I just said goodbye to Eva at the doors to the anaesthetic suite. Next time I see her she’ll be a kilo or so lighter with a different body shape.
Last night we went out for dinner to a French restaurant. She looked beautiful (as always – see above). Time alone together during this madness. A last supper for her boobs, so to speak. We laughed a lot, and spoke in our usual intense manner – one of the things we first bonded over aged 17 and 19. We put the world to rights and analysed ourselves and others and our french fries and profiteroles. Afterwards we walked on the beach in the dark.
We’ve talked, joked, commiserated and pontificated a lot about breasts the last months. We’ve philosophised about their cultural status, their biological use, and their symbolism. We’ve probably looked at breasts in a new light; two (usually) lumps of tissue designed for mammalian nurturing, but which vacillate between being objects of sexual desire and repositories of a disease which affects millions of women each year.
We’ve considered why the removal of breasts is such an emotionally fraught and psychologically complex process. We’ve talked about reconstruction and its implications.
And for all this thinking and pontificating and trying to exactly define the perfect biological, cultural, social and sexual nature of boobs, it still hasn’t lessened the complexity and inevitability of today.
Eva has approached it with bravery, pragmatism, optimism and thoughtful deliberation. As with this whole process, she does not struggle to identify all the positives and good things in her life and the excellent care which she has received in our privileged, wealthy healthcare system. The cognitive aspect of this illness and its treatment has been the less challenging realm of experience.
The challenging part – as with most of human existence – has been the emotional experience accompanying it. Her feelings of uncertainty and lack of control and worry and anxiety. The confrontation with mortality and its effect on those closest to her. The impact on her role as a mother. The possible effect on her sense of womanhood. The change in her physical health and fitness and her response to not feeling like the fit, strong person she was.
And then you add in the children’s experience of her illness, my experience, and the collective experience of our family unit. It would make for one challenging spider diagram.
This blog has been primarily a record of my own emotional and psychological response to this process. At its centre is Eva and her disease process, but I’ve never wanted to be a spokesperson for her. It has held a narrative for her for when the processing of all this complexity has been difficult for her, and a form of order-making for our family. I, perhaps naively as a doctor and human, under estimated the ripple effects of a serious illness on the spouse and immediate family members of a patient. I feel guilty that perhaps my experience has been foremost through this writing; but I make no apologies. It has, somehow, been helpful for us all (even if our children are not aware).
And in a few hours, once she wakes up, the next stage will begin. Perhaps for Eva this will be the most defining moment of her illness. Not defining of her, but her experience of illness. This is irreversible, visible and scarring. It’s also, hopefully, definitive and curative.
This beautiful lady was laughing until the last minutes. We took photos of her in her fetching hospital one-size-fits-all paper undies which could fit about four of her in. There were tears, and she looked vulnerable and small as she was wheeled away down the hall in the vast hospital bed. As she was pushed by a friendly fellow in scrubs, and we rushed to keep up with the nurse marching ahead of us, the Queensland sun shifted and bounced past the gum trees through the windows on to the tears on my love’s face.