Breast cancer was not invited in to our home, but it made itself comfortable quickly. Having surgery may have removed the tumor, along with both of her breasts, but it did not evict the unwelcome tenant. Every day we feel it. Some days more than others. Work, kids, and daily routines may offer a momentary distraction from thinking about cancer, but it never disappears for long.
First, I want to send a giant thank you to everyone who has been following us and watching our Waters Chicks videos. They are spontaneous, unscripted, and meant to be both entertaining and educational. They show us in our most real light and what life is like in our world.
After posting one of our favorites last weekend, we felt inspired to give a behind the scenes account of what happens after the video stops and give a glimpse of how cancer has affected our family. It is not exactly a fun topic, but is an active player in the Waters Chicks game lately.
In October of last year, our new roommate, breast cancer, became a squatter in our home. When cancer moves in, it brings luggage that clutters every square foot of the house and are unapologetic about consuming all of your favorite snacks. It hijacks your security system, disables the motion detectors, and blacks out the camera views. It may not been seen, but you always feel its presence.
At night, it roams the floors the interrupting the quiet and in the morning it makes daylight feel suffocating. Its goal is to steal our valuables, rummage through our closets, and leave things in disarray. It sticks to the fibers of your clothes, drips from the walls, and follows you out the door and into the world.
The universe denied my repeated requests for an easy button to appear in the days before and day of surgery. I felt helpless and sick to my stomach thinking about what was happening just down the hall from where I sat waiting. Fear, anger, and sadness, galloped around my brain continuously.
Thoughts of disbelief and worry about how her recovery would be impacted by her allergies to pain medication cramped by brain. Her worries were for me and how I would do while waiting for her. Even facing what she did, her thoughts were for my well-being.
Prior to her surgery, my wife frequently referred to it as the day her boobs were getting chopped off. This was a disturbing but true representation of facts. As the mastectomy got closer, I reached down deep and became the voice of optimism. I suggested an alternative description and began referring to it as the day she would not have cancer growing inside her body.
Yvette knew her family had a history of cancer, and always thought the odds of being diagnosed in her lifetime were greater, however not at the age of 47. The other family members were in their 60’s when they got diagnosed. Staying positive was the least I could do, even though we both secretly worried about what else was inside of her waiting to start growing.
When someone gets diagnosed with breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, so do their family, friends, and loved ones. She often reminds me we both had cancer, but our experiences have been different. Six months later, we are still figuring out just how deeply affected we have been by our unwanted guest.
Our individual grieving process is different and admitting the difficulty in processing everything that has happened is a hated chore. Fighting is more courageous than waving the white flag, right? Head down and one foot in front of the other is a great approach, however is not fool proof. Daily life has changed since cancer knocked on the door.
In fact, few areas of life are unaffected. Grocery shopping is challenging and not as fun as it used to be. Reading labels and making choices which will reduce the chance of anything we eat causing future cancers to pop up is now the routine. Our vigilance has been heightened to the point of obsession.
Sitting and watching television is no longer enjoyable or an escape. Until cancer came calling, we were unaware of the frequency and volume of cancer related commercials and story lines in our shows. Our sympathy has become empathy.
While we are grateful that only medication was needed, we still wrestle with conflicting emotions. Gratitude. Anger. Gratitude. Disbelief. Gratitude. Fear. Gratitude. Sadness. All at once. We wonder if anger diminishes our gratitude. Can they exist simultaneously?
We have been guilty of stuffing emotions and privately talking ourselves out of our own grieving process. Partly because we worry about how our feelings will affect the other and partly because it still feels overwhelming and like too much to deal with.
Slowly, we have maneuvered through the maze of emotions and allowed ourselves to vent, cry, and laugh. It is a work in progress with no definite ending point. In the past six months cancer has changed our priorities and dominated the conversation.
We are doing okay, yet there are times when we are not as okay as we think we are. Removing the breast cancer was actually the easy part. Working through the lingering emotions and wading through the mental impact lasts long past the physical recovery and treatment. Medication to help reduce the chance of recurrence only adds to the mix.
