On Breast Cancer
So, my dear, precious Katie has breast cancer. In homage to the woman I adore, I will write a post for which she has been asking for the last 6 months. It’s entitled “Husband of the woman who found a lump in her boob.”
So I accompanied my dear Katie to the doctor, a facility I like to imagine was called, “The Grand Medical Institute of Womanly Things and Magical Thinking” but I think was called Labcorp. Walking in, the receptionist greeted Katie with a warm smile and no doubt me as well, but I imagined a glance that said “thanks for prying yourself from the sports bar long enough to escort your deathly ill wife to the doctor. We’ll see if we can’t squeeze her in during half-time and get you back to the game.” My imagination comes from some kind of free-floating generational hysterectomy guilt husbands have to deal with: angst that some male descendant committed their wife to an asylum for menstrual cramps.
We checked in and walked over to the waiting room, which I think was postered with Georgia O’Keefe prints but they may have been real flowers or perhaps just a chart of female reproductive organs. It’s hard to remember, but I do remember grabbing a People magazine from the coffee table and it springing open to a photo of Kate Upton and her boobs. Is this a joke? Am I being filmed? Blackmailed? What sort of Philistine sits with his wife in a breast cancer ward thumbing through pics of over-endowed women. Kate Upton looked like one of those balloon animals. Turn the page, Rick, turn the page. I turned the page and Kim Kardashian came spilling out all over. This really looks bad. I had to will Katie to look in the opposite direction while I flipped to some G-rated pages. An article on Caitlyn Jenner, perfect. Whoah, fake boobs, not perfect, keep turning. Just then a nurse came out and called us back, so as far as I know the affair remained secret.
After a short wait in one of the holding tanks the doctor came in and spoke with us. After answering a few questions and explaining a few procedures, she then turned to Katie to examine her.
“Should I stay?” I asked.
“It’s up to you,” said the doctor.
It’s a test. If I go to the waiting room she’ll label me Mr. Hysterectomy. So I say, “Sure, I’ll stay.” I’ve played this game before, years ago, during childbirth: “The baby’s crowning would you like to look?” Sure. “Want to cut the umbilical cord?” Sure. “Want to touch the placenta?” Sure. “Want to see a foot after it’s stepped on a land mine?” Sure. I can go all day. All day, my friend. No one is going to label me Mr. Hysterectomy.
Alas, the conversation turns to mastectomy. The concept is conveyed to the man in a language he understands, “this is the operation Angelina Jolie had. She had both removed.” Ah, yes, the day the music died. Now I understand. Now I know what you mean. Now I get mastectomy. What those blaggards did to Angelina, they’re gonna to do that to you. Got it. I said “Oh” because it seemed safe and ambiguous, like “Who is the Angelina Jolie of which you speak?” They got nothing out of me. Angelina Jolie, Angela Merkel, all the same to me. I’m as blind as justice.
So somewhere in the cancer conversation, comes the mastectomy conversation, comes the implant conversation. A world, within a world, within a world. After a couple minutes talking, Katie and the doctor look at me for my input. And what in the world am I supposed to say, “Small. Small is the new big. Small is how I like them. Smaller the better. Small like a Russian gymnast. Small like Sandy Duncan in Peter Pan. Yessir, I like my women like I like my celery—just a straight fibrous stalk.” They have protocols for everything dealing with cancer. Ought to have one for that question so no one gets hurt.
So, appointment over, land mines cleared, trip wires evaded, just the walk to the car and I’m home free. Just 200 feet without saying something stupid or insensitive. I can do this. 100 feet: whatever you do, don’t try to FIX it: no action points, no aphorisms. Almost there buddy, bring it in for a landing. And opening car door….annnnd were out. Nice work everybody. That’s wrap.
I’m proud of myself; I behaved well today. And that, if I must proffer some take-away, is something of the husband’s struggle. You’re trying so damn hard to behave sincerely, that you can’t sincerely process anything. Protocol delineating male sincerity (how to care, how to listen, what questions can be asked) effectively precludes it, furthering the distance from head to heart.
But enough of that. My head and heart adore my Katie. There is no one I have ever met that I respect more than this woman: her mind, heart, humor, courage, perseverance, creativity … I adore my Katie and adore my Christ, and the two are so very intertwined.