There’s this amazing mom-blogger that I read even though I would not wear 90% of what she does and fashion blogs are not a healthy place for AnaMias to hang out, no? I read her blog because she gets what it’s like to be a mom, to love your kids like crazy, to feel a little crazy, and to act a little crazy. Then last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And in between posts about skinny jeans and hairbands there were posts about losing breasts and hiding baldness. Instead of cocktails with her friends, she wrote about chemo cocktail hour at the hospital. And now, thankfully, she is cancer-free.
I bring this up because while I am not a fashion blogger (nor do I wish to be) and I don’t have cancer, I got my biopsy results this morning. And at age 43, for the second time in my life I found myself waiting for the news that hopefully some of my cells haven’t gone all wacky on me. I thought I’d feel relief but instead I feel numb. When my doctor first told me she wanted to do a biopsy and a more in-depth procedure (sonohysterogram for those of you who like Dr. Google), I thought – “she’s too breezy, there’s something funky going on here.” So I went home and spent hours trying to calculate my odds of having endometrial cancer. I nearly broke out a spreadsheet and a regression analysis, but that would have gone too far. So I scheduled the tests, prayed, and waited, had them, then prayed, and waited. And after the test went well and my husband was relieved, I was still waiting to feel. I said I was waiting for the pathology reports. I told myself that I would let myself feel whatever was going on with me once I got the results – no point in freaking out entirely when I just didn’t know.
And now I know. And all is ok. I still will have an operation later this month, but it’s not a hysterectomy, I don’t have cancer, and believe me, I am grateful. I am as grateful as a self-harming, self-destructive, anorexic can be. My husband was surprised that I wasn’t happy – and I don’t blame him. “No cancer” ranks right up there with some of the greatest news you can get. But I’m numb and incredibly, unbearably tired. I can feel the sadness just behind my mask but as much as I want to let it through, I can’t.
When I lived alone, if I felt like crap, I’d spend the day in bed, or mope around the apartment in my jammies, and drink Jack Daniels or martinis while watching Schindler’s List (there’s a movie to watch when you’re feeling selfishly sad). But now I have two little sets of eyes and ears that sense everything, and a kindly attentive husband who I don’t think could handle his wife falling apart. So I stuff emotions away for later, but later never comes.
I don’t feel these emotions because I don’t have a place to feel them. I don’t let down the mask, even when I’m alone in my bed with my beloved, because I’m afraid I won’t be able to put it back up. I don’t even cry in therapy – I just pinch and rub my hands until they are red and dimpled with little nail crescent marks. And because I don’t feel, I’m numb. I’m numb, and empty inside and oh, what a coincidence, it feels good to be empty in my stomach at the same time. When I am hungry, I feel numb and empty and clean and brilliant. I don’t have to give in to my body’s needs – look at me! When I am full, I feel fat and ugly and stupid and indulgent. But there is a small part of me that realizes that most people feel good when they eat, and bad when they are hungry.
So here I’m reading about this beautiful, smart woman who was blessed to beat cancer, and I weigh that against a disease that I still blame myself for having. I blame myself for the internal and external scars I’ve created, and for scaring myself and my family in the process. Truth be told, if I could, I’d blame myself for global warming and the current trade deficit.
I don’t have cancer. I don’t have to rip out my uterus and be thrust into menopause and worry about staging and estrogen-blocking drugs, and an 8 week recovery. I don’t have to explain any of this to my kids. And I am grateful. Seven years ago, I had a suspicious lump removed from my breast and I got the same news – no cancer. But then I wasn’t being throttled by my eating disorder and I was able to celebrate – and to cry. The difference between then and now is staggering. At least I’m noticing it – at least I’m recognizing the scarring and scaring that I do to myself every day. And maybe, just maybe… tomorrow when I’m home alone or I’m on a run or I’m in the car, I’ll be able to feel the gratitude and the fear and the uncertainty and the relief. Because numb is no way to live.