The hospital jerked around my lumpectomy surgery a thousand times, and they made me feel like a tiliche. A tiliche is, in Spanish, a little rag, one that can be jerked around and that flops in the wind. When I hear the word tiliche, I imagine a red rag tied to a stick, a red rag being whipped around in the wind without any control. First it was next week, then last week, then this week. Thursday then Wednesday then today, back to Wednesday. Tiliche indeed.
You see, I have a benign lump (so they say) in the healthy breast. We’ve known it was there for a while now. On mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy, it shows as benign. You know what else showed as benign on mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy? My cancerous breast lump. So I don’t exactly have a whole lot of faith in the medical establishments’ ability to diagnose breast cancer. That’s why I’m having a lumpectomy, tomorrow, to take this lump out and make sure it’s benign. I’m a tiliche in the wind and I don’t have much trust that they know how to find a breast cancer lump in my body.
Each time the wind whips in a new direction, I have to scramble. Carefully laid plans with the best wire-insertion buddies (a totally inhumane procedure in which they insert a wire into the lump so the surgeon can find it) and people to pick me up and snacks for after are blown astray. They have to be reassembled, because if you don’t bring someone to pick you up in the middle of the day on some random weekday that keeps changing, they’ll cancel your surgery and then reschedule it probably seventeen more times. So at each cancellation, you have to figure out who can bring you, who can sit with you, who can pick you up.
This is one of the worst parts of cancer, one of the parts that rips the dignity associated with being able to take care of oneself right out of your hands, one that dangles your independence just out of reach and laughs when you realize you’ll never quite trust your easy independence as you did before. And so I was worried.
One friend- the best local friend- could do the original date but not the changed date, and then not the changed the second time date even though it was back to the original because it was at the last second. Another friend was missing that and needing to do this. Each time you have to ask, it feels a little more like a cheese grater running across your elbows, and you know you are a little bit more and more like that red tiliche flapping in the wind, hoping someone will catch you and ground you but not really sure anyone will. So we got it all set up for the second date, with Sammy dropping me off then heading to work, another buddy hanging around, and my mentor picking me up. And then the date changed with less than twenty four hours to the new surgery date: tomorrow.
Tiliche. Again. That day X doesn’t have a car, Y has a meeting, Z can try and move stuff around…. everyone wants to help, but the metaphorical cheese grater is still rubbing along my elbows, and only mine. And truly, I hate asking. It’s exhausting. It’s annoying. It’s not me. It’s risky, because people can and sometimes have to say no. I’m the only one who’s deck of playing cards doesn’t include no, the only one, who, when asked “Can we reschedule your surgery for tomorrow, be here at 6:30 am?” can only really answer, “Yes, doctor. I’ll be there,” though I’m thinking “But I have no idea how.”
But it worked. Sam is dropping me off. A cancer buddy is dropping by to crack bad jokes while we wait. A friend who called to say hi today asked if it would be helpful for her to swing by and see me while I wait in the morning. I said yes. And yoga J is picking me up. It takes a freaking village to have cancer, and it requires an ever-expanding village, because people in the village get tired. The person at the center of the village gets tired, too, but the cancer treadmill doesn’t stop, it just slows when “has cancer” morphs into “had cancer.”
So I’m grateful for the village, the one that is always expanding with new twitter buddies and friends to share wigs with, and the one I’ve had since before cancer, and all of them that make sure everything works out, even when asking for help feels like elbows on a cheese grater, even when needing to depend on someone feels like a tiliche in the whipping wind. Next time I know someone who has cancer, I’m going to make sure to check in with them about pick-ups and appointment buddies. Oh wait, I know tons of people with cancer. I’m going to text them just as soon as the pain meds wear off and I’m allowed to drive again.
Tiliches, cheese graters, community. We need each other. Tonight, I am grateful.