Mastectaversary

Oprah Winfrey , What I Know for Sure

Nine years ago right now, I was in surgery. I’d traveled from Providence to New York for my mastectomy at NYU Langone. On the train ride to the city, I couldn’t help but imagine the possibility (while exceedingly slim) of dying in surgery.

I am admittedly a controlling person and the darkest part of me was amused by the hubris of attempting to prevent death, to prevent cancer. Wouldn’t my death during surgery be deliciously and disgustingly poetic. I imagined being met by some dark figure in the afterlife who’d laugh at me: “You did it, Kristen. You didn’t die from cancer.” Hadn’t I already learned that I didn’t have control?

I’d been keeping a blog in 2012 and 2013 as I went through the decision-making process until I finished surgery. This was both a practical and cathartic practice, and I’d made the conscious decision to skew positive in my posts. No one needed to know all of the dark thoughts cluttering my head. They were so all-encompassing that they’d become comforting and I wanted that to be a secret. In the years since my mother’s death, I’d wrapped myself in an invisible blanket woven together with grief and love and a heartache. The weight of it warmed me. On the outside though, to the world around me, I desperately wanted everything to seem ok, happy, prosperous even. So, I tried to only share the “good” parts of my decision to have a preventative mastectomy.

I’d asked my dad to meet me in New York for my surgery, which in hindsight was an unfair request. I could see the angst on his face thinly veiled by an encouraging smile. What a cruel thing to do to someone who I’d already been relying on to fill two important roles- mother and father. He’d waited in countless waiting rooms already for my mom, for his own mother and I should have given him a break. If you read this, I am sorry for putting you through that, Dad.

I’d had the foresight, however, to not ask my then-husband to come. Brendon been through the painful ordeal of my mother’s illness and death by my side, and it hadn’t yet occurred to me that it was painful for him, too. I did know that it affected us and our relationship, but I took our shared history as my singular pain. By the time I was having my mastectomy our marriage was ending. He’d moved out a year earlier but we hadn’t told more than a small handful of confidants. In my mind, it was not Brendon’s job to be at the hospital with me (even though I’m certain he would have shown up if I’d asked). I needed him to be there for our kids. And so he was. So he remains.

The appropriate person I brought with me was my friend, Abby. She’d been the first person I told when my mom was originally diagnosed with breast cancer. And since I’d started seeing an oncologist at NYU, she’d let me sleep over at her apartment when I had appointments in the city, plan fondue dinners and manicures and other good distractions from the main event. On the day of my mastectomy, she went above and beyond. But there’s no need to go into that here right now. I hope you, dear reader, also have a friend like Abby.

Thankfully, I didn’t die in surgery. I woke up and honestly felt a weight lifted. Over the days I was in the hospital a handful of my local friends came to visit with magazines, food, flowers and for a few games of UNO. I felt lucky for my life and the opportunity to try and have a long one. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like everything might actually be ok. Maybe I could move through the fog of my grief and really be alive.

And, I think I’ve done that.

But on April 4th, 2013 I couldn’t picture the next day. I had no way of knowing what feeling I’d wake up to, if I indeed woke up.

And now I’m sitting here on April 4, 2022, in a space that I love so very much, and I again find that I can’t picture tomorrow.

This house, the one that stole my heart the moment I stepped onto the porch, is on the market. Chris, my landlord and friend-brother is embarking on a new chapter that doesn’t involve this place anymore. Tomorrow he’ll be accepting one of the many offers and it’s hard to imagine what’s next.

Will the energy that we’ve collectively filled these spaces with leave forever or will everyone who walks through still feel the magic, growth, love and pain that happened here?

Who is the next steward of these walls and will they love them as much?

Will I become a new person when I have a new landlord, and will that person also become my family?

Since my mom died, I hadn’t felt like I had a home. My soul felt lost and no physical space was going to change that, or so I thought. This place became my home. In my head I know that I can create a beautiful space for my kids to grow, for you to come to dinner, and for more personal growth. But in my heart I feel that there will never be another place like this. This house cradled me during recovery from surgery and divorce, and fostered friendships that will last a lifetime. This is a special place.

As I’m sitting here though, I am telling myself that April is a moment for rebirth, for spring, for a new beginning and that I will happily survive another April 4. I will wake up tomorrow.

I’ve learned that what I give I will get back, and so I also know that I will be surrounded by love…tomorrow and every day after, no matter where I live.

Love is more important than a house just like my life is more important than my boobs.

Here’s to today and to not knowing about tomorrow. It’s all going to be ok. Maybe even better than ok.

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