Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Was in Red High Heels And Bullet Proof

I know I told y’all here that this was the first and last time I would talk about being a breast cancer survivor; but I have been lingering all day on thoughts I’ve had after a phone conversation this morning with Paige. She called to ask my advice about something - her sister was concerned about a friend who will be undergoing a double mastectomy next week. She wanted to know if I had any suggestions on what her sister could do for her friend. Since the call this morning, I can’t quit thinking about my own experience of having a double mastectomy.

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…

36 comments:

Penny said...

First!

I know you didn't mean to, but your story brought tears to my eyes. I'm so sorry you had to go through this, but I'm so proud to know such a strong and giving woman. Thank you for letting us get to know you better, and best of luck to your friends friend. She's going to love the red heels! Maybe you can send her a copy of this blog and your blog address so she can get to know you too.

Hugs,
Penny

mom huebert said...

That made me cry... I pray the new owner of the shoes finds the same courage and hope you found.

justabeachkat said...

Wow! This gave me sweet chills! As a breast cancer survivor myself, I appreciate and understand your feelings. Deb, this was a beautiful post from a beautiful spirit. I'm working on a post about breast cancer tonight myself and I hope you don't mind that I'll link to you and this post.

Hugs sweet friend!
Kat

Big Mama said...

I love this post, Deb. And I love your sweet heart.

Hollie said...

i loved this post. it made me laugh and cry at the same time.
thank you for sharing.

beautifully written.

Janera said...

This is a lovely story of courage and joy in the midst of turmoil and pain. What a testimony of the human spirit! I hope the shoes are just her size, but you're right -- if they're not, that's not the point.

Thanks for sharing. I'm glad I stopped by tonight.

The Pampered World said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Not only do I pray for the new owner of those shoes, but all women who are going through this and are also survivors like yourself. I hope one day there will be a cure.

Bridget said...

What a beautiful story. I did get a little teary eyed. Those are a great pair of shoes and I know the recipient of them will cherish them as much as you did.
If I ever know anyone going through a mastectomy, I'm going to give her a pair of red shoes. Heck, red shoes make me happy.
I love red and I told my sister that I want everyone to wear red to my funeral. If I kick the bucket, you'd better see if you can borrow those shoes back!
Hugs, Bridget

Buffie said...

I absolutely loved this story of your survival! Tears and laughter and a awesome pair of red shoes....you are a very lucky woman to have such a husband! You are one very sweet lady to send the shoes to your friend!!!! I pray they give the same courage that they gave you!
Buffie : )

Lavender Chick said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind words! It's truly appreciated.

Bridget & Buffie - Were y'all really up at two and four in the morning????

Theresa said...

WOW! You made me cry, but you also made me remember.

I was one of the lucky ones. The doctor caught the 3 small nodules in my breast while they were still pre-cancerous. I had surgery on my oldest daughter's 16th birthday. I was scared spitless, because earlier that same year a good friend of mine had undergone a double masectomy.

I hope that the lady that gets your red shoes, truly understands the spirit in which they were sent. AND knows about all of us who will be praying her through this.

Quiltdivajulie said...

Thank you for sharing your story ~ teary eyes and all. And what a marvelous healing step for you to pass on the so-significant red shoes to another woman!

p.s. All of the women in my family have died of cancer (most often breast cancer) - I go for my annual checkup in 7 days...

Bridget said...

Well Buffie was because she is in your time zone but for me, it was midnight...late enough!

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

Blessed!
I am awed by your story. I have my mom's 'red shoes' in my closet. It is really a hat in a red hat box... but the story is the same.
You have been so blessed.

Meggie said...

Found you by way of Kat at Just a Beach Kat. What an inspiring story! I know what you mean about a new pair lifting your spirits. What a thoughtful husband! Such a great idea to send the shoes to the young woman now facing the disease. I'm sure there is lots of courage left in those shoes to help her situation......

Connie said...

I just came over from JUSTABEACHKAT. I ditto what mom huebert said...your story made me cry. I pray that the new owner of the shoes finds the same courage and the hope you found. I think you've started something for ALL women surviving a double mastectomy. You should put your name, date of operation on the box so that it can be traced to all who have shared in your courage and your wonderful husbands gift. I'm glad you shared your beautiful story. Connie

Boyz3Mommy said...

You are one incredible lady Ms. Deb. Completely incredible.

Anonymous said...

So glad I got to read this---I've known you for years, and Debi, you still bring joy and pleasure to my life. You know my love of shoes, and I understand the magic of red shoes. Thanks for sharing, Ann, mom of Paige and Angie

Hill Country House Girl said...

What a great story. I am sitting at my desk on the wonderful rainy day in Fbg. with big tears in my eyes. I am going to forward the link to your blog to a friend who will love it. Thank you!

Painted Groove Girl said...

I don't have anything else to say other than you are just so very special. And extraordinary. And a really good writer. Oh and the best story teller I know. I remember you lent me your pink breast cancer blankie when I was cold and wimpy for entirely other reasons. That's the kind of friend you are.

Design Block said...

I think the red shoes are the best gift ever. I am lucky to have you for a big sister. I am still so super grateful that you came to Charlie's funeral. Love, Bets

Design Block said...
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Design Block said...
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Penny said...

