14 October 2008

Stolen Post... I couldn't resist

Not too long ago, I wrote about my friend Mage, who had breast cancer. She's 35 and recently had a mastectomy and four lymph nodes removed. She started a blog when she was diagnosed. Her entry from today, about getting a compression sleeve to prevent lymphoedema- and the revelation that came with the shopping trip- is here for you. Whenever I am stuck in my own high quality "problems," I unwind laughing and crying with her words. Enjoy.

Good Enough

Once in Boulder, I made a fitting appointment at Hangar Orthotics and Prosthetics.

Susan, the kind, competent and exceedingly petite woman who answers the phone and manages the front desk, took me into an exam room and measured my arm with a yellow tape. She asked me which kind of compression sleeve I was here for.

I had no idea, I didn't even know there was a choice. She shrugged and made a decision without my input. I like to think she made the right one.

She copied my insurance card and told me she'd call me when the sleeve arrived.

A week later, I was back in the office to pick it up. Susan wasn't there that day, so I sat alone in the waiting room until Angela, the CPO, had time to see me. I don't know what a CPO is, but I know she is one because there was an article about her stuck up on a bulliten board near the front door. I also learned that she plays the banjo.

After a few minutes of waiting, I decided to look for the bathroom. I didn't find it. I gave up after I accidentally opened a door to another exam room where a patient was waiting to be seen. I didn't see the man's face. He was sitting kind of behind the door. But, I could see his leg, propped up on a chair. I could also see that he didn't have any foot at the end of the leg.

Like most people would be, I was horribly embarrassed to have opened the door to someone else's exam room. I closed it immediately and went back to my chair.

I imagine I am also like most other intact-bodied people in that I am uncomfortable when confronted with missing body parts.

You know how it is, you don't want to avert your eyes, but you don't want to stare right at their stump either. You want to act like you didn't notice, but not like you are insensitive. You want to appear cool, when really you are just clueless.

I asked myself, "Why I am so on-edge around amputees?" Maybe looking at their altered bodies triggers my own fear of injury and loss? Maybe their difference from me sparks a physical curiosity that feels socially inappropriate? Maybe I am struggling not to feel pity for them?

I don't know exactly. It's a complex issue. But, as I've noticed before, I don't need to really understand my emotional hang-ups in order to move through them.

What shifted for me that day was my sense of "otherness." Here I was, sitting in a room decorated with advertisements for artificial limbs and posters celebrating differently-abled atheletes. I wasn't here with a friend. I wasn't here to sell something. I was here to be treated. I was one of these people.

I couldn't help but notice that I didn't feel quite as embarrassed to walk in on that man as I would have before my surgery. Yes, I was still a stranger barging in on his private space. But we had something in common too. We were both patients in this place. We were both missing pieces of our bodies and here to be helped with the resulting health complications. We were on the same team; in the same club.

Yesterday I rode the bus from Boulder to Denver. A man whose left arm ended at the elbow was sitting behind me. I didn't pull out my usual cool-but-clueless routine. Instead, I threw him a goofy grin with an upward nod. I'm sure he thought I was some kind of weirdo, but for me it felt like a secret handshake. I wanted him to know that I'm like him...we are the same in one small way.

Now, I am not trying to compare loosing a breast with loosing an entire limb. Physically, I am able to do almost everything I could do before. Socially, my loss is nearly invisible. Obviously, there's a big difference between my story and that of the guy in the bus or the man in the exam room. But, we share something that most people don't, and I can't help but want to acknowledge that.

I think that's normal. The world is so big and we are so small. It's just nice to be able to separate the giant mass of humans into smaller groups. It's comforting to know what group you belong to, and to connect with others in the same group. At parties, we light up when we meet someone who loves the same music, plays the same sport, or collects the same kind of hand-painted Moroccan pottery as we do.

This urge to identify and reveal ourselves to other members of our various sub-cultures is even stronger when the group we belong to has a history of being riduculed, persecuted or pitied by the larger population. I think the urge is stronger because we feel safe with each other in a way that we don't feel safe with others.

I think that's what I was trying to say to the guy on the bus. I wanted him to know he was safe with me. I wasn't going to pity him or think he was strange because his hand was gone. How could I? I am missing pieces too.

But, I couldn't say it outloud. I couldn't say it outloud for the same reason the urge to connect is stonger than if we shared a hobby or a hometown. I couldn't say it outloud because we belong to a group that has a history of being riduculed, persecuted or pitied.

Thinking about it this way, it is suddenly clear why I've always felt uncomfortable around people with missing body parts. I feel like I'm put on the spot. I feel like I'm being tested. I know I belong to the group of people with a history of persecuting, riduculing and pitying. I feel like I'm being measured against that legacy and that the situation pre-disposes me to being found guilty.

But now that I've turned in my perfect-body membership card, I feel relieved of such judgement. Even if other people don't know that I'm permenantly excused, I know. They can give me any grade from F to A+, and it's not going to affect me. I didn't even sign up for this class.

This is just one more place where cancer has taught me something I should have known already.

I'm not just good, I'm good enough.

Whew. What a relief.


Karen said...

Your friend is a very smart woman. Thank you for sharing her thoughts with us.

M.M.M. said...

Oh my god I'm so honored! Now I'm the one crying.

Lisa said...