Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kick Me

There's nothing in the realm of my experience that compares to that first swoosh in the womb. I'm not talking about those soft flutters or the quick ticklings or the questionable bubbles. The quickenings. Those can all be explained away in my mind as something else: hunger pangs, gas. I'm talking about the moment, the feeling, the unmistakable proof of life. The rolling and tapping of a tiny life that is moving of its own accord within my body. Before this movement, of course, I was aware of the pregnancy. I had taken the test and seen the plus sign. I suffered through the 1st trimester nausea and fatigue. I took the blood tests, even saw two little human-ish figures flipping me off in black and white ultrasound photos. Twin gestation confirmed. A baby boy and a baby girl.

But everything is different now. The image has come into focus. The lens has been defogged. This is the beginning of a lifetime of knowing. A lifetime of discovering what they like, what they dream, who they are. Two people are alive inside of me. They are attached and dependent, but they are separate from me in every imaginable way. Baby A, the girl, is already making me laugh. She is positioned over my bladder and tickles me with her rolling. Baby B, the boy, can't make up his mind. He is jabbing me on the left one minute and then jabbing me on the right the next. One day he plays hard without rest. The next day he is lazy and making me worry.

I like to shake the twins awake when they are sleeping. This is a sort of pre-revenge for all the sleepless nights that are surely in my future courtesy of the two of them. I grip my uterus on both sides with my hands and shake it firmly, but gently. Without fail those two creatures start up their distinct activity, no doubt flipping me off in the process. Why does it delight me to irritate them? Because it's my way of saying, "I love you". Liv will vouch for that. Everytime I tease her by telling her that I've changed her name to Willis or Barney or Leroy and then proceed to call her that for the rest of the day, I am actually saying, "I love you enough to take this time to irritate the shit out of you." Also it makes me feel powerful to pick on someone smaller.

These sweet fetal movements fuel my optimism for a joyful future. Without them, pregnancy is just a miserable, desolate experience. Before my physical awareness of their existence, I felt cursed. Sickness, exhaustion, heartburn, low back pain, deformity. Yes, deformity. Because let's face it: I look like I have a beach-ball sized tumor growing out the front of my abdomen. I would say, "Men are lucky sons of, saints. They are sons of saints." But the fetal movements change everything. They remind me that my body, no matter how deformed, is performing a miracle. The blessing, the privilege of carrying and making human beings far outweighs the discomfort and the agony of pregnancy and childbirth.

The kick and the jab of my unborn babies' feeble limbs are my reward for enduring so much annoying shit. So if I have to wake them up to get my fix, they'll just have to fucking deal with it. They'd better get a thick skin real quick if they are going to be my kids.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Best Case Scenarios

"Do you feel it?"

I'm standing in my mother's kitchen pressing my fingertips against her right breast looking for the thing that left her sleepless the night before. Searching in a circular motion, the way the brochures they hand out at the gynecologist tell you to. At the 2 o'clock position, I find it. Nestled against her breast bone, a tiny object - a cross between a pebble and a marshmallow. I've felt similar things in my own breasts, when I still possessed them. I remember laying supine on my bed, topless, doing this private work. Every ridge or bump causing my heart to beat faster, my mind to orchestrate the worst possible thoughts. In the moment of discovery, I am already in a chair with an IV pumping chemotherapeutic chemicals into my body. I am already composing my last will and testament. I am already the deceased mother of a motherless child.

But for everyone else I offer best case scenarios.

"Yeah, I feel it." My brow furrows. "It feels too soft to be cancer."

"Would you be worried? I mean, if you found this in your breast?"

I almost laugh because when you have a BRCA2 mutation, you don't even need to find something suspicious to worry. You spend every moment of your life waiting for the axe to fall. You are on high alert, tensed and pretending to be ready for the inevitable moment your body betrays you.

"I would definitely get it checked out. I mean, I've had similar lumps that were biopsied and turned out to be nothing. Just get it checked out. It couldn't hurt."

It is October 1st. The first day of Breast Cancer Awareness month. In my family, we don't need a government sponsored month to remind us of the horrors of breast cancer. I don't need to buy a pink kitchen appliance or a ribbon magnet or hot pink M&Ms. Nothing I could see or buy could make me more aware. Because I am constantly made brutally aware of breast cancer by what is not there. My breasts and, more terribly, my sister. The savage memories of Amy's death and my mastectomy linger tenaciously in the brain.

This is why I hate Breast Cancer Awareness month. I don't need more reminders of the things I have lost. I don't need to watch perky women recount how they've conquered breast cancer and reassuring doctors sing-song how early detection saves lives. I don't need to see shelves of pink goods at the grocery stores. It is infuriating that some corporations are exploiting a disease to increase their profits. Breast cancer cannot be represented by a cutesy candy pink Kitchen-Aid. Breast cancer is a horrible, disfiguring disease that destroys lives and the emotional health of families. Fuck Breast Cancer Awareness month. How about living Breast Cancer Awareness life?

In the kitchen, there is a quiet. We are both thinking the same thing, my mom and I. Not this again. Please God, not this again. Cancer has taken his seat at the table. He is sticking his dirty finger in a fresh wound.

"Just call Dr. Kr--sher. Tell her what's going on and I'm sure she'll order a test right away."

"I'm scared."

"Don't be. I'm sure it's nothing. Just for your own peace of mind, get it looked at. You're due for a mammo anyway. You'll get the test and it will be nothing and you'll feel better." Best case scenarios.

But it isn't nothing. It's cancer. Confirmed by biopsy. My mother has breast cancer. My stomach does a sick flip to see that in writing. I had lied to her the way I lied to Amy a million times.

You're going to be fine.

I'm sure it's nothing.

It's probably been caught early.

They have so many medicines and treatments now.

You won't die. You can't die.

Sometimes I lied so well that I even convinced myself. What I want to know is, Why? Why is this disease attacking my family? Why doesn't it leave us the fuck alone already? Haven't we given enough? Haven't we lost enough? Haven't we cried enough? Haven't we watched a beautiful, young woman deteriorate into a sallow, dead shell enough?

For my mom's sake, I will keep spinning out best case scenarios. Maybe this time they'll turn out to be true.