets, but if I were to ever write a book, this might be the way-too-long jacket blurb.
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 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, Editor in Chief of a major plastic surgery journal, co-founder of the largest DIEP flap center in New England, and the Chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery at his Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. 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.
When I agreed to the CarePages, I thought I’d never post anything, you know, PERSONAL. But what began as a simple site keep relatives in the loop transformed into a real blogging (blech) 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.
I’m also a bit of a Jesus girl. Although I was a relative newcomer to our Church when I was diagnosed, 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. That page has turned. Onward to tales of a girl with a new head of hair, restructured bits, and a return of my deep love for Blooms and Bubbles.