all of the selves we Have ever been
After a year of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment,
I now think of my right breast like one of those tiny dogs that can be carried in a purse. Of course, my breast goes everywhere with me. I am not sure if this part of me has legs or if it is just a cute bobbing head with a cold nose, but like any privileged, spoiled pet, my breast eats up a lot of my time, and I’m always whipping it out to show someone. Together, my breast and I have had more views than Lassie, and we’re not even on TikTok.
I’ve named my pet Lymphedema. I am certain that must be the name of a Roman Goddess, one that comes alphabetically after Febris, the Goddess of Fever, and before Minerva, the goddess of pretty much everything else including wisdom, medicine, commerce, handicrafts, poetry, the arts and war, a woman for all seasons and all reasons. Lymphedema is in good company.
I am afraid my Lymphedema became full of herself not because of her namesake but due to the frequent picture taking. There was the mammogram, the ultrasound the ultrasound-guided biopsy, the ultrasound to insert the clips prior to surgery, the MRI, another MRI, a CAT scan, imaging during radiation treatments, another mammogram, another ultrasound, and then still photos when she developed redness, thickening skin and a spreading rash. And during various photo ops, attentive techs always asked what music I would like them to play. While I would have preferred a relaxing James Taylor song list, for Lymphedema’s sake, I always requested How Much is that Doggy in the Window.
A lot of poking and petting went along with the many photo opportunities. There were the doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, mammogram techs, ultrasound techs, radiation techs, oncologists, students, and even a visiting scholar! The scholar pretty much stared into his cell phone the entire visit. I am not sure if in his role as scholar he was taking notes, photographing my breast, or watching TikTok videos. Lymphedema is convinced he was texting his Albanian colleagues about the rare and beautiful Lymphedema. Whatever he was doing, his presence seemed to unsettle the usually confident and friendly young, male radiologist. Rather than touch Lymphedema during the exam, he asked, “Can you just hold it up?” I think the awkwardness of the situation may have offended Lymphedema.
But in prouder moments, Lymphedema and I mastered important poses including the classic shoulders-back, elbows-bent, arms at side and hold it while the judges look for bumps, puckers, rashes, and burns. While that was easily mastered, I recently learned that I now have to exercise Lymphedema. Turns out that just carrying her around and popping her out for show-and-tell was not enough. She now demands a daily walk! And then I have to grab her in a football hold and spin her in circles both clockwise and counterclockwise.
Through this long year, Lymphedema has become socialized and obedient learning the commands for each important event. Her appearance is improving along with her attitude. We are getting up to date on our vaccines for the coming year, and I am becoming a better handler so that I can highlight Lymphedema’s best structure—this is known as the stack, and we are stacked! Although I am not sure if Lymphedema will ever enjoy the hands-on examination or being looked over by the judges, this year of obedience training has deepened our bond and improved our communication. Lymphedema is now much better behaved and has not barked at me or anyone else all year.
I think we may be off to Westminster for the annual Dog Show. As a team, Lymphedema and I may not be much in class but we are best in show. Together, we have come through like champions.
Now, beam me up, Scotty. I need a new sport.
Over the years, my children and I have enjoyed watching sports-themed movies, especially the ones where the underdogs triumph in the end. There are so many titles to choose from. Some of our favorite films include: Hoosiers, The Blind Side, Miracle, A League of Their Own, Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, and Coach Carter. Often these stories are about a ragtag collection of players down on their luck, and sometimes they are about both a team and a coach in need of redemption. It was when we were watching McFarland, USA in 2015 that I voiced a lingering question: “What could my sport be?”
Without a moment of hesitation, my son shot back, “Power of the Pen.”
We had a good laugh, but that was not what I had in mind. Each time I watch one of these films, I feel inspired but regretful. I never had a sport. There was not much to offer girls of my generation. I did try field hockey briefly but that sport did not resonate with me, and I had a lot of responsibilities at home which included after-school duties caring for my younger brother and sister.
