Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Last night for the first time, exactly seven weeks and four days after I was given the diagnosis of breast cancer, I felt immense shame.

I am not afraid to cry and grieve and yell at the God’s in my self-centered moments of “Why me?”  In fact, I don’t think I ever even had the “Why me?” thought cross my mind.  Yes I have cried and grieved….but, “Why anybody?”  Why the little children with the bald heads and innocent hearts, who were being wheeled around Stanford by grieving parents, trying to be strong themselves while I knew, in every corner of their hearts they were crumbling? Why them??

So, I digress, I never thought “Why me?”  But through my shock and fear and, my defense mechanism of cracking jokes and making light of my situation (although God forbid anyone else make light of it), my desire to be a good patient and to keep the passengers feeling safe on the crashing jet, I proudly operated in my usual fashion. I did my best to keep everyone calm; after all, we are not supposed to panic during an emergency.  If Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger had panicked even for a split second, US Airways Flight 1549 would have been full of screaming hysterical passengers, the plane would have crashed into the Hudson River, the 155 passengers aboard would have most likely died, and his signed book would not be standing at a place of honor on my great-grandfather’s antique table.  He didn’t panic, nor did his co-pilot.

Lucky for me, I had so many co-pilots by my side, that even had I panicked, they would have taken the wheel for me.  In fact, had it not been for the amount of support I had at the hospital alone, who I referred to regularly as “My body guards," a veiled threat to the outnumbered hospital staff in the unlikely case that any one of them considered treating me with anything but dignity...I may not have had the good fortune of having my very own private room. Personally, I think we were so loud that they wouldn't have given me anything but a private room.  So that's the secret.

I have been very fortunate.  Beyond the countless people that were there holding me up as I was wheeled into the OR (and nicely drugged I might add), the faces of my Aunt Katie, my cousin Becky, my cousin Eileen (all cancer survivors), my beautiful man Richard, my daughter Monica and her dear Marine friend Jeff and my daughter Nicole and possibly my future son-in-law Phillip were all there, reminding me that in this world, I will never be alone.

And before I forget….did I mention that prior to surgery I received in the mail a nine page single spaced letter from the Genetics Oncologist, which by the way was so full of facts and figures and family history that I had to read it twice?  Yes, I have a serious family history of cancer. Yes, I have a 23% chance of recurrence…but after two in-depth readings do you know what I actually took away from this letter?  Hold on, let me get the letter….Under Physical Examination the letter said “The patient is very pleasant.” I was so flattered.  Then, at the end of the nine page letter, the Attending Physician’s Statement said, verbatim,  “I appreciate the chance to be involved in the care of this very pleasant patient.”  I walked around for a day calling myself “a very pleasant patient.”  23% chance of recurrence? Who cares? I’m PLEASANT! They like me! They really like me!  And I laughed as I went on with my day repeating the word “pleasant” to myself as many times as I needed reinforcement that “hey, I’m okay in their book!”  Which takes me back to the Japanese proverb that our dear friend Margaret Donatello shared with me about kindness….”One kind word can warm three winter months.”  For a full day after reading the letter, I forgot I had cancer, because of that one word that validated everything I want to believe about myself as a human being.  That I am good.

And so…the earth turned as usual, I came home a day after surgery, the relatives showered me with love and gifts and said their good-byes, the daughters went back to their 20 something year old world (as they should), and with the exception of my selfless, loyal, and unconditional Richard, the silence set in. 

We went to bed.  I had three layers on top…a grey sports bra, a pretty pink floral stretchy tube top courtesy of Stanford and Anthem Blue Shield, and my snuggly long-sleeved button-up Liz Claiborne pajamas courtesy of my cousin Eileen.  I needed to get the blasted sports bra off, it was cutting off my ability to breathe.  I didn’t think much of it.  I asked Richard to help me because I can’t lift my right arm.  Gently and tenderly Richard helped me remove all three garments.  He said not a word.  I got up from bed and walked to my mirrored closet.  I was a deer in headlights.  My breathing became shallow, my bottom lip began to quiver, and without the jokes and false bravado, reality came, and it came with a vengeance.  I wasn’t so brave.  I stood, unable to look away, yet horrified to look, quietly and in shock at the site of my breast.  Like driving by an accident only you realize at that moment the person in the accident is someone you know and love.  I could barely speak but managed to get two words out through my tears… "I'm deformed.” First the shock, then the tears, then the reality, then….the shame.  The cruel, cold, horrible, almighty shame.

Richard left me standing there, momentarily, so as not to disturb my need to process my new truth.  It’s hard to celebrate being alive when one feels shame.  “It’s so ugly. It’s so fucking ugly."  Richard waited just enough beats, as though he was in rhythm with my grief and knew exactly what to do.  He stood up and quietly put his arms around me, still not saying a word.

How can you ever look at me again?” I knew all along, these feelings would come, I just didn’t know when.  Grief is an inevitable parallel of life.

I felt like a child who was falsely accused and carrying shame that I had no part of "It's not my fault" I said.  And then I said it again as if trying to convince myself and Richard that it really wasn't my fault.  In my warped mind, I was quietly begging him not to hold it against me, to love me anyway, to not hold me accountable for this....this ugliness that was now my own.

Richard held me carefully, like a china doll that might break at any moment with one wrong move.  He rubbed my hair and let me sob into his neck.  It was an intimate moment in my most vulnerable of states. The type of moment that you pray when it comes, if it does come in your lifetime, you will have that perfect person that knows exactly what to say to make it all better.    Without a second thought and ever so genuinely he whispered in my ear, “You will always be beautiful to me.”  That was what I needed to know. That was what I needed to hear.

It is in those intimate moments where pain and fear and shame meet at the cross-roads of life, where we are faced with our truest of selves, in the rawest of form, at the darkest of hours….it is in those moments, by the people that love us, genuinely and is only then, that we are made real.

"...Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly..." said the Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams


Rose said...

Again, you amaze me. Like Richard said you are beautiful, not only to him, to many...

renaedarlene said...

Thank you Rose...just so you know, I'm going to be writing a blog soon on our love for our animals...I'm hoping you'll like that one. :) ~Renae~