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Texas Hold 'Em

Here’s what I remember from those first post-mastectomy moments: Waking up to see my primary care physician, Dr. J, in the recovery room (even though there was no medical reason for him to be there). Being comforted by my family and friends. Watching my Mom futz with the daisies and delphiniums. Sipping 7-Up. Smiling, even though the pink-flowered elastic tube top they had put on me felt like it was lined with burlap and foxtails. Testing the efficiency of my morphine PCA drip. Feeling gratitude. Worrying what my hair looked like. Drifting in and out of sleep.

I also clearly remember this:

My “suite” had the usual hospital stuff, but one half of it had the look and feel of the Brady’ Bunch’s den. It had a low-slung sofa, a curvy coffee table, an entertainment center and TV, and a big round table with chairs, over which hung a Gunsmoke--looking light fixture.

After sleeping a bit, I woke to the sound of voices, so I turned in their direction. Surrounding the big round table were my ex, Ocho, my brother Dennis and his girlfriend, my Dad, my son Michael and his buddy, and my friend from work, Mitch.

My brother: “Ok, here’s the flop…here’s the river…and I’m guessing the ex has nothin’ but pocket deuces.”

The ex: “I’m betting my pocket deuces’ll beat that weak hand you got, Dennis.”

Ocho: “Check.”

My brother: “You can’t check yet, Ocho.”

Ocho: “Right…”

They were playing Texas Hold ‘Em. And it felt oddly normal and comforting.

The game lasted for hours and continued into the night, while Mom and Katie watched movies and read People and Us.

I did have a few hours alone. When everyone left to get dinner that first night, I took the opportunity to look at myself. The desk/table that held my 7-Up and ice had a secret pull-out compartment with a mirror. I flipped up the mirror and looked at myself. The tube top I had on was pink with patronizing little flowers and a ruffle at the bottom and the top. “Good grief,” I thought. “Who designed this ridiculous-looking and uncomfortable thing? Not only does it itch, it looks like a top I got at the Sears Roebuck in Shawnee Mission, Kansas when I was 11.”

I undid the Velcro on the tube top and looked at the white bandages wrapped around my chest. My chest was as flat as a prairie. “I look exactly like I did in 1971,” I thought. I laughed at the image, and also, I think, at the reconstituted pre-teen angst it induced. Then I had a good cry.

Two days after the surgery, I was discharged from the hospital. When I got home, I had a burst of energy—I looked at my flowers, I went through my mail, I had dinner on the couch. Two hours later, I crashed and crawled into bed.

The French doors in my bedroom look out onto my backyard. Here's how I'd like to describe the view: green grass, abundant flowers, artfully shaped Japanese maples and a little Balinese meditation house. Here’s the actual view: dead grass, abundant dog poo, leggy Japanese maples and a deteriorating wooden swing set that is a liability just waiting to happen.

There are, however, hand-trimmed, 12-foot hedges in my backyard, as well as an orange tree, a giant redwood, and some Mexican sage that the hummingbirds like. I gazed upon these for a while then fell asleep for a few hours. I woke to the sound of voices out on the back deck. It was a lovely feeling being in my home, surrounded by my family and friends, the setting sun making everything look a deeper shade of green, the current crisis providing meaning, energy, solidarity, love and life. I soaked it all in. And I listened…

Here’s what I wanted to hear: “…incredible…recovering so quickly…very brave…such a good mom…can you believe what she’s done to this yard? strong…so healthy…so lucky…and her hair looks amazing…”

Here’s what I heard:

“Who needs a beer?”

“The ex needs one because he’s only got a two and a five.”

“The bro needs one because he’s going to try to bluff with that inferior hand.”


“You can’t check yet, Ocho.”


I drifted in and out. Everything in my world was Ok.


Sherry said…
Memories, ah sweet memories...the ones we remember, the ones we reconstruct...the daze and haze of painkillers and the normalcy of life as we are going through a critical change in our own. Reflecting back to how things were...probably helps you to recover the whole experience. Loved reading this.
KT said…
Hi Jill, sounds like you come from a very fun and supportive family! I can see where you get your sense of humor! How cool that they all were there for you when you woke up, even if they were gambling ;-) How long ago did you have your mastectomy? Just being nosey, Katie
Jill Aldrich said…
Hi Sherry, I wasn't able to write about my experience until a few months ago when I joined the Writers' Group at the Community Breast Health Center in Palo Alto. It's an amazing group of women, and I would have joined them again, but I wasn't able to schedule it in. This is now my creative outlet, and I'm happy I found it. You're right: reconstructing those experiences helps me accept them. And now that I have a little distance, I also can see more than fear. I can also see sweetness and, of course, humor. I so enjoy this new community of writers. We share not only breast cancer but a desire to hold each other up. I really am happy I connected with you.
Jill Aldrich said…
Hey KT, I am lucky in many ways. My family and friends make me laugh and make me feel loved. I also found my breast cancer early. I found my invasive lobular carcinoma last May. I no lymph node involvement, but I had ten tumors, which required that I have a mastectomy. I elected to have a double mastectomy because I had a 30% chance of getting cancer in the left breast. My cancer was classified as a Stage 1 because of the size of the largest tumor and the zero lymph node involvement, but I got the six pack (mastectomy, chemo, radiation, Tamoxifen, reconstruction, Arimidex) because I was so small-breasted and there were no clear margins. And, I'm happy you're nosey. I'd be honored to hear your whole story. I've been able to piece together parts...
KT said…
Hi Jill, here's my whole story, sorry there's no short version:

I had invasive lobular cancer like you, in the left breast, but with some DCIS and ductal carcinoma thrown in for kicks. Quite an eclectic mix, although my surgeon said it is common.

For my 1st diagnosis, in Sept 2006, the tumor was over 2.5cm and they suspected lymph node involvement so I was stage 2B. (I never felt the lump in my breast. I was nursing my then-5-month-old and found a large lump in my armpit which turned out to be a lymph node.)

I did chemo right away, A/C and Taxol from Sept 2006-Jan2007. The chemo successfully shrunk the tumor to almost 1/5 its original size, so the surgeon could do a lumpectomy instead of a mast. He got clear margins. He also took the 1st 2 levels of lymph nodes under my armpit and 3 of 9 still had cancer. I did radiation after that and started Tamoxifen....was considered cancer-free as of spring 2007.

For my 2nd diagnosis, in August 2007, the same left breast had 5 scattered tumors ranging from 4mm to 1cm. I had a mastectomy as it was my only option, and had them take the right one as a precaution.

I want to do reconstruction but have to wait until January. The plastic surgeon won't touch that left breast until it's 8 months out of radiation (last treatment was April 2007). I'm thinking I might wait a little longer, just to make sure the skin heals.

I was 41 when first diagnosed, with 4 kids ranging from 5mos to 7yrs. I was a healthy eater, in good shape, maybe drank a bit too much wine.... Cancer does not run in my family. Needless to say, we all were blown away by the 1st diagnosis, but we got through like you and others.

btw, it has been so helpful to read about your reconstruction experience. I have a better idea of what to expect. Thanks for sharing, Katie
Jill Aldrich said…
Katie, thank you for sharing your story. I cannot imagine going through breast cancer with four little kids. Twice. You are my hero :)

Let me know what you'd like to know about reconstruction. I just had mine two months ago. I may still need one more corrective surgery...will know in a few weeks. Happy to share any and all details with you. Hope you have a good week, Katie. Jill
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