There is so much irony in my phone call with Paige this morning. It dawned on me after I hung up the phone that my diagnosis came exactly 5 years ago to THE DAY. It was October 9th, 2003 when I got the phone call from my doctor with the dreaded news of the ‘C’ word. Interesting how Paige happened to call me on the anniversary of this day (and in fact at about the same exact time that my doctor called me with the diagnosis) to tell me about a young 35-year-old mom who will be having a double mastectomy. The other irony, of course, is that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Perhaps that’s another reason I keep re-living 5 years ago.
As my mind wandered, literally all day, about my own experience and the experience this young woman will encounter next week, I suddenly remembered my red high heels. I have not even thought about those shoes in almost 5 years; and I probably never would have if Paige hadn’t called on this particular day which caused me to go way back in my memory bank. A bank that I’ve been trying to make myself believe is now closed. Anyway, here’s the story:
It was two months after my diagnosis when I had the double mastectomy. There were many, many trips back and forth to Dallas as Jack and I talked to doctor after doctor about my options and my future. When I finally decided the treatment option that was best for me, I braced myself for surgery, which would take place on December 7th, 2003. It was my Pearl Harbor Day.
Now I’m going to tell y’all the unspoken words about what happens after a mastectomy. Outside of support groups and private discussions with your doctor, no one really discusses this. So – brace yourself, it’s not a pretty picture. After a mastectomy drain tubes hang out of your new flat chest in order to drain all the fluid coming out of what was once a nicely packaged set of boobs in cute little lacey bras. I literally felt like an alien-being with tubes coming out of my body. And then, to make myself feel even more like a science project, my husband got to drain these tubes several times a day for almost 3 weeks. Jack really is my rock in so many ways. Looking back, it makes me smile to think about how much we actually laughed during this ordeal. Yes, draining fluid from tubes coming out of what should be a set of breasts can actually be humorous. Laughter really is a good thing, y’all. I’m just glad to be able to say that we could find some humor in a not so humorous situation. In hindsight, we were probably laughing to keep from crying. And yes, we did some crying during that time, too.
The day finally came for my first public outing, which was actually several days earlier than what I was really prepared for… My sister’s father-in-law died very unexpectedly of a heart attack. We were all shocked and very, very sad about the news. There was no way I would even consider not going to the funeral to support my brother-in-law. I had to be there, drain tubes and all….
The funeral was in Dallas, so Jack and I drove up the day before and stayed in a hotel. I guess I had a bit of a pity-party on the drive to Dallas worrying about, of all things, what I had chosen to wear to the funeral and concerned that I wouldn’t be able to camouflage the alien tubes coming out of my lovely flat chest. Jack kept reminding me that I had the perfect outfit and no one would ever know that I had drain tubes safety-pinned up underneath my blouse, nor would they know that I didn’t have boobs under my loose-fitting top. After about 2 hours of my whining and Jack encouraging me that I really did look good, he finally said, “What can I do to make you happy? Do you want some new shoes?”
See y’all – I knew why I married this man. He knows that a new pair of shoes works every time! Although I would have rather had my old boobs back, I suppose a new pair of shoes is the next best thing. So, I guess my first real public outing was the shoe department at Saks 5th Avenue in Dallas. Anyway, I found the most beautiful pair of red high heels. The shoes literally sang to me… And to be honest with you, I think they were the first and only pair of red heels I had ever owned. I don’t even know what came over me, because red heels aren’t necessarily typical of my shoe repertoire. But on that particular day those shoes needed me, and I needed them.
The next morning at the funeral I wore those red high heels. I guess I somehow subconsciously thought that people would stare at my red heels and not at my chest. Just so you know, after you have a mastectomy, everyone stares at your boobs…. I know they can’t help it, it’s only natural (I’m sure I have done the same thing), but it is very uncomfortable, especially when you’re freaking out about drain tubes possibly peaking out under your blouse – or worse, your drain tubes leaking….
Anyway, after the service I will never forget this very nice and sweet young woman (a friend of my sister’s) that came up to me and said, “I am so impressed with the fact that you are here after all that you have been through. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is just throw on those red high heels and say - Here I am!”
You know what? She was right! I was actually glad that I was standing there in red high heels; and even though the circumstance of why I had to finally get dressed up was horrible (my poor brother-in-law), it felt good to feel like a female human-being again and wear high heels. It made me feel girl-y; it made me feel feminine, which was much better than feeling like Frankenstein.
I never wore those red shoes again. I didn’t need to – I only needed them for the courage and strength on that one particular day.
With that said, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to send these red high heels to the young woman Paige told me about today who will be undergoing her mastectomy next week. I don’t know if the shoes are her size, or if she will ever wear them, but I just want her to have them for courage – And to hopefully pass them on to someone else someday that will get the dreaded news that they have breast cancer. Because you know what? Although I don’t know this young woman, and will probably never meet her, for a brief moment in time we will have walked in each other’s shoes…