For a time after high school graduation, I tried jogging for exercise. Later, I started walking which I continue to this day, but thus far, no one has tried to recruit me for an Olympic walking team. When Jane Fonda and others made work-out videos and exercise classes cool, I tried those, too, but I was doomed to failure. I spent a lot of time listening to the music and walking in place. While I enjoyed the company of my friends during those classes, the situation was a nightmare—all of that raise your right arm, lead with your left foot…the teacher facing the class instructing us, the large mirrors with the reversed images…a real house of horrors!
The truth is that my gross motor coordination has been off-kilter since I was six years old. The problem began in Catholic elementary school when it was discovered I was left-handed. To save me from the fires of hell, the good sisters attempted to exorcise the devil and my leftist leanings by forcing me to be right-handed. The effort scrambled my brain. Gross motor movements no longer came naturally. I had to think about which hand to use, which foot to put down. I had to think about how to skip and walk up and down stairs. I became terribly self-conscious, fearing that a mistake would bring the ruler or rubber-tipped pointer down on me at any moment. I lost confidence in my abilities. Fortunately, we moved and I was able to use my left hand again, but by then the mental wiring was in place.
My right-left disability did not make me lazy. I enjoy physical labor, especially when there is a point to it. If someone needs help raking leaves, shoveling snow, painting the house, packing and moving…I am the gal for the job. And while I am lost as a player, I do enjoy watching sporting events. Both of my children engaged in sports from preschool through high school. I rarely missed a game or event. I relish the enjoyment others get from their sports, and I enjoy spending time with my favorite fans, drinking in their company and enthusiasm as they drink in some beers. Game day snacks are not too bad either.
Another deficit inhibiting a career in sports is that I have no competitive spirit. None. While I am an ardent supporter of playing by the rules in life, I am always wondering, Can’t we all just get along? I find it difficult even to compete with myself. Topping my personal best? I’ll do what I can…
But all is not lost. It took the pandemic of 2020 for me to answer the question--What is my sport?
During the peak of the pandemic, parents and college athletes began protesting and demanding a return to competition. To me, they seemed more worried about their careers than their lives. I just didn’t get it. But then the libraries closed and stayed closed. Month after month. Sure, they began to offer pick-up services and drive-through windows, but that just wasn’t enough for me. I needed the library to open as much as those college athletes needed to return to locker rooms and stadiums. Bring back game day!
Browsing at the library brings me all the fulfillment of a sport and none of the agony. Books are shelved from left to right. The pages move from left to right. The words on a page are printed from left to right. The library is a dream world for the left-handed and right-brained. Like other sports, browsing at the library enhances memory and thinking skills, grows brain cells, and improves brain function—all without the risk of concussion or physical injury. I reach and bend and flex as I go up and down the stacks of books. Time goes by quickly and with each visit, my stamina increases and my self-esteem improves. And it is a great weight management strategy—no eating or drinking in the library.
The rules of the game are clear and well-known. There are no red cards or yellow cards, just library cards. Those cards don’t get you thrown out, they invite you in, make you a member of the team. And the game ends when the library closes. There is no official referee, but a skilled librarian can take down an out-of-bounds customer with a glance or a “Shh!” A good librarian is like a great coach, she can get you down the field with a good piece of information, and she knows her stats and Dewey decimal system. Can’t find what you are looking for? So easy to punt at the library, so many other plays, so many other choices. There are even benches at the library. But unlike field sports, there is no shame in warming the bench.
There is no official off-season when browsing is your sport. A book store makes a great second choice. Retail store browsing can offer some down-time conditioning. Whenever a salesperson approaches me with the question, “How can I help you?” I reply: “I am just shopping for ideas.” That gets the salespeople off my back and keeps me in top form for my return to the library.
Perhaps I should have realized my athletic calling much earlier in life. I’ve learned that there may be a genetic predisposition to Olympic-level browsing. When my daughter was a toddler, she asked me one day: “Mom, can you just drop me off at K-Mart?”
When I asked this smart, verbally precocious, and very independent two year old book lover what she planned to do at K-Mart all by herself, she responded, “I just want to look around.”
I was raising a future first-round draft pick.