The changes to my wife’s body can be classified as cosmetic. Although her identity was not tied up in her breasts, losing them changed more than just how she appears in a sweater.
Women who lose their breasts to cancer must sort through more than their closets to find new clothing which fits their new shape. They worry about whether or not their spouse will still be attracted to them and whether or not they are considered real women anymore.
Adjusting to life without a part of your body takes time. Getting past the anger and sadness takes longer. Grieving the loss of breasts is not something that is often discussed openly. In fact, it has been the most difficult to research or verbalize to anyone. Why?
My theory about why it is not discussed is due to the fear of being seen as shallow, selfish, or getting lumped in with those who bail on marriages or relationships after a their partner had a mastectomy. Word on the street is, sadly, it happens more than you think.
Who wants to be seen as a jerk? Not me. How can I complain or feel badly when my wife is doing well? Not me. What are the rules for feeling upset that my wife lost her breasts? There are none. A quick google search on the topic of lesbian double mastectomy grieving shows nothing. Zero. There is little insight offered for men whose wives lose their breasts to cancer either, save a few sentences about the importance of supporting your spouse when a health crisis arises.
I had to come up with my own rules. As I tried to sort through all the feels, I realized I was asking the wrong questions and changed direction. Did I fall in love with her because of her breasts? No. Does losing her breasts change who she is? No. Is she less of a woman because she does not have breasts? No. Does she know I think she is more beautiful than ever? No.
The truth is my wife is not, and never was, just her breasts. This conclusion was not a difficult one to reach. That being said, which seems silly to even have to say, there were a few more questions that I needed to answer. Do I miss my wife’s breasts? Yes. Do I wish we, meaning myself and her boobs, had more than six years together before she was diagnosed? Absolutely. In fact, I feel like this was some kind of cruel joke, especially given our late in life coming out story.
It has taken six months for me to understand that these are perfectly acceptable feelings and feeling this way does not make me an asshole. More than the loss of her breasts, we are grieving the loss of what life was like before cancer and adjusting to life after cancer.
Which brings us to the million dollar question. Do I wish cancer got lost on the way to our address? More than anything. This is the main source of my anger and sadness. Everything else stems from here. Her breasts were just a casualty of a shitty disease.
My wife had my full support when she chose not to have reconstruction. In fact, I asked her to consider not having it. Either way, cancer happened and a new set of boobs was not going to help us forget about it. Reconstruction meant more surgeries, and recoveries, and drainage tubes, and bras. My wife is a proud member of the flat and fabulous club.
In addition to her physical appearance, her mental and emotional state has been affected. Surprisingly, even though she still is shocked when she looks at herself in the mirror and is reminded of what happened, she feels more peaceful than ever.
Accepting that life brings moments of joy and tribulation and understanding how these opposing feelings can be scattered randomly and exist simultaneously throughout is hard.
On better days, we see how dealing with breast cancer has renewed our commitment to live life fearlessly. On decent days it reminds us of what is important and how to let go of the things that hinder our growth.
The moments of feeling self-conscious are eventually met with determination and gratitude. Neither of us are ready to put getting cancer in the blessing category just yet. Breast cancer may have taken from us, but it has also given us a greater appreciation for one another and life in general.
As a lesbian couple, the discomfort many already have with our “lifestyle” choice has not gone unnoticed by either of us. Unfortunately for some of our family and “friends”, adding cancer to the mix did little to adjust their thinking or understanding about same sex relationships not being any different than heterosexual ones.
Cancer does not care what lifestyle you “choose” to live or who you decide to love. However its presence does provide ample learning opportunities regarding how to take the good with the bad. A valuable life skill if you ask us. Are we on the other side yet? Not by a long shot but the Waters Chicks are moving forward anyway.
The paint on our house may have faded and our windows may be lacking shine, but the route to the home improvement store is programmed in to the GPS and the sales staff call us by our first names. We may have a squatter lurking in our midst, but we are the landlords of this property and are ready to wait out the eviction process.