Love your pet commandements! I know you're having a ball with your poodles babies. I love how poodles don't shed, but I sure wish I didn't have to have them groomed every 6-7 weeks. We used to go every 4 weeks, but then I got a little less more lax about it. I tried learning to groom them myself, and I can do everything (including the feet), except I just can't muster the courage around the eyes. Oh and the lips! Ginger stuck her tongue out once and you wouldn't beleive how much those things can bleed. And lord it takes me like a whole day to do one, and it takes Barry the groomer like an hour. LOL
It's all worth it though because they are the most fun things EVER!

Hope you're having a great week.

Hugs, P

LivingTheLife said...

Well, I'm in a heap of tears NOW! What an awesome story...of not only courage and faith...but of love! The love Jack showered you and embraced you with during your healing process, drain tubes and all...the love of a man who KNOWS just what to say and do...whenever life gets us down and we just can't imagine picking ourselves back up. The LOVE you are sharing and the hope and courage you are sending forth to this young woman can only give her faith, support and hope of her future. Those shoes and your sharing of the journey you've traveled will be a sign of courage not only for her benefit...but to the benefit of others who have or may go through this process. THANKS to you and your unselfish candor about your experience. I am so proud to know you...and I am so thankful you shared a part of you...I know that's not always an easy thing to do!!

You and those shoes...well, you are both "mighty fine" in my book!

Blessings...
Teresa

Paige said...

Thank you for your journey! I am touched and inspired by your story. May you continue to be a blessing and encouragement for others who are going through this journey. I was encouraged by you when you took the time to email me and encouraging me while Pat was going through his journey! I am blessed to know you!

Hugs!

Mrs Lemon said...

I have some red heels of my own that I bought during a healing time as well, and I will never get rid of them!

Sand Flat Farm said...

What a touching story. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Thank you even more for thinking of sending those red shoes to that young lady who faces such a terrible experience. I know that your care and concern for her will help her get through it. Isn't this kind of thing what we're all here for anyway? blessings to you -

lpollard said...

You are truly a treasure, my friend!

Lavender Chick said...

Hi y'all! Just wanted to say thanks for all your wonderful and sweet comments. I'm truly touched by all of you!

Debi

Diane said...

Wow! Thank you for that beautiful and oh so touching story. You're a hero of the best kind. :0} Diane

Susan (Moonlight and Magnolias on RMS) said...

Wonderful story...very inspiring! It is so funny sometimes the things that are important for that moment in our life and the simple things we later remember. You husband is wonderful...you have a true gem! Love to you! Susan

cedwards55 said...

Susan from Moonlightandmagnolias sent me over and I'm so glad she did. I'm a fourteen yr cancer survivor. I'm so touched by your story. Your husband was so wonderful to buy you not only red high heels but Stuart Weitzmans! What a guy. Congratualtions on being cancer free and for your great attitude. What a sweet gesture to send the shoes to your friend's friend. I'll keep her in my prayers. And you're right. Nothing was as big a nuisance as those drains. And the pain when they came out. Holy cow! Enjoy your life! Cancer has made me appreciate every day!
Carol

Marie said...

Hi Deb -- just catching up on your blog. Thanks for sharing your story about your red high heels. I can relate.

My story is not as serious or as touching, but here goes. About 4 years ago I was diagnosed with a skin cancer and had to administer a chemotherapy cream to myself every day for a month after it was removed, to make sure it was ALL gone. The folks at the doctor's office and the pharmacy took great pains to tell me to be sure to strip down naked, put on gloves, apply it with an applicator, and make sure the cream didn't touch ANYTHING because it would eat thru fabrics and was extremely toxic (duh). So, I was suppossed to sit naked every night for about 15 minutes and let the cream "set in". The first night I was supposed to do it, I got really nervous and was psyching myself out. I was alone and just really freaked out about doing "chemo" to myself, even tho it wasn't that big of a deal. I just kept putting it off. Eventually I stripped down to nuthin and just stood there -- I couldn't do it. So, I went into my closet and got out that big cow-spotted box that held the beautiful Donald J Pliner boots I'd bought for myself the month before as a consolation gift to myself after "W" got re-elected. I put on those boots, and nothing else, and did that first "chemo" treatment. Then, I sat there for 15 minutes on the edge of the bed -- in nothing but beautiful, calf length espresso colored Donald J. Pliner boots -- and I was fine. Unlike you, I have worn those boots many times and I always think of that night.

A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do, right? We take strength where we can find it and I'm sure that that woman will find strength in those beautiful red slingbacks.

Anonymous said...

This moved me to tears and laughter! My Sister is a survivor of TWO battles with Breast Cancer. She had a pair of RED cowgirl boots that she wore to surgery and all of her radiation and chemo treatments. No, not even close to being a Cowgirl in real life-she called them her "cancer kick ass boots"! Thank you for sharing so honestly and for your generous heart. I don't have a google account so I will just sign this. indigosd

Joycee said...

Girlfriend, those shoes represented the courage you had from facing breast cancer. Your strength is amazing and you should share this again and again. I just had calcifications aspirated to get them out of there. I am afraid down the line they will form into cancer even though 2 doctors told me no. Sometimes there is just that feeling you have...
joy c. at grannymountain