October 12th, 2010
09:21 AM ET
This week, Amanda Enayati shares the milestones of a life-altering journey that began the day she learned she had late-stage breast cancer more than three years ago.
The mastectomy of my right breast took place in September 2007. Because the tumor was enormous, they also had to remove some muscle from my right chest so that they could make sure they had “clean margins” around the mass.
Would you believe that I really wasn’t fearful going into the operation? And though my breasts were probably one of my nicest features, I wasn’t particularly traumatized about losing one, either. I’m still not. To me, it was a matter of: It’s diseased and so it’s got to go. Frankly, I still feel attractive. I know women whose continuing refusal to remove their cancer-ridden breasts became tantamount to suicide. I don’t relate to that kind of attachment to your breasts but I am able to understand it. Really, do we need to look any further than the images we’re constantly force-fed by our media to understand why not having breasts is unthinkable to some women?
I don’t remember much about the morning we all drove down to Stanford hospital to check in for my operation. My dad was driving the car, I think. My husband, sister-in-law and best friend were there. My mother stayed home with the babies.
It was a somber ride. I may or may not have tried to lighten the mood, I don’t recall. I wouldn’t be surprised if my father did crack some jokes. He’s a tall, lanky, happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Always has been. Which is why it is so heartbreaking that the last thing I remember is sitting in a wheelchair, being wheeled backwards, a door closing on my dad and his smile melting into tears in one fluid movement.
At this point, they had given me the meds already. I don’t remember anything else.
Until I woke up.
I woke up at the bottom of a well. It was dark and then there was some light and there were people peeking down the well shaft, talking down at me from far away. And then it went dark again.
I woke up once more and my mother was sitting to my left. I couldn’t move. But even worse, I couldn’t breathe.
Somehow I had never noticed that it takes so much effort to breathe. That you must raise your chest. Expand your lungs. Inhale. Then exhale. I had trouble doing all of those. So I was taking short, shallow breaths that required minimal physical exertion but which meant that I never felt completely satisfied with the amount of air I was taking in. I was starving for air. Like how I imagine a drowning person might feel.
Every part of my body hurt.
I couldn’t move.
I couldn’t move.
I was in this world, our world, the one we are all inhabiting. But only by a thread. And part of me was aware that I was slipping away. So I did the only thing I could think of. I reached over and grabbed my mother’s hand and held on for my life so that I wouldn’t drift off. Because—and only because—my kids were still here in this world and not the next.
Tomorrow: High risk of recurrence
Amanda Enayati’s work has appeared in Salon, the Washington Post, Detroit News, and "Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora" (University of Arkansas Press). You can follow her on Twitter @AmandaEnayati or her daily blog, practicalmagicforbeginners.com.
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